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Archive for February, 2016

Fall along the ages

likened to the soldering.

Grieving, hopefully mixed with cinders.

Lost, as captioned curtails

finalizing the margin of action.

Presaged after, I alight

upon a falling steep.

Cultured title, in the trail

left within a prairied height.

Record my soul.

Relive my presence.

Retell my story.

Relate my portion

and pull me into

the train of lightened sage.

On coal, this hill of seething errors

away, hopeful glimpse.

Desked, the top of splintering alms

pursing, level, like faulty composition

and camouflaged adjustments

midst marbled halls along the way.

I fling these dreams into the night.

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Belonging

wisp

Sweetened love

Through wisp-like haze

As though the dream

Alone, betrays

Waking sweeps

Within the gate

Of fallen light

And dreamblown fate

Fleeting hope

‘Twixt prismed fears

Lofty light

Falls over years

Alone, this heart

Pulls strings like song

A gift now born

Where I belong

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Unseen

Unknown

But not unloved

Anticipating

Preparing

The heart, the home

An entire life

A world

 

Before branches stark

Transform in blossom

A life so spent

Before almost beginning

Unknown

Unseen

But deeply loved

 

To wake in Heaven

To grow in light

And love

The love a mother

Would have given

The love a father

Would have shown

But now

Raised in the Light

The love

Of saving grace

Born in Heaven

Reunion in Eternity

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Beowulf

Literary Analysis of Beowulf

One of literature’s earliest epic poems, Beowulf, contains a unique amalgamation of religious concepts that, at times, seem to contrast each other. Considering the time period and popular worldview of the time during which the poem was written, it is likely that the author was intentional in the style and content of his work. Although it is widely considered that Christian elements appear to be unnaturally forced into Beowulf, a more reasonable perspective is that the authors deliberately used this layering for a distinct purpose.

Beowulf has been read by millions of readers and critiqued by hundreds of scholars, yet it remains a popular classic worldwide; perhaps the very construct that weaves varying religious contexts has helped to create an enduring interest in this poem. Christian mores mingling with Germanic myth and nature’s religion create a distinctive relationship seldom seen in other literary works. The author of Beowulf is assumed to have been a Christian, yet core constructs that define Christianity appear to be absent. Various writers and critics have put forth ideas as to why the poem intertwines contrasting religious beliefs, and infer the author’s purposes in doing so.

Beowulf, written sometime between the eighth and tenth century, is thought to have been based on an earlier oral epic. As such, it is possibly “the lone survivor of a genre of Old English long epics” (Norton, 36). The poem, in many places, conveys biblical ideals. At the same time, these Christian concepts seem to have been layered over the original Germanic epic, which focused on mythology and paganism. This construct appears forced in some places, and creates questions in the mind of reader and critic alike.

For example, the character Beowulf makes statements that portray his physical strength and prowess in a self-exalting fashion, such as when he states, “When it comes to fighting, I count myself as dangerous any day as Grendel” (678-9). Later in the poem, he also says, “As king of this people I shall pursue this fight / For the glory of winning” (2513-14). His statements are proud and boast of his physical prowess. In other parts of the poem, Beowulf appears to suddenly “remember” that his victory lies within the grace of his Lord when making statements like, “Whichever one death fells must deem it a just judgment by God” (440-41), and “if God had not helped me, the outcome would have been quick and fatal” (1657-58).

Overall, some lines of the poem do not appear to join seamlessly with the others. The idea of a strong and unmatched warrior is built on the Germanic tradition, in which war, feuds, and fighting are supported, and pride, honor, and physical strength are highly valued. Comments about Beowulf in the poem remark on his strength: “A thane, they declared, with the strength of thirty / In the grip of each hand” (380-81). However, other lines support the traditional view of Christianity, in which one’s strength or might depends on the will of God: “He relied for help on the Lord of All / On His care and favor. So he overcome the foe” (1272-73). The poem “reflects well-established Christian tradition,” but at the same time, “references to the New Testament are notably absent” (Norton 37).

One possible reason for this apparent contradiction is that it is an intentional construction utilized by the author. One critic suggests, “The oblique nature of the Christian elements in Beowulf indicated the poet’s conception of something other than the Christianizing of Germanic folklore” (Cain 228, emphasis added). This author observes that “the poet deliberately parallels the pagan Germanic past with the pre-Christian world of the Old Testament” (228). In other words, perhaps the poet intentionally used a story centered on an early, pre-Christian era, in an effort to demonstrate the “prefiguration of the Christian world in his native heritage” (Cain 228). This can be interpreted in much the same way that Christianity was “prefigured” throughout the Old Testament by the formation, development, and history of the nation of Israel.

The author of Beowulf could have intentionally inserted a Christian worldview, without using the language or terminology of that worldview, partly because of the fact that the characters in Beowulf would not have been knowledgeable of Christianity, as the story is supposedly set in pre-Christian Scandinavia. This deliberate construct brings in the idea of a more “overarching” religious element that is played out in more than merely the references to religion in Beowulf. For instance, lengthy portions of Beowulf are devoted to the topic of feuds. Beowulf’s reasons for coming to aid Hrothgar was directly linked to a feud: Beowulf’s father had to leave his own country and live among the Geats due to a blood feud, which eventually resulted in Beowulf’s desire to help Hrothgar in his time of need (459-472). Although feuds were a main “staple subject in Germanic epic and saga” (Norton, 38), they could also represent a deeper and more overarching feud.

One article states, “The historical Scandinavian feuds are referred to so frequently that it is obvious that the poet wishes them to be present in his hearers’ thoughts as he tells his tale” (Osborn 973). Author Marijane Osborn delves deeper into the idea of feuds by mentioning a “cosmic” feud that was written into Beowulf via biblical history. When Grendell is introduced, it is with a rendition of biblical tradition, as the poem first referred to this character as a “demon” (86). The poem then reveals that Grendell’s anger against the great hall of Heorot had to do with hearing “the clear song of a killed poet / telling with mastery of man’s beginnings, / how the Almighty had made the earth / a gleaming plain girdled with waters” (90-93). These are clear indications of a monotheistic, biblical worldview.

A few lines later, the author gives “history” that deals with biblical figures, and traces them directly to Grendel. Beowulf states, “he had dwelt for a time / in misery among the banished monsters, / Cain’s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed / and condemned as outcasts” (104-107). This information would have been unknown to the protagonists in the story, as the characters were supposed to have lived before Christianity was introduced to the Scandinavian lands. This perspective strengthens the idea of Beowulf’s author using Christian ideals, yet intentionally failing to insert specific references to a God or Jesus. Beowulf, Hrothgar, and other minor characters would not have been aware of Christian concepts such as grace or salvation. The overarching “cosmic feud” is interlaced into the story more as an allegorical reflection than a direct statement, supporting the idea that these elements are placed by the author as intentional constructs.

 

This unique perspective suggests that the author of Beowulf intentionally used this approach of inserting a particular worldview without using overt language or circumstance of that worldview. It could be viewed in a manner similar to that which J. R. R. Tolkien used when he wrote The Lord of the Rings. In that classic series, there is no mention of God or other religious indications; however, the author himself held strong religious beliefs, and he wove the overall theme of good versus evil into The Lord of the Rings. Even though no religious concepts were ever stated or debated by the characters, the idea of light versus darkness and victory of the weak and humble over the mighty is apparent.

It would be impossible to completely understand the author’s exact reasons for writing on the precise topics chosen when penning Beowulf. At the same time, concrete conjectures can be made when considering the worldviews of the time period in which it was were written. In closely reviewing the poem, it seems clear that the author intentionally created a unique interplay of religious elements to accomplish some purpose. Historical parallels, cosmic feuds, allegorical reflection, and contrasting symbols not only create a unique story, but the interwoven spiritual and religious elements ensure that Beowulf relates a powerful tale of courage and sacrifice … foreshadowing, perhaps, of the wordless courage mingled with ultimate sacrifice, when a single man withstood evil as He hung upon a cross to redeem a broken world.

 

Works Cited

Cain, Christopher M. “Beowulf, the Old Testament, and the Regula Fidei.” Renascence 49.4 (1997): 227-40. EBSCO. Web. 31 Oct. 2015.

Greenblatt, Stephen, and M. H. Abrams. “Beowulf.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2006. 36-106. Print.

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

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