Monday, August 3, 2009

Beowulf, The first verse of English literature, a brief critical study

Not much Anglo-Saxon poetry of the pagan period has come down to us. By far the most important remaining example is the epic 'Beowulf,' of 3182 lines. This poem seems to have originated on the Continent, but when and by whom are not now to be found. It may have been carried to England by the Anglo-Saxons; or it may be Scandinavian material, later brought by the Danish pirates; during the 7th and 8th C. It is really a primitive poetry; how the hero Beowulf fights against the cannibal, monster Grendel, and his mother and killed them to save Hrothgar (the King of Denmark) and his subject. Then Beowulf returns to his own land and becomes the ruler of his kingdom, and meets his death while killing a fire-breathing dragon. Beowulf is an idealized Anglo-Saxon hero, but in origin he may have been any one of several others. Perhaps he was the old Germanic god ‘Beowa’, or like some of those in the Greek mythology. Beowulf may really have been a great human fighter who actually killed some truly formidable wild beasts.
'Beowulf' presents an interesting picture of the life of northern Germanic tribes and their barbarism in England before Anglo-Saxon conquest. The warriors, with whom the king shares his wealth is a part of the character of a good king who gives them the gifts of gold and weapons. Somewhere in the background there must be a village, where the bondmen and slaves provide the daily necessaries of life and where some of the warriors may have houses and families. The palace of the king is the great hall of the warriors, which is built chiefly of timber; there are benches and tables for banquet; in the center of the hall, there is a hole in the roof from which smoke can easily out. But in 'Beowulf' Hrothgar and his followers leave to other quarters. War, feasting, and hunting are the only occupations, to the warriors.
The spirit of the poem is gloomy and grim. There is only brief hints of delight in the beauty and joy of the world. In the case of artistic attractiveness, and the structural subtitles of developed literary period, we must not look in 'Beowulf.' The narrative is often more dramatic than clear, and there is no perfect characterization. A few typical characters stand out clearly by the poet’s description. But the barbaric vividness of the poem gives it much more than a merely historical interest.

A note by Vikram Roy (04.02.2007)

A Short Note on Beowulf: Survived in 1000 AD and preserved in British Museum, Containing 3183 lines. Hrothgar, the king of Denmark was saved by Beowulf. Hrothgar built the famous hall of the warriors, Heorot. Grandel, the cannibal, and his mother are killed in the hand of Beowulf.
Beowulf may be the old German god ‘Beowa’ or one like those of the Greek myth. Beowulf became the king of his own land, Geats. But after ringing for 50 long years he died while killing a fire breathing dragon.


  1. This is very good, very informative. I would like to have this in the magazine.

    1. You are welcome to publish it Daniel, Thanks!