31 August 2011
Beowulf The Brave...and Accessible
I see 'Beowulf' and 'Grendel' in there, and that's about it. I do know that the characters that look like a funky p are actually 'th' sounds.
Other than that, yeah. It looks like Greek to me.
Beowulf was a great way to start the school year. Interesting from the get-go, the first battle happens about 25 pages in (which is quick reading, being an epic poem and all). Beowulf rescues a kingdom in Denmark from a demon named Grendel. The battle is excellent, with descriptions the walls shaking and thrashing, until finally Grendel receives a "tremendous shoulder wound"...during which there is the snapping of sinew.
YES! What 12-year-old boy wouldn't dig that?
The storyline itself is exciting and fast-paced and right to the point, but what I find interesting is the cultural aspect. What did Middle Age Anglo-Saxons prize in their leaders? Bravery, strength, battle prowess. Those qualities reappeared often throughout the poem. In fact, Beowulf sums it up nicely:
...Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark (1384-1389)...
At one point, Spencer wanted to know why descriptions of people were repeated so often (the ring-giver, Shield-Dane, etc.). Well, I instructed my young Padawan, the repetition is so that the crowd (who is listening to the story) will remember those important details. After all, 'Beowulf' isn't just some fanciful sci-fi fantasy yarn...it's a lesson. It entertains and instructs - teaching young people of that time period WHO to emulate. In fact, the unknown narrator states one of the valuable lessons rather succinctly:
...Behaviour that's admired
is the path to power among people everywhere (20-25)...
I was extremely pleased with Heaney's translation. Although I can't say I care for his lengthy and sesquipedalian (new word today = related to using big words) introduction, his take on the poem was great. Descriptive and vivid. I didn't feel like I was reading poetry, which, I dunno, maybe that's bad...but I like how it reminds us of the eternal cycle of life and death, and the ways we live our life and who for.