31 August 2011

Beowulf The Brave...and Accessible

First up on the homeschool reading lineup was this masterpiece right here.

You'll notice, clearly, the words 'new verse translation'.  There was no way I could assign the Anglo-Saxon Old English version, because: a.) I've never read that version myself (my shame as an English major) and b.) Old English looks like this >

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. 

1 comment:

  1. HD:

    Have you seen the resources for teaching Beowulf at this site?