Beowulf: Cycles/Rings

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To many, life seems to be one straight, narrow path but in Beowulf the notion of “rings” appears to be overwhelming. These rings can represent such diverse things like the course of existence, a hero’s glory, and vengeance. Through literal and figurative examples, rings in the poem represent reacquiring sequences and endless cycles. The idea of rings in Beowulf eludes the common thought of a “circle of life”. There are several situations within the poem where things return in a way in which they came. Beowulf opens with the story of the great Spear-Dane, Shield Sheafson. The poem reveals that he was abandoned as a child and found floating in the ocean. After his death, Shield’s people honor him with a lavish funeral and “decked his body no less bountifully with offerings than those first ones who cast him away when he was a child”(43-45). In this way, Shield (who has come from the sea) has completed his ring of life by returning to it. Shield’s plunder and treasures have also traveled full circle, as they were returned to him in death:

Far-fetched treasures
Were piled upon him, precious gear…
The massed treasure
Was loaded upon him: it would
Travel far out into the ocean. (36-42)
It was unknown if this was the Danish king’s request, but it is evident that the bold warrior Beowulf would want something similar to Shield’s final send-off. “If the battle takes me, send back my breast-webbing that…Hrethel gave me, to Lord Hygelac” (452-454) is what Beowulf tells the Danes before facing Grendel, one of the wretched spawn of Cain. By saying this it is clear that Beowulf would prefer his armor returned to its point of origin, similar to Shield and his possessions. Grendel’s Mother also wished for her son’s arm to return back from where it came when she broke into Heorot to retrieve it. This repeated representation of people and objects involved in cycles is another way Beowulf hosts the idea of continuous rings. Rings as a literal...
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