25 September 2014
Life Is Fleeting: A Close Reading of Beowulf (1758-1760)
“O flower of warriors, beware of that trap.
Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part,
This excerpt from Beowulf is part of a speech which Hrothgar gives after Beowulf fulfills his promise and defeats the monsters that terrorized the Danes; those monsters being Grendel and Grendel’s mother. In this speech, Hrothgar praises Beowulf and contrasts him with Heremod, an evil king who “suffered in the end” (1720) for treating his kingdom badly. Hrothgar promises to reward Beowulf greatly for his victory, but also warns him not to let himself be corrupted by greed for temporary earthy things. Life itself has a temporary and fleeting nature, found both in material possessions and the limited amount of time to spend on this earth. The words and phrases that make up this passage illustrate a common theme, which is the transiency of life. At the beginning of the passage, Beowulf is addressed as a “flower of warriors” (1758), which is a juxtaposition and initially does not seem to make sense. The word “warrior” – relating to the strength, experience, and bravery which Beowulf himself is an example of – is being compared to a delicate flower. The word “flower” alone, however, has multiple connotations. Flowers can be viewed as fresh, beautiful, and colourful things of nature which boldly stand out and attract attention. This could identify with Beowulf’s youth, as well as his boldness and ability to attract attention through heroic acts, such as defeating monsters. Flowers can also be thought of as fragile things which, through time and weathering, will eventually wilt and die. Warriors, like flowers, are of this earth and over time will become weathered and weak – both warriors and flowers will eventually die. My reading is that these two linked words support the theme of the transient nature of life, as...
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