Old English Poem: Beowulf
Old English is a term to refer to the language and the literature spoken and written in Britain during the time between the coming of the Anglo-Saxons to Britain in the fifth century and the Norman Conquest in 1066. There are many tribes such as the Picts, Jutes, Scotes invaded Britain, this resulted in the mixing of several races, tongues and cultures. But the West Germanic tribes known as the Anglo-Saxon were the most influential tribes during this period. The Anglo-Saxons were warrior-farmers and came from north-western Europe. They began to invade Britain while the Romans were still in control. The Anglo-Saxons were tall, fair-haired men, armed with swords and spears and round shields. Their skills are hunting, farming, cloth production and leather working. “Anglo-Saxons were often buried with their possessions. The objects found in their graves have given evidence of the different jobs done by men and women and the skills they had. Knives and spears are often found in Anglo-Saxon men's graves. This suggests they were involved in hunting, fighting and farming. Women's graves often include tools used for sewing and weaving, which suggests they were involved in making clothes (textile production.”1
The language of this whole period is known as Old English. No exact date exists for its beginning. The first written records of the language date from around 690, however people had spoken the language long before it. Most Old English words were Germanic. “Old English is a West Germanic language, developing out of Ingvaeonic (also known as North Sea Germanic) dialects from the 5th century. Anglo-Saxon literacy developed after Christianisation in the late 7th century.”2 At the end of the sixth century, the Anglo-Saxons accepted Christianity after Pope Gregory sent Saint Augustine to Britain in 597. (The Romans had introduced Christianity to the Celts centuries earlier.) This gave rise to some religious writings. The Christian poetry adapts and paraphrases the biblical narrative, such as the life of saints and using verse to create standard morale. In addition to Christian poem, heroic poem also takes part in the Old English period. The heroic poems deal mostly with Germanic history and legend. “The stories they tell or mention, the kings and warriors they refer to, were all known by Germanic people.”3
One of the heroic Old English poems is Beowulf. The poem has survived complete, but it has little information about the author and the date of its composition. The author is unknown and no certain date of its composition. There are also other problems which makes analysis against this poem becomes hampered. “The text is historically remote from us; it involves ideas that seem to bear little resemblance to our own ways of thinking; It is written in a form of English (also called Anglo-Saxon) that displays little similarity to English today.”4
The first part of the story takes place in Denmark. King Hrothgar is being pestered by a water monster, Grendel, who is killing his men within a hall named Heorot. Beowulf comes to aid him and kills Grendel and later, at the bottom of the lake, also he kills Grendel's mother, who comes to avenge her son. The second part is set in southern Sweden about fifty years later. Beowulf himself is a king and has to fight a fire breathing dragon which burns the royal hall. He gets help from a young warrior, Wyglaf, who manages to kill the Dragon. Beowulf is seriously injured from the fight with the fire breathing dragon. He then announces Wyglaf as his successor. The poem ends with Beowulf’s funeral rites and a lament
The main character of this poem is Beowulf, a warrior from Geats who manages to kill the monster, Grendel. He is depicted as a brave man who thirsty with pride and glory. He is a good and generous leader for his soldiers and also ideal lord. Supporting character of the poem is Hrothgar, an aging lord from Danes whose...
Peck, John and Coyle, Martin, A Brief Story of English Literature. New York: Palgrave, 2002.
Gordon, R. K., Anglo-Saxon Poetry. London: The Aldine Pers, 1959.
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