The old Anglo-Saxon Beowulf is the oldest surviving piece of literature and has long since established as one of the cornerstones in the development of modern literature. The narrative has a theme that revolves around the medieval idea of chivalry, romanticism, courage, honor and bravery.

            Denmark’s King Hrothgar is on the peak of his reign. He constructs a great meed-hall in his kingdom where none but the bravest warriors could gather and drink, give gifts to their king and enjoy amusement from jesters and bards. The mood of celebration annoys a terrifying monster named Grendel that live near the lands of Hrothgar’s kingdom. The monster terrorizes the kingdom every night, by usurping their attempts of defense while numbers of dead continue to pile up. The Danes live in fear of death and danger because of the monster and suffer many years living in misery. Until such time that a young warrior, Beowulf, hears of the Dane’s plight and accepts the challenge of defeating Grendel. The king holds a party in honor of the young warrior. Night came and Beowulf mortally wounds the beast – its severed arm hung in a place of honor in the mead-hall as horrible travesty of a trophy. Grendel’s defeat however, angers his mother and seeks to avenge his death. One of the king’s trusted counsel is killed by the swamp-hag and Beowulf avenges the death by purging the lair and Beowulf succeeds in killing Grende’s mother. He returns to the kingdom with Grendel’s head as a guarantee the kingdom is monster-free. His fame spreads and returns to his land t reunite with his people and queen. Beowulf recounts his brave exploits in Denmark. After a period of wars, the great warrior assumes the throne of his land and rules for fifty long years. Beowulf grows into an old wise king, who, in the twilight of his life, faces one final battle against a dragon. Beowulf slays the dragon but he is mortally injured as the dragon’s poison consumes him. According to his final wishes, his body is burned on a funeral pyre and set in a barrow facing the sea.

            The problems of interpretation often arise from continous recasting of phrases and ideas in retaining the essential and original context after the process of interpretation. “A translation cannot reproduce even one of these three things completely, for languages, and the cultures they articulate, can be very different” (Alexander, liv). The concern on Anglo-Saxon text is the difficulty of keeping the lyrical meter on the same level as that of the original.  In the succeeding paragraph as translated by Liuzza, it can be observed from the development of metaphors the build-up of tension and emotive signifiers, that can be slightly different when reading the original text in itself. Yet, the translated passages offer the same figurative response.

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The verse starts with the phrase “The time came” (Liuzza 60) as a means of a signifier for the build-up of tension and emotion. In addition, the use of the phrase also connotes a certain dramatic effect toward the reader, signifying the start of an unknown journey without no absolute certainty. The next line “the craft was on the waves, moored under the cliffs” (Liuzza 60) provides a implication of readiness and bravery, as the ship or craft was already prepared for departure. In its literal sense, it only acts to counterbalance the preceding theme.

 “Eager men climbed on the prow – the current eddied, sea against sand – the soldiers bore into the bosom of the ship their bright gear, fine polished armour; the men pushed off on their wished-for journey in that wooden vessel.” (Liuzza 60) This passage implies a sudden transgression of the emotive theme from the first, as the ‘eager men’ signified a change of atmosphere in the passage. From uncertainty, the emotive responses implied by the passage abruptly changes into a courageous and battle-ready atmosphere. The metaphors used in the line are applied on ‘bosom of the ship’ and the descriptive context of the warrior’s armor. The refered bosom has a simple meaning of going into the ship’s main compartments. The description of the gleaming armor and the use of the ‘wished-for’ journey signify a somehow battle-thirsty aura implied by the warrior’s preparedness. Their ‘eagerness’ is exemplified with their polished armor and their ship already moored in the sea. In addition, the warrior’s attitude on their journey was triumphant and expected. This provided an image of bravery on the part of the warriors. Wars or the act of going into battle usually revolves on grief, fear, and anxiety, but contrary to this passage, the warriors seem to ‘expect’ this kind of journey. Their journey seemed to merit more than victory, as the passage implies that the warriors are motivated by honor or a good challenge or both.

In the succeeding lines: “Over the foamy billowing waves, urged by the wind, the foamy-necked floater flew like a bird, until in due time on the second day the curved-prowled vessel had come so far that the seafarers sighted land, shining shore-cliffs, steep mountains, wide headlands – the waves were crossed, the journey at an end” (Liuzza 60). The mood of the narrative, from a terse and almost electrifying sequence, the transition of the paragraph again changes abruptly. Also, the time frame of the journey is forwarded to two days after the metaphor ‘urged by the wind, the foamy-necked floater flew like a bird.’  The passage is a mix between a metaphor, personification, and hyperbole simultaneously, signifying a quickened pace of travel, encountering only token resistance in their journey. The perils of the sea were usually the problems of seafarers and travellers but the mood of the narrative expressed certain anticipation on the battle as the journey seemed nothing to the warriors. Adding to the aforementioned mood of the first passages of the selection, the development of emotions are punctuated by a quick transition of the setting that the characters live in. This means their anticipation over their mission is the main source of inspiration and moves them to haste.

 The last passage of the selection end as a perfect settlement for the whole mood of the narrative. “Thence up quickly the people of the Weders climbed onto the plain, moored their ship, shook out their mail-shirts, their battle-garments; they thanked God that the sea-paths had been smooth for them” (Liuzza, 60). The passage presents a conclusive mood for the selection as it provides another opening of a transitional event. The journey naturally enables them to thank their God’s for a safe and quick journey – taking aside the thought of going into battle for once. The representation of the gods, a common factor in mythological stories, signifies the human essence of divine intervention of their affairs. Gods provide protection, blessing on certain warriors in mythological stories as Gods, like their human creators, have favouritism over acts of bravery or number of sacrifices.

Overall, the thematic development of the selected passage is rather quickened yet capitalizing more on the emotive development, which makes up for its simplistic narrative. The difference between the original and the translation lies on the accuracy of the interpretation. As the process of interpretation already takes away the essence and lyrical implication of the selection, and the translation is reduced to a simplified version. Yet upon close scrutiny of the aforementioned selection, it is clear that the emotions portrayed are centered on the feeling and experiences of warriors about to go into battle. Contrary to the usual war-feel of other literary pieces, their journey to their anticipated deaths is more expected, met with ill-disguised excitement. Their ‘eagerness’ carries them fast across their ocean journey, suddenly dispelling the small amount of anxiety in the beginning.

Works Cited

Bjork, Robert. A Beowulf Handbook. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Burton, Raffle. Beowulf. New York: Signet Classic, 1999.

Class, Michael. Anglo-Saxon England 16. Cambridge University Press 1989. Cambridge, England 1989.

Liuzza, R. Beowulf. [Peterborough, Ont.]: Turpin Distribution, 2000.

Shaffer, Ellinor. Comparative Criticism : a Yearbook. Cambridge [Eng.] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Shippey, Tom. Beowulf : the Critical Heritage. London [u.a.] Routledge 1998: London [u.a.] Routledge 1998.



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