Monday, August 4, 2014

The Beowulf Poet

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem which was written between the eighth and eleventh century. In the 3182-line poem, the Scandinavian hero, Beowulf, defeats the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother and later a dragon.

J.R.R. Tolkien, whose translation of the poem was only published this year, believed it contained too-genuine a memory of paganism to have been written more than a few generations after the completion of the Christianization of England (around 700 AD). The earliest-surviving complete manuscript dates from the late 10th or early 11th century.

The following is from Seamus Heaney's excellent 2000 translation, which I highly recommend.

from Beowulf (lines 170-188)

These were hard times, heart-breaking
for the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counsellors,
the highest in the land, would lend advice,
plotting how best the bold defenders
might resist and beat off sudden attacks.
Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
offerings to idols, swore oaths
that the killer of souls might come to their aid
and save the people. That was their way,
their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts
they remembered hell. The Almighty Judge
of good deeds and bad, The Lord God,
Head of the Heavens and High King of the World,
was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he
who in time of trouble has to thrust his soul
in the fire's embrace, forfeiting help;
he has nowhere to turn. But blessed is he
who after death can approach the Lord
and find friendship in the Father's embrace.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.