Beowulf: A Poem Analysis
Conclusively, Beowulf could perhaps be considered as the highest achievement that the Old English literature had ever had. It is a heroic poem which deals with the events and significant historical facts of the sixth century. It is as well the longest poem written during the Old English era and the language used was in Anglo-Saxon England, which was before the Norman Conquest. It originally did not have a title, but later on was named after the famous Scandinavian hero, Beowulf. The story is about the adventures and battles of the hero, Beowulf, against a monster named Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a dragon guarding a bountiful mass of treasure. More than the story itself, of course, Beowulf, as depicted in a larger context, is an embodiment of a warrior’s heart – strength, courage, reputation, and loyalty.
To start with, let us discuss how loyalty was portrayed in the poem. Loyalty is one of the major themes that was embodied in the poem, particularly in the character of Beowulf himself. It was his guiding virtue from the beginning until the end. An example would be that of his loyalty to Hrothgar. In the original text, Beowulf owed his life to Hrothgar when the latter protected him and his father by providing them shelter during a feud; hence, Beowulf was devoted to him. Another example would be that when he refused to be the king after King Hygelac died. He could have become the king since the throne was offered to him by Queen Hygd. However, he refused and instead, helped and guided the young prince, Heardred in his journey to becoming the king. Beowulf was clearly more loyal than ambitious for having to refuse such a great opportunity. In addition, loyalty was also portrayed by one of Beowulf’s finest men when he went on to fight with the dragon. This warrior’s name was Wiglaf, who later on succeeded on the throne. In the poem, Wiglaf was the only one who stood by the king when the latter decided that he would take on the dragon. Out of all 11 men, only one stayed by the king’s side and helped him and stood beside him when the old man fought the dragon until his last breath. Clearly, a great deal of respect, bravery, and loyalty was exhibited by Wiglaf.
Another theme that was mainly portrayed in the poem is reputation. It was clearly established even from the beginning that Beowulf was concerned about how the world would see him. He always introduced himself as one who had so many achievements in life. He enumerated all the successful battles that he had won detailing the process of how he ruled such battles. He wanted people to know how much of a warrior he was. It was his most valuable possession – reputation. A scene on the poem which exhibited such value was when he took of Grendel’s head and brought it with him, instead of taking all the treasures that were there. Likewise, when Unferth insulted him telling everyone that he lost in a seven-day swimming contest and therefore it was impossible for him to defeat Grendel, Beowulf defended his reputation by stating that he lost not because he was weak, but because he swam with Breca for five nights. Since Breca was a weakling, his conscience could not take leaving the boy. Thus, he stayed with him. When the rough seas drove them apart, however, he had to kill nine sea monsters in order for him to go ashore. Beowulf, as described in the poem, was the man with a great reputation. Although he was a master of strength and courage in times of war, he was also a man of good deeds – a true quality of a hero, a warrior, and a leader.
In a general sense, perhaps it would be just to say that all warriors are brave, strong, and courageous. Thus, it would suffice to say that Beowulf was indeed a warrior with all these qualities. It was shown all throughout the poem that he possessed the qualities not just of a great warrior, but also an epic hero. His strength was incomparable and his courageousness was the epitome of a warrior’s brave heart. There is no doubt that he was indeed a strong and powerful one. However, while he possessed such qualities, they were not his major concerns. As previously mentioned, Beowulf valued reputation and loyalty more than anything else. For him, the test of strength and bravery is nothing compared to reputation and loyalty. He wanted popularity and good relations, not praise and fake glory. Nevertheless, it is also undeniable that what brought him a high reputation and good relations are his characteristics of strength and bravery. If it were not for his ability to be able to defeat enemies with strength, power, and bravery, there could have been no reputation established at all. Bottom line, there was an interplay of these themes in the entirety of the poem. It was his qualities of strength, courageousness, and bravery which brought him to the pinnacle of fame and respect. This respect is what earned him the loyalty of the authorities in the high ranks. In return, he gave his loyalty to these people as well. In the end, he earned the loyalty of the people when he ruled the kingdom, and he reciprocated such loyalty by being one of the greatest rulers the kingdom ever had.
Beowulf may be an old epic story, but it is still used today as a material in literature. Its purpose is to let the world know how important are the values depicted in the poem. It still serves as a lesson to each and every one, especially the youth that loyalty and good deeds are still among those values that people should have. The poem emancipates the youth to become stronger and braver to be able to defeat the monster which is, in its literal sense, the problems in life.
We are in the modern world, some term it as the digital world even. It is undeniable that as technology upgrades, more and more problems arise. What is there to be the consequence, anyway, for an emerging age? Thus, it would suffice to say that sometimes, we all have to go back to the simplicity of it all. This simplicity would be that of the simple values that our elders have taught us when we were younger. Values that would justify our sense of humanity, our reason for existence. Relatively, values that were portrayed in the epic poem ‘Beowulf’ – to be strong, courageous, respected, and loyal.