The epic poem Beowulf, written in Old English by Christian monks around 750 AD, is a wonderful adventure story about a warrior who kills ferocious monsters. The use of description and imagery enlivens the story, making it possible for a reader to really see in his or her mind the characters and events. Metaphors, exaggeration, and alliteration are three devices that together allow the reader to experience this poem which is quite different than most other poetry. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily means one thing is applied to another thing to suggest a ikeness between the two.
Metaphors are used extensively throughout the poem to paint a more colorful picture in the listener’s mind. These metaphors are used in phrases called “kennings”. A kenning is a descriptive, poetical expression used instead of a simple name for a person or thing. Beowulf is hardly ever called by his actual name. Instead there are many kennings referring to him, such as: “Prince of the Weders”, “The Son of Ecgtheow”, “The Geatish hero”, and “The Lord of the Seamen”. These kennings describe Beowulf to us in a more interesting ay than just stating the hard facts.
Without these kennings Beowulf would be less interesting and we would learn less about him. Anybody would say that describing or referring to a person by his or her name over and over again is boring. So the use of kennings and metaphors is very important in this long epic poem. Exaggeration is another device to make Beowulf a more interesting, entertaining, and dramatic poem. For example, even though this story is a fantasy, it is hard to believe that the character of Beowulf would be able to kill a monster like Grendel with his bare ands.
Exaggerating Beowulf’s bravery makes the story more exciting. Another exaggeration used to convince us how great our hero is, is the passage, “Over all the world, or between the seas, / Or under the heaven, no hero was greater. ” (671-672). This dazzles the listener with Beowulf’s bravery. His bravery is again exaggerated when he jumps in the swamp wearing heavy armor to fight and kill Grendel’s mother. It’s unlikely even a strong warrior could win a battle with a she-monster in an underwater cave with a broken sword. But it adds to the excitement.
In the line “The head of Grendel, with heavy toil; / Four of the stoutest, with all their strength, / Could hardly carry on swaying spear / Grendel’s head to the gold-decked hall. ” (1109-1112) exaggerations are made concerning the size and weight of the monster’s head. Again, it portrays a more gruesome and dramatic scene to the listener’s imagination. Alliteration, which is repeating the same sound, usually a consonant, at the beginning of words or in accented syllables, gives this story a more poetic sound. Alliteration also helped the scops or storytellers in memorizing the tales.
Examples of alliteration can be found throughout the poem such as, “The Hall of the Heart”, “His pledge and promise”, “Dragging the dead men home to his den”, “Fitted and furnished”, and “Showed sea-cliffs shining”. This device adds creativity and rhythm to the poem. It makes it more entertaining to read, speak, or listen to such a long story. Metaphors in the kennings, exaggerations, and alliteration all help in developing vivid descriptions and imagery to entertain and beautifully tell the story of Beowulf. Imagery, figures of speech that help the mind to form pictures, are throughout the poem.
One of the strongest examples was found where it reads, ” The demon delayed not, but quickly clutched / A sleeping thane in his swift assault, / Tore him in pieces, bit through the bones, / Gulped the blood, and gobbled the flesh, / Greedily gorged on the lifeless corpse,” (558-563). This is the image of Grendel killing one of the soldiers before his fatal fight with Beowulf. Great descriptive passages are found about Grendel’s swamp-home describing it as, ” ^a dismal covert / Of trees that hung over hoary stone, / Over churning water and bloodstained wave. (926-928), ” ^The ater boiled in a bloody swirling” (933) ” ^The swimming forms of sea-dragons, / Dim serpent shapes in the watery depths”.
These are the pictures that nightmares are made of. In comparison to our modern fiction, Beowulf might seem wordy and lengthy but when a reader takes time to savor the graphic descriptions, vivid imagery, clever alliteration, and fantastic exaggerations one can understand how this thirteen hundred-year-old epic poem has lasted through the years. It is beautifully and creatively written and has therefore stood the test of time for the reader or the listener.