Dr. Najla Aldughayem
October 21, 2017
A Response Paper
Beowulf is a heroic narrative, was composed in sometime between the middle of the 7th and the end of the 10th century. It was written in the old English or what is called the Anglo-Saxon language (Heaney, ix). The poem is about the deeds of Scandinavian prince called Beowulf who crosses the sea to Danes in order to kill a monster called Grendel. After beating this monster and his mother and returning in triumph, he rules as a king of his homeland for fifty years. We -as readers of the 21st century- would be satisfied with such ending. A hero defeats an evil creature and lives happily ever after as a good and a justice king, but that is not the case in this epic. A dragon in the countryside starts to terrorize people and Beowulf must destroy it. Although he succeeds in slaying the dragon, he dies as a brave hero. The last part of the poem describes Beowulf’s funeral, which close-reading and responding to it, is the main focus of this paper.
Beowulf’s funeral description lines in the poem are filled with imagery and symbolism. The pyre for his body is built and he is put in the middle. The blaze of the burning fire “roars” wildly and deeply like a lion, the king of the jungle. Lions are symbols for courage, strength and royalty and those are Beowulf’s characteristics. So, Beowulf’s soul is still there in the fire and this “roar” of the blaze “drowned out” people’s weeping. Therefore, maybe Beowulf is immortal after all, even if he is dead, because he is a hero in his people’s eyes. Then, one Geat women, with hair “bound up” mourns Beowulf’s death and sings a lament in which she predicts the destruction of the Geat nation by invaders. The tied-up hair is a sign for a married woman back at that time, which makes the argument of that woman being Beowulf’s wife is a valid one. She knows that desolation is coming because Beowulf dies childless and leaves no one to secure peace bravely like him.
An irony can be exposed when the Geat people build a barrow as an enormous memorial to Beowulf, which takes ten days to build and it can be seen from the sea. Beowulf, in the final battle, tells his men to wait on the barrow which what they do until the dragon’s brutality frightens them and they run away. They desert Beowulf, their beloved king, in his fight with the dragon because they are afraid from death. Thus, it’s ironic that after leaving him to decease, they are trying to fight the most thing they fear in their attempt to immortalize their king by a huge barrow.