Important Quotes from Beowulf: Examples & Analysis

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

The epic poem ~'Beowulf~' is the longest surviving Anglo-Saxon poem. We are taken on a journey of chivalry, honor, and pride, where battles were fierce and men were loyal. In this lesson, we will look at the language of Beowulf and consider the meaning of the lines relative to the story being told.

The Beginning

In the opening of the poem, we are given a historical picture when we see a flashback to the funeral of Shield Sheafson, the legendary king of the Danes. The poem show us that the Danes '...stretched their beloved lord in his boat, laid out by the mast, amidships, the great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures were piled on him, and precious gear.' Greatly honored and revered, he is sent to his glory with gifts for the world beyond. Shield Sheafson is the great-grandfather of Hrothgar, the aging king Beowulf has come to help.


The Monster Must be Stopped

Beowulf feels he owes a great debt to Hrothgar because once, a long time ago, Beowulf's father was gravely in need of help, and Hrothgar came to his aid without question. Now, when Hrothgar is struggling with a problem, Beowulf will do what he can. The problem in question is a twelve-foot man-like monster called Grendel. For the past twelve years, this monster has taken over Hrothgar's mead hall, Heorot. Many men have died, and now the rest are afraid to sleep in the hall. Beowulf will put a stop to it once and for all. He waits for the monster to show his face again. However, he does not have to wait long, for 'In off the moors, down through the mist bands God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping. The bane of the race of men roamed forth, hunting for prey in the high hall.'

Beowulf takes on this monster without weapons. He only needs his hands to make Grendel wish he had never come to Heorot. In the heat of the battle, Beowulf rips Grendel's arm out of its socket. While Grendel has tried to put an end to Beowulf it is he who had met his match. 'He has done his worst but the wound will end him. He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain, limping and looped in it. Like a man outlawed for wickedness, he must await the mighty judgment of God in majesty.' Grendel, defeated, goes back to his cave to die.

Revenge is Sweet

As Grendel dies, all but one rejoices. Grendel's mother reacted as many a mother will do: flying into a rage. She vows revenge on the one who has taken her son's life. '...she has taken up the feud because of last night, when you killed Grendel, wrestled and racked him in ruinous combat since for too long he had terrorized us with his depredations He died in battle, paid with his life; and now this powerful other one arrives, this force for evil driven to avenge her kinsman's death.' She does not plan to stop until she has satisfaction, but Beowulf sees a different outcome. He does not intend to allow her to have the rein of power her son had. He successfully rids the kingdom of her as quickly as possible.

Often there are rewards for a job well done, and the killing of Grendel's mother is not without its gifts. 'In pure gold inlay on the sword-guards there were rune-markings correctly incised, stating and recording for whom the sword had been first made and ornamented with its scroll worked hilt.' Beowulf recovers the sword from Grendel's mother, making the victory all the sweeter.

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