Digressions In The Epic Poem, Beowulf
Digressions in Beowulf
A prominent stylistic feature in the poem Beowulf is the number and length of digressions. “Much of the controversy surrounding the poet’s digressiveness has arisen from the fact that we have not yet discovered or admitted why he digresses in the first place” (Tripp 63). In this essay we hope to help answer that question.
The longest digression, almost 100 verses, is the story of Finn, which is here explored. In “The Finn Episode and Revenge in Beowulf” Martin Camargo states:
The allusive manner of its telling has long taxed the abilities of philologists to determine the precise sense of the lines, while its position within the narrative has challenged the ingenuity of a growing number of critics who have sought to establish (or to question) its relevance. . . .(112)
The Finn Episode begins with Hrothgar’s scop:
the harp was plucked, good verses chanted
when Hrothgar’s scop in his place on the mead-bench
came to tell over the famous hall-sport
[about] Finn’s sons when the attack came on them:
Hnaef of the Scyldings, hero of the Half-Danes,
had had to fall in Frisian slaughter (1065-70)
We learn here that the scop is singing about a Danish hero, Hnaef, and his band of warriors who are attacked by the Frisians/Jutes, a tribe that lived on the European coast directly opposite the British Isle. In other words, the Finnsburh Episode presents the sudden, abrupt stoppage of the peaceful existence of the Danes. This story is told by the scop right after the killing of Grendel, and directly before the Danes’ peaceful, joy-filled celebration is about to be shattered by the nocturnal attack of Grendel’s mother. So the beginning of the Finnsburh story anticipates the coming attack. Digressions seem sometimes to be secondary narratives competing with the main story line (Tripp 63), but in this case the digression seems at the outset to support or complement the main narrative. The story continues:
No need at all that Hildeburh praise
the faith of the “giants”; guiltless herself,
she lost her loved ones in that clash of shields,
her son and brother - they were born to fall,
slain by spear-thrusts. She knew deep grief.
Not without cause did Hoc’s daughter mourn
the web’s short measure that fated morning
when she saw their bodies, her murdered kinsmen,
under the skies where she had known
her greatest joy (1071-80)
Hildeburh, wife of...
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4 March 2012 Digressions in Beowulf At first glance, the beginning of Beowulf seems confusing. The chapter talks about some other ruler when the story is about Beowulf. A reader might think that the unknown author of Beowulf put the Scyld section in by accident or just to explain the times before Beowulf was born, but it was no accident. The story of Scyld is the story of Beowulf. Scyld opens the poem because he is used as a foreshadowing figure to show what will happen to Beowulf in the future.
Scyld is a warrior, a conqueror, and he gifted away the treasures of his enemies as he defeated them. Beowulf was interested in the treasure and trophies of war also. Beowulf also always brought a piece or two of the recently conquered monster back to show the rest of his people. In addition, the unknown poet mentions the pure prosperity, praise, and honor of Scefing, Scyld; and likewise, the reader is shown the wealth and recognition for the hero Beowulf.
Scyld fights for his people, defends his lands and his honor, and when the gods appointed “his time”, he died and was buried at sea. Beowulf and Scyld both have a beautiful burial out by sea and die the same way, in battle. These parallels show how important it was to be a divine ruler. When a person dies the only thing that they are remembered by is their accomplishments, Beowulf fiercely wanted to be like Scyld because when he died everyone remembered all of the great things that he did for his people.
The poem has circular structure as it begins and ends with the story of an aged king with great accomplishments, and it sets the tone for what type of leader Beowulf must be in order to defeat Grendel, the monster attacking the mead-hall. He must be a man who is also fearless and powerful in battle as well as a man free from greed and pride just like Scyld. The unknown author puts Scyld at the beginning of the story to give a reference as to what Beowulf needs to become not as a background of the times before Beowulf.
Author: Allan Leider
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