An Analysis Of The Epic Poem, Beowulf Poetic Devices In Beowulf

1033 words - 4 pages

Poetic Devices in Beowulf

 
    There are a small variety of poetic devices employed in the composition of the poem Beowulf, and they are repeated numerous times.

 

The Old English poetry of Beowulf is distinguished primarily by its heavy use of  allliteration, or the repetition of the initial sounds of words. In the original manuscript version of the poem, alliteration is employed in almost every line (or two half-lines); in modern translations of the poem this is not so. In lines 4 and 5 of the poem we find:

 

Oft Scyld Scefing                               sceapena preatum

monegum maegpum                           meodo-setla ofteah

 

The repetition of the “s” sound in line 4 and of the “m” sound in line 5 illustrate alliteration, and this occurs throughout the poem, providing to the listener what the rhyme of modern-day poetry provides – an aesthetic sense of  rightness or pleasure. The Old English poet would “tie” the two half-lines together by their stressed alliteration (Chickering 4). Each line of poetry ideally contains four principal stresses, two on each side of a strong medial caesura, or pause. “At least one of the two stressed swords in the first half-line, and usually both of them, begin with the same sound as the first stressed word of the second half-line” (Donaldson 67). Such stressed alliterative binding together created hundreds of pairs that are used over and over, such as halig/heofon holy/heaven, dryhten/dugud lord/troop, fyren/feond sin/enemy. The pairs need not be complementary, but rather can be contrastive, like eadig/earm happy/wretched and wearm/winter warm/winter. These dictional contrasts provide the listener additional pleasure by surprising his expectations. The alliteration also includes stressed vowels (Tharaud 34).

 

These pairs are the backbone of Beowulf:  Prof. Magoun, in examining the poem, considers it probable that nearly 100% of the language in Beowulf is formulas, (88-89) or phrases from a common bank of phraseology that all poets drew their language from.

 

A second poetic device found in the poem is the reliance on kennings to portray the imagery of the poem. Kennings are compound expressions using characteristics to name something. The kenning hronrade literally means “whale-road,” which translates as “sea” to the listener or reader. There are hundreds of kennings in the poem:

 

         Life-lord           living Lord                    war-dress         armor

bed-companion            spouse              earth-dwellers   humans

kin-slaughter     killing of relatives          gift-throne         throne

wave-rider        boat                             sea-skilled        sailor

sea-currents      waves                           battle-dress      armor

battle-shirts       mail                              word-hoard      vocabulary

hearth-companions       friends              pitch-black       dark

shield-bearer   ...

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