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In the Beginning
A Quote from Beowulf
“So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
and begin to pay tribute. That was one good king (1-11).”
These lines, which open the poem Beowulf establish the highly stylized nature of the poem as well as setting forth some of the poems central ideas. The beginning lines of Beowulf also introduce a number of thematic ideas that prove to be important throughout the poem.
In the beginning Seamus Heaney chooses to translate the first word of the poem as “So.” I’ve also seen it translated as “Hark” but this translation grabs your attention right away. From the start the poem whips us into its world while maintaining an inviting, conversational tone. In these first few lines the translation recreates many of the conventions of Anglo-Saxon poetry. The translator breaks lines into two halves using strong pauses wherever possible giving it a dramatic affect. The translator also uses repetition of consonant-sounds to bind the broken lines together through sound like foundling…flourish. The translator also mimics the original writers use of multiple names like Shield Sheafson who is also referred to as “the scourge of many tribes,” and “a wrecker of mead-benches.”
Additional to stylistic features thematic ideas that are found throughout the poem are exalted in these beginning lines. The poet’s presentation of Shield Sheafson as a model of heroism is an envoy of the poems fascination with patriarchal history. Characters a...
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