I remember reading Beowulf in high school, or at least parts of it, but didn’t remember much about it. After just finishing it, I have to say that hanging out in mead-halls and fighting monsters doesn’t seem to be a bad way to live life. I probably read this too fast and should have read more of the commentary that came with it. While the translation by Seamus Heaney was good and easy to understand I sometimes thought something got lost. I can’t really point to anything in particular – just a gut feeling. The edition I had was illustrated with beautiful photographs of weapons, landscapes, paintings of monsters and other items that gave additional insight to the poem.
There’s a quote by G. K. Chesterton that I’ve always enjoyed that says:
I don’t deny…that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say that at certain strange epochs it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, actually to remind men that they are not dead yet.
I think the author of Beowulf could have been both priest and poet. The poem blends perfectly God’s Providence with Man’s might -or perhaps I could say man’s “free will” but that could be stretching it – and who wants to get all theological about a story with monsters, anyway? And while death lurks around every corner, the warriors face it head on and won’t go down without a fight.
I think the next epic poem I read might be Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. But I’ll read it a little slower – I’ll take it a pilgrim at a time.