English Literature. Before continuing, we have a few literary matters to discuss.

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1 English Literature Chapter Four Beowulf, Part Two Before continuing, we have a few literary matters to discuss. Beowulf, written in Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon), contains fascinating uses of kennings, alliterations, and caesuras. A kenning is a compound metaphorical name for something (can be a word or a phrase), alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds, and a caesura is a natural pause or break in the middle of a line. Let s explore the concepts in a little more detail to make these powerful devices yours. If Old English poets Caedmon and Cynewulf can summon kennings, caesuras, and alliteration at will, so can you! Kenning I have come so far, / Oh shelterer of warriors and your people s loved friend, / that this one favor you should not refuse me and the phrase noble protector of all seamen are examples of kennings. Can you pick out the kenning in the first example? (A: Oh shelterer of warriors and your people s loved friend ) To review, a kenning is simply a compound metaphorical name for something. It can be a compound word or a compound phrase. Instead of simply using the subject s common name, a typically graphic image is drawn. Dolphins Playground might refer to the ocean. Hours of fun at the keyboard are yours, O Great Scholar of Medieval English Literature (that s you, incidentally). The possibilities are endless. 1

2 Alliteration Alliteration is so simple. Just like that, by repeating the s -sound in the prior sentence, we have created alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds. A power source for Anglo-Saxon poetry, it is found in many forms of writing throughout the ages. Alliteration is also the mother of all tongue twisters. Try saying She sells seashells by the seashore ten times in a row, speaking faster each time. If you say it louder upon each repetition, the teacher and other students might wonder if you have read too much English literature. Challenge your classmates to an alliteration contest (longest phrase wins). Use it in rap music, jody songs (basic training marching songs sung to the pleasant cadence of a drill instructor-- I don t know what you ve been told/ but going to school is getting old... ), or love notes, or for your next appearance on Drew Carey s Whose Line Is It Anyway? Caesura There are many different ways to vary the cadence or alter the flow of poetry or verse. One way to do this is with the caesura. The author of Beowulf uses it in the line Burns like a torch. No one knows its bottom The reading rhythm of the poem helps to generate emotional momentum. So, if you want to read through the line without stopping, don t use the caesura. Otherwise, if you want your reader to take time reading, enjoying natural pauses within a melodic flow of thought, consider using the caesura. The caesura implants peace and dignity into your work. 2

3 Temporarily freezing the thought in time and space, the caesura breathes a needed pause into the poem to nurture a response. It allows the reader time to taste the drama of the poetic moment. Poetry is gourmet food for the soul. It is to be savored, not gulped. You might want to think of the caesura as your favorite ice cream--assuring maximum reading pleasure. Now back to Beowulf Welcome back! We are just about to get caught up in one of our favorite Old English stories, so let s keep moving, shall we? Wow! So we find out that Grendel, the fearsome swamp monster and his mother live in a secret, wild place where even deer fear to go; a bottomless lake that burns like a torch. The Geatean Beowulf completes the first of his three battles by slaying Grendel. But look out Beowulf, momma s on the loose! She s not happy with her son s arm being hung over the door either! Before being slain with a sword by Beowulf, Grendel s mother kills Hrothgar s best friend (remember: Hrothgar was the king of the Danes and the one who built Herot Hall). When the second of the three battles arrive, Beowulf remains undefeated and untied--not to mention the nine sea monsters he killed while swimming the ocean. As Beowulf goes to fight Grendel s mother, Hrothgar s men leave the side of the lake and go home because the Danes think that Beowulf is dead. The Geats may have stayed out of 3

4 loyalty or hope, as loyalty to their leaders was a central aspect of their culture. Regardless, Beowulf emerges victorious and takes Grendel s head as a trophy of his victory over Grendel s mother. During the years following his victory over Grendel s mother and his upcoming battle with the evil dragon Firedrake, Beowulf loses some of his strength. While considering his battle, Beowulf proposes to fight the dragon differently than he did Grendel. For this fight, Beowulf will need a sword and shield (this definitely won t be hand-to-hand combat)--a shield to resist the flame of the dragon and a sword to slay him. Wiglaf, Wehostan s son, thinks he and his comrades should help Beowulf fight the dragon because in the past they promised to repay Beowulf s kindness with their lives. And would he need their help! When Beowulf tries to fight the dragon alone, it charges--breathing smoke and fire! Beowulf s shield begins to melt, and the sword breaks in two that he uses to draw the dragon s blood. As if that wasn t enough, the dragon thrashes him, wraps him in a fire, and mortally wounds him. Aware that he is nearing his deathbed, Beowulf realizes he will no longer be able to rule Geatland as before. As a symbol of passing on the leadership of Geatland to Wiglaf (who helps Beowulf kill the dragon), Beowulf gives Wiglaf his gold necklace. After Beowulf dies, the Geats ironically build a tower to memorialize Beowulf. Its irony lies in the fact that most of the Geats had deserted Beowulf in battle. 4

5 Beowulf reflects a combination of pagan and Christian views. He who rules / Time and seasons, He who is truly / God demonstrates the influence of Christian thought in Beowulf, along with So fame / Comes to men who wish to win it because it implies that people determine their own destiny. However, the words I mean to stand, not run from his shooting / Flames, stand till fate decides / Which of us wins reflects a pagan point of view toward life. For more info on Beowulf, surf over to Invasions, Invasions, and More Invasions Or A Synopsis of Medieval English History We think we have it rough waiting in line at Disney World. Can you imagine living in England in the Middle Ages? It was a good day when your country was not invaded. Germanic tribes were constantly invading England. The three we now know of are the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. And they did not respect the native people. The Normans killed over 40% of the native population when they took over. The first Roman emperor to invade England was Julius Caesar. But England did have quite a few of its own Anglo-Saxon kings, including Alfred the Great. 5

6 The Quiet Conqueror Kings however weren t the only ones making a name for themselves in history books. Bede, known as the Father of English History, is wellknown and revered for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. His hard work in the Middle Ages enables us to see the history of English kingdoms from the Fifth century to the Eighth Century. (Check out It was the Venerable Bede who popularized the BC/AD dating system, measuring time based on the birth date of Jesus Christ. This is yet another example of the saying that The pen is mightier than the sword. We will learn more about Bede in the next lesson. The Great (Geat) Conversation Many of the greatest conversations we may ever have might occur between our thoughts and authors who no longer live on this earth. They have blessed us with writings that still shine the light from their minds through books. (Every time you open a book, picture a warm and enticing light glowing from within.) So our thoughts then talk. These faithful friends don t tell our secrets, don t judge us, but share the true riches of all ages. They visit only when we want their company. Anglo-Saxon poetry helps us feel the heartbeat of that special time. And for a moment, like a mindreading time machine, the magic of the written word makes medieval thoughts our thoughts. Two types of Anglo-Saxon poetry are heroic and elegiac. Two of the Anglo-Saxon poets we know are Caedmon and Cynewulf. Then there were the scops, the poets who entertained guests 6

7 at special occasions with recitations of poetry from memory. The human need for poetry and entertainment in short, pleasant human companionship- -throughout the ages reflects the universal soul that we all share both now and then. 7

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