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"Out from the marsh, from the foot of misty hills and bogs, bearing God's hatred,...

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reedcapps | Student, Grade 10 | Honors

Posted September 21, 2013 at 2:40 AM via web

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"Out from the marsh, from the foot of misty hills and bogs, bearing God's hatred, Grendel came, hoping to kill."

Notice in the lines above how the translator uses punctuation to convey the effect of the mid-line pauses, or caesuras, in the lines. In what way does the rhythm created by the pauses reinforce the action recounted here in Beowulf?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:13 AM (Answer #1)

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The Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf is written with pauses, called caesuras, as well as other literary devices, to help the storyteller do a better job. The line you cite is a great example of caesuras, generally marked in the modern translations as commas, used to enhance meaning. 

Out from the marsh, from the foot of misty hills and bogs, bearing God's hatred, Grendel came, hoping to kill.

The pauses (commas, caesuras) in this passage are positioned to help the readers (listeners, in the original text) envision the stealthy movement of the marauding monster, Grendel. The narrator (singer/scop in the original) is able to build suspense by giving us the journey bit by bot and allowing us to envision what happens between the "bits."

If these lines were written in an informal prose form, it might sound something like this if the commas were given action and description: Out of the marsh (slowly and deliberately) from the foot of the misty hills and bogs (the place from which all evil things originate), Grendel came (sneaking his way into the town) hoping to kill. 

A lot of information is stored in those commas (caesuras), though it is implicit rather than explicit. In other words, the listener or reader kind of gets to decide what he envisions when the storyteller pauses. Each time there is a pause, the danger and the suspense intensify; and we know that a monster on the move bodes well for no one. 

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