Help in Understanding "Beowulf"?I'm taking an online class. It's fun for the most part, but when it comes to the poem, I have no one to teach me how to read it. I have 35 questions to answer...

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coachingcorner's profile pic

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I actually own a copy of this particular translation of the Beowulf poem, and can highly recommend it. The way I approached the study was to read Heaney's lovely translation a page at a time, interspersed with the original on the other side. That way I could compare each, side by side - and look up the many notes at the same time! My favourite bit was the description of the sea when the warriors set sail.

kwoo1213's profile pic

Posted on

Help in Understanding "Beowulf"?

I'm taking an online class. It's fun for the most part, but when it comes to the poem, I have no one to teach me how to read it. I have 35 questions to answer that I can't, because unfortunately,I can't read it.

  Along with the suggestions above, you can actually find modern English translations of the poem.  One of the most popular is Seamus Heaney's translation.  Many can be found online if you search for " 'Beowulf' modern English translation" or something similar.  You can then print out the translation. Also, you may find a modern English translation at your local library, for example.  This will help you understand it better.  I recommend this to my students.

jamie-wheeler's profile pic

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You are in luck!  A few months ago, I offered a free, complete analysis and discussion of this classic poem.  Go to this link:  eNotes Lit 101:  Beowulf.

here you will find not only lectures but also comprehensive discussion questions.  You may post your own question there or contribute to the existing discussion.

Thank you for using eNotes!

amy-lepore's profile pic

Posted on

Beowulf, like any poem written before the English we consider "modern" came into play, needs to be broken down into thoughts.  Don't attempt to read it like a novel, although once you get the hang of reading the text, you will be able to follow the action and the story like a novel flows.  Instead, break it into lines...from the beginning of the line to where the end punctuation falls.  From there, check your footnotes, and read the line OUT LOUD for comprehension.  You will stumble at first on the archaic words (often defined in the footnotes or sidenotes), but you will come to recognize them as they continue to occur in the reading.  Kennings also cause people to pause.  The Anglo-Saxons often used kennings as a memory tool to deliver the story since they were all passed down by word of mouth.  It's a lot like rapping...rhythm and kennings and rhyme all helped the story teller remember the story's events.  A kenning is a group of words to represent something--for instance a "whale-road" is the sea where the whales live and travel.  Just like "bling-bling" today means "jewelry".

Poetry is meant to be read aloud and performed.  Read your lines out loud for better comprehension.  Also, there are several places online that offer help in understanding the text.  Check the links below for help here at enotes.

Good Luck!

sgc252's profile pic

Posted on

I had to read Beowulf in college and the professor asked for us to get the bilingual version of the poem. I found that the bilingual version was easier to read simply because the poem was split into smaller sections and it was easier to interpret. If you are reading it in old english, you might want to find a more updated version  where the publisher tries to make the poem more understandable  for new readers. Also, if enotes study guide isn't sufficient enough, sparknotes also does a fantastic job at giving a summary and analysis of Beowulf by breaking it into sections and giving an indepth look. 

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