As Hrothgar begins to speak about Grendel in the lines below, his tone, or his attitude toward his subject, becomes bleak and despairing: "He'd...

As Hrothgar begins to speak about Grendel in the lines below, his tone, or his attitude toward his subject, becomes bleak and despairing:

He'd keep that peace. My tongue grows heavy, and my heart, when I try to tell you what Grendel has brought us, the damage he's done, here in this hall. You see for yourself how much smaller

What repeated sounds does the poet use to suggest this tone in Beowulf?

This translation of Beowulf uses the sighing h sound to help Hrothgar express his despair at the situation with Grendel. The original poem also repeats breathy sounds with h, s, and f and the guttural, groaning g to capture Hrothgar's emotions.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this section of Beowulf, King Hrothgar of the Danes is telling Beowulf about the horrors Grendel has brought upon his hall, Heorot, and his war band. Hrothgar has tried everything to combat the monster, but so far, nothing has worked. His men are being slaughtered, and he is powerless to stop it. Of course his tone will become bleak and despairing as he relates the nightmare in which he is caught.

In this translation, we hear a constant repetition of the h sound: heavy, heart, has, here, hall. These breathy h words suggest sighs as Hrothgar expresses his misery. The translator is picking up on the poem's mood.

Let's look at the original Old English version to see what the poet himself does with these lines. We'll start with line 473.

Sorh is me to secganne
on sefan minum
gumena ængum
hwæt me Grendel hafað
hynðo on Heorote
mid his heteþancum,
færniða gefremed;
is min fletwerod,
wigheap gewanod.

Translated literally, these lines read,

Sorrow it is for me to tell in my heart
to any man what to me Grendel has,
humiliations in Heorot, with his hate-thoughts,
of hostile attacks performed; my hall-troop is,
war-band, diminished.

Even in the original Old English, we pick up the repetition of the h sound as the poet weaves it into his alliterative structure. Alliteration is the repetition of initial sounds, and Old English poets used it in nearly every line as a critical element of the poem's form. The poet chooses the sighing h and unites it with the also breathy s and f to express Hrothgar's sighs of despair. Even the guttural g can suggest a groan in this context.

Both the poet and his translator, then, depict Hrothgar as bleak and despairing over the situation with Grendel, and they structure his words so that their very sounds reflect his dark mood.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The poet uses a combination of alliteration, consonance, and assonance in creating and repeating sounds that lead toward that bleak mood. They often use two of the devices in several words.

Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of a word while consonance is that repetition within a word. The use of alliteration with "G," especially in combination with "R" (for "GR" as in "Grendel"), helps emphasize that creature's importance. The "D" within "Grendel" and "blood" further resonates with the initial "D" within "damage" and "death."

Assonance is similar but involves the repetition of vowel sounds. The use of long "O" and closely related "AW" and "UH" is notable. "Horror" and "unlooked-for" are thus connected to "blood" and its rhyme: "flood." Other related words and ideas are "murder" and "gory." The plaintive repetition of "blood" is made poignant by its association with the speaker's appeal through direct address to his "beloved."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this passage, Hrothgar is despairing over Grendel's attacks upon the mead hall. This place of communal joy has been invaded by a monster. Hrothgar's warriors are being killed one after another, either in their sleep or when they try to fight back.

The poet uses alliteration (the use of the same letter at the beginning of each succeeding or closely located words in a sentence) and other forms of repetition to illustrate Hrothgar's desperation and fear. Notice in the excerpt below how the "h" sound repeats:

He'd keep that peace.
My tongue grows heavy, and my heart,
when I try to tell you what Grendel has brought us,
the damage he's done, here in this hall.

"He'd," "heavy," "heart," "has," "he's," "here," "hall" all begin with an "h," and their close succession within this passage creates a rhythm. (On a more practical level, alliteration can make memorizing a poem easier for the poet when performing. Remember, during the time Beowulf was transcribed, poems were usually read in public and not intended to be read privately.)

The repeated use of particular sounds and similarly structured sentences also reflects the repeated attacks Grendel wages upon the mead hall.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As Hrothgar speaks with Beowulf about the powerful monster Grendel who terrorizes Herot, the poet employs alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds, as well as consonance, the repetition of consonant sounds in stressed syllables containing dissimilar vowel sounds. Here is one example with the /w/:

What grief in Heorot Grendel hath caused me,
What horror unlooked-for, by hatred unceasing.
Waned is my war-band, wasted my hall-troop;
Weird hath offcast them to the clutches of Grendel. (VII,19-22)

In the following lines, "The" is repeated three times, recreating the barrage of strikes which Grendel made upon Hrothgar's men,  

A grapple with Grendel, with grimmest of edges.
Then this mead-hall at morning with murder was reeking,
The building was bloody at breaking of daylight,
The bench-deals all flooded, dripping and bloodied,
The folk-hall was gory: I had fewer retainers,
Dear-beloved warriors, whom death had laid hold of. (Vii, 27-33)
 
In addition, there is the repetition of /g/, /m/, /b/, /d/, and /w/  
[/d /=the sound that the cosonant d makes]
 
The alliteration also hurries these lines, generating a speed which creates the sense of urgency and the horror of what has happened. The recurring /b/ creates a sense of battle and being attacked since the consonant itself "blasts" sound. And, the repetition of the pattern of sentences also speeds the verse and connotes the repeated pattern of Grendel's killings. The despairing tones are generated by the repetitious lines which suggest the repeated attacks upon the inhabitants of Herot that the warriors of Hrothgar are unable to rebuff.
Certainly, Hrothgar is distraught over the loss of many of the noblemen of Herot Halls, and he feels that he is cursed with Grendel's presence. Beowulf, then, assures Hrothgar that he will kill the monster. 
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial