Can you paraphrase these lines from Beowulf?

So dutiful thanes

in liege to their lord mourn him with lays

praising his peerless prowess in battle

as it is fitting when life leaves the flesh.

Heavy-hearted his hearth-companions

grieved for Beowulf, great among kings,

mild in his mien, most gentle of men,

kindest to kinfolk yet keenest for fame.

Expert Answers

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

The writing of Beowulf has been problematic for many readers. That said, modern translations sometimes help readers cope with the words, phrases, and meaning of the story. Sometimes, by rephrasing pieces of a text, one can come to understand it better (although it does take a little longer).

A paraphrase...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The writing of Beowulf has been problematic for many readers. That said, modern translations sometimes help readers cope with the words, phrases, and meaning of the story. Sometimes, by rephrasing pieces of a text, one can come to understand it better (although it does take a little longer).

A paraphrase is a restating of the original in other words. Therefore, the passage in question will be paralleled with the paraphrased meaning following in bold (line by line).

So dutiful thanes

(Then the motivated men)

in liege to their lord mourn him with lays

(in obligation to their leader showed sorrow with song)

praising his peerless prowess in battle

(telling of his matchless skill in conflicts)

as it is fitting when life leaves the flesh.

(which is expected when one dies

Heavy-hearted his hearth-companions

(Saddened his fellow warriors)

grieved for Beowulf, great among kings,

(felt the loss of Beowulf, the best of all kings)

mild in his mien, most gentle of men,

(gentle in his manner, the most tender of men)

kindest to kinfolk yet keenest for fame.

(friendly to family although eager for glory)

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

Typically, after a Scandinavian King has died, often in the service of his people (like Beowulf, who fought a dragon that was wasting his kingdom), his loyal retainers go into prolonged morning for their fallen leader.

As the poet indicates, the

dutiful thanes. . . mourn him with lays praising his peerless powers in battle as it is fitting when life leaves the flesh. . . .

In other words, these loyal retainers mourn his passing by creating poems (lays) about his strengths and victories in battle.  Notice the alliteration in the phrase "praising his peerless powers"--a hallmark of Anglo-Saxon or Old English poetry.  One problematical note needs consideration: just as Beowulf's retainers are properly performing his last rites, a pall hangs over Beowulf's death.  When Beowulf was in danger from the dragon, the only loyal retainer who came too his aid was Wiglaf, his young kinsman, but Beowulf's most experienced warriors were too afraid to assistance him.  

Beowulf, however, is described as the perfect Anglo-Saxon/Christian prince:

great among kings,
mild in his mien, most gentle of men,
kindest to kinfolk yet keenest for fame

The importance of the description is key to Beowulf's ideal character, which was highly sought after in leaders during the Viking Age of Exploration (as Viking's came into England) and, more important, looked for in a powerful king who wanted peace for his kingdom.  The greatness of Beowulf, therefore, was not just that he was a powerful warrior but also that he was "mild in his mien (behavior), most gentle of men,/kindest of kinfolk yet keenest for fame."  Beowulf was the ideal mixture of one who sought peace so that his people could prosper but never avoided a conflict that threatened the well-being of his people.  Again, notice the poet's use of alliteration in the line beginning with "Kindest."

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team