What is the poetic language and biblical allusions of "Beowulf"?

What is the poetic language and biblical allusions of "Beowulf"?

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Eleanore Trupkiewicz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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You have asked about the style of the poetic language in the epic poem Beowulf and about the Biblical allusions found therein.

For an epic poem--one whose content largely concentrates on such rough, brutal subjects as the reality of warfare, the devastation of death and loss, and the gruesome cruelty of the various monsters with which Beowulf (as the epic hero) contends--Beowulf is full of surprisingly lovely, stylized language. You might consider such poetic devices as alliteration (common in poetry in general) and the kenning (a device particular to Anglo-Saxon poetry and the Old English language in which Beowulf was written).

Alliteration, the use of similar sounds at the beginnings of words near to one another in a text, is evident throughout the poem and even in the very earliest lines of Part I: "The folk-kings former fame we have heard of" (line 2) uses the letter "F" several times in words in close succession to intriguing effect, enhancing the musicality of the phrase. Line 21 uses the same letter again: "The friends of his father, with fees in abundance." Similarly, lines 14-15 of Part III contain the extended use of alliteration with the repeated "M" sound: "Then, his meal-taking finished, a moan was uplifted, / Morning-cry mighty. The man-ruler famous ..."

The kenning is a poetic device whereby rather than use a single direct word for a noun the poet instead chose to use a two-word phrase connected by a hyphen to paint more of a word picture for the noun in question. One of my favorites in the Beowulf text is the use of the kenning "whale-road" (line 10 of the Benjamin Slade translation , included in the reference links below for your further consideration) for sea or ocean. The poet could have used the noun "sea" or "ocean" but without the same effect: the kenning "whale-road" paints a far more evocative...

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Kristy Wooten eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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