Historical Context

One way to study Wilbur’s “Beowulf” is by comparing the poet’s time with that of the epic hero’s period. Wilbur published “Beowulf” in 1950, just a few years after the end of World War II. During the war, he served as an Army cryptographer and soldier. His infantry division fought in Europe, and Wilbur was in active combat in bloody campaigns for three years. It is interesting to note that he has written few poems directly about the war, although he has said that the experience of battle caused him to become serious about writing poetry.

Americans in 1950 wanted to put the war behind them. Many people had lived through World War I (1914–1918), the Great Depression (from 1929 into the late 1930s), and World War II (1939–1945). Many young couples, including Wilbur and his wife, were having families. America was victorious and prosperous, helping to finance the rebuilding of Europe and Japan after the war. However, tensions arose between the United States and the communist Soviet Union, the two dominant world powers, causing the Cold War, which lasted nearly fifty years.

The epic Beowulf takes place during a period in Europe known as the Migration Age. After the World War II. According to critic Rodney Edgecombe, Wilbur takes the repetition of language that is common in epic poetry and conceives of it as the failure of language to capture inscrutable ideas. This view reflects the disorder and lack of harmony in modern...

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