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Use of Metaphors, Exaggeration, and Alliteration in Beowulf

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Use of Metaphors, Exaggeration, and Alliteration in Beowulf


The epic poem Beowulf, written in Old English by Christian
monks around 750 AD, is a wonderful adventure story about a warrior who
kills ferocious monsters. The use of description and imagery enlivens
the story, making it possible for a reader to really see in his or her
mind the characters and events. Metaphors, exaggeration, and
alliteration are three devices that together allow the reader to
experience this poem which is quite different than most other poetry.

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that
ordinarily means one thing is applied to another thing to suggest a
likeness between the two. Metaphors are used extensively throughout the
poem to paint a more colorful picture in the listener's mind. These
metaphors are used in phrases called "kennings". A kenning is a
descriptive, poetical expression used instead of a simple name for a
person or thing. Beowulf is hardly ever called by his actual name.

Instead there are many kennings referring to him, such as: "Prince of
the Weders", "The Son of Ecgtheow", "The Geatish hero", and "The Lord of
the Seamen". These kennings describe Beowulf to us in a more interesting
way than just stating the hard facts. Without these kennings Beowulf
would be less interesting and we would learn less about him. Anybody
would say that describing or referring to a person by his or her name
over and over again is boring. So the use of kennings and metaphors is
very important in this long epic poem.

Exaggeration is another device to make Beowulf a more
interesting, entertaining, and dramatic poem. For example, even though
this story is a fantasy, it is hard to believe that the character of
Beowulf would be able to kill a monster like Grendel with his bare
hands. Exaggerating Beowulf's bravery makes the story more exciting.

Another exaggeration used to convince us how great our hero is, is the
passage, "Over all the world, or between the seas, / Or under the
heaven, no hero was greater." (671-672). This dazzles the listener with
Beowulf's bravery. His bravery is again exaggerated when he jumps in the
swamp wearing heavy armor to fight and kill Grendel's mother. It's
unlikely even a strong warrior could win a battle with a she-monster in
an underwater cave with a broken sword. But it adds to the excitement.

In the line "The head of Grendel, with heavy toil; / Four of the
stoutest, with all their strength, / Could hardly carry on swaying spear
/ Grendel's head to the gold-decked hall." (1109-1112) exaggerations are
made concerning the size and weight of the monster's head. Again, it
portrays a more gruesome and dramatic scene to the listener's
imagination.

Alliteration, which is repeating the same sound, usually a
consonant, at the beginning of words or in accented syllables, gives
this story a more poetic sound. Alliteration also helped the scops or
storytellers in memorizing the tales. Examples of alliteration can be
found throughout the poem such as, "The Hall of the Heart", "His pledge
and promise", "Dragging the dead men home to his den", "Fitted and
furnished", and "Showed sea-cliffs shining". This device adds creativity
and rhythm to the poem. It makes it more entertaining to read, speak, or
listen to such a long story.

Metaphors in the kennings, exaggerations, and alliteration all
help in developing vivid descriptions and imagery to entertain and
beautifully tell the story of Beowulf. Imagery, figures of speech that
help the mind to form pictures, are throughout the poem. One of the
strongest examples was found where it reads, " The demon delayed not,
but quickly clutched / A sleeping thane in his swift assault, / Tore him
in pieces, bit through the bones, / Gulped the blood, and gobbled the
flesh, / Greedily gorged on the lifeless corpse," (558-563). This is the
image of Grendel killing one of the soldiers before his fatal fight with
Beowulf. Great descriptive passages are found about Grendel's swamp-home
describing it as, " ^Åa dismal covert / Of trees that hung over hoary
stone, / Over churning water and bloodstained wave." (926-928), " ^ÅThe
water boiled in a bloody swirling" (933) " ^ÅThe swimming forms of
sea-dragons, / Dim serpent shapes in the watery depths". These are the
pictures that nightmares are made of.

In comparison to our modern fiction, Beowulf might seem wordy
and lengthy but when a reader takes time to savor the graphic
descriptions, vivid imagery, clever alliteration, and fantastic
exaggerations one can understand how this thirteen hundred-year-old epic
poem has lasted through the years. It is beautifully and creatively
written and has therefore stood the test of time for the reader or the
listener.

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