There is considerable debate as to whether the poem Beowulf is an epic narrative poem or an heroic elegy, a poem celebrating the fantastic achievements of its great hero, and also expressing sorrow or lamentation for the hero’s unfortunate death. This essay intends to show that the poem is an heroic elegy.
In “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” Tolkien states:
We must dismiss, of course, from mind the notion that Beowulf is a “narrative poem,” that it tells a tale or intends to tell a tale sequentially. The poem “lacks steady advance”: so Klaeber heads a critical section in his edition. But the poem was not meant to advance, steadily or unsteadily. It is essentially a balance, an opposition of ends and beginnings. In its simplest terms it is a contrasted description of two moments in a great life, rising and setting; an elaboration of the ancient and intensely moving contrast between youth and age, first achievement and final death (Tolkien 34).
Another literary scholar attacks the proposition that the poem is a narrative, an epic as many critics say: “For the structure of the poem is not sequential, but complemental; at the outset certain parts of a situation are displayed, and these are given coherence and significance by progressive addition of its other parts’ (Blomfield 60). These attacks on the epic-narrative theory regarding the poem Beowulf leave one with the only choice left – that the poem is an heroic elegy, a poem celebrating the achievements of its hero Beowulf, and at the same time a poem of lamentation and sorrow and mourning over the death of that great hero.
In Part I of Beowulf the poet establishes Beowulf as an incomparable superma...
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.... fry. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Greenfield, Stanley B.. “The Finn Episode and its Parallet.” In Beowulf: The Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph F. Tuso. New York, W.W.Norton and Co.: 1975.
Rebsamen, Frederick R.. in “Beowulf – A Personal Elegy.” Beowulf: The Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph F. Tuso. New York, W.W.Norton and Co.: 1975
Robinson, Fred C. “Apposed Word Meanings and Religious Perspectives.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Tolkien, J.R.R.. “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Wright, David. “The Digressions in Beowulf.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.
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