An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - The Style of Beowulf

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The Style of Beowulf

A consideration of the stylistic features in the classic poem Beowulf involves a study of the poetic verse, the vocabulary, alliteration, litotes, simile, kennings, variation and double-meaning or ambiguity.

The poetic conventions used by this poet include two half-lines in each verse, separated by a caesura or pause. The half-lines are joined by the oral stressing of alliterative words in the half-lines, both consonants and vowels (Tharaud 34). “At least one of the two stressed words in the first half-line, and usually both of them, begin with the same sound as the first stressed word of the second half-line” (Donaldson 67). When a word was stressed in the first half-line, its
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Magoun, in examining the poem, considers it probable that a high percentage of the language in Beowulf is formulas (88-89), formed from a common “word-hoard” that all scops drew on for their vocabulary. On average there is a nominal or adjectival compound every other line, and a new compound in every third line. Many of these compounds did not exist in the average Old Englishman’s vocabulary; some are found only in this poem and nowhere else.

The style of Beowulf is affected in a very noticeable way by its heavy usage of metaphorical naming, called kenning. Kennings are compound expressions using characteristics to name something. The kenning hronrade literally means “whale-road,” which translates as “sea” to the listener or reader. There are hundreds of kennings in the poem:

Life-lord living Lord war-dress armor

bed-companion spouse earth-dwellers humans

kin-slaughter killing of relatives gift-throne throne

wave-rider boat sea-skilled sailor

sea-currents waves battle-dress armor

battle-shirts mail word-hoard vocabulary

hearth-companions friends pitch-black dark

shield-bearer thane fire-hardened

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