This famous poem-story, written in about 850 A.D. in the Old English/Anglo-Saxon language (and translated into modern English below by Seamus Heaney), is about a Nordic warrior tribe’s battle against the monster Grendel. This poem uses a solid, stolid language – lots of one-syllable words, concrete words (rather than abstract), and consonant-prominent words often repeated within the line. For example, in translation:
Lines 442 to 455:
If Grendel wins, it will be a gruesome day;
he will glut himself on the Geats in the war-hall,
swoop without fear on that flower of manhood
as on others before. Then my face won’t be there
to be covered in death: he will carry me away
as he goes to ground, gorged and bloodied;
he will run gloating with my raw corpse
and feed on it alone, in a cruel frenzy
fouling his moor-nest. No need then
to lament for long or lay out my body:
if the battle takes me, send back
this breast-webbing that Weland fashioned
and Hrethel gave me, to Lord Hygelac.
Fate goes ever as fate must.
The assignment I gave myself (and, later, my students) was to write in the word-style of “Beowulf,” but in an everyday (not military) situation. I wanted to use Beowulf’s forceful language but not his subject matter. Here, then, is my poem “Beowulf At Breakfast”:
Back at my house-lair, I go to food-room
and gather eat-stuffs to break my night-fast.
Steel pot clangs hard on steel stove grate.
Flames cast blue light ‘neath flat pan-side.
Still-water soon leaps with boil-chaos; a song
of water-splash and fire-sputter dances away.
Whence I hear this ear-noise, I click knob
to off and pour steam-stuff into tea cups
and pour more soak-stuff onto flat oat-grains
in clay bowl. Also, there is syrup of maple
(or black-strap molasses) and raisin of grape
and butter of cow-milk and dust of red-bark
to boost my tongue’s taste-lust for else-dry oat parts.