‘Beowulf at Breakfast’: A poem

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.

One response to “‘Beowulf at Breakfast’: A poem

  1. An epic telling. Breakfast was never so stirring.

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