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Reflective Essay on Beowulf Translated by Seamus Heaney

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Read Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney, lines 1345-1382. Write a commentary on this passage. Explore how the passage reflects themes important to the poem as a whole. Themes you might want to consider include, but are not limited to, monstrosity, lineage, travel, landscape, gender.

Lineage, a theme closely interlinked with the idea of bravery is an explicit notion that meanders through the poem: these are themes that are distinctly highlighted in this passage. Beowulf depicts the overpowering nature of the male. The men adhere to their stereotypes of being masculine, dominant and demanding. Unfortunately, it is the women who are affected most by the perpetuation of the ‘masculine principle’. Male figures seek to protect, maintain and assert their honour, reputation and most importantly their manhood . We see Beowulf embody the stereotypes displaying masculinity and authority. In this passage we see the use of the word ‘fatherless’(line 1356) is one specific word which explores this theme of lineage. The aforementioned theme is at the core and the very fabric of upholding one’s own reputation, something extremely crucial in Beowulf’s society. In carefully selecting the adjective ‘fatherless’ (line 1356), in his translation Seamus Heaney presents the ‘creatures’ (line 1356), essentially, as social outcasts because they are portrayed as unwanted creatures; they are unworthy to be declared as part of any lineage.

In this Beowulf passage , we see various themes such as gender closely tied in with the theme of bravery, being showcased throughout the poem. We see through the passage that the depiction of women in Beowulf is that they are insignificant and inconspicuous figures. Ironically, this passage is derived from around the section centered around Beowulf’s quest for Grendel’s mother as a result of her vicious attack on the hall. Women are not positively represented, in fact they are very domestic figures.

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Heaney, in his translation, shapes the reader’s response by incorporating numerous literary devices. This is emphasized through the use of imagery, personification and repetition. These devices function specifically to convey how this upcoming pursuit Beowulf is due to embark on is of great importance. The unsettling battle is described to occur deep down in the ‘water [that] burns’(line 1366) in the ‘gap of danger where the demon waits…’(line 1378). This is description is interesting as water does not burn, nevertheless, somehow it does in this world. This image allows the writer to shape the meaning of the text. We also see the theme of bravery being closely linked to Beowulf as it is he solely who is believed to possess the courage and bravery to fight or even venture to such a place. Through using these images, we readers are strategically positioned and drawn to believe that this event is incredibly valuable. We arguably also see the clear overpowering nature of the male in this poem; Beowulf is driven by his heroic ways to conquer and repeat.

Religion is a major theme in the poem, particularly in this passage. It could be argued that in fact this story is about people that do not celebrate god. There is vivid descriptions: “Looks like a woman; the other, warped in the shape of a man, moves beyond the pale.. Bigger than any man, an unnatural birth called Grendel by country people in former days”(lines 1350-55). These images are typical of its time. This section of the passage is heavily mirroring a Christian cognizance of the world as it relates to the old testament. Here, Heaney in his translation is attempting to illustrate that all are made in the image of god, according to his beliefs ( perhaps there is something colonial about that). Overall, central theme of God being the creator of all things is conveyed and shown through the strong projection of christianity throughout the passage ; Beowulf is even made to exhibit the superiority of the religion as he himself is depicted as the ideal brave Christian soldier.

Ultimately, the poem highlights numerous Anglo-Saxon attitudes. Heaney, in his translation of Beowulf, conveys the importance of the notion of bravery, it is is arguably one of the biggest themes in the poem. We additionally see themes of lineage and the notion of gender being closely associated with the aforementioned overarching theme of bravery as also being important.From a feminist perspective, it could be argued that the women are, in fact, all rounded characters that differ from the men and the perceived typical archetypes. Just because the some of the female characters in Beowulf are utilized to incite violence (as evident in this particular passage), nonetheless, this does not necessarily make them insignifiant. Consequently, despite grendel’s mother portraying monster, she has, in a way, followed the heroic characteristics, much like Beowulf. Overall the main themes of gender, religion, lineage all connect to the core theme of bravery in this particular passage. Fundamentally, throughout the passage we readers are left wandering in which part history of the Anglo-Saxons did such a society exist? The modern we imagine the poem to be, the more overtly nostalgic and non-factual we start to think really is the case ; nonetheless, the more premature we think it is the more conceivably authentic its medieval material, especially on its notions surrounding religion.


  1. Heaney, Seamus. n.d. ‘Beowulf: A New Verse Translation By Seamus Heaney’. Pelister.Org.
  2. Seamus Heaney, Beowulf: A New Verse Translation (Norton And Company Inc.,New York 2002)
  3. Joseph Black, et al., eds. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: Volume 1: The Medieval Period-: Volume 1: The Medieval Period. Broadview Press, 2009.

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Reflective Essay on Beowulf Translated by Seamus Heaney. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 5, 2023, from
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