Metaphors, exaggeration, andalliteration are three devices that together allow the reader toexperience this poem which is quite different than most other poetry. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase thatordinarily means one thing is applied to another thing to suggest alikeness between the two. Metaphors are used extensively throughout thepoem to paint a more colorful picture in the listener’s mind. Thesemetaphors are used in phrases called “kennings”. A kenning is adescriptive, poetical expression used instead of a simple name for aperson or thing. Beowulf is hardly ever called by his actual name.
Instead there are many kennings referring to him, such as: “Prince ofthe Weders”, “The Son of Ecgtheow”, “The Geatish hero”, and “The Lord ofthe Seamen”. These kennings describe Beowulf to us in a more interestingway than just stating the hard facts. Without these kennings Beowulfwould be less interesting and we would learn less about him. Anybodywould say that describing or referring to a person by his or her nameover and over again is boring.
So the use of kennings and metaphors isvery important in this long epic poem. Exaggeration is another device to make Beowulf a moreinteresting, entertaining, and dramatic poem. For example, even thoughthis story is a fantasy, it is hard to believe that the character ofBeowulf would be able to kill a monster like Grendel with his barehands. Exaggerating Beowulf’s bravery makes the story more exciting.
Another exaggeration used to convince us how great our hero is, is thepassage, “Over all the world, or between the seas, / Or under theheaven, no hero was greater. ” (671-672). This dazzles the listener withBeowulf’s bravery. His bravery is again exaggerated when he jumps in theswamp wearing heavy armor to fight and kill Grendel’s mother. It’sunlikely even a strong warrior could win a battle with a she-monster inan underwater cave with a broken sword.
But it adds to the excitement. In the line “The head of Grendel, with heavy toil; / Four of thestoutest, with all their strength, / Could hardly carry on swaying spear/ Grendel’s head to the gold-decked hall. ” (1109-1112) exaggerations aremade concerning the size and weight of the monster’s head. Again, itportrays a more gruesome and dramatic scene to the listener’simagination. Alliteration, which is repeating the same sound, usually aconsonant, at the beginning of words or in accented syllables, givesthis story a more poetic sound. Alliteration also helped the scops orstorytellers in memorizing the tales.
Examples of alliteration can befound throughout the poem such as, “The Hall of the Heart”, “His pledgeand promise”, “Dragging the dead men home to his den”, “Fitted andfurnished”, and “Showed sea-cliffs shining”. This device adds creativityand rhythm to the poem. It makes it more entertaining to read, speak, orlisten to such a long story. Metaphors in the kennings, exaggerations, and alliteration allhelp in developing vivid descriptions and imagery to entertain andbeautifully tell the story of Beowulf.
Imagery, figures of speech thathelp the mind to form pictures, are throughout the poem. One of thestrongest examples was found where it reads, ” The demon delayed not,but quickly clutched / A sleeping thane in his swift assault, / Tore himin pieces, bit through the bones, / Gulped the blood, and gobbled theflesh, / Greedily gorged on the lifeless corpse,” (558-563). This is theimage of Grendel killing one of the soldiers before his fatal fight withBeowulf. Great descriptive passages are found about Grendel’s swamp-homedescribing it as, ” ^a dismal covert / Of trees that hung over hoarystone, / Over churning water and bloodstained wave. ” (926-928), ” ^Thewater boiled in a bloody swirling” (933) ” ^The swimming forms ofsea-dragons, / Dim serpent shapes in the watery depths”.
These are thepictures that nightmares are made of. In comparison to our modern fiction, Beowulf might seem wordyand lengthy but when a reader takes time to savor the graphicdescriptions, vivid imagery, clever alliteration, and fantasticexaggerations one can understand how this thirteen hundred-year-old epicpoem has lasted through the years. It is beautifully and creativelywritten and has therefore stood the test of time for the reader or thelistener.