Paradoxes In Beowulf

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The Balanced Beowulf In J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”, he describes the epic poem Beowulf, as a balance between ends and beginnings. He says that Beowulf establishes a contrast of rising and setting, youth and age, and first achievement and final death. All of these paradoxes can be found in several places throughout the poem. For example, the poem illustrates the rise and fall of Herot, and the difference between Beowulf, the protagonist, in his youth and in his later life. This poem also depicts Beowulf’s first achievement as well as his unfortunate death. As a result of this, Tolkien’s view of Beowulf being a balance can in fact be confirmed. In Tolkien’s description of Beowulf, he portrays…show more content…
Youth and age play a vital role in this epic, with the first half dedicated to Beowulf’s youth and the second half dedicated to the end of Beowulf’s life. In his youth, Beowulf is a great warrior, characterized predominantly by his feats of strength and courage. He does extraordinary things that no other man can do, such as driving “Five great giants into chains” swimming “In the blackness of night, hunting monsters/ Out of the ocean, and killing them one/ By one” (Lines 420, 422-424). Also, as Beowulf prepares to fight Grendel, he states, “ ‘I could kill him with my sword; I shall not,/ Easy as it would be’ ” (Lines678-679). Because of his confidence and knowledge of personal strength, Beowulf fights the most evil monster with his bare hands and comes out victorious. However, as the second half of the poem approaches, and many a year passes, Beowulf’s success rate may not be as perfect as he thought. Beowulf’s victorious streak comes to an end when he decides to fight the malevolent dragon that is terrorizing his lands, despite his old age. Soon after beginning the battle, Beowulf realizes his mistake when he says, “ ‘I’ve never known fear; as a youth I fought/ In endless battles. I am old, now’ ” (Lines 2511-2512). This decision of his ultimately leads to his downfall. In…show more content…
Although Beowulf had many victories prior to the accounts in the poem, it can be said that his first, major achievement is him defeating Grendel. Beowulf states that “ ‘Now Grendel and I are called/ Together, and I’ve come’ ” in order to “ ‘purge all evil from this hall’ ” (Lines 425-426, 431). Beowulf realizes that it is his duty to fulfill this mission that will allow him to be remembered throughout the centuries. Fortunately for Beowulf, he “had killed Grendel,/ Ended the grief, the sorrow, the suffering/ Forced on Hrothgar’s helpless people/ By a bloodthirsty fiend” (Lines 830-833). Everybody loves and respects Beowulf, and as a result of his accomplishment, he has been “granted a new glory” (Line 819). Along with Beowulf’s first achievement, this poem also cites Beowulf’s final death. This gloomy period results from Beowulf’s naïve decision to fight a powerful dragon at a very old age. Although Beowulf does in fact kill the dragon, “The wound/ In his neck began to swell and grow;/ He could feel something stirring, burning/ In his veins, a stinging venom” left by the dragons fangs (Lines 2711-2714). Beowulf new his time was about to be over, and in a few minutes, “The old man’s mouth was silent, spoke/ No more” and “His soul/ Left his flesh, flew to glory” (Lines 217-218,

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