"Then Beo was king in that Danish castle
Shild’s son ruling as long as his father
And as loved, a famous lord of men.
And he in turn gave his people a son,
The great Healfdane, a fierce fighter
Who led the Danes to the end of his long
Life and left them four children,"
I first tried reading Beowulf when I was in my early 20s. Being a voracious reader, I assumed I would have no problem, however difficult, awkward or epic the story. At that point I had already read most of the classics, including The Iliad, The Odyssey and other long involved epic tales.
I was wrong. I could not find a rhythm in the reading. I would crawl into bed at night and struggle for an hour before putting it aside.
One night, I heaved a sigh and slapped the thin paperback on the nightstand. My boyfriend at that time looked up from reading the Canterbury Tales (he was in an Old English class) and asked what the problem was. I cursed Beowulf and its unknown author.
Beowulf is meant to be listened to, not read silently, he told me. He picked up Beowulf, opened the book to the beginning and began to read aloud.
What a difference!
As I listened to the tale of kings, and battle, monsters and glory I was one with all the generations of people who have listened to the telling of Beowulf. We finished the poem in two nights. When the story was done, I heaved a sigh of contentment for a story well told but sad that it was over.
On my way to the airport last week, I noticed that there is a movie version of Beowulf in the theaters. The name brought me back to 2 cold winter nights many years ago when I finally understood the power of the spoken word. I intend to see the movie; it is getting good reviews. I am thrilled that such a long-standing classic is being introduced to yet another generation of people in a way that they can appreciate.