Beowulf

Style

The style of Beowulf is plain-spoken and inventive. The poem’s language is richly physical, with a particular emphasis on bodies and their fragility: “flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house” (l.3148). Here, “bone-house,” meaning “body,” is an example of a “kenning.” A kenning is a particular kind of metaphor, in which two nouns are combined to create a new word, which is used in place of another noun. Another example is “whale-road” for “sea” (l.10). Kennings are a major feature of Beowulf”s style. They help to create the poem’s solid feel by describing things in strongly imagistic terms. The picture of whales travelling through the water, or bones holding the flesh up, is more immediate than the picture conjured by “sea” or “body.” Another notable feature of the poem’s style is its verse form, known as “alliterative verse.” Each line of the poem is broken into two halves, each half containing two stressed syllables. The halves are linked by the fact that one or both of the stressed syllables in the first half of the line alliterates with the first stressed syllable in the second half of the line. The balancing of each line, and the intricate patterning of sounds, makes the poem feel solidly built.