Beowulf

Tone

Main ideas Tone

The tone of Beowulf is melancholy. Although the poem celebrates the deeds of Beowulf and other great leaders, this celebration is infused with an understanding that even the greatest leaders, and the most morally good—by pagan standards—are dead and gone. Their people suffered “slavery and abasement” (l.1355), and their hoards of treasure are “tarnished and corroding” (ll.2761-2). Beowulf begins with a funeral and builds toward a final note of loss and despair at another funeral, when the Geats “[wail] aloud for their lord’s decease” (l.3149). The Christian perspective of the poem’s narrator adds an extra layer of melancholy to the tone. From the narrator’s point of view, the great heroes of the past are not only dead and gone. They were also terribly misguided during their lives, because they never had the chance to achieve salvation: “the Lord God […] was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he / who in time of trouble has to thrust his soul / in the fire’s embrace’ (ll.183-5).