Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Beowulf & Our Creative Voice

photograph by me

Then down the brave man lay with his bolster
under his head and his whole company
of sea-rovers at rest beside him.
None of them expected he would ever see
his homeland again or get back
to his native place and the people who reared him.
They knew too well the way it was before,
how often the Danes had fallen prey
to death in the mead-hall. But the Lord was weaving
a victory on his war-loom for the Weather-Geats.
Through the strength of one they all prevailed;
they would crush their enemy and come through
in triumph and gladness. The truth is clear:
Almighty God rules over mankind
and always has.
— Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

This passage captures everything I loved about Beowulf: the straightforward turn of phrase, the courage and steadfastness in the face of opposition and peril, and the always present acknowledgement of God's rule over earth and men. Beowulf is unflinching and vivid. It is an epic in the true sense of the word. I am now accepting any and all recommendations for other Medieval/Anglo-Saxon epics. (Seriously, if you have any recommendations please, please leave them in the comments.)

Fan girlish flailing aside however, I did actually struggle reading Beowulf at times. More often than not, I had to sit alone in a silent corner of the house in order to concentrate. This was not the poem's fault. I have never read long poems. I have never read much poetry. Period. Something I fully intend to rectify. I have decided to try putting my senior year of high school resolution of reading some type of poetry at least once a week back into practice. I also want to study poetry. I am sadly ignorant when it comes to poets and poetry. (Which brings us back to the part where I am accepting recommendations for poetry books and books on poets and poetry in the comments. Thank you. *passes out chocolate*)

In other reading, I have slowly started making my way through Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon, relishing each creative golden nugget and pondering over them. Probably the one that I have been pondering over the most is what he has to say about your creative voice.

... the only way to find your voice is to use it. It's hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.
— Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

I was reading back over posts on other blogs I had missed in the crazy shuffle of juggling that is my life right now and I ran across one by Schuyler over at My Lady Bibliophile. In her post, she talks about story elements she sees in her own writing and how they connect to beliefs she has and the stories she enjoys reading and watching in film. This has started me thinking a good deal about the elements I most often include in my own stories and the elements I have noticed in my favorite books and films. It provides fascinating food for thought and is something I would like to dig deeper into in the future.

Have any of you read Beowulf? How do you like poetry? Do you have any particular favorite poets and/or poems? And what are your thoughts on how some of our favorite elements in stories affect our creative voices?


  1. Oh! I'm so excited you liked BEOWULF, Hanne-col. I would caution you, though, that medieval literature is all quite different and nothing really is like BEOWULF. But here are some things I've enjoyed - I may have already mentioned some on Twitter:

    The Dream of the Rood
    The Wanderer
    The Battle of Malden

    The Saga of Burnt Njall
    The Saga of the Volsungs
    The Elder Edda (which I haven't read yet but will ASAP because it looks AWESOME)

    Middle English
    Piers Plowman
    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
    Sir Orfeo
    (get these three last in the Tolkien translation!)

    Chansons de geste
    The Song of Roland (<3, but only in the Dorothy Sayers translation)
    The Poem of the Cid (this will be my Annual Epic for the year)

    As for poetry, if you find it ticklish going, I would suggest one of two things:

    A) Get Roy Maynard's FIERCE WARS AND FAITHFUL LOVES, which is Book 1 of THE FAERIE QUEENE with helpful footnotes - or a good audiobook of the FQ. The story gallops through the poetry, so you won't be stopping to puzzle stuff out (and you'll understand it better if you don't). Try to get through it in as little time as possible. Don't stop.

    B) Get a good collection of shorter verse, preferably from a wide selection of different poets. The Arthur Quiller-Couch OXFORD BOOK OF ENGLISH VERSE would be a GREAT investment, or pick up some other reputable collection. Read a poem or two once a week, while you're ensconced in a peaceful nook with plenty of time to ponder.

    This is because short verse is quite different to long verse, and tends to read differently. I do recommend taking the time to become familiar with both :)

    1. Thank you for all your recommendations, Suzannah! Yes, I have been reminding myself to move forward cautiously or else I will be disappointed that they don't quite match up to Beowulf. I will have to begin looking out for all of these.

      Your second suggestion is a bit similar to what I tried to make a habit out of doing during my last year of high school. I recently acquired a collection of Chesterton's poetry that I want to dig into and already own a book of Christina Rossetti's work. I will have to investigate the larger poetry collections my family owns.

      I do hope to read The Fairy Queen at some point in the future. I have a feeling though, it is something I will need to save up for when I have a massive chunk of free time to devote to reading it.

  2. I like poetry, but I find I usually have a better attention span for the shorter, simpler pieces. I've read The Kings by Louise Imogen Guiney that kind of had an older English feel to it even though it was written in modern times. That passage up there from Beowulf reminds me of the style a bit.
    I might have to give Beowulf a try, even if I'm not sure I have the discipline for a poem that long! :)
    And I would love to hear more about finding your voice. I've been thinking about that too, and it really is such a unique and interesting topic.

    1. Ooh, I haven't heard of The Kings. I will have to look into it. I would definitely recommend giving Beowulf a read. Once you get into it, it becomes easier to follow. I imagine I wouldn't have had as much trouble if I had had the time to read it in one sitting.

      I have to agree about finding your voice. I might try writing about my personal thoughts on the subject in the future. I feel like your voice is a combination of your writing style and the themes you like to write about. It is a bit difficult to put into words, but is fascinating to think about and explore.

  3. Hi there! Sorry I'm a bit late, but if you want poetry recommendations, I might be able to give you some good ones. :) For starters, Seamus Heaney himself was a BRILLIANT poet. One of my favorites. That vivid, straightforward language that you liked so much in 'Beowulf'? That's in pretty much all of his original poetry too. I'd suggest starting with 'Selected Poems: 1966-1987' or maybe one of his earlier collections.

    Christina Rossetti is always great. W. B. Yeats can be pretty strange sometimes, but he's also a genius. And I'll second Suzannah's recommendation of Arthur Quiller-Couch's 'Oxford Book of English Verse.'

    1. Darn Blogger's new formatting! I didn't see this comment awaiting moderation until today! I really do apologize. And thank you for your recommendations, Hanna! I have been increasingly interested in reading Heaney's original poetry based on how much you're always talking and raving about it. :)

      I guess I really need to get my hands on a copy of the "Oxford Book of English Verse".


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