I’ve given JOB long enough to post this; for some reason, he refuses, though his duty is clear. Oh, well. Ye Olde New Yorker has a fun piece on some guy named Tolkien who went and translated Beowulf and then never published it…
“…Spoilers proliferate. When Beowulf goes to meet the dragon, the poet tells us fully four times that the hero is going to die. As in Greek tragedy, the audience for the poem knew the ending. It knew the middle, too, which is a good thing, since the events of Beowulf’s fifty-year reign are barely mentioned until the dragon appears. This bothered many early commentators. It did not bother Tolkien. The three fights were enough. Beowulf, Tolkien writes in his essay, was just a man:
And that for him and many is sufficient tragedy. It is not an irritating accident that the tone of the poem is so high and its theme so low. It is the theme in its deadly seriousness that begets the dignity of tone: lif is læne: eal scæceð leoht and lif somod (life is transitory: light and life together hasten away). So deadly and ineluctable is the underlying thought, that those who in the circle of light, within the besieged hall, are absorbed in work or talk and do not look to the battlements, either do not regard it or recoil. Death comes to the feast.
According to Tolkien, ‘Beowulf’ was not an epic or a heroic lay, which might need narrative thrust. It was just a poem—an elegy. Light and life hasten away.”
Be sure to follow the link for a throwdown between J.R.R. and some clown named Seamus!