Mastering Writing Skills Through Reviewing the Poem Beowulf

Close-up of traditional fountain pen with an iridium tip

What is the best literary work that you ever read? One of the earliest and most important texts in Old English is Beowulf. What made it as famous then as it is today and how it impacts the readers are important questions that need to be addressed. Beowulf has a dramatic writing style that manipulates the reader’s emotions. It’s the story of a great battle and a true hero. The protagonist; the titular Beowulf, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, King of the Danes, whose great hall, Heorot, is plagued by the monster Grendel. Beowulf is the greatest thane in history and as strong as 30 men. He is a noble Anglo-Saxon hero, and prince of the Geats. Since lineage passed from the father’s side, Beowulf is technically a Waegmunding, though he can claim descent from Hrethel. Beowulf becomes king upon his first cousin’s death, and he rules Geatland for 50 years. Finally Beowulf dies during the battle with the dragon. In his youth, he personifies all of the best values of the heroic culture. In his old age, he proves to be a wise and effective ruler. Beowulf leaves no heirs, so his kinsman Wiglaf becomes the next king.

Beowulf in British Library

Many years ago, I began writing for an online encyclopedia but, at first, my writings failed to get published. The first signs of improvement appeared slowly. There were many amazing articles about politics. After writing a few paragraphs in different articles in that encyclopedia, I found out there are some general rules that every writer must follow.

One of them is to write as simple as possible and with clarity. 1 Always use simple words, short sentences, and try to improve and clear the meaning of vague expressions. Avoid using complex sentences. Always use simple sentences consisting of one clause and try to write in an active voice. Check the grammatical structure. And have a good punctuation. The most successful articles are written using general, popular, simple, but highly professional words and clichés. Beowulf in form of a simple story with an outstanding narrative teaches a way of life.

Let’s review the first 3 terms which the Beowulf begins with:

So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by

and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.

We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns. 2

Review the writing structure. It’s written in simple terms. The texts give a notion to the kings of Danes, and princes’ heroic campaigns. Therefore it starts memorably, and it raises the emotion of people who like classic and heroic tales. It is a fiction story, based on the real events of that era and the kings of Danes. It’s written by a poetic style. This writing style helps the reader to follow the narrative easily and passionately. Beowulf is a great example of a successful work, and it’s a noble work from the old-world era, and we would learn a lot by reviewing its writing style.

Stories of Beowulf: Water witch trying to stab Beowulf

Another example of simplicity in writing in Beowulf (including simple terms and application of active voice):

It was the end of their voyage and the Geats vaulted
over the side, out on to the sand,
and moored their ship. There was a clash of mail
and a thresh of gear. They thanked God
for that easy crossing on a calm sea.

There are three more general rules to follow to write a high impact manuscript that would be described through the remainder of this article below.

Weighing scale

Avoiding biased language is the second general rule. When one writes biased information, the article loses its scientific credibility. The author’s point of view shall not affect what the author writes. 3 Also some authors assume that every individual is male. When the author doesn’t write free of the gender, race, age, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation the author’s writing would get considered as another form of biased writings too.

The other general rule is making reliable citations. 4 Without reliable citations and references, not only would your article lose much of its credibility, but it is also impossible that an article with weak citations would be published by a good publication. When one is looking for some resources to cite them in an article, the one shall consider the credibility of its publisher and the scientific experiences of its author.

Gold coins on old newspaper

And finally the fourth general rule is sharing compelling and valuable information. Without a piece of different information there would be no difference between your works with the others. For example there would be 100,000 of books available in a genre about a subject that a person have decided to write about. And this person knows nothing more than the other writers who have written about that subject, or even this person knows less. Few people would read what this person have written, and even this person would have serious complaints to find a publisher to share that work with someone.

It’s not necessary that I quote many paragraphs from Beowulf which share compelling and valuable information, but as one of the oldest literatures in English it is full of valuable information regarding the old-world, its people, and their rulers.

However drafting an impactful writing relies on a great understanding of different people’s psychology and their habits. Higher understanding of people contemplative system, imaginations, and how to impress or persuade people would increase chance of getting succeeded in writings. Your writing is not what you think it is, it would be what the other people think about. It is not what you may imagine in your mind, it is what the other people would imagine. Also your own writing habits could be inappropriate for a proposal. An author must establish a high impact and affectionate writing style first, and then improve it. You can review a high impact published article first. It would help you build your writing habits. There are four main types of writing. It’s including expository, descriptive, persuasive, and narrative writing. Scientific writings are almost informative. They are either expository or descriptive. Fiction writings usually are narrative. And when people write to have someone’s agreement they would write it in a persuasive format.


In conclusion, proposing an impactful and affectionate writing relies on raising the audience’s passion and attention with respect to several rules. There are four important rules to follow for creating a proposal. Simple writing helps the reader to follow the scripture easily, understand them well, and it shall create a vivid image of the subject into the reader’s imagination. Avoiding biased language makes the writing more credible. Reliable citations would support the author’s statements. And when there are lots of similar works available about a topic, then sharing compelling and valuable information would make your writing different, and help it stands out of the other works. However the author’s writing and descriptions would shape in the readers mind, and it’s the author’s responsibility to artistically imply those concepts to the audience. Don’t forget that an impactful and affectionate story (including personal stories, fiction, and non-fiction) usually begins while written in a simple style and ends memorably. However writing for a higher impact is a difficult task. And it requires advanced writing skills. It’s an important thing that I could learn over time.

Works Cited

  1. Paul Massari, Writing, clear and simple. The Harvard Gazette, January 23, 2012.
  2. Seamus Heaney and the Beowulf Poem, Beowulf. W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.
  3. Walden University Writing Center. (n.d.) Scholarly voice: Avoiding bias. Retrieved from http://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/scholarlyvoice/avoidingbias
  4. Middlebury Libraries. Why do we cite? Retrieved from https://middlebury.libguides.com/citation/whycite

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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35 Comments

  1. I feel as though that another reason for its timeless story is the fact that the language is very straight-forward. Various authors during the time period it was published utilized language that made it difficult to decipher at times and confuse readers on its impact. Telling a story like “Beowulf” does not differ readers from what is happening.

  2. Writing simple does have the ability to attract more readers and promote a clearer understanding. The only problem is that “simple writing” for well educated people tends to have advanced vocabulary and complex sentence structure. Bummer most writers are smart people.

  3. A Robot is not a human or a woman so it may look like a she but it is not. Robots should not be replicating the look of humans but should look like robots in my opinion.

  4. Vicente
    0

    I read excerpts of Beowulf back in high school when my senior English class was studying it and I liked it then.

  5. Mulligan
    0

    Beowulf is a poem I know quite well, and Chickering’s translation is by far the best.

  6. This poem is awesome (in the traditional sense of the word) only because it is sooooo old.

  7. germnany
    0

    I had to read excerpts of Beowulf as a junior in high school, but I recently had to go through the whole thing. While the story line, although basic, is enjoyable, Beowulf never fails to get on my nerves. I don’t know what it is, but his whole demeanor of “watch me ride in on this ship with boar heads on it and defeat all these great creatures and earn God’s love and oh wait! don’t even try to fight that dragon because I’m God’s gift to the world and I’m the only one who could possibly defeat it” is annoying.

  8. honestly, the best part of reading this in grade nine was seeing that mssed up animated version of the movie afterwards

  9. Great article. Beowulf is one of those Medieval works of literature that many have heard about but few have read. However, it’s worth reading, if only to experience a story so different from modern sensibilities.

  10. The beauty of Beowulf is in the prose, which rolls and flows beautifully. Unlike some classics there is no real ‘moral’ to the tale of Beowulf, simply a riveting story, made strong by the descriptive and elegant prose.

    • The moral of the story is ‘don’t engage in feuding’ Heirot survives all it if put through only to be destroyed in a feud.

  11. Beowulf does precisely what it intends to do in telling a strong story full of wonderful imagery. And this is why it has survived as an archaic classic while others have not.

  12. Tillery
    0

    I’ve always loved the Beowulf story.

  13. I normally do not like classic works of literature, and this was no exception. It was dull, long, and written in a way only my great-great-great-great grandparents would admittedly understand…

  14. Beowulf is such a dense poem.

  15. I read Beowolf a while ago and, not as good as I remember it.

  16. Why do we still read this work, well over a thousand years since it was written down? Because it’s damn good.

  17. Lilliana
    0

    This is such a great story–the monsters, the dragon…

  18. Betancourt
    0

    Beowolf is amazing, it is before medieval, it is the dark ages.

    • There is no such thing as the ‘dark ages’. It’s renaissance propaganda used to describe the medieval period to make themselves feel superior and it stuck.

      Kind Regards,
      A Medievalist

  19. Beowulf was pretty damn awesome.

    • I love it, and I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed reading anything so much!

  20. There’s something magical about reading Beowulf.

  21. In days past, too long ago, I had read an inferior translation of Beowulf, which is tantamount to never having read it at all.

  22. Matt Hatjoulis

    I saw the Beowulf movie when I was around 12, I didn’t know anything about it, I just thought it was a movie and nothing more. When I was in high school and learned it was an old English poem I assumed it would read like Shakespeare so I avoided it at all cost. I don’t remember what eventually got me to read it but I know when I did, not only was I amazed at how easy it was to read and understand, but how enjoyable it was.

  23. I’d like to critically examine Peiman’s points on what makes the tale of Beowulf, an ideal model for writing skills. I see Beowulf as only one of many possible models that make good starting points for beginners, but not necessarily a model for attaining mastery. Simplicity is excellent, but I would assert only in moderation. Bias, while not always healthy, is inevitable. Citations depend on the style, purpose, audience and placement of the writing.

    First, Beowulf started its life as an oral-aural art form, a tale told by the tongue across generations with the aid of the mnemonic strategies of rhyme, meter and brevity. No one knows how much the story changed when Christianised Anglo-Saxons first wrote it down sometime between CE 975 and 1025. We do know that style changes when we move from voice to page. We read differently to the way we hear. The emotive qualities of voice and the passage of sound via the nerves appeals directly to the amygdala and the limbic brain. When we read, we engage both the rational left-brain and emotive and imaginative right-brain faculties of the frontal neocortex. It’s a much more intellectually engaging process, even if we are only twelve-year-old readers.

    I agree that simplicity and clarity are powerful tools, and essential for attracting large audiences. However, I think a composition composed of short sentences quickly becomes monotonous and boring. Variation of sentence length keeps readers’ minds activated.

    Simple vocabulary and syntax can aid clarity, but on its own is not enough. Language is logical. If one understands and uses grammar appropriately, it helps the thoughts to flow in clear sequences. Without this, the reader is forced to slow down and spend time trying to interpret the writer’s intentions. The clearer the writer’s words, the less effort the reader need make, the more enjoyable the reading experience will be. Prolific readers love it when language is beautiful – when its cadences and tones match the themes and sing.

    I would argue that the hook for readers of Beowulf is not just it’s ancient poetic style, and certainly not just its simplicity. After all, our language has changed. It is no longer a simple matter to understand phrases like “Waxed ’neath the welkin.” What makes it succeed is how it evokes primal emotions. Sensory descriptors make the characters, dialogue, and actions vivid. It doesn’t say, “Beowulf was terrified.” It shows Grendel’s irrepressible and fatal power. It makes the listener or reader fear that even Beowulf may end up dead and then everyone will die. The surface structure is the classic heroic plot; a hero overcomes overwhelming odds and changes; Beowulf, a powerful warrior king beats supernatural forces and becomes a famously benevolent king. The plot arc starts with a minor crisis which builds through a saw-tooth pattern of rising episodes to a crisis. The highest point of action defeats a worthy foe and the plot arc falls, returns to order, safety, and the satisfying happy end.

    The deep structure of “Beowulf” perpetuates and reinforces the values of a warrior culture. Avoiding bias is laudable, but rarely possible. It’s more honest to acknowledge the biases – albeit not in the writing itself (unless one wants to bash heads) but perhaps in a prologue. All humans are raised with biases; the more monocultural the environment, the less aware of bias the subject is. Beowulf is full of bias: the patriarchal warrior reigns supreme — is the ultimate and only possible defender against the demonic powers of the feminine. A writer needs an acute awareness of his or her own biases and the possible ethical, psychological and social consequences of bias. For instance, a conservative white male Christian author will see it as A Good Thing to reinforce traditional values, including double standards with regard to men and women. While a black female atheist-feminist professor of literature will see it as vital to show how slavery affected the traumatised subsequent generations of its descendants. With this awareness, a writer can lace the sub-text with themes that trigger readers to question and perhaps re-evaluate. It’s not preaching but showing.

    Citations are necessary for non-fiction writing within the sciences and humanities and for intellectual discourse. Reliable references are necessary for peer review, and yes in agreement with Pieman, to ensure the validity of what is asserted.depend on the style, purpose, audience and placement of the writing. Citations are not usually used in fiction because they encumber the flow of reading. Facts are embedded in the building of fictional worlds to create verisimilitude. Post-modernist fiction frequently incorporates other writers, especially those of high literature, but uses wry mimicry and keeps the citations hidden away at the back.

    I hope these thoughts have made it a little easier to tease out the issues of what makes a good story work, the relative value of simplicity, the importance of bias, and the role of citations.

  24. One does not read Beowulf for pleasure; it is a learning experience.

  25. Very interesting reading.

  26. Personally, I’m not much of a fan of medieval literature. It’s dense and difficult to grasp hold of, not because of the narrative, but because the style of the language they’re written in. Nonetheless, great epic!

  27. Simplicity is something I have to work on. I love words so I always end up typing long sentences. After reading this article, I realize I have A LOT of work to do to improve my writing. Narrative writing and storytelling is more of my thing to be honest. I value original composition, but there are a few analyses I feel I can contribute in the anime field.

  28. These tips are invaluable. I will keep them in mind when I return to blogging in the future! I am currently reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I find it really good so far and it uses lots of alliteration! Now I’m thinking to read Beowolf on my to-read list for Old English……thanks for the recommendation!

  29. Interesting read. Thank you.

  30. This was helpful- something to think about writing poetry 🙂

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