image - illustration from Stories of Beowulf

Help with Annotation

Originally published August 12, 2016. It seemed timely once again, alas. Context is everything.

image - illustration from Stories of Beowulf

“Then like a bird wind-driven upon the waves,
the foam-necked ship sped forth.”

By J. R. Skelton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“I need your help with annotation.”

“What do you have to annotate?”


“What’s the assignment?”

“Just to take notes. On Beowulf.”

“So …”

“I don’t see anything to take notes on. It seems like it’s just setting the scene.”

Bore it bitterly, he who bided in darkness,
That light-hearted laughter loud in the building
Greeted him daily; there was dulcet harp-music,
Clear song of the singer. He said that was able
To tell from of old earthmen’s beginnings,
That Father Almighty earth had created,
The winsome wold that the water encircleth,
Set exultingly the sun’s and the moon’s beams
To lavish their lustre on land-folk and races,
And earth He embellished in all her regions
With limbs and leaves; life He bestowed too
On all the kindreds that live under heaven.1

“It’s like Genesis … like creation; so if the creation is light, the monster is in the position of the formless mass, the darkness …”

“?? Who knows anything about Genesis?!”

“Maybe the poet. Maybe the poem is using the pattern in that text to say something about the monster …”


“OK, try this: make a note wherever ‘light’ comes up. And ‘dark.’ And ‘singing’ or ‘songs.’”

Notice what the repetitions are associated with. It begins to look like light = good = life; dark = evil = death. Notice there are all kinds of songs. Notice that Beowulf has to cross water …

“Yeah, so what?”

“It’s always important when someone has to cross water. I read that in a book.”


“He ‘… rose from the darkness of war … !’”

“Good catch.”

1 from Beowulf at Project Gutenberg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: