I took a Brit Lit class in the Fall of ’05 and actually, I immensely enjoyed it. In fact, I kid you not, the literature anthology from that class is the “textbook” I read the most among the ones that I kept after graduation. It’s taken up residence in/on my nightstand.
I really loved my professor’s treatment of the Beowulf epic; it really engaged me. I’ve read it again a couple times in the past year, just because the way he taught the poem just made it ‘click.’
So in my youth ministry job here Durango, I’ve recently begun to use Eugene Peterson‘s Bible paraphrase, The Message, more and more in trying to get my students to engage the Bible that King James may have made sound boring to them.
I read the Gospel of John this evening. Peterson’s take on the first chapter reads just like Beowulf! Mainly in its kennings and this dynamic between Christ and us that mirrors kings and their thanes. A couple Beowulf elements that weren’t present were alliteration, and heavy understatement, but oh well. Anyway, being stretched to see Christ as a ring-giver of sorts,seeing us as his loyal thanes… it was stirring.
1:5- “The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.”
1:16- “We all live off his generous bounty, gift after gift after gift.”
For those that didn’t have the luxury of an awesome overview of Anglo-Saxon literature, kennings are idioms that illuminate normal things. A “whale-road” is an ocean, for example. It’s a very beautiful way to approach potentially mundane nouns figuratively. Another part of A/S literature is this culture of generous kings and their bands of loyal protectors, or thanes. A combination of these two themes is the reference to kings as “ring-givers.”
I’ve caught other bits of Anglo-Saxon style throughout The Message, but this portion of John just hit me in the face, it was awesome. I wrote and email to that professor, thanking him for empowering me to catch stuff like this, to be moved like this; for making kennings cool. A couple other A/S works that deal with Christ that he recommended are “The Dream of the Rood (Cross)” and Hopkin’s “The Windhover.” The narrator of the first is the Cross which contemplates what it means to hold the crucified Christ. The second poem stands in awe of the Christ that cuts across time and space.
Also, it would be great for college kids (especially “Christian”ones like Baylor students) to be able to point to contemporary occurrences of Anglo-Saxon verse in their faith-culture, and trace it back to works like the Beowulf tale… (I hear there’s a movie in the works, by the way… I’m excited, but it better be good.)