Beowulf Religion Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Seamus Heaney's Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, published in 2000 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
These were hard times, heart-breaking
for the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counsellors,
the highest in the land, would lend advice,
plotting how best the bold defenders
might resist and beat off sudden attacks.
Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
offerings to idols, swore oaths
that the killer of souls might come to their aid
and save the people. That was their way,
their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts
they remembered hell. (170-180)
The narrator of the poem admits, with some discomfort and distaste, that the 5th or 6th century Danes engage in pagan religious practices. It's one of the only times when we really notice the disconnect between the Christian Anglo-Saxons who are telling the story and the pagan characters in the story.
The Almighty Judge
of good deeds and bad, the Lord God,
Head of the Heavens and High King of the World,
was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he
who in time of trouble had to thrust his soul
into the fire's embrace, forfeiting help;
he has nowhere to turn. But blessed is he
who after death can approach the Lord
and find friendship in the Father's embrace. (180-188)
The narrator admits that he feels sorry for the pagan ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons, who didn't have the opportunity to turn to a Christian God for help. There's some condescension in this admission, of course, but also a genuine sorrow.
But the Lord was weaving
a victory on His war-loom for the Weather-Geats. (696-697)
In this image, the poet unites the Christian God with pagan imagery – the loom of fate, on which men's lives are woven. Weaving, spinning, and threads were common metaphors for life and fate in Scandinavian culture. By adopting these traditional pagan images, but using them in a Christian context, the poet tries to negotiate between the two religious perspectives.