Beowulf is considered the finest heroic poem in Old English. It celebrates the character and exploits of Beowulf, a young nobleman and warrior, as he proves his superhuman strength and endurance. He also represents the ideal lord and vassal, rewarding his men generously and accomplishing glorious deeds to honor his king.
The narrative falls into two parts. Beowulf first rescues the royal house of Denmark from two marauding monsters; then, after having ruled his people for fifty years, he is called on to combat a dragon that is terrorizing the countryside.
The poem combines mythical elements, Christian and pagan sensibilities, and actual historical figures and events in a narrative that ranges from vivid descriptions of fierce fighting and detailed portrayals of court life to earnest considerations of social and moral dilemmas. Remarkable for its sustained grandeur of tone and its brilliance of style, it is presented here in an authoritative prose translation by Robert K. Gordon.