Grendel’s Mere: Freudian and Metapoetical Implications
Medieval English Studies, vol. 9 (2001) No. 1
One of the most famous passages in Old English poetry is that uttered by Hrothgar, a bit after the first third of Beowulf, in which he describes the mere of Grendel and his mother. After Beowulf fulfills his promise to vanquish Grendel, Hrothgar and his thanes celebrate Beowulf’s victory by holding a banquet before going to bed. Then, to revenge Grendel’s miserable defeat, his mother comes to Heorot, and after killing Hrothgar’s chief thane Aeschere, disappears, dragging his body. Beowulf, who has been sent for again to the royal presence, hears from Hrothgar about the mere where the monsters dwell, and promises to Hrothgar that he will go there to vanquish this second monster.
The depiction of the mere uttered by Hrothgar is an ultimate instance of the visualization of poetic imagination, and the correspondence between sound and sense detectable while the lines evolve enables the reader to envision a landscape of horror in his mind’s eye. The passage describing Grendel’s mere, in the voice of Hrothgar, has left a haunting image in my memory, and I have wondered why the Beowulf poet tried to carve such a long-lasting relief in the consciousness of the readers of his poem by composing these lines, where he exerted his poetic imagination to the utmost. The passage offers us a vivid picture of horror that all of us can envision, as if we had seen it somewhere in our deep-hidden consciousness, though not with our physical eyes. The poet’s full exertion of his poetic imagination and the strong impact of the passage on the readers’ sensibility suggest a yet-to-be- explored layer of the epic formulae manifested in Beowulf.