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Ride a Pale Horse
Helen MacInnes
The Samurai's Wife
Laura Joh Rowland
"Beowulf" and Other Old English Poems (The Middle Ages Series) - I didn't read all of the works in Beowulf and Other Old English Poems, I just read Beowulf.

There is something about reading Beowulf that taps into a very ancient and primal place in the human soul. It was easy to imagine sitting around a fire listening to this poem being sang, and it was easy to imagine why this poem would have had value to the people who listened to it. They lived in a hard, uncertain world, where life was short and death was ever-present. Beowulf reflects the instability of this world, it tells listeners to face adversity with bravery and fortitude, and to be willing to embrace death when it comes. It tells people to be strong, generous, wise, and protective of friends and family. All of these things would have been needed in order to survive in the age in which the people who told and who listened to Beowulf would have lived. Beowulf (the character) is held up as an example of what a life well-lived in this world should look like.

I read Beowulf in high school, but I don't remember finding significance and meaning in this poem then. I think Beowulf is something that becomes clearer and more meaningful with age. I was surprised at how much this work resonated with me now. I appreciated the language and the imagery more, I appreciated the story and the lessons it taught more, and I appreciated the history of this work more. I just felt a real connection to the people of the past as I read this ancient example of storytelling.

Another thing that surprised me about Beowulf was how small of a part Grendel and his mother played in this book. Grendel is what stuck with me from my high school reading. In my mind he and his mother played a much bigger part in this poem. This time around I wasn't really struck with Beowulf's battle with those two monsters. For me Beowulf's true spirit was more fully represented in his battle with the dragon. It's easy to take grave risk when you're young, strong and stupid. It shows a lot more courage and strength to do so when your body is failing, your strength is ebbing, and you're old enough and smart enough to know that the risk is probably going to kick your butt. Beowulf showed strength of character all through his life, and it's his strong human spirit that makes this poem resonate centuries after it was first told.