One of the most memorable aspects of the epic poem, Beowulf, has got to be its main villain/monster/angry man-eater, Grendel. In Beowulf, Grendel is merely described as a furious x 100 and uncontrollable beast. However, could Grendel actually be more sophisticated than he seems? The novel Grendel written by John Gardner brings up this point by describing Grendel as having a philosophical side, simply trying to understand the meaning of life. Who would have known?
In this special letter, Gardner replies to a teacher and her students concerning the papers that her students wrote in response to having read Grendel. Though the letter is centered on Gardner’s critiques, it expresses his true intentions behind Grendel. I was quite surprised at how Gardner depicted the voice of the author by explaining that one certain character can never incorporate all of the author’s beliefs, but that the story as a whole (the characters, their emotions and reactions, plot points) relays what the author hopes to share to his/her audience. Therefore, Grendel is far from a simple tale. Rather, it is a psychological journey to understand a question that Gardner proposes: “if the world really is meaningless (as it now stands) how should I live?” As broad and abstract as this question may seem, Gardner strives to utilize its vagueness to impact the reader, whether great or small.
Although Grendel struggles throughout the novel to discover the truth behind life and later comes to believe in existentialism and nihilism, I believe that the world is meaningful. Maybe there will always be violence, disputes, and pain, but the pulchritude of true love and happiness is too wonderful to regard as worthless. Even if written word may last a life time, the continuous sharing of joy and hope can last for eternity:)
If that isn’t enough to live for, I don’t know what possibly could be!
Having to chose a poem from this poem-a-day link, I stumbled across this one…
With My Brother
Untying ropes from flagpoles.
Motionless, reluctant, unchanged
even by the stillness of flags
in a century of ordinary flags. How
I love to ride with my brother
even if below our joy persists
a collective hush and something
like Lake Michigan in which we know
the day is long and the once true things
still are: What will I throw my weight
into today? Where are the sour
among the sweet cherries? The salt
from sweat makes our skin stick
but my brother is full of privilege
and things that comfort, of family
anger, that old-house feeling.
My first impressions/reactions: I was actually quite surprised after reading this poem because I had expected much more carefreeness from the title, possibly a sweet reminiscence. However, the poem is quite surprisingly foundationed on a matureness or a deep and unexpected understanding. Each memory, though individually may seem simple at first, are so full of depth and emotion and craft the beauty of the poem (especially the symbolism and juxtaposition of the flags at the beginning). What really caught my attention was the sadness and bittersweetness that was intertwined with the narrator’s reverence for his brother by the way that so much could be said with so little words.
Meaning: To me, this poem reminds me of war (and it’s not just because of the flags), both literally and maybe even psychologically. The struggle between loss and trying to understand the meaning behind life as the narrator recollects significant aspects and memories of his brother. I felt this because of the surprising shifts that occur after what seem to be happy experiences (ex. end of line 4 to beginning of 10″How I love to ride […] still are”) and the questions the narrator asks near the end of the poem. The S sounds in the line “Where are the sour in the sweet cherries?” depicts the prevalence of sourness all around and the W sounds in the line “What will I throw my weight into today?” relays the feeling of heavy breathing as the narrator imagines what to throw himself at. I think that the poem shifts in between the 12th and 13th lines as the narrator transitions from merely remembering personal and impactful events to focusing on the uniqueness of his brother.