Beowulf @ Ellis
Artistic Response to Beowulf / Grendel
For my project, I decided to create a series of haiku poems. A haiku is a form of poetry that developed in Japan. A haiku is a very short and simple poem, only three lines long, with a prescribed pattern of syllables; five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five again in the final line. I have created fourteen haiku that explore the passing of Grendel's hard and antagonistic life. First, some offer background information on Grendel. Others address and interpret important situations and crises he experiences through his life. The final haiku analyze Grendel's relationships with other characters and the final meaning and impact of his life and death. When reading the series of haiku, one should begin with the topmost poem, "living in the depths," and follow the poems clockwise in a shape that spirals inwards, like a labyrinth. As one walks a labyrinth in search of spiritual understanding or revelation, I ask the reader to walk the spiral in search of the meaning of Grendel as a character. Is he someone to sympathize with or is he a heartless beast who cares for no one but himself?
Before one even begins to read the poems, one must consider the layout. First, all the haiku are taped on a torn and ragged sheet of newspaper. The rough and ragged edges of the newspaper symbolize the shabbiness of Grendel himself; his outline is vague and ragged to the reader. The passage "spawned in that slime" (26) makes me imagine a tough and beat-up old beast who has seen better days in terms of appearance. I decided to portray this by avoiding smooth and clean-cut lines, going instead for a frayed and worn-out look to the paper. The poems are placed on newspaper for contrast, suggesting how far from human beings and civilization Grendel and his family have become. "Murderous creatures banished by God" (26) the poet says; they (Grendel and his mother) live in exile far off from man-kind, despite the fact that the two monsters are still human. They are degraded in looks and behaviors. I thought newspaper would be an excellent symbol of civilization and culture because it is new everyday and full of human activity, sharing the most recent news and what is going on. Grendel would not be able to read or participate in any of this because of his banishment.
For the actual haiku, I chose to tear their edges for the same reason I ripped the newspaper. I wanted to establish and confirm the extreme irregularity and shapelessness of Grendel. He is not a reliable character in any way; there is no order in his life. The people cannot predict when he is planning to attack. He comes randomly and with extraordinary violence. I was trying to convey this in the bumpy and uneven edges and the inconsistent angles of the placement of the poems. Overall, the layout and poems may seem haphazard, but are actually symbols of Grendel and his personality.
My next decision was to present the haiku in a spiral shape. I chose this pattern because one of the main themes in Beowulf is the circle -- that the wheel continues to turn; life will stop for no one and time goes on. This reality applies to Grendel too; he is also human, despite how degraded and beast-like he has become, and despite his imperviousness to weapons. Another example of the circle theme has to do with the Thanes around Hrothgar. Life continued to go on even as Grendel terrorized them and ate their friends and traumatized their families. Another aspect of the shape that must be considered is that it looks similar to a whirlpool, sucking Grendel deeper into the depths. This analogy goes along more with the novel Grendel than the epic poem, Beowulf. In Grendel, Grendel is thrown back and forth between efforts to be good and evil during the beginning of his life. The beginning is represented in the outskirts of the whirlpool. As his life progresses, he becomes darker and darker until the readers have little to no sympathy for him. He is being dragged down into the center of the whirlpool of evil, the center of the spiral being the epicenter of the whirlpool and Grendel's death. His death was ultimately brought down upon him because of his final and brutal commitment to evil.
The wheel is also symbolic in my piece because, as readers follow the spiral of the haiku, they follow and progress through Grendel's life. It begins with a few haiku that describe him, his relationship with his mother, and his situation in the world, torn between his human self and the brute he has become. I especially liked the term "rim walker" and used it in one of my poems. After depicting Grendel as he is, the next few poems explain what he does -- how he frightens and preys on the human beings repeatedly, eating most of them during the night; some he carries back to his lair. Following these, my poems culminate in the battle between Beowulf and Grendel, highlighting a few aspects of it. These haiku include descriptions of Grendel's imperviousness to weapons, the equal matching between good (Beowulf) and evil (Grendel), and how Grendel is mortally wounded. The last poem in the cycle is a little irrelevant to Grendel, but I felt it summed up the finality of Grendel's death – in that it pulled the haiku together. The final haiku addresses Beowulf's next great challenge -- falling into the lake to defeat Grendel's mother. The poem cycle ends on a note of both mystery and fate – of uncertainty and ongoing tension. But because it is all in a circle, we know that whatever happens in that lake, life for most will continue on.
In conclusion, readers/viewers of this collage of haiku must pay close attention to the layout and mounting of the poems, along with their actual message. The torn edges and irregularities of both the newspaper and the haiku symbolize the roughness and coarseness of Grendel himself. The use of newspaper as a mount displays Grendel's distance from societies and civilization, his position as an outcast from human beings. The spiral-y, whirlpool direction of the poems is used to convey the theme of the wheel always turning and to prove how Grendel is past the point of no return; he cannot return to goodness (if he was ever there). He was dragged into the whirlpool and has been sucked down into the center to death by his actions.