The poem is not a simple translation; instead, it retells the story
in Germanic epic style. The poem gives an insight into early theology
of the Anglo-Saxon Christians.
Boasting serves an important role in this poem, in Beowulf, and in other heroic cultures. In a good way, it can help someone work up the courage to try great things. But here it is a bad boasting that leads them to rebel against God. We see several contrasts between heaven and hell. There is a Cosmic and moral dualism in the clash between these two realms.
Heaven Hell Shining, glory, radiance Darkness Life Death home exile joy grim affliction obedience rebellion pleasure tortures:
- piercing cold
- ruddy flame
Day & night, light & darkness. God brings light to the earth, but it is still a place of both light and darkness. The forces of light and darkness can both act in this realm even at this point. The serpent can enter the garden & tempt the happy couple to eat the wrong fruit.
After the fall, humanity would experience both good and evil. Like the fallen angels, Adam and Eve (and we their children) lose their radiance and experience suffering and death. Life in this realm becomes a battle that leads to our inevitable death and defeat, making Genesis A & B familiar to the tragically-minded pagan culture. But redemption beyond this life gives something new to the Anglo-Saxon Christians--hope.Unlike was their fruit! Of the one tree the fruit was pleasant, fair and winsome, excellent and sweet. . . . He might live for ever in the world who ate of that fruit, so that old age pressed not heavily upon him, nor grievous sickness, but he might live his life in happiness for ever, and have the favour of the King of heaven here on earth. And glory was ordained for him in heaven, when he went hence.
(ll. 478-495) The other tree was dark, sunless, and full of shadows: . . . Bitter the fruit it bore! And every man must know both good and evil; in this world abased he needs must suffer, in sweat and sorrow, who tasted of the fruit that grew upon that tree. Old age would rob him of his strength and joy and honour, and death take hold upon him. A little time might he enjoy this life, and then seek out the murky realm of flame, and be subject unto fiends. There of all perils are the worst for men for ever.