Friday, March 06, 2009

His Words were Daggers

Movie Night - Tuesday.
A stringed instrument was heard over the crashing waves, its simple tune lightly dancing through the air. A man appears, walking along a bridge towards a performance hall. The picture fades. The screen, like the room I'm sitting in, goes dark. A voice cries out...Hwæt!

Thus begins Benjamin Bagby's one-man performance of Beowulf.
Bagby's voice rang out with words from ages past, chewing on some words as if they are meat torn from a cooked rib taken blackened from an open fire, launching into others in a sing-song fashion, with soaring, lyrical claims of exultation or deep, somber cries of grief. I was transfixed by the spellbinding rhythms of the story.
And something stirred - no, something resonated - deep inside me.
Without warning, I was sitting in a mead hall lit with torches; the smell of the burning wood from the fire engorged in my nostrils as the thick air stood still, moving only with every breath from the scop who burned images into my mind. There were warriors sitting around thick, wooden tables, dressed in their armor, armed with swords and shields, who feared the night prowling of Grendel, the terrible beast from the moors who ravages them with unsettling ease, and yet who is more human than any would like to admit. The lament of Hrothgar their king was immediate and full of sorrow, as he wondered who could possibly save Heorot, his grand hall, from devastation by the beast from Hell. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, hears of the plight of Hrothgar from across the waves, and sails into his destiny.
I knew the tale; I had heard it before. Yet at times I found myself tense, eager with anticipation, waiting for the next sentence. Bagby's words grabbed at me, shook me hard and refused to let me go. His words were as daggers, piercing my modern-day sensibilities and forcefully demonstrating the power of his words, the drama of storytelling and our deep-seated need as a people to share stories.
In one glorious moment I knew why words survive long after the author has turned to dust and why a bard may just be the most powerful of us all. It is because they know the stories. In a thousand years the concerns and characteristics of humans have not changed all that much and we are still - at times - afraid of the dark. What binds us together is the light and warmth of the fire, good companionship and our shared history, told in dramatic fashion by bards like Benjamin Bagby.
There was magic in the air on this night. Benjamin Bagby has done the near-impossible; he has resurrected the bardic tale of Beowulf and turned it into a visceral, immediate experience. His Beowulf is urgently alive and, because of it, so was I.


Blogger Fox In Detox said...

Ah ha! But I didn't realize you were talking about your class. I thought you had seen a movie...this comment brought to you by the big letter "L" formed with forefinger and thumb across my forehead!

11:41 AM, March 10, 2009  
Blogger Andy said...

I did see a movie - that was recommended through my class. See? Its all connected.

3:21 PM, March 10, 2009  

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