One of the most consistent critiques levelled against Beowulf is that it lacks a steady narrative advance and that its numerous digressions tend to complicate if t halt the poem's movement. As those passages often look backward or far ahead in narrative time, they seem to transform the poem into a meditative pastiche. The Narrative Pulse of Beowulf counters this assertion, examining Beowulf as a social drama with a strong, forward-moving narrative momentum. John M. Hill discerns a distinctive 'narrative pulse' arising out of the poem's many scenes of arrival and departure. He argues that such scenes, far from being fixed or 'type' scenes, are socially dramatic and a key to understanding the structural density of the poem. Bolstering his analysis with a strong understanding of the epic, Hill looks at Beowulf in relation to other stories such as The Odyssey and The Iliad, epics that, though they may appear to have a certain narrative elasticity, use scenes of arrival and departure to create a cohesive social world in which stories unfold. As a new and comprehensive study of one of the most important Old English texts, The Narrative Pulse of Beowulf sheds new light on this famous poem and the epic tradition itself.
John M. Hill is a professor in the English Department at the U.S. Naval Academy.