In doing so he drew attention to the previously neglected literary qualities of the poem and argued that it should be studied as a work of art, not just as a historical document. Drout; these offer some insight into the development of Tolkien's thinking on the poem, especially his much-quoted metaphor of the material of the poem as a tower.
Tolkien argues that the original poem has almost been lost under the weight of the scholarship on it; that Beowulf must be seen as a poem, not just as a historical document; and that the quality of its verse and its structure give it a powerful effect.
He rebuts suggestions that the poem is an epic or exciting narrative, likening it instead to a strong masonry structure built of blocks that fit together.
Tolkien is therefore very interested in the contact of Northern and Christian thought in the poem, where the scriptural Cain is linked to eotenas (giants) and ylfe (elves), not through confusion but "an indication of the precise point at which an imagination, pondering old and new, was kindled".
The poet takes an old plot (a marauding monster troubling the Scylding court) paints a vivid picture of the old days, for instance using the Old Testament image of the shepherd patriarchs of Israel in the folces hyrde (people's shepherd) of the Danes.
In it, Tolkien speaks against critics who play down the monsters in the poem, namely Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon, in favour of using Beowulf solely as a source for Anglo-Saxon history.
Tolkien argues that rather than being merely extraneous, these elements are key to the narrative and should be the focus of study.Similarly, he dismisses notions that the poem is primitive: it is instead a late poem, using materials left over from a vanished age: When new Beowulf was already antiquarian, in a good sense, and it now produces a singular effect. The scholar and translator Roy Liuzza commented that Tolkien's essay "is usually credited with re-establishing the fabulous elements and heroic combats at the center of the modern reader's appreciation of the poem." Liuzza at once went on to write, however, that "the separation of the poem into 'mythical' and 'historical' elements is a false dichotomy".For it is now to us itself ancient; and yet its maker was telling of things already old and weighted with regret, and he expended his art in making keen that touch upon the heart which sorrows have that are both poignant and remote. He argues that if myth can condense and hold the deepest sources of tension between self and the social order, and dramatises current ideologies by projecting them into the past, then even the hero Beowulf's mythic fights are at the same time throwing light on society and history.Though if we must have a term, we should choose rather 'elegy'.It is an heroic-elegiac poem; and in a sense all its first 3,136 lines are the prelude to a dirge.Tolkien returns to the monsters, and regrets we know so little about pre-Christian English mythology; he resorts instead to Icelandic myth, which he argues must have had a similar attitude to monsters, men and gods. The Southern (Roman and Greek) pagan gods were immortal, so to Tolkien (a Christian), the Southern religion "must go forward to philosophy or relapse into anarchy": death and the monsters are peripheral.But the Northern myths, and Beowulf, put the monsters, mortality and death in the centre.If the funeral of Beowulf moved once like the echo of an ancient dirge, far-off and hopeless, it is to us as a memory brought over the hills, an echo of an echo. control the fundamental assumptions of Old English scholarship for the next fifty years." R. Fulk commented that "No one denies the historical importance of this lecture. opening the way to the formalist principles that played such a vital role in the subsequent development of further Beowulf scholarship. The historian Patrick Wormald wrote of the essay: "it would be no exaggeration to describe [it] as one of the most influential works of literary criticism of that century, and since which nothing in Beowulf studies has been quite the same." However, Wormald continues: "The arguments of Tolkien's paper were not universally accepted, and some of its effects would perhaps have been disowned by the author, but its general impact could be summarized by saying that most critics have learnt to take the Beowulf poet a great deal more seriously".There is not much poetry in the world like this;has still essential kinship with our own, it was made in this land, and moves in our northern world beneath our northern sky, and for those who are native to that tongue and land, it must ever call with a profound appeal – until the dragon comes. Lee wrote that "Tolkien's manifesto and interpretation have had more influence on readers than any other single study, even though it has been challenged on just about every one of its major points." Seth Lerer wrote that the essay "may well be the originary piece of modern Beowulf criticism. Tolkien argued powerfully that, for the Germanic mentality that gave birth to the myth of Ragnarök, the monsters of the poem were the only appropriate enemies for a great hero, and thus shifted Beowulf from the irrelevant fringes to the very centre of the Anglo-Saxon thought world.The general structure of the poem is then clear, writes Tolkien."It is essentially a balance, an opposition of ends and beginnings.