Andy Orchard, "Beowulf and Other Battlers: An Introduction to Beowulf," in Richard North and Joe Allard, edd., Beowulf and Other Stories: A New Introduction to Old English, Old Icelandic, and Anglo-Norman Literatures
(Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2007), pp. 63-94 (at 75-76):
'Þu eart mægenes strang ond on mode frod,
This particular combination, often described as the 'thought, word and
deed' triad, and probably popularised in Anglo-Saxon England through
Irish Christian sources, can be found in a number of places elsewhere in the
poem, as for example, where Hrothgar mourns the loss of his companion
Æschere, ripped apart by Grendel's mother:
wis wordcwida.' (Beowulf, lines 1844–5)
'You are strong in might and wise in mind, clever in speeches.'
'Dead is Æschere,
The triad 'close confidant . . . counsel-giver . . . shoulder-companion'
(runwita . . . rædbora, eaxlgestealla) evidently alludes to the same 'thought,
word, and deed' triad, in precisely the same order.
Yrmenlafes yldra broþor,
min runwita ond min rædbora,
eaxlgestealla, ðonne we on orlege
hafelan weredon, ðonne hniton feþan,
eoferas cnysedan.' (Beowulf, lines 1324–9)
'Æschere is dead, Yrmenlaf's elder brother, my close confidant and my
counsel-giver, my shoulder-companion when in battle we protected our
heads as footsoldiers clashed, struck boar-helmets.'
The interest of the Beowulf poet's evident identification of this triad with
worldly and individual heroic endeavour is that it can be traced back to a
Christian pattern describing how at Doomsday mankind will be judged for
what they have done in 'thought, word and deed', and it became a motif
most associated with preaching texts. However, certain Anglo-Saxons writing Latin poetry in the earlier period extend the theme, like the Beowulf
poet, to praise individuals for their meritorious lives. So, for example,
Bede (who died in 735), says in his poetic account of Saint Cuthbert that
'Cuthbert shines brilliant in mind, in hand, and in mouth, and looks after
the flocks entrusted to him with prayers and advice'; later in the same
poem he reuses the same theme to connect Cuthbert to the Church Fathers:
'For that man was devoted to God in his mind, and pleasant in his mouth,
accustomed to recall the holy deeds of the Fathers, he also introduces quite
often those of his own, which triumphs he performed with only a heavenly
Patrick Sims-Williams, "Thought, Word and Deed: An Irish Triad,"
29 (1978) 78-111.