Page:A book of myths.djvu/298

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BEOWULF


"He was of mankind
"In might the strongest."—Longfellow's Translation.


Whether those who read it be scholars who would argue about the origin and date of the poem, ingenious theorists who would fain use all the fragmentary tales and rhymes of the nursery as parts of a vast jig-saw puzzle of nature myths, or merely simple folk who read a tale for a tale's sake, every reader of the poem of Beowulf must own that it is one of the finest stories ever written.

It is "the most ancient heroic poem in the Germanic language," and was brought to Britain by the "Wingèd Hats" who sailed across the grey North Sea to conquer, and to help to weld that great amalgam of peoples into what is now the British Race.

But once it had arrived in England, the legend was put into a dress that the British-born could more readily appreciate. In all probability the scene of the story was a corner of that island of Saeland upon which Copenhagen now stands, but he who wrote down the poem for his countrymen and who wrote it in the pure literary Anglo-Saxon of Wessex, painted the scenery from the places that he and his readers knew best. And if you should walk along the breezy, magnificent, rugged Yorkshire coast for twelve miles, from Whitby northward to the top of Bowlby Cliff, you would find it quite easy to believe that it was there amongst the high sea-cliffs that Beowulf

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