Page:A book of myths.djvu/299

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245
BEOWULF

and his hearth-sharers once lived, and there, on the highest ness of our eastern coast, under a great barrow, that Beowulf was buried. Beowulfesby—Bowlby seems a quite easy transition. But the people of our island race have undoubtedly a gift for seizing the imports of other lands and hall-marking them as their own, and, in all probability, the Beowulf of the heroic poem was one who lived and died in the land of Scandinavia.

In Denmark, so goes the story, when the people were longing for a king, to their shores there drifted, on a day when the white birds were screaming over the sea-tangle and wreckage that a stormy sea, now sinking to rest, was sweeping up on the shore, a little boat in which, on a sheaf of ripe wheat and surrounded by priceless weapons and jewels, there lay a most beautiful babe, who smiled in his sleep. That he was the son of Odin they had no doubt, and they made him their king, and served him faithfully and loyally for the rest of his life.

A worthy and a noble king was King Scyld Scefing, a ruler on land and on the sea, of which even as an infant he had had no fear. But when many years had come and gone, and when Scyld Scefing felt that death drew near, he called his nobles to him and told them in what manner he fain would pass. So they did as he said, and in a ship they built a funeral pyre, and round it placed much gold and jewels, and on it laid a sheaf of wheat. Then with very great pain and labour, for he was old and Death's hand lay heavy upon him, the king climbed into the ship and stretched out his limbs on the pyre, and said farewell to all his faithful people. And the ship drifted out with the tide, and the