The Oldest English Epic/Chapter 1/Beowulf 21
Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow:
“Sorrow not, sage! It beseems us better
1385friends to avenge than fruitlessly mourn them.
Each of us all must his end abide
in the ways of the world; so win who may
glory ere death! When his days are told,
that is the warrior’s worthiest doom.
1390Rise, O realm-warder! Ride we anon,
and mark the trail of the mother of Grendel.
No harbor shall hide her—heed my promise!—
enfolding of field or forested mountain
or floor of the flood, let her flee where she will!
1395But thou this day endure in patience,
as I ween thou wilt, thy woes each one.”
Leaped up the graybeard: God he thanked,
mighty Lord, for the man’s brave words.
For Hrothgar soon a horse was saddled
1400wave-maned steed. The sovran wise
stately rode on; his shield-armed men
followed in force. The footprints led
along the woodland, widely seen,
a path o’er the plain, where she passed, and trod
1405the murky moor; of men-at-arms
she bore the bravest and best one, dead,
him who with Hrothgar the homestead ruled.
On then went the atheling-born
o’er stone-cliffs steep and strait defiles,
1410narrow passes and unknown ways,
headlands sheer, and the haunts of the Nicors.
Foremost he fared, a few at his side
of the wiser men, the ways to scan,
till he found in a flash the forested hill
1415hanging over the hoary rock,
a woful wood: the waves below
were dyed in blood. The Danish men
had sorrow of soul, and for Scyldings all,
for many a hero, ’twas hard to bear,
1420ill for earls, when Æschere’s head
they found by the flood on the foreland there.
Waves were welling, the warriors saw,
hot with blood; but the horn sang oft
battle-song bold. The band sat down,
1425and watched on the water worm-like things,
sea-dragons strange that sounded the deep,
and nicors that lay on the ledge of the ness—
such as oft essay at hour of morn
on the road-of-sails their ruthless quest,—
1430and sea-snakes and monsters. These started away,
swollen and savage that song to hear,
that war-horn’s blast. The warden of Geats,
with bolt from bow, then balked of life,
of wave-work, one monster; amid its heart
1435went the keen war-shaft; in water it seemed
less doughty in swimming whom death had seized.
Swift on the billows, with boar-spears well
hooked and barbed, it was hard beset,
done to death and dragged on the headland,
1440wave-roamer wondrous. Warriors viewed
the grisly guest.
Then girt him Beowulf
in martial mail, nor mourned for his life.
His breastplate broad and bright of hues,
woven by hand, should the waters try;
1445well could it ward the warrior’s body
that battle should break on his breast in vain
nor harm his heart by the hand of a foe.
And the helmet white that his head protected
was destined to dare, the deeps of the flood,
1450through wave-whirl win: ’twas wound with chains,
decked with gold, as in days of yore
the weapon-smith worked it wondrously,
with swine-forms set it, that swords nowise,
brandished in battle, could bite that helm.
1455Nor was that the meanest of mighty helps
which Hrothgar’s orator offered at need:
“Hrunting” they named the hilted sword,
of old-time heirlooms easily first;
iron was its edge, all etched with poison,
1460with battle-blood hardened, nor blenched it at fight
in hero’s hand who held it ever,
on paths of peril prepared to go
to folkstead of foes. Not first time this
it was destined to do a daring task.
1465For he bore not in mind, the bairn of Ecglaf
sturdy and strong, that speech he had made,
drunk with wine, now this weapon he lent
to a stouter swordsman. Himself, though, durst not
under welter of waters wager his life
1470as loyal liegeman. So lost he his glory,
honor of earls. With the other not so,
who girded him now for the grim encounter.
- Hrothgar is probably meant.
- Noon? “Mittagsstunde, Geisterstunde.”
- Unferth is the thyle (spokesman?) of the king. Naming a sword furnished the least of its personal attributes in Germanic days. It had its moods and tenses; “refused” often “to bite” (1523, 2578), or else, on appeal, did miraculous service. It spoke, sang, chided its inactive owner, spurred even to his duty, as in a fine Danish ballad. It had its own name,—Hrunting, Nægling. It had kennings in plenty,—such as the “warrior’s friend” or “friend of war,” vv. 1810, 2735. It gave out a light, which is not always to be euhemerized into the sparks that flew from it in battle. The reference in 1459 is to the hardening process of dipping it in poison, snake’s blood, or the like. “Blood of battle” was especially efficacious for this purpose. On the other side of the account, it could be made harmless by certain magic forms. So Beowulf finds, even with this Hrunting or “thruster”; see v. 1522.
- Meeting-place. “Destined” is, in view of the issue, to be understood as “expected,”—it had been sent on other capital errands before.