The Oldest English Epic/Chapter 1/Beowulf 28

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The Oldest English Epic by Unknown, translated by Francis Barton Gummere
Beowulf: XXVIII


Hastened the hardy one, henchmen with him,
sandy strand of the sea to tread
1965and widespread ways. The world’s great candle,
sun shone from south. They strode along
with sturdy steps to the spot they knew
where the battle-king young, his burg within,
slayer of Ongentheow,[1] shared the rings,
1970shelter-of-heroes. To Hygelac
Beowulf’s coming was quickly told,—
that there in the court the clansmen’s refuge,
the shield-companion sound and alive,
hale from the hero-play homeward strode.
1975With haste in the hall, by highest order,
room for the rovers was readily made.
By his sovran he sat, come safe from battle,
kinsman by kinsman. His kindly lord
he first had greeted in gracious form,
1980with manly words. The mead dispensing,
came through the high hall Hæreth’s daughter,
winsome to warriors, wine-cup bore
to the hands of the heroes. Hygelac then
his comrade fairly with question plied
1985in the lofty hall, sore longing to know
what manner of sojourn the Sea-Geats made.
“What came of thy quest, my kinsman Beowulf,
when thy yearnings suddenly swept thee yonder
battle to seek o’er the briny sea,
1990combat in Heorot? Hrothgar couldst thou
aid at all, the honored chief,
in his wide-known woes? With waves of care
my sad heart seethed; I sore mistrusted
my loved one’s venture: long I begged thee
1995by no means to seek that slaughtering monster,
but suffer the South-Danes to settle their feud
themselves with Grendel. Now God be thanked
that safe and sound I can see thee now!”
Beowulf spake, the bairn of Ecgtheow:—
2000“ ’Tis known and unhidden, Hygelac Lord,
to many men, that meeting of ours,
struggle grim between Grendel and me,
which we fought on the field where full too many
sorrows he wrought for the Scylding-Victors,
2005evils unending. These all I avenged.
No boast can be from breed of Grendel,
any on earth, for that uproar at dawn,[2]
from the longest-lived of the loathsome race
in fleshly fold!—But first I went
2010Hrothgar to greet in the hall of gifts,
where Healfdene’s kinsman high-renowned,
soon as my purpose was plain to him,
assigned me a seat by his son and heir.
The liegemen were lusty; my life-days never
2015such merry men over mead in hall
have I heard under heaven! The high-born queen,
people’s peace-bringer, passed through the hall,
cheered the young clansmen, clasps of gold,
ere she sought her seat, to sundry gave.
2020Oft to the heroes Hrothgar’s daughter,
to earls in turn, the ale-cup tendered,—
she whom I heard these hall-companions
Freawaru name, when fretted gold
she proffered the warriors. Promised is she,
2025gold-decked maid, to the glad son of Froda.
Sage this seems to the Scyldings’-friend,
kingdom’s-keeper: he counts it wise
the woman to wed so and ward off feud,
store of slaughter. But seldom ever
2030when men are slain, does the murder-spear sink
but briefest while, though the bride be fair![3]
“Nor haply will like it the Heathobard lord,
and as little each of his liegemen all,
when a thane of the Danes, in that doughty throng,
2035goes with the lady along their hall,
and on him the old-time heirlooms glisten
hard and ring-decked, Heathobard’s treasure,
weapons that once they wielded fair
until they lost at the linden-play[4]
2040liegeman leal and their lives as well.
Then, over the ale, on this heirloom gazing,
some ash-wielder old[5] who has all in mind
that spear-death of men,[6]—he is stern of mood,
heavy at heart,—in the hero young
2045tests the temper and tries the soul
and war-hate wakens, with words like these:—
Canst thou not, comrade, ken that sword
which to the fray thy father carried
in his final feud, ’neath the fighting-mask,
2050dearest of blades, when the Danish slew him
and wielded the war-place on Withergild’s fall,[7]
after havoc of heroes, those hardy Scyldings?
Now, the son of a certain slaughtering Dane,
proud of his treasure, paces this hall,
2055joys in the killing, and carries the jewel[8]
that rightfully ought to he owned by thee!
Thus he urges and eggs him all the time
with keenest words, till occasion offers
that Freawaru’s thane, for his father’s deed,
2060after bite of brand in his blood must slumber,
losing his life; but that liegeman flies
living away, for the land he kens.
And thus be broken on both their sides
oaths of the earls, when Ingeld’s breast
2065wells with war-hate, and wife-love now
after the care-billows cooler grows.
“So[9] I hold not high the Heathobards’ faith
due to the Danes, or their during love
and pact of peace.—But I pass from that,
2070turning to Grendel, O giver-of-treasure,
and saying in full how the fight resulted,
hand-fray of heroes. When heaven’s jewel
had fled o’er far fields, that fierce sprite came,
night-foe savage, to seek us out
2075where safe and sound we sentried the hall.
To Hondscio then was that harassing deadly,
his fall there was fated. He first was slain,
girded warrior. Grendel on him
turned murderous mouth, on our mighty kinsman,
2080and all of the brave man’s body devoured.
Yet none the earlier, empty-handed,
would the bloody-toothed murderer, mindful of bale,
outward go from the gold-decked hall:
but me he attacked in his terror of might,
2085with greedy hand grasped me. A glove hung by him[10]
wide and wondrous, wound with bands;
and in artful wise it all was wrought,
by devilish craft, of dragon-skins.
Me therein, an innocent man,
2090the fiendish foe was fain to thrust
with many another. He might not so,
when I all angrily upright stood.
’Twere long to relate how that land-destroyer
I paid in kind for his cruel deeds;
2095yet there, my prince, this people of thine
got fame by my fighting. He fled away,
and a little space his life preserved;
but there staid behind him his stronger hand
left in Heorot; heartsick thence
2100on the floor of the ocean that outcast fell.
Me for this struggle the Scyldings’-friend
paid in plenty with plates of gold,
with many a treasure, when morn had come
and we all at the banquet-board sat down.
2105Then was song and glee. The gray-haired Scylding,
much tested, told of the times of yone.
Whiles the hero his harp bestirred,
wood-of-delight; now lays he chanted
of sooth and sadness, or said aright
2110legends of wonder, the wide-hearted king;
or for years of his youth he would yearn at times,
for strength of old struggles, now stricken with age,
hoary hero: his heart surged full
when, wise with winters, he wailed their flight.
2115Thus in the hall the whole of that day
at ease we feasted, till fell o’er earth
another night. Anon full ready
in greed of vengeance, Grendel’s mother
set forth all doleful. Dead was her son
2120through war-hate of Weders; now, woman monstrous,
with fury fell a foeman she slew,
avenged her offspring. From Æschere old,
loyal councillor, life was gone;
nor might they e’en, when morning broke,
2125those Danish people, their death-done comrade
burn with brands, on balefire lay
the man they mourned. Under mountain stream
she had carried the corpse with cruel hands.
For Hrothgar that was the heaviest sorrow
2130of all that had laden the lord of his folk.
The leader then, by thy life, besought me
(sad was his soul) in the sea-waves’ coil
to play the hero and hazard my being
for glory of prowess: my guerdon he pledged.
2135I then in the waters—’tis widely known—
that sea-floor-guardian savage found.
Hand-to-hand there a while we struggled;
billows welled blood; in the briny hall
her head I hewed with a hardy blade
2140from Grendel’s mother,—and gained my life,
though not without danger. My doom was not yet.
Then the haven-of-heroes, Healfdene’s son,
gave me in guerdon great gifts of price.

  1. By the hands of one of his retainers, who, as Tacitus pointed out, and Earle reminds us, were bound to attribute their own brave deeds to their chief, and give him the glory.
  2. “Struggle by night,” translates Gering; that is, the fight between Grendel and Beowulf. It might refer, however,—see v. 126,—to the outcries and wailings of the Danes. No more boasting over that!
  3. Beowulf gives his uncle the king not mere gossip of his journey, hut a statesmanlike forecast of the outcome of certain policies at the Danish court. Talk of interpolation here is absurd. As both Beowulf and Hygelac know,—and the folk for whom the Beowulf was put together also knew,—Froda was king of the Heathobards (probably the Langobards, once near neighbors of Angle and Saxon tribes on the continent), and had fallen in fight with the Danes. Hrothgar will set aside this feud by giving his daughter as “peace-weaver” and wife to the young king Ingeld, son of the slain Froda. But Beowulf, on general principles and from his observation of the particular case, foretells trouble. He even goes into particulars; and here the poet not unskilfully uses the actual Ingeld story,—which he knew doubtless in song and saga, as Saxo Grammaticus knew it, though in another version—for the forecast of the hero. It is worth noting that in Saxo the old warrior stirs his master by a lay of battle and vengeance which he chants at a banquet.—From the Widsith we know that Ingeld attacked Hrothgar later in Heorot, and was defeated by uncle and nephew in a bloody battle.
  4. Play of shields, battle. A Danish warrior cuts down Froda in the fight, and takes his sword and armor, leaving them to a son. This son is selected to accompany his mistress, the young princess Freawaru, to her new home when she is Ingeld’s queen. Heedlessly he wears the sword of Froda in hall. An old warrior points it out to Ingeld, and eggs him on to vengeance. At his instigation the Dane is killed; but the murderer, afraid of results, and knowing the land, escapes. So the old feud must break out again.
  5. In Saxo (Bk. VI) Starcatherus sees that the slayers of Frotho, father of Ingellus, are high in favor with the latter king, and sings a song of reproach at the banquet. At first he complains of the neglect of himself in his old age and of the king’s gluttony; then he passes to taunts of cowardice and an appeal for vengeance on the murderers.
  6. That is, their disastrous battle and the slaying of their king.
  7. Withergild is mentioned in Widsith, v. 124, and must be a proper name. If it were taken otherwise, it might be translated “when recompence, chance to recover losses, was out of the question.”
  8. The sword, here called “treasure” or “jewel” in no strained figure. It is unnecessary to turn it into a collar or other adornment.
  9. Beowulf returns to his forecast. Things might well go somewhat as follows, he says; sketches a little tragic story; and with this prophecy by illustration returns to the tale of his adventure. One will hardly agree with Müllenhoff that such a use by the poet of an old legend shows mere helpless imbecility of interpolation. In many other cases, say Gray’s Bard, the close of Dickens’s Tale of two Cities, Thomas of Ercaldoune,—to mention some very incongruous instances,—one praises the good art or artifice of narrative.
  10. Not an actual glove, but a sort of bag. The line could run—

    . . . with savage hand seized me. A sack hung by him . . .