HAZELL, WATSON AND VINEY, LD.,
LONDON AND AYLESBURY,
THE MEMORY OF
NOTE AS TO USE OF APPENDIX
I have relegated to the Appendix all notes of any considerable length. The reader is advised to consult the Appendices wherever directed in the footnotes. He will then have a much clearer conception of the principal characters and events of the poem.
‘Beowulf’ may rightly be pronounced the great national epic of the Anglo-Saxon race. Not that it exalts the race so much as that it presents the spirit of the Anglo-Saxon peoples, the ideals and aims, the manners and customs, of our ancestors, and that it does so in setting before us a great national hero. Beowulf himself was not an Anglo-Saxon. He was a Geat-Dane; but he belonged to that confraternity of nations that composed the Teutonic people. He lived in an heroic age, when the songs of the wandering singers were of the great deeds of outstanding men. The absolute epic of the English people has yet to be written. To some extent Arthur, though a British King—that is to say, though he was King of the Celtic British people, who were subsequently driven into the West, into Cornwall and Wales and Strathclyde, by our Saxon ancestors—became nationalized by our Anglo-Norman ancestors as a typical King of the English people. He has become the epic King of the English in the poetry of Tennyson. It is always a mystery to the writer that no competent singer among us has ever laid hands upon our own Saxon hero, King Alfred. It is sometimes said that there is nothing new under the sun, that there is nothing left for the modern singer to sing about, and that the realm of possible musical production is fast vanishing out of view. Certainly this is not true of poetry. Both Alfred and Arthur are waiting for the sympathetic voice that will tell forth to the world the immortal splendour of their personalities. And just as the Anglo-Normans idealized Arthur as a hero-king of the English nation, though he really fought against the English, so the Saxon singer of Beowulf has idealized this Geatish chieftain, and in some way set him forth as the idealized chieftain of the Teutonic race.
Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon poem.—It consists of 3182 lines. It is written in the alliterative verse of our ancestors in the Anglo-Saxon tongue, which, though the mother-tongue of the English, is yet more difficult to read for the Englishman than Latin or Greek. One wonders whether any genuine Anglo-Saxon epic existed, and has been destroyed in the passing of the centuries. The curious feature about this poem is that it concerns a man who was not an Anglo-Saxon. Our poem is written in the West Saxon dialect. The original poem was probably in Northumbrian, and was translated into West Saxon during the period of literary efflorescence in the West Saxon Court. We do not know whether it was a translation or whether it was original, though the latter is, I believe, the prevailing opinion. Arnold has put forth what may be called the missionary theory of its origin. He believes that both the choice of subject and the grade of culture may be connected with the missionary efforts of the English Church of those days to extend Christianity in Friesland and further east. ‘It does not seem improbable that it was in the interest of the spread of Christianity that the composer of Beowulf—perhaps a missioner, perhaps a layman attached to the mission—was attracted to the Scandinavian lands; that he resided there long enough to become thoroughly steeped in the folk-lore and local traditions; that he found the grand figure of Beowulf the Geat predominant in them; and that, weaving into an organic whole those which he found suitable to his own purpose, he composed an epic which, on his return home, must soon have become known to all the lovers of English song.’1 Dr. Sarrazin thought this unknown poet might have been the famous Cynewulf. Arnold, chiefly on stylistic grounds, differs from this opinion. This is Arnold’s opinion: ‘Sagas, either in the Danish dialect or that of the Geats—more probably the latter—were current in the Scandinavian countries in the seventh century. Among these sagas, that of Beowulf the Geat must have had a prominent place; others celebrated Hygelac his uncle, Hnaef the Viking, the wars of the Danes and the Heathobards, of the Danes and the Swedes. About the end of the century missionaries from England are known to have been busy in Friesland and Denmark, endeavouring to convert the natives to Christianity. Some one of these, whose mind had a turn for literature and dwelt with joy upon the traditions of the past, collected or learnt by heart a number of these sagas, and, taking that of Beowulf as a basis, and weaving some others into his work, composed an epic poem to which, although it contains the record of those adventures, the heroic scale of the figure who accomplishes them all imparts a real unifying epic interest.’ Whatever may be the truth as to its origin, there it lies in the British Museum in its unique MS. as a testimony to all ages of the genius of the Anglo-Saxon race.
Now it will be quite naturally asked, What do we learn from Beowulf of the genius and spirit of that race from which we are sprung?
The one outstanding fact, as it appears to the writer, is the co-operative principle. And this principle stands in almost violent opposition to the ruling principle of the modern world, in which society is divided into a number of mutually opposite sections or classes, whose interests clash with fatal results to individual and corporate well-being. In this poem we see the whole community, from the King to the churl, bound by one common interest. King and chieftain and thane and churl freely intermingle and converse. They eat and drink and sleep under one common roof, or at least in one common enclosure. Tempora mutantur! but the idea of social interaction and mutual interdependence never found more vivid or real expression than in the pictures presented in Beowulf of Hart, the Great Hall of Hrothgar, and in the Court and township of Hygelac, King of the Geats. In the Hall of Hart Hrothgar and his Queen and his courtiers sit at the high table on the dais, and the lower orders at the long table down the hall. The spears and shields adorn the walls. After the evening meal, the singer, or scop, as he is called, to the accompaniment of the harp, tells forth the deeds of some ancient feud, such as that of Finn and the Danes or the Fight at Finnsburgh, or the feud of the Danes and the Heathobards, in which Freawaru, Hrothgar’s daughter, and Ingeld figure so tragically. Then the benches are removed, and the rude beds are spread out on the floor of the Great Hall and they seek ‘evening rest.’ The whole is a picture of fraternal and paternal government. If Grendel, the Fen-monster, carries away one of their number, then there is weeping and lamentation. The King and the Queen and the nobility and the commonalty are all concerned in the tragedy. The loss of one is the loss of all. When Aeschere is slain by Grendel’s mother Hrothgar thus bewails his loss: ‘Seek no more after joy; sorrow is renewed for the Danish folk. Aeschere is dead, he who was my wise counsellor and my adviser and my comrade in arms, when in time of war we defended ourselves; … but now the hand lieth low which bestowed every kind of joy upon you.’ And in the end of the poem it is said of Beowulf that he was ‘most gentle to his folk.’ The King was king only ‘for his folk.’ The interest of his folk, their physical and moral well-being, was his chief solicitude.
2. But not only was this so within any one nation or tribe, but there was a sense of comradeship and mutual responsibility among those of various tribes and nations. When Beowulf the Geat hears in Gautland of the raids of Grendel upon Hart, he commands his folk to make ready a boat that he may fare across the sea to the help of Hrothgar, because ‘he was lacking in warriors.’ Beowulf’s whole mission in Hart was the discharge of a solemn obligation of help from the strong to the weak. He announces to Hrothgar that he is come ‘to cleanse Hart of ill,’ and this he feels he must do. ‘Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!’ cried St. Paul. ‘Woe is me if I help not the weak and cleanse not the demon-infested palace of my kinsman!’ cried Beowulf. ‘Weird goes as he willeth’; that is, Fate must be submitted to. And Fate hath willed that he should help the weak and ‘cleanse the ill.’
3. Then there is the tremendous sense of loyalty on the part of the folk to their king or chieftain. The idea of the ‘Comitatus’ bound the folk to their leaders. Nothing more disgraceful could be conceived than the desertion of the leader. Terrible were the reproaches hurled at the trembling cowards who had hurried away into the woods, to save their own skins, whilst their King Beowulf wrestled with the dragon, the enemy of the people. ‘Yea, death is better for any earl than a life of reproach.’ Loyalty, a passionate loyalty to the King, was the greatest of virtues, and disloyalty and cowardice the greatest of vices. Society was an organic whole, bound together by the bands of loyalty and devotion to the common good.
4. There is, too, the fatalistic note heard all through the poem. Beowulf feels himself hard pressed by Fate. The Anglo-Saxon called Fate by the name ‘Weird,’ which has survived in modern English in the sense of something strange and mysterious. Weird was the God, or Goddess of Fate. Again and again in the poem we hear the solemn, minor, dirge-like refrain, ‘Weird hath willed it’; ‘Goeth Weird as she willeth’ (chapter VI. p. 44). There is this perpetual overshadowing and almost crushing sense of some inscrutable and irresistible power that wieldeth all things and disposeth all things, which is, I believe, a pre-eminent characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon race, and accounts for the dare-devil courage of her sons upon the battle-field or on the high seas. We find it, too, in its morally less attractive form in the recrudescent pessimism of modern literature. Thomas Hardy is the lineal descendant in literature of the author of Beowulf when he says: ‘Thus the President of the Immortals had finished his sport with poor Tess.’2
5. And closely allied to this sense of Destiny is the sombre view of life that is characteristic of the Teutonic peoples. There is none of that passionate joy in beauty and in love that we find in the Celtic literature. Life is a serious thing in Beowulf and with us of the Anglo-Saxon race. The scenery of Beowulf is massive and threatening and mist-encircled. Angry seas are boiling and surging and breaking at the foot of lofty and precipitous cliffs. Above the edge of the cliffs stretch mysterious and gloomy moorlands, and treacherous bogs and dense forests inhabited by malignant and powerful spirits, the foes of humanity. In a land like this there is no time for love-making. Eating, drinking, sleeping, fighting there make up the business of life. It is to the Celtic inflow that we owe the addition of love in our modern literature. The composer of Beowulf could not have conceived the Arthur Saga or the Tristram love-legend. These things belong to a later age, when Celtic and Teutonic elements were fused in the Anglo-Norman race. But we still find in our literature the sombre hues. And, after all, it is in the forest of sorrow and pain that we discover the most beautiful flowers and the subtlest perfumes.
I desire to express my indebtedness to A. J. Wyatt and William Morris for their translations; to A. J. Wyatt for his edition of the poem in the original; to Thomas Arnold for his terse and most informing work on Beowulf; to the authors of articles in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and in Chambers’s Encyclopaedia and The Cambridge History of English Literature.
Ernest J. B. Kirtlan.
1See Arnold, p. 115. ↑
2See conclusion of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. ↑
The Story of Beowulf
Now we have heard, by inquiry, of the glory of the kings of the people, they of the Spear-Danes, how the Athelings were doing deeds of courage.1 Full often Scyld, the son of Scef, with troops of warriors, withheld the drinking-stools from many a tribe. This earl caused terror when at first he was found in a miserable case. Afterwards he gave help when he grew up under the welkin, and worshipfully he flourished until all his neighbours over the sea gave him obedience, and yielded him tribute. He was a good king. In after-time there was born to him a son in the Court, whom God sent thither as a saviour of the people. He saw the dire distress that they formerly suffered when for a long while they were without a prince. Then it was that the Lord of Life, the Wielder of glory, gave to him glory. Famous was Beowulf.2 Far and wide spread his fame. Heir was he of Scyld in the land of the Danes. Thus should a young man be doing good deeds, with rich gifts to the friends of his father, so that in later days, when war shall come upon them, boon companions may stand at his side, helping their liege lord. For in all nations, by praiseworthy deeds, shall a man be thriving.
At the fated hour Scyld passed away, very vigorous in spirit, to the keeping of his Lord. Then his pleasant companions carried him down to the ocean flood, as he himself had bidden them, whilst the friend of the Scyldings was wielding words, he who as the dear Lord of the Land had ruled it a long time. And there, in the haven, stood the ship, with rings at the prow, icy, and eager for the journey, the ferry of the Atheling.
Then they laid down their dear Lord the giver of rings, the famous man, on the bosom of the ship, close to the mast, where were heaps of treasures, armour trappings that had been brought from far ways. Never heard I of a comelier ship, decked out with battle-weapons and weeds of war, with swords and byrnies. In his bosom they laid many a treasure when he was going on a far journey, into the power of the sea. Nor did they provide for him less of booty and of national treasures than they had done, who at the first had sent him forth, all alone o’er the waves, when he was but a child. Then moreover they set a golden standard high o’er his head, and let the sea take him, and gave all to the man of the sea. Full sad were their minds, and all sorrowing were they. No man can say soothly, no, not any hall-ruler, nor hero under heaven, who took in that lading.3
1See Appendix II. ↑
2Not the hero of the poem. ↑
3Cp. with this the ‘Passing of Arthur,’ as related by Tennyson. The meaning is clear. Cp. also Appendix. ↑
Moreover the Danish Beowulf,1 the dear King of his people, was a long time renowned amongst the folk in the cities (his father, the Prince, had gone a-faring elsewhere from this world). Then was there born to him a son, the high Healfdene; and while he lived he was ruling the happy Danish people, and war-fierce and ancient was he. Four children were born to him: Heorogar the leader of troops, and Hrothgar, and Halga the good. And I heard say that Queen Elan (wife of Ongentheow) was his daughter, and she became the beloved comrade of the Swede. Then to Hrothgar was granted good speed in warfare and honour in fighting, so that his loyal subjects eagerly obeyed him, until the youths grew doughty, a very great band of warriors. Then it burned in his mind that he would bid men be building a palace, a greater mead-hall than the children of men ever had heard of, and that he would therein distribute to young and to old, as God gave him power, all the wealth that he had save the share of the folk and the lives of men.
Then I heard far and wide how he gave commandment to many a people throughout all the world, this work to be doing, and to deck out the folkstead. In due time it happened that soon among men, this greatest of halls was now all ready. And Hart he called it, whose word had great wielding. He broke not his promise, but gave to them rings and treasures at the banquet. The hall towered on high, and the gables were wide between the horns,2 and awaited the surging of the loathsome flames. Not long time should pass ere hatred was awakened after the battle-slaughter, twixt father-in-law and son-in-law.3
Then it was that the powerful sprite who abode in darkness, scarce could brook for a while that daily he heard loud joy in the hall. There was sound of harping, and the clear song of the bard.
He who knew it was telling of the beginning of mankind, and he said that the Almighty created the world, and the bright fields surrounded by water. And, exulting, He set the sun and the moon as lamps to shine upon the earth-dwellers, and adorned the world with branches and leaves. And life He was giving to every kind of living creature. So noble men lived in joy, and were all blessed till one began to do evil, a devil from hell; and this grim spirit was called Grendel. And he was a march-stepper, who ruled on the moorlands, the fens, and the stronghold. For a while he kept guard, this unhappy creature, over the land of the race of monsters, since the Creator had proscribed him. On the race of Cain the Eternal Lord brought death as vengeance, when he slew Abel. Nor did he find joy in the feud, but God for the crime drove him far thence. Thus it was that evil things came to their birth, giants and elves and monsters of the deep, likewise those giants who for a long while were striving with God Himself. And well He requited them.
Then he went visiting the high house after nightfall, to see how the Ring-Danes were holding it. And he found there a band of Athelings asleep after feasting. And they knew not sorrow or the misery of men. The grim and greedy wight of destruction, all fierce and furious, was soon ready for his task, and laid hold of thirty thanes, all as they lay sleeping. And away he wended, faring homeward and exulting in the booty, to revisit his dwellings filled full of slaughter. At the dawn of day the war-craft of Grendel was seen by men. Then after his feeding they set up a weeping, great noise in the morning.
The glorious Lord, the very good Atheling, sat all unblithely, and suffered great pain, and endured sorrow for his thanes, when they saw the track of the loathly one, the cursed sprite. That struggle was too strong, loathsome and long. And after but one night (no longer time was it) he did them more murder-bale, and recked not a whit the feud and the crime. Too quick was he therein. Then he who had sought elsewhere more at large a resting-place, a bed after bower, was easily found when he was shown and told most truly, by the token so clear, the hate of the hell-thane. He went away farther and faster, he who would escape the fiend. So he ruled and strove against right, he alone against all of them, until the best of houses stood quite idle. And a great while it was—the friend of the Danes suffered distress and sorrows that were great the time of twelve winters.
Then was it made known to the children of men by a sorrowful singing that Grendel was striving this while against Hrothgar, and waged hateful enmity of crime and feud for many a year with lasting strife, and would hold no truce against any man of the main host of Danes, nor put away the life-bale, or settle feud with a fee, nor did any man need to hope for brighter bettering at the hand of the banesman. The terrible monster, a dark death-shadow, was pursuing the youth and the warriors, and he fettered and ensnared them, and ever was holding night after night the misty moorlands. And, men know not ever whither workers of hell-runes wander to and fro. Thus the foe of mankind, the terrible and lonesome traveller, often he did them even greater despite. And he took up his dwelling in the treasure-decked Hall of Hart in the dark night, nor could he come near the throne the treasure of God, nor did he know His love.4
And great was the evil to the friend of the Danes, and breakings of heart. Many a strong one sat in council, and much they discussed what was best for stout-hearted men to do against the fearful terror. And sometimes they went vowing at their heathen shrines and offered sacrifices, and with many words pleaded that the devil himself would give them his help against this menace to the nation. For such was their custom, the hope of the heathen. And ever of Hell they thought in their hearts; the Creator they knew not, the Judge of all deeds, nor knew they the Lord God, nor could they worship the Protector of the heavens, the Wielder of glory. Woe be to that man who shall shove down a soul through hurtful malice into the bosom of the fire, and who hopes for no help nor for any change—well shall it be with that one who after his death day shall seek the Lord and desire protection in the embrace of the Father.
So Beowulf, son of Healfdene, ever was brooding over this time-care, nor could the brave hero avert woe. That conflict was too strong, loathsome and long, that terrible and dire distress, the greatest of night-bales which came to the people.
Then the thane of Hygelac,5 the good man of the Geats,6 heard from home of the deeds of Grendel. And on the day of this life he was the strongest of main of all men in the world; noble was he and powerful. He bade a fair ship be made, and said that he would be seeking the War-King, the famous prince, over the swan path, and that he needed men. And the proud churls little blamed him for that journey, though dear he was to them. They urged on the valiant man and marked the omen. The good man of the Geats had chosen champions of those who were keenest, and sought out the ship. And one, a sea-crafty man, pointed to the land-marks. Time passed by; the ship was on the waves, the boat under the cliff, and the warriors all readily went up to the stern. And the currents were swirling, with sea and sand. And men were carrying on to the naked deck bright ornaments and splendid war-armour. Then they shove forth the ship that was well bound together; and it set forth over the waves, driven by the wind, this foamy-necked ship, likest to a bird; until about the same time on the next day, the ship with its twisted stern had gone so far that the sailing men could see the land, the shining sea-cliffs, the steep mountains, and the wide sea-nesses. Then they crossed the remaining portion of the sea.7 The Geats went up quickly on to the shore, and anchored the ship. War-shirts and war-weeds were rattling. And they gave God thanks for their easy crossing of the waves. Then the ward of the Swedes, who kept guard over the sea-cliffs, saw them carry down the gangways the bright shields and armour, all ready. And full curious thought tortured him as to who these men were. He, the thane of Hrothgar, rode down to the beach on his charger, and powerfully brandished the spear in his hand and took counsel with them.
‘Who are ye armour-bearers, protected by byrnies, who come here thus bringing the high vessel over the sea, and the ringed ship over the ocean? I am he that sits at the end of the land and keep sea-guard, so that no one more loathsome may scathe with ship-army the land of the Danes. Never have shield-bearers begun to come here more openly, yet ye seem not to know the password of warriors, the compact of kinsmen. Nor ever have I seen a greater earl upon earth, than one of your band, a warrior in armour. And except his face belie him, he that is thus weapon-bedecked is no hall-man; but a peerless one to see. Now must I know your lineage before you go farther with your false spies in the land of the Danes. Now O ye far-dwellers and sea-farers, hear my onefold thought—haste is best in making known whence ye are come.’
Then the eldest gave answer, and unlocked his treasure of words, the wise one of the troop: ‘We are of the race of the Geats and hearth-comrades of Hygelac. My father was well known to the folk, a noble prince was he called Ecgtheow. And he bided many winters, ere as an old man he set out on his journeys away from the dwelling places. And wellnigh every councillor throughout all the world remembered him well. We through bold thinking have come to seek thy lord, the son of Healfdene, the protector of the people. Vouchsafe to us good guidance. We have a great business with the lord of the Danes, who is far famed. Nor of this shall aught be secret as I am hoping. Well thou knowest if ’tis true as we heard say, that among the Danes some secret evil-doer, I know not what scather, by terror doth work unheard-of hostility, humiliation, and death. I may give counsel through greatness of mind to Hrothgar as to how he, the wise and good, may overcome the fiend, if ever should cease for him the baleful business and bettering come after and his troubles wax cooler, or for ever he shall suffer time of stress and miserable throes, while the best of all houses shall remain on the high stead.’
Then the watchman, the fearless warrior, as he sat on his horse, quickly made answer: ‘The shield-warrior who is wide awake, shall know how to tell the difference between words and works, if he well bethink him. I can see that this band of warriors will be very welcome to the Lord of the Danes. Go ye forth, therefore, bear weapons and armour, as I will direct you. And I will command my thanes to hold against every foe, your ship in honour, new tarred as it is, and dry on the sands, until it shall carry the dearly loved man, that ship with the twisted prow, to the land of the Geats. To each of the well-doers shall it be given to escape scot-free out of the battle rush.’ Then they went forth carrying their weapons. And there the ship rested, fastened by a rope, the wide-bosomed vessel secured by its anchor. The Boar8 held life ward, bright and battle-hard and adorned with gold, over the neck-guard of the handsome Beowulf. There was snorting of the war-like-minded, whilst men were hastening, as they marched on together till they caught sight of the splendid place decked out in gold. And it was the most famous of palaces, under the heavens, of the earth-dwellers, where the ruler was biding. Its glory shone over many lands. Then the dear one in battle showed them the bright house where were the brave ones, that they might straightway make their way towards it. Then one of the warriors turned his horse round, and spake this word: ‘Time it is for me to go. May the Almighty Father hold you in favour, and keep you in safety in all your journeyings. I will go to the sea-coast to keep my watch against the fierce troops.’
The way was paved with many coloured stones, and by it they knew the path they should take. The coat of mail shone brightly, which was firmly hand-locked. The bright iron ring sang in the armour as they came on their way in their warlike trappings at the first to the great hall. Then the sea-weary men set down their broad shields, their shields that were wondrous hard ’gainst the wall of the great house, and bowed towards the bench. And byrnies were rattling, the war-weapons of men. And the spears were standing in a row together, the weapons of the sea-men and the spear grey above. And the troop of armed men was made glorious with weapons. Then the proud chieftain asked the warriors of their kindred: ‘From whence are ye bringing such gold-plated shields, grey sarks and helmets with visors, and such a heap of spears? I am the servant and messenger of Hrothgar. Never saw I so many men prouder. I trow it was for pride and not at all for banishment, but for greatness of mind that Hrothgar ye are seeking.’
Then answered the brave man, the chief of the Geats, and spake these words, hard under helmet: ‘We are the comrades at table of Hygelac. Beowulf is my name. I will say fully this my errand to the son of Healfdene the famous chieftain, unto thy lord and master, if he will grant us that we may salute him who is so good.’
Then spake Wulfgar (he was Prince of the Wendels9). His courage was known to all, his valour and wisdom. ‘I will make known to the Prince of the Danes, the Lord of the Scyldings10 the giver of rings the famous chieftain as thou art pleading, about thy journey, and will make known to thee quickly the answer which he the good man thinks fit to give me.’ Quickly he turned then to where Hrothgar was sitting, old and very grey with his troop of earls. The brave man then went and stood before the shoulders of the Lord of the Danes. Well he knew the custom of the doughty ones. Wulfgar then spoke to his lord and friend: ‘Here are come faring from a far country over the wide sea, a people of the Geats, and the eldest the warriors call Beowulf. And they are asking that they may exchange words with thee, my lord. O gladman Hrothgar, do not refuse to be talking with them. For worthy they seem all in their war-weeds, in the judgement of earls. At least he is a daring Prince who hither hath led this band of warriors.’
Then spake Hrothgar the protector of the Danes: ‘Well I knew him when he was a child, and his old father was called Ecgtheow. And to him did Hrethel of the Geats give his only daughter, and his son is bravely come here and hath sought out a gracious friend.’ Then said the sea-farers who had brought the goodly gifts of the Geats there for thanks, that he the battle-brave had in his hand-grip the main craft of thirty men. ‘And the holy God hath sent him for favour to us West Danes, and of this I have hope, ’gainst the terror of Grendel. I shall offer the goodman gifts for his daring. Now make thou haste and command the band of warrior kinsmen into the presence. Bid them welcome to the people of the Danes.’ Then went Wulfgar even to the hall-door, and spake these words: ‘My liege lord, the Prince of the East Danes, commands me to say that he knows your lineage. And ye who are bold of purpose are welcome hither over the sea-waves. Now may ye go in your war-weeds, under your visored helmets to see Hrothgar. Let your swords stay behind here, the wood and the slaughter-shafts and the issue of words.’ Then the Prince rose up, and about him was many a warrior, a glorious band of thanes. And some bided there and held the battle-garments as the brave man commanded. And they hastened together under the roof of Hrothgar as the man directed them. The stout-hearted man went forward, hard under helmet till he stood by the dais.
Then Beowulf spake (and the byrny shone on him, the coat of mail, sewn by the cunning of the smith): ‘O Hrothgar, all hail! I am the kinsman and comrade of Hygelac.11 Many marvels I have set on foot in the days of my youth. The affair of Grendel was made known to me in my native land. Sea-farers told how this best of all palaces stood idle and useless to warriors, after evening light came down under the brightness of heaven. Then my people persuaded me, the best and the proudest of all my earls, O my lord Hrothgar, that I should seek thee, for they well knew my main strength. For they themselves saw how I came forth bloodstained from the power of the fiend, when I bound the five, and destroyed the giant’s kin, and slew ’mongst the waves, sea-monsters by night, and suffered such dire distress, and wreaked vengeance for the strife of the Geats (for woe they were suffering), and I destroyed the fierce one. And now all alone I shall settle the affair of Grendel the deadly monster, the cruel giant. And one boon will I be asking, O Prince of the Bright Danes, thou lord of the Scyldings, Protector of warriors and friend of the folk, that thou wilt not refuse, since so far I am come, that I and my troop of earls, this crowd of brave men, may alone cleanse out Hart. I have heard say also that the monster because of his rashness recks not of weapons. And, if Hygelac the blithe-minded will be my liege lord, I will forgo to carry to the battle a sword, or broad shield all yellow; but I will engage by my hand-grip with the enemy, and strive for life, foe with foe. And he whom Death taketh shall believe in the doom of the Lord. And I doubt not he will fearlessly consume the people of the Geats, if he may prevail in the war-hall as he has often done with the strong men of the Danes. And thou shalt not need to hide my head if Death take me, for he will seize me all bloodstained, and will bury the slaughter all bloody, and will think to taste and devour me alone and without any sorrow, and will stain the glens in the moorland. And thou needest not to sorrow longer over the food of my body. And if battle take me, send to Hygelac this best of coats of mail, the noblest of garments. It is the heirloom of Hrethel the work of Weland12; and let Weird go as it will.’
Hrothgar gave answer, the protector of the Danes: ‘O my friend Beowulf, now thou hast sought us, for defence and for favour. Thy father fought in the greatest of feuds. He was banesman to Heatholaf amongst the Wylfings, when for battle-terror the King of the Geats could not hold him. Thence he sought the folk of the South Danes over the welter of waves. Then first was I ruling the Danish folk, and in my youthful days possessed the costly jewels, the treasure city of heroes. Then Heregar was dead, my elder brother not living was he, the child of Healfdene. He was a better man than I was. Then a payment of money settled the matter. I sent to the Wylfings ancient presents over the sea-ridges. And he swore to me oaths. And it is to me great sorrow in my heart to tell any man what Grendel hath done in Hart through his malice, of humiliation and sudden horror. My hall-troop has grown less, the crowd of my thanes; Weird13 has swept them towards the terror of Grendel. But easily may the good God restrain the deeds of the foolish scather. And drunken with beer the warriors full often boasted o’er the ale-cup that they would bide in the beer-hall the battle of Grendel with the terror of swords. Then was the mead-hall all bloodstained in the morning when dawn came shining, and all the benches were wet with gore, the hall with sword-blood. And so much the less did I rule o’er dear doughty ones whom death had taken. Now sit down to the banquet and unbind thy thoughts, thy hopes to the thanes, as thy mind inspires thee.’ Then was there room made in the beer-hall for the Geats all together. And there they went and sat down, the strong-hearted men, proud of their strength. And a thane waited on them, who bore in his hands the ale-cup bedecked, and he poured out the sparkling mead, while the clear-voiced bard kept singing in Hart. There was joy to the heroes, and a very great gathering of Danes and of Geats.
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