This book which has been broken up into different chapters contains translations of English poetry which was composed, roughly speaking, between A. D. 650 and 1000, or, in other words, from Widsith, which is perhaps the oldest English poem, to Maldon, which is the last great poem before the French-Norman Conquest. The coming of the French brought such great changes in language and in literary fashions that the older poetry seems somewhat remote from us.
English poetry before the Conquest may be roughly divided into two classes, heroic and Christian. The heroic poems deal for the most part with Germanic legend and history. About these poems there is nothing distinctively English except the language. The stories they tell or mention, the kings and warriors they refer to, were known to all the Germanic peoples, not merely to the tribes which came over to Britain. The Christian poetry adapts and paraphrases the biblical narrative, records the lives of saints, or uses verse for general moralizing. These religious themes were as much the subject of poetry after the French-Norman Conquest as before. Chaucer tells us the life of St. Cecilia as Cynewulf tells us the life of St. Juliana. The Conquest changed the language and metre of the religious poetry, but the substance remained the same.
Of the heroic poetry we can form no final estimate, because we do not know the extent or worth of what has been lost. The ravages of the Danes from the end of the eighth century onward blotted out a flourishing literature in the north of England. Monastic libraries were destroyed. Practically the only Northumbrian poetry preserved has survived in a West Saxon translation and not in its native dress. There are indications that ‘Beowulf ‘ has survived complete, not necessarily the best of the old poems, but merely because it was luckier than its fellows. ‘Waldhere’ and ‘Finnesburh’, of which we have only fragments, were probably in some ways better poems.
The heroic poems, ‘Beowulf’, ‘Finnesburh’, ‘Waldhere’, Doer’, and ‘Widsith’, probably took their present form in the course of the seventh century. Their substance, however, comes from an earlier times, from an age which had just closed, extending from the fourth to the fifth century and generally known as the Age of National Migrations, or, more briefly, as the Heroic Age. These poems reflect the tradition and spirit of that past time, and we can learn from them something about conditions of life in the Heroic Age, just as we see in the Iliad and Odyssey the Heroic Age of Greece. The way of living pictured in these English poems is not without nobility, and the impression they leave is a corrective to the brief historical annals of the time which tell largely on in the poems than the loyalty a warrior owes his liege lord. This creed is well expressed in the words of Wiglaf when he exhorts his comrades to stand by Beowulf against the fire-dragon:
‘I remember that time when we were drinking mead, when in the beer hall we promised our lord who gave us these rings, that we would requite him for the war gear, the helms and sharp swords, if need such as this came upon him. He chose us among the host of his own will for this venture; he reminded us of famous deeds, and gave me these treasures, the more because he counted us good spear-warriors, bold bearers of helmets, though our lord, the protector of the people, purposed to achieve this mighty task unaided, because among men he had wrought most daring deeds, daring ventures. Now the day has come when our lord needs the strength of valiant warriors. Let us go to help our warlike prince, while the fierce dread flame yet flares. God knows, that, as for me, I had much rather the flame should embrace my body with my gold-river. It does not seem fitting to me that we should bear shields back to our dwelling, if we cannot first fell the foe, guard the life of the prince of the Weders. I know well that, from his former deeds, he deserves not to suffer affliction alone among the warriors of the Geats, to fall in fight; sword and helmet, corslet and shirt of mail, shall be shared by us both.’
This personal allegiance is strengthened by the lord’s generosity, and the poems are full of praise for the lord who knows how to give freely. He is called ‘the giver of rings’, ‘the bestower of treasure’, ‘the gold-friend of men.’ Hrothgar is praised for his liberality to his followers and to Beowulf; and one of the reproaches brought against Heremod, of whom Hrothgar speaks, is that ‘he gave not rings to the Danes.’ The minstrels, Widsith and Doer, both receive grants of land from their masters. The sad exile in ‘The Wanderer’ recalls ‘how in his youth his gold-friend was kind to him at the feast.’ The poems reflect also another side of life in the Heroic Age – the frequency of feuds. Beowulf has many references to bitter tribal fights. The feud of Hrothgar the Dane and Ingeld the Heathobard is settled by Hrothgar giving Freawaru his daughter in marriage to Ingeld, but Beowulf tells Hygelac how the feud will break out again. There is, too, the tale of Finn of which Hrothgar’s minstrel sings in hall and of which we have another glimpse in the Finnesburh fragment. Hygelac is slain in an expedition against the Franks and Frisians, and his son Heardred is killed fighting against the Swedes. Nor do the poems refer only to tribal strife. There is frequent mention of quarrels between kinsmen. Unferth is taunted by Beowulf with having slain his brothers and the treachery of Hrothulf is clearly foretold in Beowulf. Men were driven abroad by such feuds, or by the love of adventure and gain. So Beowulf goes to the Danish court to cleanse the hall of the monster Grendel and is rewarded with princely gifts.
Some of the pleasantest passages in ‘Beowulf’ are those which describe the daily life of princes and warriors. The scene in Hrothgar’s great hall, Heorot, where men talk and drink mead and listen to the minstrel’s song, and where the queen Wealtheow moves with courtesy among her guests, are full of simple dignity.
The style of these poems has a just claim to be called epic. It differs from that of the Homeric poems in degree but not in kind. The range of style is considerable. It can be swift and grim, as in Boewulf’s struggle with Grendel or the great fight in the hall of Finn; or it can possess a strange beauty as in the picture of the mere where Grendel’s mother lives. The voyage of Beowulf and his men to Hrothgar’s court is a good example of steady, dignified narrative. The elegiac note also is often heard. ‘There is no joy of the harp, delight of the timbrel, nor does the good hawk sweep through the hall, nor swift steed stamp in the court. Violent death has caused to pass many generations of men.’ One mark of the style is the comparative absence of similes but the frequency of descriptive phrases, known as Kennings, as, for example, when Beowulf’s boat is called ‘the foamy-necked floater.’ These are sometimes of great beauty, and sometimes show the same kind of ingenuity which appears in a more expanded way in the ‘Riddles.’ The best introduction to the Christian poetry is the famous story of Caedmon told by Bede. ‘This man had lived a secular life till he had reached old age, and had never learned a song. And so often at the feast, when it was decreed for the sake of mirth that each in turn should sing to the harp, when he saw the harp coming near him, then in shame he rose from the banquet and went home to his house. One time when he had done this, and had left the house where the feasting was, and had gone out to the cattle-stall, for the care of them was entrusted to him that night, and had duly laid his limbs to rest there and fallen asleep, there appeared a man unto him and hailed him and saluted him and called him by name: “Caedmon, sing me something.” Then he answered and said: “I cannot sing, and so I left the feasting and came hither because I could not.” He who spoke to him again said: “Nevertheless, thou canst sing to me.” He said: “What am I sing?” He said: “Sing me the Creation.” When he received that answer, then straightway he began to sing in praise of God, the Creator, verses and words which he had never heard before. The is the order of them:
Now must we render praise to the Ruler of heaven,To the might of God and the thought of His mind, The glorious Father of men, since He, the Lord everlasting, Wrought the beginning of all wonders.
He, the holy Creator, first fashioned The heavens as a roof for the children of earth.
Then this middle-earth the Master of mankind,The Lord eternal, afterwards adorned, The earth for men, the Prince all-powerful.
Then he rose up from and clearly remembered all he had sung while he swept, and straightway added in the same metre many words of the song worthy of God. He was received into the monastery of Whitby under the Abbess Hilda, and there he passed his life in making poetry. ‘He sang first of the creation of the world and the beginning of mankind and all the story of Genesis – that is the first book of Moses – and afterwards of the Israelites leaving the land of Egypt and of their entrance into the promised land, of many other stories fro the holy scriptures and of Christ’s incarnation and of His passion and His ascension into heaven, and of the coming of the Holy Ghost and the teachings of the Apostles. And afterwards of the fear of the judgement to come and of the terror of punishment in torment and of the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom he made many songs; and likewise also he wrought many others of divine benefits and judgements.’ He died in 680.
Although the poems ‘Genesis’, ‘Exodus’, ‘Daniel’, and ‘Christ and Satan’ were for long ascribed to Caedmon, it is probable that the nine lines quoted by Bede are all that we have of his work. But, though Caedmon’s work is lost, Bede’s description of it applies very well to the extant religious poems, to their scope and their sprit. The story brings out vividly the differences between the production of the old heroic poems and the new Christian verse, between Caedmon, the poet-monk alone in his cell, and Hrothgar’s minstrel singing the tale of Finn to the warriors at their mead.
But the break between the religious poetry and the earlier work is not complete. The old devices of style are carriedon and adapted to the new subjects. So, for example, the fallen Satan in ‘Genisis’ – B, with his loyal band of followers, is described in terms that would suit a Germanic chieftain. Abraham’s rescue to Lot and the fight at the opening of the ‘Elena’ are told in the phrases of the old battle poetry. Moses leading the Israelites is called ‘the glorious hero.’ The poet who described St. Andrew’s mission to the strange land of Mermedonia knew and remembered Beowulf’s mission to Hrothgar. In ‘The Dream of the Rood’, the most beautiful of all the religious poems, Christ is described as ‘the young hero’ and the disciples are faithful warriors.
The religious poetry is of very unequal value. The ‘Later Genesis (Genesis – B)’ and ‘The Dream of the Rood’ are as good as anything in Old English poetry, but too often we get merely lifeless moralizing in conventional phrases. Except for the group of poems formerly thought to be by Caedmon, most of the religious poetry has at one time or another been ascribed to Cynewulf. He is the undoubted author of the works he has signed, ‘Elena’, ‘Juliana’, part at least of the ‘Christ’, and ‘The Fates of the Apostles.’ The following poems – ‘Guthlac’, ‘The Phoenix’, Andreas’, ‘The Dream of the Rood’, ‘Physiologus’, ‘Riddles’ – have all been attributed to him. In spite of a great deal of discussion nothing has been certainly discovered as to his identity. He was probably born about 750 and was a Northumbrian or Mercian. Cynewulf is as deliberate and conscious an artist as Tennyson. His grace and his mastery of rhetoric are different from and inferior to the more solid qualities of ‘Beowulf’, which presents dramatic situations and human character.
But English poetry had not lost the power to deal well with great simple heroic themes. The poem on the battle of Maldon, written only a few years before A.D. 1000, shows the old strength and nobility. There is no sign of weakness or exhaustion.
Among the most interesting poems in Anglo-Saxon are the lyrics, or more properly perhaps, the elegies – ‘The Seafarer’, ‘The Wanderer’, ‘The Wife’s Lament’, ‘The Husband’s Message’, ‘The Ruin’, and ‘Wulf and Eadwacer.’ These pieces have much in common, for with the exception of ‘The Husband’s Message’ they are sorrowful in mood, and the speaker looks back to happier times which have vanished. ‘The Ruin’, mutilated though the text is, is perhaps the finest of them.
Practically all the poetry is written in the same kind of verse. The main principles of the metre are simple. Each line is made up of two half-lines which hare separated by a caesura and joined by alliteration. Each half-line has normally two feet, and each foot is made up of an accented part and a varying number of unaccented syllables. The alliteration which links the two half-lines on these accented syllables. Words beginning with the same consonant alliterate in Old English, and a word beginning with any vowel alliterates with any other word beginning with a vowel.
The following lines will illustrate the structure of the verse:
Himseyldesta ondswarode, (Him theeldest) (answered)
(Of the troopthe leaderword-hoard unlocked.)
This alliterative metre was conquered by the rhyming measures brought in by the French-Normans. Strangely enough it made a glorious reappearance in the fourteenth century in ‘Piers Plowman’ and other poems, but the revival was not lasting. Its supremacy had gone.
There are four manuscript books which contain the greater part of Anglo-Saxon poetry.
1. Beowulf is preserved in a manuscript, written about A.D. 1000 and now in the British Museum. The manuscript was once in the possession of Lawrence Nowell, a sixteenth-century pioneer in Anglo-Saxon studies. He has written his name on the manuscript and the date 1563. Of its earlier history we know nothing. In the seventeenth century the manuscript found its way into the collection formed by Sir Robert Cotton. In 1705 Wanley, in his ‘Catalogue of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts’, mentioned the poem, and said it described wars between a Dane, Beowulf, and the Swedes – a description which shows that the real contents of the poem were not yet understood. About a quarter of a century later the poem was nearly destroyed by fire. Thorkelin, an Icelander, near the close of the eighteenth century came to England, copied the manuscript himself and caused another copy to be made. He spent years in preparing an edition only to have his translation and notes destroyed during the English bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807. The copy, however, of the manuscript escaped, and in 1815 his edition at last appeared. Among the other contents of the Beowulf manuscript is ‘Judith.’
2. ‘Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, Christ and Satan’, are contained in a manuscript in the Bodleian Library. It once belonged to Archbishop Usher, who gave it to Franz Junius, a Huguenot scholar who came to England in 1620. Junius printed the poems in 1655, and afterwards presented the manuscript to the University of Oxford.
3. The ‘The Exeter Book’ was given by Leofric, Bishop of Devon and Cornwall and Chancellor to Edward the Confessor, to Exeter Cathedral, where it still remains. Wanley was the first scholar to give an account of the book. The ‘Exeter Book’ was not printed until 1842. The following poems form part of the contents of the ‘Exeter Book’ : Christ, Juliana, Guthlac, The Pheonix, Whale, Panther, Riddles, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, The Arts of Men, The Fates of Men, Gnomic Verses (in part), The Soul’s Address to the Body (part 1), Widsith, Deor, The Wife’s Lament, The Husband’s Message, The Ruin.
4. The ‘Vercelli Book’ is preserved in the cathedral library at Vercelli in Northern Italy. It has probably been there for six or seven centuries. How this book of Anglo-Saxon writings found its way to Italy we do not know. The manuscript contains the following poems: Andreas, The Fates of the Apostles, The Soul’s Address to the Body, The Dream of the Rood, Elena.
The Wife’s Lament
The Husband Message
Wulf and Eadwacer
The Battle of Brunanburh
The Battle of Maldon
[A summary of the plot of Beowulf sounds like a nursery tale of marvels. The fight with Grendel in the hall, the slaying of Grendel’s mother beneath the mere, and the encounter with the fire-breathing dragon belongs to the same family as the adventures of Jack the Giant Killer. Parallels to Beowulf’s exploits exist in written literature and in folklore. One of the most interesting is in the Icelandic saga about the famous outlaw Grettir. Two episodes in the saga bear such a strong resemblance to the fights with Grendel and Grendel’s mother that it is clear they come from the same original story. (See Saga of Grettir the Strong, translated by G. A. Hight, Everyman’s Library, No 699, pp. 86 – 100, 170 -7.) But a bare summary of the plot of Beowulf gives a wrong impression of the style of the fantastic character of the main story. Some of the events and persons referred to in the poem are historical. Hygelac was a real king who fell in battle near the mouth of the Rhine between A.D. 512 and 520. His people, the Geats, probably lived in a part of what is now southern Sweden. There is, however, no evidence that Beowulf the Geat, the hero of the poem, ever existed. There is good reason to suppose that the Swedish kings and princes mentioned in the poem – Eadgils, Onela, Ohtere, Ongemtheow – are historical. Accounts in Scandinavian literature of the wars between the Geats and Swedes (their neighbours to the north) correspond to what is told us in Beowulf of the struggle. The Danish king Healfdene and his descendants are also probably historical, and their great hall Heorot almost certainly stood at Leire in the island of Seeland. There is, however, no evidence that Healdene’s ancestors – Scyld Scefing and Beowulf (not to be confused with the hero of the poem) – are anything but mythical figures. Scyld Scefing may mean Scyld son of Sceaf or Scefing, or Scyld with the sheaf. The story told here of Scyld coming mysteriously over the sea as a child is told later in England (by Ethelwerd in the tenth century and by William of Malmesbury in the twelfth) not of Scyld, but of Scef or Sceaf. In William of Malmesbury’s account a handful of corn is at the child’s head in the boat; and this gave him his name Sheaf. Sceafa appears also in the catalogue of kings in Widsith. The Scandinavian records place Scyld at the beginning of the genealogies of the Danish kings, but do not mention the story of the child in the boat. It is probable, then, that that story originally belonged to Sceaf, and that in Beowulf it has somehow been transferred to Scyld.
In this poem are many references to Christianity. Some of these seem strangely incongruous. Hrothgar’s minstrel sings a religious poem about the Creation, and yet Beowulf is cremated with pagan ceremonies. This mixture of pagan and Christian usages and beliefs has been explained in several ways. Some think that the Christian passages were not in the poem at first but were added by a later hand. We cannot be certain, but it is possible that they were the work of the original poet. Christianity did not at once drive out the older faith and ideas. The Christian king Alfred loved to listen to the Old Saxon songs. For a time the old and the new existed side by side in England, as they do in this English poem. A little later, Old English poetry dealt almost entirely with Christian subjects, and the monk in his cell turned poet and replaced the minstrel in hall.]
Lo! We have heard the glory of the kings of the Spear-Danes in days gone by, how the chieftains wrought mighty deeds. Often Scyld Scefing wrested the mead benches from troops of foes, (1) from many tribes; he made fear fall upon the earls. After he was first found in misery (he received solace for that), he grew up under the heavens, lived in high honour, until each of his neighbours over the whale road must needs obey him and render tribute. That was a good king! Later a young son was born to him in the court, God sent him for a comfort to the people’ He had marked the misery of that earlier time when they suffered long space, lacking a leader. Wherefore the Lord of life, the Ruler of glory, gave him honour in the world.
Beowulf, son of Scyld, was renowned in Scandinavian lands – his repute spread far and wide. So shall a young man bring good to pass with splendid gifts in his father’s possession, so that when war comes willing comrades shall stand by him again in his old age, the people follow him. In every tribe a man shall prosper by glorious deeds.
Then at the fated hour Scyld, very strong, passed hence into the Lord’s protection. Then did they, his dear comrades, bear him out to the shore of the sea, as he himself had besought them, whilst as friend of the Scyldings he had power of speech, as loved lord of the land held sway. There at the haven stood the ring-prowed ship, covered with ice and eager to set forth, the chieftain’s vessel. Then they laid down the loved lord, the bestower of rings on the rings on the bosom of the barge, the famous man by the mast. Many treasures and ornaments were there, brought from afar. I never heard of a sightlier ship adorned with weapons of war and garments of battle, swords, and corslets. Many treasure lay on his bosom that were to pass far with him into the power of the flood. Not al all did they furnish him with lesser gifts, with great costly stores, than did those who sent him forth in the beginning while he was still a child alone over the waves. Further they set a golden banner high over his head; they let the ocean bear him; they surrendered him to the sea. Sad was their mind, mournful their mood. Man cannot tell for a truth, counsellors in hall, heroes under the heavens, who received that burden.
Then Beowulf of the Scyldings, beloved king of the people, was famed among peoples long time in the strongholds – his father had passed hence, the prince from his home – until noble Healfdene was born to him; aged and fierce in fight, he ruled the hosts, four children sprang in succession, Heorogar, and Hrothgar, and Halga the good; I heard that Sigeneow was Onela’s queen, consort of the war-Scyling. (2) Then good fortune in war was granted to Hrothgar, glory in battle, so that his kinsmen gladly obeyed him, until the younger warriors grew to be a mighty band.
It came into his mind that he would order men to make a hall building, a mighty mead dwelling, greater than ever the children of men had heard of; and therein that he should part among young and old all which God gave unto him except the nation and the lives of men. Then I heard far and wide of work laid upon many a tribe throughout the world, the task of adorning the place of assembly. Quickly it came to pass among men in due time that it was perfect; the greatest of hall dwellings; he whose word had wide sway gave it the name of Heorot. (3) He broke not his pledge, he bestowed bracelets and treasure at the banquet. The hall towered up, lofty and wide-gabled; it endured the surges of battle, of hostile fire. The time was not yet come when the feud between son-in-law and father-in-law was fated to flare out after deadly hostility. (4) Then the mighty spirit who dwelt in darkness angrily endured the torment of hearing each day high revel in the hall. There was the sound of the harp, the clear song of the minstrel. He who could tell of men’s beginning from olden times spoke of how the Almighty wrought the world, the earth bright in its beauty which the water encompasses; the Victorious One established the brightness of sun and moon for a light to dwellers in the land, and adorned the face of the earth with branches and leaves; He also created life of all kinds which move and live. Thus the noble warriors lived in pleasure and plenty, until a fiend in hell began to contrive malice. The grim spirit was called Grendel, a famous march-stepper, who held the moors, the fen, and the fastness. The hapless creature sojourned for a space in the sea monsters’ home after the Creator had condemned him. The eternal Lord avenged the murder on the race of Cain, because he slew Abel. He did not rejoice in that feud. He, the Lord, drove him far from mankind for that crime. Thence sprang all evil spawn, ogres and elves and sea monsters, giants too, who struggled long time against God. he paid tem requital for that.
He went then when night fell to visit the high house, to see how the Ring-Danes had disposed themselves in it after the beer banquet. Then he found therein the band of chieftains slumbering after the feast; they knew not sorrow, the misery of men, aught of misfortune. Straightway he was ready, grim and greedy, fierce and furious; and seized thirty thanes on their couches. Thence he departed homewards again, exulting in booty, to find out his dwelling with his fill of slaughter.
Then at dawn with the breaking of day the war might of Grendel was made manifest to men; then after the feasting arose lamentation, a loud cry in the morning. The renowned ruler, the prince long famous, sat empty of joy; strong in might, he suffered, sorrowed for his men when they saw the track of the hateful monster, the evil spirit. That struggle was too hard, too hateful, and lasting. After no longer lapse than one night again he wrought still more murders, violence, and malice, and mourned not for it; he was too bent for that. Then that man was easy to find who sought elsewhere for himself a more remote resting-place, a bed after the banquet, when the hate of the hall visitant was shown to him, truly declared by a plain token; after that he kept himself further off, and more securely. He escaped the fiend.
Thus one against all prevailed and pitted himself against right until the peerless house stood unpeopled. That was a weary while. For the space of twelve winters the friend of the Scyldings suffered affliction, every woe, deep sorrows; wherefore it came to be known to people, to the children of men, sadly in songs, the Grendel waged long war with Hrothgar; many years he bore bitter hatred, violence, and, malice, an unflagging feud; peace he would not have with any man of Danish race, nor lay aside murderous death, nor consent to be brought off. Nor did any of the councillors make bold to expect fairer conditions from the hands of the slayer; but the monster, the deadly creature, was hostile to warriors young and old; he plotted and planned. Many nights he held the misty moors. Men do not know whither the demons go in their wanderings.
Thus the foe of men, the dread lone visitant, oftentimes wrought many works of malice, sore-injuries; in the dark nights he dwelt in Heorot, the treasure-decked hall. He might not approach the throne, the precious thing, for fear of the Lord, nor did he know his purpose.(5) That was heavy sorrow, misery of mind for the friend of the Scyldings. Many a mighty one sat often in council; they held debate what was best for bold-minded men to do against sudden terrors. Sometimes in their temples they vowed sacrifices, they petitioned with prayers that the slayer of souls should succour them for the people’s distress. Such was their wont, the hope of the heathen. Their thoughts turned to hell; they knew not the Lord, the Judges of deeds; they wist not the Lord God; nor in truth could they praise the Protector of the heavens, the Ruler of glory. Woe is it for him who must needs send forth his soul in dread affliction into the embrace of the fire, hope for no solace, suffer no change! Well is it for him who may after the day of death seek the Lord, and crave shelter in the Father’s embrace!
Thus the son of Healfdene was ever troubled with care; nor could the sage hero sweep aside his sorrows. That struggle was too hard, too hateful and lasting, which fell on the people – fierce hostile oppression, greatest of night woes.
Hygelac’s thane, a valiant man among the Geats, heard of that at home, of the deeds of Grendel. He was the greatest in might among men at that time, noble and powerful. He bade a good ship to be built for him; he said that he was set on seeking the warlike king, the famous prince over the swan road, since he had need of men. No whit did wise men blame him for the venture, though he was dear to them; they urged on the staunch-minded man, they watched the omens. The valiant man had chosen warriors of the men of the Geats, the boldest he could find; with fourteen others he sought the ship. A man cunning in knowledge of the sea (6) led them to the shore.
Time passed on; the ship was on the waves, the boat beneath the cliff. The warriors eagerly embarked. The currents turned the sea against the sand. Men bore bright ornaments, splendid war trappings, to the bosom of the ship. The men, the heroes on their willing venture, shoved out the well-timbered ship. The foamy-necked floater like a bird went then over the wave-filled sea, sped by the wind, till after due time on the next day the boat with twisted prow had gone so far that the voyages saw land, the sea-cliffs shining, the steep headlands, the broad sea-capes. Then the sea was traversed, the journey at an end. The men of the Weders (7) mounted thence quickly to the land; they made fast the ship. The armour rattled, the garments of battle. They thanked God that the sea voyage had been easy for them.
Then the watchman of the Scyldings whose duty it was to guard the sea-cliffs saw from the height bright shields and battle equipment ready for use borne over the gangway. A desire to know who the men were pressed on his thoughts. The thane of Hrothgar went to the shore riding his steed; mightily he brandished his spear in his hands, spoke forth a question: ‘What warriors are ye, clad in corslets, who have come thus bringing the high ship over the way of waters, hither over the floods? Lo! For a time I have been guardian of our coasts, I have kept watch by the sea lest any enemies should make ravage with their sea raiders on the land of the Danes. No shield-bearing warriors have ventured here more openly; nor do ye know at all that ye have the permission of warriors, the consent of kinsmen. I never saw in the world a greater earl than one of your band is, a hero in his harness. He is no mere retainer decked out with weapons, unless his face belies him, his excellent front. Now I must know your race rather than ye should go further hence as spies in the land of the Danes. Now, ye far-dwellers, travellers of the sea, hearken to my frank thought. It is best to tell forth quickly whence ye are come.’
The eldest answered him; the leader of the troop unlocked his word-hoard: ‘We are men of the race of the Geats and hearth companions of Hygelac. My father was famed among the peoples, a noble high prince called Ecgtheow; he sojourned many winters ere he passed away, the old man from his dwelling. Far and wide throughout the earth every wise man remembers him well. We have come with gracious intent to seek out thy lord, the son of Healfdene, the protector of his people. Be kindly to us in counsel. We have a great errand to the famous prince of the Danes. Nor shall anything be hidden there, as I think. Thou knowest if the truth is, as indeed we heard tell, that among the Scyldings some sort of foe, a secret pursuer, works on the dark nights evil hatred, injury, and slaughter, spreading terror. I can give Hrothgar counsel from a generous mind, how he may overcome the enemy wisely and well, if for him the torment of ills should ever cease, relief come again, and the surges of care grow cooler; else he shall ever after suffer a time of misery and pain while the best of houses stands there in its lofty station.’The watchman spoke, the fearless servant, where he sat his steed – a bold shield-warriors who ponders well shall pass judgement on both words and deeds: ‘I hear that this is a troop friendly to the prince of the Scyldings. Go forth and bear weapons and trappings; I will guide you. Likewise I will bid my henchmen honourably guard your vessel against all enemies, your newly tarred ship on the sand, until once more the boat with twisted prow shall bear the beloved man over the sea-streams to the coast of the Weders; the brave ones to whom it shall be vouchsafed to escape unscathed from the rush of battle.’They went on their way then. The ship remained at rest; the broad-bosomed vessel was bound by a rope, fast at anchor. The boar images shone over the check armour, decked with gold; gay with colour and hardened by fire they gave protection to the brave men. The warriors hastened, went up together, until they could see the well-built hall, splendid and gold-adorned. That was foremost of buildings under the heavens for men of the earth, in which the mighty one dwelt; the light shone over many lands.
The man bold in battle pointed out to them the abode of brave men, as it gleamed, so that they could go thither. One of the warriors turned his horse, then spoke a word: ‘It is time for me to go. The Almighty Father guard you by His grace safe in your venture. I will to the sea to keep watch for a hostile horde.’
The street was paved with stones of various colours, the road kept the warriors together. The war corslet shone, firmly hand-locked, the gleaming iron rings sang in the armour as they came on their way in their trappings of war even to the hall. Weary from the sea, they set down their broad shields, their stout targes against the wall of the building; they sat don on the bench then. The corslets rang out, the warriors’ armour. The spears, the weapons of seamen, of ash wood grey at the tip, stood all together. The armed band was adorned with war gear. Then a haughty hero asked the men of battle as to their lineage: ‘Whence bear ye plated shields, grey corslets, and masking helmets, this pile of spears? I am Hrothgar’s messenger and herald. I have not seen so many men of strange race more brave in bearing. I suppose ye have sought Hrothgar from pride, by no means as exiles but with high winds.
The bold man, proud prince of the Weders, answered him, spoke a word in reply, stern under his helmet: ‘We are Hygelac’s table companions; Beowulf is my name. I wish to tell my errand to the son of Healfdene, the famous prince, thy lord, if he will grant that we may greet him who is so gracious.’ I will ask the friend of the Danes, the prince of the Scyldings, the giver of rings, the renowned ruler, about thy venture as thou desirest, and speedily make known to thee the answer which the gracious one thinks fit to give me.’ He turned quickly then to where Hrothgar sat, aged and grey-haired, amid the band of earls; the bold man went till he stood before the shoulders of the Danish prince; he knew courtly custom. Wulfgar spoke to his gracious master: ‘Men of the Geats, come from afar, have travelled here over the stretch of the ocean. The warriors call the eldest one Beowulf. They request, my lord, that they may exchange words with thee. Refuse them not thy answer, gracious Hrothgar. They seem in their war gear worthy of respect from the noble-born. Of a truth the leader is valiant who guided the heroes hither.’
Hrothgar spoke, the protector of the Scyldings: ‘I knew him when he was a youth. His aged father was called Ecgtheow; to him Hrethel of the Geats gave his only daughter in marriage. His son has now come here boldly, has sought a gracious friend. Furthermore, seafaring men who brought precious gifts hither as a present from the Geats said that he, mighty in battle, had the strength of thirty men in the grip of his hand. May Holy God in His graciousness send him to us, to the West-Danes, as I think, against the terror of Grendel. I shall offer treasures to the valiant one for his courage. Do thou hasten, bid them enter to see the friendly band all together; tell them also with words that they are welcome to the peoples of the Danes.’ Then Wulfgar went toward the door of the hall, spoke a word in the doorway: ‘My victorious lord, prince of the East-Danes, bade me tell you that he knows your lineage, and that ye, bold in mind, are welcome hither over the sea-surges. Now ye may go in your war gear under battle helmets to see Hrothgar; let your battle shields, spears, deadly shafts, await here the issue of the speaking.’ The mighty one rose then, around him many a warrior, excellent troops of thanes. Some waited there, kept watch over their trappings, as the bold man bade them. they hastened together, as the warrior guided, under the roof of Heorot; the man, resolute in mind, stern under his helmet, went till he stood within the hall. Beowulf spoke – on him his corslet shone, the shirt of mail sewn by the art of the smith: ‘Hail to thee, Hrothgar: I am Hygelac’s kinsman and thane. I have in my youth undertaken many heroic deeds. The affair of Grendel was made known to me in my native land. seafarers say that this hall, the noblest building, stands unpeopled and profitless to all warriors, after the light of evening is hidden under cover of heaven. Then my people counselled me, the best of men in their wisdom, that I should seek thee, Prince Hrothgar: because they knew the power of my strength, they saw it themselves, when I came out of battles, blood-stained from my foes, where I bound five, ruined the race of the monsters, and slew by night the sea beasts mid the waves, suffered sore need, avenged the wrong of the Weders, killed the foes – they embarked on an unlucky venture. And now alone I shall achieve the exploit against Grendel, the monster, the giant. I wish now at this time to ask thee one boon, prince of the Bright-Danes, protector of the Scyldings: that thou, defence of warriors, friendly prince of the people, wilt not refuse me, now I have come thus far, that I and my band of earl, this bold troop, may cleanse Heorot unaided. I have also heard that the monster in his madness cares naught for weapons; wherefore I scorn to bear sword or broad shield, yellow targe to the battle, so may Hygelac my lord be gracious to me; but with my grip I shall sieze the fiend and strive for his life, foe against foe. There he whom death takes must needs trust to the judging of the Lord. I think that he minded, if he can bring it to pass, to devour fearlessly in the battle hall the people of the Geats, the flower of men, as he often has done. Not at all dost thou need to protect my head, but if death takes me he will have me drenched in blood; he will carry off the bloody corpse, will think to hide it; the lone-goer will feed without mourning, he will stain the moor refuges. No longer needst thou care about the sustenance of my body. Send to Hygelac, if battle takes me off, the best of battle garments that arms my breast, the finest of corslets. That is a heritage from Hrethel, the work of the Weland.(1) Fate ever goes at it must.'(1) The famous smith of Teutonic legend. He is mentioned in ‘Waldhere’ and in’Doer’s Lament’. His name is connected with a cromlech known as Wayland Smith in Berkshire. If a traveller left his horse there with a piece of money and came again presently, he would find his horse shod. (See Scott’s Kenilworth.)
Hrothgar spoke, the protector of the Scyldings: ‘Thou hast sought us, my friend Beowulf, dutifully and kindly. Thy father achieved the greatest of feuds; he became the slayer of Heatholaf among the Wulfings; then the race of the Weders would not receive him because of threatening war. Thence he sought the people of the South-Danes, the honourable Scyldings, over the surging of the waves. Then I had just begun to rule the Danish people and, young as I was, held a wide-stretched kingdom, a stronghold of heroes. Then Heregar was dead, my elder kinsman, the son of Healfdene had ceased to live; he was better than I. afterwards I ended the feud with money; I sent old treasures to the Wulfings over the back of the water; he swore oaths to me. It is sorrow for me in my mind to tell any man what malice and sudden onslaughts Grendel has wrought on Heorot with his hostile thoughts. Thinned is my troop in hall, my war-band. Fate has swept them away to the dread Grendel. God may easily part the bold enemy from his deeds.
‘Full often did warriors drunken with beer boast over the ale cup that hey would await Grendel’s attack with dread blades in the beer hall. Then in the morning, when day dawned, this mead hall, the troop hall, was stained with blood; all the bench-boards drenched with gore, the hall with blood shed in battle. I had so many the less trusty men, dear veterans, since death had carried off these. Sit down now at the banquet and speak thy mind, tell the men of victorious fame, as thy mind prompts.
Then a bench was cleared in the beer hall for the men of the Geats together; there the bold-minded ones went and sat down, proud of their strength. A thane who bore in his hands the decked ale cup performed the office, poured out the gleaming beer. At times the minstrel sang clearly in Heorot; there was joy of heroes, a great band of warriors, Danes and Weders.
Unferth spoke, son of Ecglaf, who sat at the feet of the prince of the Scyldings. He began dispute – the journey of Beowulf, the brave seafarer, was a bitterness to him, because he did not grant that any other man in the world ever accomplished greater exploits under heaven than he himself: ‘Art thou that Beowulf who strove with Breca, contended on the wide sea for the prize in swimming, where ye two tried the floods in your pride, and boastfully risked your lives in the deep water from presumption? Nor could any man, friend or foe, prevent the sorrowful journey; then ye two swam on the sea, where ye plied the ocean streams with your arms, measured the sea paths, threw aside the sea with your hands, glided over the surge; the deep raged with its waves, with its wintry flood. Seven nights ye toiled in the power of the water; he outstripped thee in swimming, had greater strength. Then in the morning the sea bore him to the land of the Heathoremes. (1) Thence, dear to his people, he sought his loved country, the land of the Brondings, the fair stronghold, where he ruled over people, castle and rings. The son of Beanstan in truth fulfilled all his pledge to thee. Wherefore I expect a worse fate for thee, though everywhere thou hast withstood battle rushes, grim war, if thou durst await Grendel throughout the night near at hand.’ Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgthoew: ‘Lo! Thou hast spoken a great deal, friend Unferth, about Breca, drunken as thou art with beer; thou hast told of his journey. I count it as truth that I had greater might in the sea, hardships mid the waves, than any other man.
‘We arranged that and made bold, while we were youths – we were both then still in our boyhood – that we two should risk our lives out on the sea; and thus we accomplished that. We held naked swords boldly in our hands when we swam in the ocean; we thought to protect ourselves against the whales. In no wise could he swim far from me on the waves of the flood, more quickly on the sea; I would not consent to leave him. Then we were together on the sea for the space of five nights till the flood forced us apart, the surging sea, coldest of storms, darkened night, and a wind from the north, battle-grim, came against us. Wild were the waves; the temper of the sea monsters was stirred. There did my shirt of mail hard-locked by hand stand me in good stead against foes; the woven battle garment, adorned with gold, lay on my breast. A hostile deadly foe drew me to the depths, had me firmly and fiercely in his grip; yet it was granted to me that I pierced the monster with my point, my battle spear. The rush of battle carried off the mighty sea monster by my hand.
‘Thus oftentimes malicious foes pressed me hard. I served them with my good sword, as was fitting. They had not joy of their feasting, the evildoers, from devouring me, from sitting round the banquet near the bottom of the sea, but in the morning they were cast up on the shore, wounded with swords, laid low by blades, so that no longer they hindered seafarers on their voyage over the high flood. Light came from the east, bright beacon of God. The surges sank down, so that I could behold the seascapes, windy headlands. Fate often succours the undoomed warrior when his valour is strong.
‘Yet it was my fortune to slay with the sword nine sea monsters. I have not heard under the arching sky of heaven of harder fighting by night, nor of a sorer pressed man in the streams of ocean. Yet I escaped with my life from the grasp of foes, weary of my venture. Then the sea bore me, the flood with its current, the stormy surges, to the land of the Finns. ‘I have not heard such contests told of thee, terror of swords; never yet did Breca or either of you two in the play of battle perform so bold a deed with gleaming blades – I do not boast of the struggle – though thou camest to be the murderer of thy brother, thy near kinsman. For that thou must needs suffer damnation in hell, though thy wit is strong. Forsooth, I tell thee, son of Ecglaf, that Grendel, the fearful monster, had never achieved so many dread deeds against thy prince, malice on Heorot, if thy thoughts and mind had been as daring as thou thyself sayest. But he had found out that he need nor solely dread the feud, the terrible sword battle of your people, the victorious Scyldings; he takes pledges by force, he spares none of the Danish people, but he lives in pleasure, sleeps and feasts; he looks for no fight from the Spear-Danes. But soon now I shall show him battle, the might and courage of the Geats. He who may will go afterwards, brave to the mead, when the morning light of another day, the sun clothed with sky-like brightness, shines from the south over the children of men.’ Then glad was the giver of treasures, grey-haired and famed in battle; the prince of the Bright-Danes trusted in aid; the protector of the people heard in Beowulf a resolute purpose. There was laughter of heroes; there was cheerful sounds; words were winsome.
Wealthoew went forth, Hrothgar’s queen, mindful of what was fitting; gold-adorned, she greeted the warriors in hall; and the free-born woman first offered the goblet to the guardian of the East-Danes; bade him be of good cheer at the beer banquet, be dear to his people. He gladly took part in the banquet and received the hall-goblet, the king mighty in victory. Then the woman of the Helmings went about everywhere among old and young warriors, proffered the precious cup, till the time came that she, the ring-decked queen, noble-hearted, bore the mead-flagon to Beowulf. She greeted the prince of the Geats, wise in speech she thanked God that her wish had been fulfilled, that she might trust to some earl as a comfort in trouble. He, the warrior fierce in fight, took that goblet from Wealthoew, and then, ready for battle, uttered speech.
Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow: ‘That was my purpose when I launched on the ocean, embarked on the sea boat with the band of my warriors, that I should surely work the will of your people to the full, or fall a corpse fast in the foe’s grip. I shall accomplish deeds of heroic mighty, or endure my last day in the mead hall.’ Those words, the boasting speech of the Geat, pleased the woman well. Decked with gold, the free-born queen of the people went to sit by her prince. Then again as before there was excellent converse in hall, the warriors in happiness, the sound of victorious people, till all at once Healfdene’s son was minded to seek his evenings rest. He knew that war was destined to the high hall by the monster after they could no longer see the light of the sun, and when, night growing dark over all, the shadowy creatures came stalking, black beneath the clouds. The troop all rose.
Then one warrior greeted the other, Hrothgar Beowulf, and wished him success, power over the wine hall, and spoke these words: ‘Never before did I trust to any man, since I was able to lift hand and shield, the excellent hall of the Danes, except to thee now. Have now and hold the best of houses. Be mindful of fame, show a mighty courage, watch against foes. Nor shalt thou lack what thou desirest, if with thy life thou comest out from that heroic task.’
Then Hrothgar went his way with his band of heroes, the protector of Scyldings out of the hall; the warlike king was minded to seek Wealtheow the queen for his bedfellow. The glorious king had, as men learned, set a hall guardian against Grendel; he performed a special task for the prince of the Danes, kept watch against the giant. Truly the prince of the Geats relied firmly on his fearless might, and the grace of the Lord. Then he laid aside his iron corslet, the helmet from his head, gave his ornamented sword, best of blades, to his servant, and bade him keep his war gear.
Then the valiant one, Beowulf of the Geats, spoke some words of boasting ere he lay down on his bed: ‘I do not count myself less in war strength, in battle deeds, than Grendel does himself; wherefore I will not slay him of life by sword, although I might. He knows not the use of weapons so as to strike me, hew my sword, though he may be mighty in works of malice; but we two shall do without swords in the night, if he dare to seek war without weapons, and afterwards the wise God, the holy Lord, shall award fame to whatever side seems good to Him.’ The bold warrior lay down, the earl’s face touched the bolster; and round him many a mighty sea-hero bent to his couch in the hall. None of them thought that he should go thence and ever again seek the loved land, the people or stronghold where he was fostered; but they had heard that murderous death had ere now carried off far too many of Danish people in the wine hall. But the Lord gave them success in war, support and succour to the men of the Weders, so that through the strength of one, his own might, they all overcame their foe. The truth has been made known, that mighty God has ever ruled over mankind.
The shadowy visitant came stalking in the dark night. The warriors slept, who were to keep the antlered building, all save one. That was known to men that the ghostly enemy might not sweep them off among the shadows, for the Lord willed it not; but he, watching in anger against foes, awaited in wrathful mood the issue of the battle.
Then from the moor under the misty cliffs came Grendel, he bore God’s anger. The foul foe purposed to trap with cunning one of the men in the high hall; he went under the clouds till he might see most clearly the wine building, the gold hall of warriors, gleaming with plates of gold. That was not the first time he had sought Hrothgar’s home; never in his life-days before or since did he find bolder heroes and hall-thanes. The creature came, bereft of joys, making his way to the building, straightway the door, firm clasped by fire-hardened fetters, opened, when he touched it with his hands; then, pondering evil, he tore open the entry of the hall when he was enraged. Quickly after that the fiend trod the gleaming floor, moved angry in mood. A baleful light, like flame, flared from his eyes. He saw in the building many heroes, the troop of kinsmen sleeping together, the band of young warriors. Then his mind exulted. The dread monster purposed ere day came to part the life of each one from the body, for the hope of a great feasting filled him. No longer did fate will that after that night he might seize more of mankind. The kinsman of Hygelac, exceeding strong, beheld how the foul foe was minded to act with his sudden grips.
Nor did the monster think to delay, but first he quickly seized a sleeping warrior; suddenly tore him asunder, devoured his body, drank the blood from his veins, swallowed him with large bites. Straightway he had consumed all the body, even the feet and hands. He stepped forward nearer, laid hold with his hands of the resolute warrior on his couch; the fiend stretched his hand towards him. Beowulf met the attack quickly and propped himself on his arm. Forthwith the upholder of crime found that he had not met in the world, on the face of the earth among other men, a mightier handgrip. Fear grew in his mind and heart; yet in spite of that could not make off. He sought to move out; he was minded to flee to his refuge, to seek the troop of devils. His task there was not such as he had found in former days.
Then the brave kinsman of Hygelac remembered his speech in the evening; he stood upright and seized him firmly. The fingers burst, the monster was moving out; the earl stepped forward. The famous one purposed to flee further, if only he might, and win away thence to the fen strongholds; he knew the might of his fingers was in the grip of his foe. That was an ill journey when the ravager came to Heorot. The warriors’ hall resounded. Terror fell on all the Danes, on the castle-dwellers, on each of the bold men, on the earls. Wroth were they both, angry contestants for the house. The building rang aloud.
Then was it great wonder that the wine hall withstood the bold fighters; that it fell not to the ground, the fair earth-dwelling; but it was too firmly braced within and without with iron bands of skilled workmanship. There many a mead bench decked with gold bent away from the post, as I have heard, where the foemen fought. The wise men of the Scyldings looked not for that before, that any man could ever shatter it, rend it with malice in any way, excellent and bone-adorned as it was, unless the embrace of fire should swallow it in smoke. A sound arose, passing strange. Dread fear came upon each of the North-Danes who heard the cry from the wall, God’s foe sounding a lament, a song of defeat; the hell-bound creature, crying out in his pain. He who was strongest in might among men at that time held him too closely.
The proctector of earls was minded in no wise to release the deadly visitant alive, nor did he count his life as useful to any man.
There most eagerly this one and that of Beowulf’s men brandished old swords, wished to save their leader’s life, the famous prince, if only they could. They did not know, when they were in the midst of the struggle, the stern warriors, and wished to strike on all sides, how to seek Grendel’s life. No choicest of swords on the earth, no war spear, would pierce the evil monster; but Beowulf had given up victorious weapons, all swords. His parting from life at that time was doomed to be wretched, and the alien spirit was to travel far into the power of the fiends.
Then he who before in the joy of his heart had wrought much malice on mankind – he was hostile to God – found that his body would not follow him, for the brave kinsman of Hygelac held him by the hand. Each was hateful to the other while he lived. The foul monster suffered pain in his body. A great wound was seen in his shoulder, the sinews sprang apart, the body burst open. Fame in war was granted to Beowulf. Grendel must needs flee thence under the fen-cliffs mortally wounded, seek out his joyless dwelling. He knew but too well the end of his life was come, the full count of his days. The desire of all the Danes was fulfilled after the storm of battle.
Then he who erstwhile came from afar, shrewd and staunch, had cleansed the hall of Hrothgar, freed it from battle. He rejoiced in the night-work, in heroic deeds. The prince of the Geat warriors had fulfilled his boast to the East-Danes; likewise he cured all their sorrow and suffering, which they endured before and were forced to bear in distress, no slight wrong. That was a clear token when the bold warrior laid down the hand, the arm, and shoulder under the wide roof – it was all clear together – the claw of Grendel.
Then in the morning, as I have heard, around the gift hall was many a warrior; leaders came from far and near throughout the wide ways to behold the wonder, the tracks of the monster. His going from life did not seem grievous to any man who saw the course of the inglorious one, how, weary in mind, beaten in battle, fated and fugitive, he left behind him on his way thence to the mere of the monsters marks of his life blood. There the water was surging with blood, the foul welter of waves all mingled with hot gore; it boiled with the blood of battle. The death-doomed one dived in, then bereft of joy in his fen refuge he laid down his life, his heathen soul, there hell received him. Thence again old comrades went, also many a young man, from the joyous journey, brave men riding on horses from the mere, warriors on shining steeds. There Beowulf’s fame was proclaimed. Oftentimes many a one said that neither south nor north between the seas over the wide earth, under the vault of the sky, was there any better among warriors, more worthy of a kingdom. Nor in truth did they blame their friendly lord, gracious Hrothgar, for that was a good king.
At times the men doughty in battle let their chestnut horses run, race against one another, where the land-ways seemed fair to them, known for their good qualities; at times the king’s thane, a man proud of exploits, mindful of treasures, he who remembered a great number of the old tales, made a new story of things that were true. The man began again wisely to frame Beowulf’s exploit and skilfully to make deft measures, to deal in words. He spoke all that he had heard told of Sigemund’s mighty deeds, much that was unknown, the warfare of the son of Waels, the far journeys, the hostility and malice of which the children of men knew not at all, except Fitela who was with him when he was minded to say somewhat of such things, the uncle to his nephew; for they were always in every struggle comrades in need. They had felled with their swords very many of the race of giants. There sprang up for Sigemund after his death no little fame when the man bold in battle killed the dragon, the guardian of the treasure. Under the grey stone he ventured alone, the son of a chieftain, on the daring deed; Fitela was not with him. Yet it was granted to him that the sword pierced the monstrous dragon, so that it stood in the wall, the noble blade. The dragon died violently. The hero had brought it to pass by his valour that he could use the ring-hoard as he chose. The son of Waels loaded the sea boat, bore to the ship’s bosom the bright ornaments. The dragon melted in heat.
He was by far the most famous of adventurers among men, protector of warriors by mighty deeds; he prospered by that earlier, when the boldness, the strength, and the courage of Heremod lessened (The meaning seems to be that as Heremod lost fame through his cruelty Sigemund surpassed him in reputation. Heremond is a Danish king; he is mentioned here and later in the poem as an example of all that a hero should not be). He (Heremond) was betrayed among the Eotens into the power of his enemies, quickly driven out. Surges of sorrow pressed him too long; he became a deadly grief to his people, to all his chieftains. So also many a wise man who trusted to him as a remedy for evils lamented in former times the valiant one’s journey. That the prince’s son was destined to prosper, inherit his father’s rank, rule over the people, the treasure and the prince’s fortress, the kingdom of heroes, the land of the Scyldings. There did he, the kinsman of Hygelic, become dearer to all men and to his friends than he. Evil possessed him. (Heremod)
At times in rivalry they measured the streets of brown sand with their horses. Then the light of morning had quickly mounted up. Many a retainer went bold-minded to the high hall to behold the rare wonder; the king himself also, the keeper of ring-treasures, came glorious from his wife’s chamber, famed for his virtues, with a great troop, and his queen with him measured the path to the mead hall with a band of maidens.
Hrothgar spoke – he went to the hall, stood on the doorstep, looked on the lofty gold-plated roof and Grendel’s hand – ‘For this sight thanks be straightway rendered to the Almighty. I suffered much that was hateful, sorrows at the hand of Grendel; ever may God, the glorious Protector, perform wonder after wonder.
‘That was not long since when I looked not ever to find solace for any of my woes, when the best of houses stood blood-stained, gory from battle; woe widespread among all councillors who had no hope of ever protecting the fortress of warriors against foes, against demons, and evil spirits. Now the warrior has preformed the deed through the Lord’s might which formerly all of us could not contrive with our cunning. Lo! A woman who has borne such a son among the peoples, if she yet lives, may indeed say that the ancient Lord was gracious to her in the birth of her son. Now I will love thee in my heart as my son, Beowulf, best of men; keep well the new kingship. Thou shalt lack none of the things thou desirest in the world which I can command. Full often have I for less cause bestowed reward on a slighter warrior, a weaker in combat, to honour him with treasures. Thou hast brought it to pass for thyself by deeds that thy glory shall live for ever. The All-Ruler reward thee with good things as He has done till now.’
Boewulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow: ‘We accomplished that heroic deed, that battle, through great favour. We risked ourselves boldly against the might of the monster. I had rather that thou couldest have seen him, the fiend in his trappings, weary unto death. I thought to blind him speedily with strong clasps on his deathbed, so that he must needs lie in his death-agony by my handgrip, unless his body should slip away. I could not, since the Lord willed it not, prevent his passing out. I did not hold him closely enough, the deadly enemy; the foe was too mighty in going. Nevertheless, to save his life he left his hand, arm, and shoulder to serve as a token of his flight. Yet the wretched creature won no solace there; no longer lives the malicious foe pressed by sins, but pain has embraced him closely with hostile grasp, with ruinous bonds. There the creature stained with sin must needs await the great doom, what judgement the bright Lord will award him.’
Then the son of Ecglaf was a more silent man in boasting of war deeds, when the chieftains beheld by the strength of the earl the hand , the fingers of the monster, stretching up to the high roof; each at its tip, each of the strong nails, was like steel, the claw of the heathen fighter, horrible, monstrous. Everyone said that no well-tried sword of brave men would wound him, would shorten the monster’s bloody battle fist.
Then it was quickly commanded that Heorot should be decked within with hands. There were many there, men and women, who made ready the wine building, the guest hall. Woven hangings gleamed, gold-adorned, on the walls, many wonderous sights for all men who look on such things. That bright building was all sorely shattered, though firm within with its iron clasps; its doors hinges burst. The roof alone survived all scatheless, when the monster stained with evil deeds turned in fight, despairing of life. That is not easy to avoid – let him do it who will – but he must needs seek the place forced on him by necessity, prepared for all who bear souls, for the children of men, for the dwellers on earth, where his body sleeps after the banquet fast in its narrow bed.
Then was the time convenient and fitting that Healfdene’s son should go to the hall; the king himself wished to join in the banquet. I have not heard of a people who showed a nobler bearing with a greater troop about their giver of treasure. The famous ones then sat down on the bench, rejoicing in the feast; in seemly fashion they took many a mead goblet; brave-minded kinsmen were in the high hall, Hrothgar and Hrothulf. Hearot within was filled with friends. Not yet at this time had the Scyldings practiced treachery. (Hrothulf, as we know from Scandinavian sources, later proved a traitor. He deposed and slew Hrethric, and was himself slain by Heoroweard. His hall was burnt over his head. The phrase (‘surges of battle, of hostile fire’) in Section ii probably refers to this family feud)
The son of Healfdene gave then to Beowulf a golden ensign as a reward for victory, an ornamented banner with a handle, a helmet and corslet, a famous precious sword. Many saw them borne before the warrior. Beowulf took the goblet in hall; he needed not to be ashamed in front of the warriors of the bestowing of gifts.
I have not heard of many men giving to others on the ale bench in more friendly fashion four treasures decked with gold. Around the top of the helmet a jutting ridge twisted with wires held guard over the head, so that many an old sword, proved hard in battle, could not sorely injure him, when the shield-bearing warrior was destined to go against foes. Then the protector of earls commanded eight horses with gold-plated bridles to be led into the hall, into the house; on one of them lay a saddle artfully adorned, decked with costly ornament. That was the war seat of the noble king, when the son of Healfdene was minded to practice sword-play. Never did the bravery of the far-famed man fail in the van when corpses were falling. Then the protector of the friends of Ing (Ing was a Danish king. ‘The friends of Ing’ means the Danes) gave power over both to Beowulf, over horses and weapons; he bade him use them well. Thus manfully did the famous prince, the treasure-keeper of heroes, reward the rushes of battle with steeds and rich stores, so that he ho wishes to speak truth in seemly fashion will never scoff at them.
Further the lord of earls bestowed treasure on the mead bench, ancient blades, to each of those who travelled the ocean path with Beowulf; and he bade recompense to be made with gold for the one whom Grendel before murderously killed. So he was minded to do with more of them, if wise God and the man’s courage had not turned aside such a fate from them. The Lord ruled over all mankind as He still does. Wherefore understanding, forethought of soul, is everywhere best. He who sojourns long in the world in these days of strife must needs suffer much of weal and woe.
There was song and music mingled before Healdene’s chieftain; the harp was touched; a measure often recited at such times as it fell to Hrothgar’s minstrel to proclaim joy in hall along the mead bench. Hnaef of the Scyldings, a hero of the Half-Danes, was fated to fall in the Frisian battle-field when the sudden onslaught came upon him, the sons of Finn. ‘Nor in truth had Hildeburgh cause to praise the faith of the Eotens; sinless, she was spoiled of her dear ones at the shield-play, a son and a brother; wounded with the spear, they fell in succession. She was a sorrowing woman. Not without cause did the daughter of Hoc lament her fate, when morning came when she might see the slaughter of kinsmen under the sky. Where erstwhile he had had greatest joy in the world, war carried off all the thanes of Finn except a very few, so that in no wise could he offer fight to Hengest in the battle-field, not protect by war the sad survivors from the prince’s thane; but they offered them conditions, that they would give up to them entirely another building, the hall and high seat; that they might have power over half of it with the men of the Eotens, and that the son of Folcwalda would honour the Danes each day with gifts at the bestowal of presents, would pay respect to Hengest’s troop with rings, just as much as he would encourage the race of the Frisians in the beer hall with ornaments of plated gold. Then on both sides they had faith in firm-knit peace. Finn swore to Hengest deeply, inviolaby with oaths, that he would treat the sad survivors honourably according to the judgement of the councillors, that no man there should break the bond by word or deed, nor should they ever mention it in malice, although they had followed the slayer of their giver of rings after they had lost their leader, since the necessity was laid upon them; if then any one of the Frisians should recall to mind by dangerous speech the deadly hostility, then must the edge of the sword settle it.
‘The oath was sworn and rich gold taken from the treasure. The best of the heroes of the warlike Scyldings was ready on the funeral fire. On that pyre the blood-stained shirt of mail was plain to see, the swine-image all gold, the boar hard as iron, many a chieftain slain with wounds. Many had fallen in the fight. Then Hildeburgh bade her own son to be given over to the flames at Hnaef’s pyre, his body to be burned and placed on the funeral fire. The woman wept, sorrowing by his side; she lamented in measures. The warrior mounted up. The greatest of funeral fires wound up to the clouds, it roared in front of the mound. Heads melted, wounds burst open, while blood gushed forth from the gashes in the bodies. The fire, greediest of spirits, consumed all those of both peoples whom war carried off there. Their mightiest man had departed.
‘The warriors went then, bereft of friends, to visit the dwellings, to see the land of the Frisians, the homes and the stronghold. Then Hengest dwelt yet in peace with Finn, though very unhappily, for a winter stained with the blood of the slain; he thought of his land though he could not drive the ring-prowed ship on the sea (the ocean surged with storm, rose up against the wind; winter bound the waves with fetters of ice), till another year came into the dwellings; as those still do now who ever await an opportunity, the bright clear weather. Then winter was past; the bosom of the earth was fair; the exile purposed to depart, the guest out if the castle; he thought rather of vengeance for sorrow than of the sea journey, if he could bring the battle to pass in which he might show he remembered the sons of the Eotens. So he let things take their course when Hunlafing laid in his bosom the gleaming sword, best of blades. Its edges were famed among the Eotens. Even so did deadly death by the sword came upon brave Finn in his own home, when Guthlaf and Oslaf after their sea journey sorrowfully lamente the grim attack; they were wroth at their manifold woes; their restless spirit could not be ruled in their breast. Then was the hall reddened with corpses of foes, Finn slain likewise, the king mid his troop, and the queen taken. The warriors of the Scyldings bore to the ships all the house treasure of the king of the land, whatever they could find at Finn’s home of ornaments and jewels. They bore away on the sea voyage the noble woman to the Danes, led her to her people.’ (from this passage and from the fragment of the Old English poem on the subject (Finnesburgh) it is not easy to make out all the details of the story of Finn. Finn is King of the Frisians, who may or may not be the same as the Eotens. He quarrels with Hnaef, the brother of his Danish wife Hildeburh. Hnaef is killed, and so if Hildeburgh’s son. Finn and Hengest, who commands the Danes after Hnaef’s death agree to a peace. The winter passes; in the spring more Danes arrive, led apparently by Guthlaf and Oslaf. Vengeance is taken on Finn, and Hildeburh is carried back to her people).
The song was sung, the gleeman;s measure. Joy rose again, bench music rang out clear, servants gave out wine from wonderous goblets. Then Wealtheow, under her golden circlet, came forth where the two valiant one were sitting, uncle and nephew. At that time there was peace yet between them, each true to the other. Likewise Unferth sat there as a squire at the feet of the prince of the Scyldings. Each of them trusted his heart, that he had a noble mind, though he had not been faithful to his kinsmen at the play of swords. Then spoke the queen of the Scyldings: ‘Receive this goblet, my prince, giver of treasure. Rejoice, gold friend of warriors, and speak to the Geats, mindful of gifts; far and near now thou hast peace. They said that thou wast minded to take the warrior for son. Heorot is cleansed, the bright ring hall; be generous with many rewards while thou mayst, and leave to thy kinsmen subjects and kingdom, when thou must needs go forth to face thy destiny. I know my gracious Hrothulf, that he will treat the young men honourably, if thou, friend of the Scyldings, pass from the world before him. I think that he will richly reward our children, if he forgets not all the favours we formerly showed him for his pleasure and honour, while he was still a child.’ (See note on Hrothulf in Section XVI/14
She turned then towards the bench where her sons were, Hrethric and Hrothmund, and the sons of heroes, the young men together; there the valiant one, Beowulf of the Geat, sat by the two brothers.
To him was the flagon borne and a friendly invitation offered with words and the twisted gold vessel graciously presented; two bracelets, a corslet and rings, greatest of necklaces, of those which I have heard of on earth.
I have not heard of a better treasure-hoard of heroes under the sky since Hama carried off to the gleaming castle the necklace of the Brosings, the trinket and treasure; he fled the malicious hostility of Eormenric; (Eormenric or Ermanaric died about A.D. 375. He became a famous figure in romance and legend (See Widsith and Doer’s Lament). The necklace of the Brosings is celebrated in Scandinavian literature. Hama appears in many books, but may not be historical; he is referred to in Widsith); he chose everlasting gain. (The meaning of this is uncertain. It may mean ‘he died’, or ‘he entered a monastery’). Hygelac of the Geats, grandson of Swerting, had a ring on his last expedition, when beneath his banner he defended the treasure guarded the booty of battle. Fate took him off, when in his pride he suffered misfortune in fight against the Frisians; the mighty prince bore the ornament, the precious stones over the sea; he fell under his shield. Then the king’s body passed into the power of the Franks, his breast garments and the ring also; less noble warriors stripped the bodies of the men of the Geats after the carnage of war; their bodies covered with battle-field. (Hygelic’s expedition against the Frisians, here referred to, belongs to authentic history. Gregory of Tours (d. 594) tells how the Danes under their king Chlochilaicus invaded the kingdom and carried many captives and much plunder to their ships. Chlochilaicus, delayed on shore, was killed by the Franks, who defeated the Danes in a naval battle and recovered the booty. Chlochilaicus of the Danes is the same person as Hygelac of the Geats. These events took place between 512 and 520. These are three other references in Beowulf to the expedition – Section XXXiii/33, XXXV/35, and XL/40). The hall rang with shouts of approval.
Wealtheow spoke, she uttered words before the troop: ‘Enjoy this ring happily, dear young Beowulf; and use this Corslet, the great treasures, and prosper exceedingly; make thyself known mightily, and be to these youths kindly in counsel. I will not grant these many treasures. Be thou gracious in deeds to my son, thou who art now in happiness. Here each earl is true to the other, gentle in mind, loyal to the lord. The thanes are willing, the people all ready, noble warriors after drinking. Do as I ask.’
She went then to the seat. There was the choicest of banquets; the men drank wine; they knew not fate, dread destiny, as it had been dealt out to many of the earls. Afterwards came evening, and Hrothgar went to his chamber, the mighty one to his couch. A great band of earls occupied the hall, as they often did before; they cleared away bench-boards; it was spread over with beds and bolsters. One of the revellers, ready and fated, sank to his couch in the hall. At their heads they placed the war shields, the bright bucklers. There on the bench was plainly seen above the chieftains the helmet rising high in battle, the ringed corslet, the mighty spear. It was their custom that often both at home and in the field they should be ready for war, and equally in both positions at all such times as distress came upon their lord. Those people were good.
They sank then to sleep. One sorely paid for his evening rest, as had full often come to pass for them, when Grendel held the gold-hall, and did wickedness until the end came, death after sins. That was seen, widely known among men, that an avenger, Grendel’s mother, a she-monster, yet survived the hateful one, a long while after the misery of war. She who was doomed to dwell in the dread water, the cold streams, after Cain killed his brother, his father’s son, forgot not her misery. He departed than fated, marked with murder, to flee from the joys of men; he dwelt in the wilderness. Thence sprang many fated spirits; Grendel was one of them, a hateful fierce monster; he found at Heorot a man keeping watch, waiting for war. There the monster came to grips with him: yet he remembered the power of his strength, the precious gift which God gave him, and he trusted for support, for succour and help, to Him who rules over all. By that he overcame the fiend, laid low the spirit of hell. Then he departed, the foe of mankind, in misery, reft of joy, to seek his death-dwelling. And his mother then still purposed to go on the sorrowful journey, greedy and darkly minded, to avenge her son’s death.
She came then to Heorot where the Ring-Danes slept throughout that hall. Then straightway the old fear fell on the earls there, when Grendel’s mother forced her way in. The dread was less by just so much as the strength of women, the war terror of a woman, is less than a man’s, when the bound sword shaped by the hammer, the blood-stained blade strong in its edges, cuts off the boat-image on the foeman’s helmet. Then in the hall was the strong blade drawn, the sword over the seats; many a broad buckler raised firmly in hand. He thought not of helmet nor of broad corslet, when the terror seized him.
She was in haste, was minded to go thence and save her life when she was discovered. Quickly she had seized one of the chieftains with firm grip; then she went to the fen. That was the dearest of heroes to Hrothgar among his followers between the seas, a mighty shield-warrior, whom she slew on his couch, a noble man of great fame. Beowulf was not there, but another lodging had been set apart for him earlier, after the giving of treasure to the famous Geat. There was glamour in Heorot. She had carried off the famous blood-stained hand. Care was created anew, brought to pass in the dwellings. That was no good bargain which they had to pay for in double measure with lives of friends. Then the wise king, the grey battle warrior, was troubled in heart, when he knew that the noble thane was lifeless, that the dearest one was dead.
Beowulf was quickly brought to the castle, the victorious warrior. At dawn that earl, the noble hero himself with his comrades, went to where the wise man was waiting to see whether the All-Ruler would ever bring to pass a change after the time of woe. Then the man famous in fight went with his nearest followers along the floor (the hall wood resounded) till he greeted the wise one with words, the prince of the friends of Inge; he asked if, as he hoped, he had had a peaceful night.
Hrothgar spoke, protector of the Scyldings: ‘Ask thou not after happiness. Sorrow is made anew for the Danish people. Aeschere is dead, Yrmenlaf’s elder brother, my counsellor and my adviser, trusted friend, in such times as we fended our heads in war, when the foot-warriors crashed together and hewed the helms. Such should an earl be, a trusty chieftain, as Aeschere was.
‘That disturbed slaughterous spirits slew him with her hands in Heorot. I know not whither the monster, made known by her feasting, journeyed back exulting in the corpse. She avenged the fight in which last night thou didst violently kill Grendel with hard grips because too long he lessened and slew my people. He fell in combat, guilty of murder, and now another mighty evil foe has come; she was minded to make requital for her son, and she has heavily avenged the hostile deed, as it may seem to many a thane who grieves in mind for the giver of treasure with heavy heart-sorrow. Now low lies the hand which was ready for all your desires.
‘I heard dwellers in the land, my people, counsellors in hall say that they saw two such great march-steppers, alien spirits, hold the moors. One of them was, as far as they could certainly know, the likeness of a woman; the other wretched creature trod the paths of exile in man’s shape, except that he was greater than any other man. Him in days past the dwellers in the land named Grendel’; his father they know not; nor whether there were born to him earlier any dark spirits.
‘They possess unknown land, wolf-cliffs, windy crags, a dangerous fen path, where the mountain stream falls down under the darkness of the rocks, a flood under the earth. That is not a mile hence where the mere stands; over it hang rime-covered groves; the wood firm-rooted overshadows the water. There each night a baleful wonder may be seen, a fire on the flood. There is none so wise of the children of men who knows those depths. Though the heath-stepper hard to pressed by the hounds, the hart strong in antlers, should seek the forest after a long chase, rather does he yield up his life, his spirit on the shore, than hide his head there. That is an eerie place. Thence the surge of waves mounts up dark to the clouds, when the wind stirs up hostile storms till the air darkens, the skies weep.
‘Now once more help must come from thee alone. Thou dost not yet know the lair, the dangerous place, where thou mayest find the sinful creature; seek if thou darest. If thou comest away alive, I will reward thee for that onslaught, as erstwhile I did, with treasure, old precious things, twisted gold’
Beowulf spoke, son o Ecgtheow: ‘Sorrow not, wise warrior. It is better for each to avenge his friend then greatly to mourn. Each of us must needs await the end of life in the world; let him who can achieve fame ere death. That is best for a noble warrior hen life is over. Rise up, guardian of the realm; let us go quickly hence to behold the track of Grendel’s kinswoman. I promise thee she shall not escape under covering darkness, nor in the earth’s embrace, nor in the mountain forest, nor in the water’s depth – go where she will. Have thou, as I expect from thee, patience for all thy woes this day.’
The aged one leaped up then; thanked God, the mighty Lord, for what the man spoke. Then Hrothgar’s horse was bitted, the steed with twisted mane. The wise prince went forth in splendour; the foot-troop of shield-bearing warriors stepped forward. The tracks were wisely seen along the forest paths, the course over the fields. Away over the dark moor she went; she bore the best of thanes, reft of life, who with Hrothgar ruled the land. Then the son of princes strode over the high rocky cliffs, the narrow paths, the straitened tracks, the unknown road, the steep crags, many a monster’s abode. He with a few other wise men went ahead to spy out the land, until suddenly he found the mountain trees, the dreary wood hanging above the grey rock. The water beneath lay blood-stained and troubled. All the Danes, the friends of the Scyldings, were mournful in mood; many a thane had to suffer; there was sorrow for all of the earls, when they found Aeschere’s head on the cliff by the mere.
The flood surged with blood, with hot gore; the people beheld it. At times the horn sang its eager war song. The troop all sat down; then they saw along the water many of the dragon kind, strange sea-dragons moving over the mere, also monsters lying on the rocky headlands; such as those who in the morning often go on a perilous journey on the sail raid, dragons and wild beasts. They fell away bitter and angered; they heard the clang, the war horn sounding. The prince of the Geats with his bow parted one of them from life, from the struggle of the waves, so that the stout war-shaft stood in his heart. He was the more sluggish at swimming in the water, because death carried him off. Speedily the wondrous wave-dweller was hard pressed in the waves with boar spears of deadly barbs, beset by hostile attacks and drawn out on the headland. The men beheld the dread creature.
Bowulf clad himself in warrior’s armour; he lamented not his life. The war corslet, hand-woven, broad, cunningly adorned, must needs try the water; it knew how to guard his body so that the grip of war might not wound his heart, the malicious clutch of an angry foe his life. And the gleaming helmet, which was to mingle with the depths of the mere, to seek the welter of the waves, decked with treasure, circled with diadems, as the smith of weapons wrought it in days long past, wondrously adorned it, set it round with boar-images, guarded his head so that no sword or battle blades could pierce it. That was not the least then of mighty helps that Hrothgar’s squire lent him in his need. That hilted sword was called Hrunting; it was an excellent old treasure; the brand was iron, marked with poisonous twigs, (The markings on the sword had been made by the use of acid), hardened in the blood of battle. It never failed any men in war who seized it with their hands, who ventured to go on dire journeys, to the meeting-place of foes. That was not the first time that it was to accomplish a mighty deed.
In truth the son of Ecglaf mighty in strength did not remember what erstwhile he spoke when drunken with wine, when he lent the weapons to a better sword warrior. He himself durst not risk his life beneath the tossing of the waves, accomplish heroic deeds. There he forfeited fame, repute for might. Not so was it with the other when he had clad himself for war.
Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow: ‘Consider now, famous son of Healfdene, wise prince, gold-friend of warriors, now I am ready for the venture, what he spoke of awhile since; if I should depart from life in thy cause, that thou shouldst ever be in the place of a father when I am gone. Be thou a guardian to my followers. My comrades, if was takes me. Likewise, dear Hrothgar, do thou send the treasures thou hast given me to Hygelac. The lord of the Geats may then perceive by that gold, the son of Hrethel may see when he looks upon that treasure, that I found an excellent good giver of rings, that I took joy while I could. And do thou let Unferth have the ancient blade, the far-famed man have the precious sword with wavy pattern and sharp edge; I shall achieve fame for myself with Hrunting, or death will carry me off.’
After those words the prince of the Weder-Geats hastened exceedingly; he would in no wise wait for an answer. The surge of waters received the war hero. Then there was a spell of time ere he might behold the bottom of the mere.
She who had held for fifty years the domain of the floods, eager for battle, grim and greedy, discovered straightway that a man was seeking from above the dwelling of monsters. She reached out against him then, seized the warrior with dread claws; nevertheless she injured not the sound body; the ring-mail guarded it round about so that she could not pierce the corslet, the locked mail-shirt, with hostile fingers. When she came to the bottom, the sea-wolf bore the prince of rings to her lair, so that he could not (yet was he brave) use weapons; and too many monsters set upon him in the water, many a sea beast rent his war corslet with battle-tusks; they pursued the hero. Then the earl noticed he was in some kind of hostile hall, where no water in any way touched him, nor could the sudden clutch of the flood come near him because of the roofed hall; he saw the light of fire, a gleaming radiance shining brightly.
Then the valiant one perceived the she-wolf of the depths, the mighty mere-woman; he repaid the mighty rush with the battle sword; the hand drew not back from the stroke, so that the sword adorned with rings, sang a greedy war chant on her head. Then the stranger found that the sword would not bite or injure life, but the edge failed the prince in his need. It had endured in times past many battles, often had cut through the helmet, the mail of a doomed man. That was the first time for the costly treasure that its repute failed.
Once again the kinsman of Hygelac was resolute, mindful of heroic deeds, no whit lax in courage. Then the angry warrior cast down the sword with its twisted ornaments, set round with decorations, so that it lay on the ground, strong and steel-edged. He trusted in his strength, his mighty handgrip. Thus a man must needs do when he is minded to gain lasting praise in war, nor cares for his life.
Then the prince of the War-Geats seized Grendel’s mother by the hair; he feared not the fight. Then stern in strife he swung the monster in his wrath so that she bent to the ground. She quickly gave him requital again with savage grips, and grasped out towards him. Weary in mood then she overthrew the strongest of fighters, the foot-warrior, so that he fell down. Then she sat on the visitor to her hall, and drew her knife, broad and bright edged; she was minded to avenge her child, her only son. The woven breast net lay on his shoulder; that guarded his life; it opposed the entrance of point and edge. Then the son of Ecgtheow, the hero of the Geats, would have found death under the wide waters if the war corslet, the stout battle net, had not afforded him help, and if holy God, the wise Lord, had not achieved victory in war; the Ruler of the heavens brought about a right issue with ease, when once more he stood up.
He saw then among weapons a victorious blade, an old sword of giants, strong in its edges, the glory of warriors. That was the choicest of weapons; save only it was greater than any other man could bear to the battle-play, trusty and splendid, the work of giants. The hero of the Scyldings, angered and grim in battle, seized the belted hilt, wheeled the ring-marked sword, despairing of life; he struck furiously, so that it gripped her hard against the neck. It broke the bone-rings; the blade went straight through the doomed body. She fell on the floor. The brand was bloody; the man rejoiced in his work.
The gleam was bright, the light stood within, just as the candle of the sky shines serenely from heaven. He went along the dwelling; then he turned to the wall; Hygelac’s thane, raging and resolute, raised the weapon firmly by its hilts. The sword was not useless to the warrior, but he was minded quickly to requite Grendel for the many onslaughts which far more than once he made on the West-Danes, when he slew Hrothgar’s hearth companions in there sleep, devoured fifteen men of the Danish people while they slumbered, and bore away as many more, a hateful sacrifice. He, the furious hero, avenged that upon him there where he saw Grendel lying, weary of war, reft of life, as erstwhile the battle at Heorot dispatched him. The body gaped wide, when after death it suffered a stroke, a hard battle-blow; and then he hewed off its head.
Straightway the wise men who gazed on the mere with Hrothgar saw that the surge of waves was all troubled, the water stained with blood. Grey-haired old men spoke together of the valiant man, that they did not expect t see the chieftain again, or that he should come as a conqueror to seek the famous prince. Then it seemed to many that the sea-wolf had slain him. Then came the ninth hour of the day. The bold Scyldings forsook the headland; thence the gold-friend of men departed homewards. The strangers sat sick at heart, and stared at the mere; they felt desire and despair of seeing their friendly lord himself.
Then the sword, the battle-brand, began to vanish in drops of gore after the blood shed in fight. That was a great wonder, that it all melted like ice when the Father loosens the bond of the frost, unbinds the fetters of the floods; He has power over times and seasons. That is the true Lord.
The prince of the Wede-Geats took no more of the precious hoardings in those haunts, though he saw many there, save the head and with it the treasure-decked hilts. The sword had melted before, the inlaid brand had burned away, so hot was that blood and so poisonous the alien spirit who died in it, straightway he fell to swimming; he, who before in the struggle survived the fall of foes, dived up through water. The water-surges were all cleansed, the great haunts where the alien spirit gave up his life and this fleeting state.
Then the protector of seamen, brave-minded, came swimming to land; he took pleasure in the sea booty, in the mighty burden which he bore with him. They went to meet him, the excellent troop of thanes; they thanked God’ they rejoiced in the prince, that they could behold him safe and sound. Then helm and corslet were loosed with speed from off the brave man; the lake still, the water under the clouds, stained with the blod of battle.
They set out thence on the foot-tracks, joyous at heart; they paced the path, the well-street. Men nobly bold bore the head from the cliff with toil for each of the very brave ones. Four men with difficulty had to carry Grendel’s head to the gold-hall on the battle spear, until of a sudden the fourteen brave warlike Geats came to the hall; their lord trod the fields about the mead hall with them, fearless among his followers.
Then the prince of thanes, the man bold in deeds, made glorious with fame, the hero terrible in battle, came in to greet Hrothgar. Then Grendel’s head was borne by the hair into the hall where the men were drinking – a dread object for the earl’s and the queen with them; the men looked at the wondrous sight.
Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow: ‘Lo! Son of Healfdene, prince of the Scyldings, we have brought thee with pleasure, as a token of glory, these sea trophies which thou beholdest here. Scarcely did I survive that with his life, the struggle beneath the water, barely did I accomplish the task, the fight was all but ended, if God had not protected me.
‘I could do naught with Hrunting in the fight, though that weapon is worthy, but the Ruler of men vouchsafed that I should see a huge old sword hang gleaming on the wall – most often He guided those bereft of friends – so that I swung the weapon. Then in the struggle I slew the guardians of the house when the chance was given me. Than that battle-brand, the inlaid sword, burned away as soon as the blood spurted out, hottest battle gore. Thence from the foes I carried off that hilt; I avenged, as was fitting, the deeds of malice, the massacre of the Danes.
‘So I promise thee that thou mayest sleep in Heorot, free from sorrow with the band of thy warriors and all the thanes among thy people, the youths and veterans; that thou, prince of the Scyldings, does not need to dread death for the earls from the quarter thou didst formerly.’
Then the gold hilt, the ancient work of giants, was given into the hands of the old warrior, the grey-haired leader. It came into the possession of the prince of the Danes, the work of cunning smiths, after the death of the monsters, and after the creature of hostile heart, God’s foe, guilty of murder, and his mother also had left this world. It came into the power of the best of mighty kings between the seas who dealt out money in Scandinavia.
Hrothgar spoke; he beheld the hilt, the old heirloom. On it was written the beginning of a battle of long ago, whom a flood, a rushing sae, slew the race of giants; they had lived boldly; that race was estranged from the eternal Lord. The Ruler gave them final requital for that in the surge of the water. Thus on the plates of bright gold it was clearly marked, set down and expressed in runic letters, for whom that sword, the best of blades, was first wrought with its twisted haft and snake-images.
Then the wise man spoke, the son of Healfdene. All were silent. Lo! he who achieves truth and right among the people may say that this earl was born excellent (the old ruler of the realm recalls all things from the past). Thy renown is raised up throughout the wide ways, my friend Beowulf, among all peoples. Thou preservest all steadfastly, thy might with wisdom of mind. I shall show thee my favour, as before we agreed. Thou shalt be granted for long years as a solace to they people, as a help to heroes.
‘Not so did Heremod prove to the sons of Ecgwela, (Ecgwela was apparently a king of the Danes), the honourable Scyldings; his way was not as they wished, but to the slaughter and butchery of the people of the Danes. Savage in mood he killed his table companions, his trusty counsellors, until he, the famous prince, departed alone from the joy of men, although mighty God had made him great by the joys of power, and by strength had raised him above all men. Yet there grew in his heart a bloodthirsty brood of thoughts. He gave out no rings to the Danes according to custom; joyless he dwelt, so that he reaped the reward of his hostility, the long evil to his people. Learn thou by this; lay hold on virtue. I have spoken this for thy good from the wisdom of many years.
‘It is wonderful to tell how mighty God with His generous thought bestows on mankind wisdom, land, and rank. He has dominion over all things. At times He allows man’s thoughts to turn to love of famous lineage; He gives him in his land the joys of domain, the stronghold of men to keep. He puts the parts of the world, a wide kingdom, in such subjection to him that he cannot in his folly conceive an end to that. He lives in plenty; nothing afflicts him, neither sickness nor age; nor does sorrow darkness his mind, nor does strife anywhere show forth sword hatred, but all the world meets his desire.
‘He knows nothing worse till within him his pride grows and springs up. Then the guardian slumbers, the keeper of the soul – the sleep is too heavy – pressed round with troubles; the murderer very near who shoots maliciously from his bow. Then he is stricken in the breast under the helmet by a sharp shaft – he knows not how to guard himself – by the crafty evil commands of the ill spirit. That which he had long held seems to him too paltry, he covets fiercely, he bestows no golden rings in generous pride, and he forgets and neglects the destiny which God, the Ruler of glory, formerly gave him, his share of honours. At the end it comes to pass that the mortal body sinks into ruin, falls doomed; another comes to power who bestows treasures gladly, old wealth of the earl; he takes joy in it. Keep thyself from such passions, dear Beowulf, best of warriors, and choose for thyself that better part, lasting profit. Care not for pride, famous hero. Now the repute of thy might endures for a space; straightway shall age, or edge of the sword, part thee again from thy strength, or the embrace of fire, or the surge of the flood, or the grip of the blade, or the flight of the spear, or hateful old age, or the gleam of eyes shall pass away and be darkened; on a sudden it shall come to pass that death shall vanquish thee, noble warrior.
‘Thus have I ruled over the Ring-Danes under the heavens for fifty years, and guarded them by my was power from many tribes throughout this world, from spears and swords, so that I thought I had no foe under the stretch of the sky. Lo! a reverse came upon me in my land, sorrow after joy, when Grendel grew to be a foe of many years, my visitant. I suffered great sorrow of heart continually from that persecution. Thanks be to God, the eternal Lord, that I have survived with my life, that I behold with my eyes that blood-stained head after the old struggle. Go now to the seat, enjoy the banquet, thou who art made illustrious by war; very many treasures shall be parted between us when morning comes.
The Geat was glade in mind; straightway he went to seek out his seat as the wise man bade him. Then again as before the meal was fairly spread once more for men in hall famed for their courage. The covering night grew dark over the noble warriors. The veterans all rose up; the grey-haired aged Scylding was minded to seek his bed. It pleased the Geat, the mighty shield-warrior, exceeding well to rest. Forthwith a hall thane ministered in fitting fashion to all the needs of a thane which the warlike seafarers should have that day, guided him forth, weary as he was from his journey, come from afar. The great-hearted man took his rest: the building towered up wide-gabled and gold-plated; the guest slumbered within till the black raven merrily proclaimed the joy of heaven.
Than came the bright light gliding after the shadow. The warriors hastened, the chieftains were ready to go again to their people, the stout-hearted sojourner was minded to seek the boat far thence. Then the brave man, the son of Ecglaf, bade him bear Hrunting, take his sword, his dear blade; he thanked him for the gift; said that he counted him a good friend in battle, mighty in war; in no wise did he belittle the sword’s edge: that was a brave warrior. And the men of war then, ready in war trappings, were about to depart; the chieftain, dear to the Danes, went to the throne where the other was, the hero dreaded in battle; he greeted Hrothgar.
Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow: ‘Now we seafarers, come from afar, wish to say that we purpose to seek Hygelac. We have been as kindly treated here as we could wish; thou hast been good unto us. If I can in any way on earth win a greater love from thee, lord of men , for warlike deeds than I have yet done, I am ready forthwith. If beyond the compass of the floods I hear that my neighbours press upon thee with dread war, as at times foes have to thee, I shall bring to thy help thousands of thanes and heroes. I know that Hygelac, the lord of the Geats, protector of the people, though he is young, will aid me in words and deeds to support thee well and bear the spear to thy aid, mighty succour, if thou hast need of men. If Hrethric, a prince’s son, betake himself to the court of the Geats, he may find many friends there. For him who trusts his own merit it is better to visit distant lands.’
Hrothgar spoke to him in answer: ‘The wise Lord has sent those speeches into thy mind. I have not heard a man of such young age discourse more wisely. Thou art strong in might and wise in mind, prudent in speeches. It is my expectation, if it comes to pass the son of Hrethel, thy prince, the protector of the people, and thou art still alive, that the Sea-Geats will have no better king to choose, treasure of heroes, if thou wilt rule the kingdom of thy kinsmen. Thy mind pleases me the better as time goes on, dear Beowulf. Thou hast brought it to pass that there shall be peace between the peoples, the men of the Geats and the Spear-Danes, and that strife shall cease, the treacherous hostility they formerly suffered; while I rule over the wide realm treasures shall be in common. Many a man shall greet another with gifts across the gannet’s bath; the ring-prowed ship shall bear offerings and love-tokens over the sea. I know the people to be of firm mine towards friend and foe, wholly blameless in their ancient tradition.
Then, moreover, the protector of earls, the son of healfdene, gave him in the house twelve treasures; he bade him seek his dear people in safety with those offerings, come again seedily. Then the king of noble peace, the prince of the Scyldings, kissed the best thanes, and fell upon his neck: tears fell from him, the grey-haired man. There was the chance of two things for him, the old man full of years, but more of one, that they should not see one another again, brave men in talk together. That man was so dear to him, that he could not stifle the trouble in his heart, but, fast bound in the thoughts of his heart, the secret longing for the loved man burned in his blood. Thence Beowulf strode over the grass meadow, the warrior proud of his gold, glorying in treasure. The sea-goer riding at anchor awaited its lord. Then Hrothgar’s gift was often praised on the voyage. That was a king blameless in all ways, till old age, which has done hurt to many, robbed him of the joys of strength.
Then the troop of exceeding brave warriors came to the flood; they bore ring-woven corslets, locked shirts of mail. The watchman spied the return of the earls as erstwhile he did.
He did not salute the strangers from the edge of the cliff with insult, but rode towards them; he told the people of the Weders that the warriors with gleaming armour went welcome to the ship. Then the spacious ship on the sand was laden with war garments, the ring-prowed vessel with horses and treasures; the mast towered aloft above Hrothgar’s precious hoardings.
He gave to the guardian of the ship a sword bound with gold, so that afterwards on the mead bench he was the more esteemed for the treasure, the ancient sword. He embarked on the ship, to plough the deep water; left the land of the Danes. Then by the mast was a sea-cloth, a sail bound by a rope. The timbers creaked; the wind over the billows did not force the wave-floater from her course. The sea-goer went on her way, the foamy-necked one floated forth over the waves, the boat with bound prow over the ocean streams, till they could see the cliffs of the Geats, the well-known headlands. The boat drove ashore; urged by the wind it rested on the land.
Quickly the haven watchman, who for a long time had gazed out afar at the waters expecting the dear men, was ready by the sea. He bound the broad-bosomed ship to the sand firmly with anchor-bonds, lest the might of the waves should drive away the winsome vessel. Then he bade the treasure of chieftains, adornments and beaten gold, to be carried up. He had not far to go thence to seek the giver of treasure, Hygelac, son of Hrethel, where he dwells at home, himself with his comrades near the sea wall.
The house was splendid, the ruler a mighty king in the high hall, Hygd very young, wise, high-minded, although she, the daughter of Haereth, had lived few years in the stronghold. Yet was she not pretty, nor too grudging in gifts and treasures to the people of the Geats. She, the splendid queen of the people, had not the pride or the dread hostility of Thryth. (Thryth, the wife of Offa (King of the Angles on the Continent in the fourth century), is here contrasted with Hygd as Heremod was with Beowulf. After her marriage Hygd seems to have become less savage. Offa’s father is Garmund, his son is Eomer). No brave one of the dear comrades, except the mighty prince, durst venture to look upon her openly with his eyes; but he might count upon deadly bonds hand-woven lade ready for him. Quickly after that he was seized and destined to the sword, so that the inlaid brand might give judgement, might proclaim the deadly evil. Such is not queenly usage for a woman to practice, though she is splendid; that she who was meant to establish peace should seek the life of a dear subject because to fancied wrong. In truth the kinsman of Hemmings detested that.
Men at their ale-drinking told another tale, that she brought less evils on the people, crafty acts of malice, as soon as she was given, gold-adorned, to the young warrior, to the brave chieftain, when by her father’s counsel she sought in her journey the hall of Offa over the yellow flood, where afterwards on the throne she well employed while she lived what was granted her in life, a good famous woman. She kept a noble love towards the prince of heroes, the best, as I have heard, of all mankind, of the race of men between the seas. For Offa was a skilled spearman, widely honoured for gifts and victories; he ruled his realm with wisdom. From him sprang Eomer for a help to heroes, kinsman of Hemming, grandson of Garmund, mighty in onslaught.
Then the bold man went himself with his troops along the sand to tread the meadow by the sea, the wide shores. The world candle shone, the sun bright from the south. They went on their way; quickly they marched till they heard that the protector of earls, the slayer of Ongentheow, (King of the Swedes. The wars of Swedes and Geats are described later, see section Xl) the worthy young war king, was bestowing rings in the court. Beowulf’s arrival was quickly proclaimed to Hygelac, that the defender of warriors, the shield comrade, was come alive to the palaces there, to the court, unscathed from the battle-play.
With speed, as the mighty one ordered, a space was cleared within the hall for the newcomers. Then he who survived the combat sat down opposite him, kinsman opposite kinsman, when in solemn speech with chosen words he greeted his gracious lord. The daughter of Haereth went about throughout that hall building with mead vessels; she loved the people, bore the flagon to the hands of the Heath-dwellers. Hygelac began graciously to question his companion in the high hall; desire to know the exploits of the Sea Geats was strong upon him.
‘How fared ye on the voyage, dear Beowulf, when on a sudden thou hadst desire to seek combat afar over the salt water, warfare at Heorot? Surely thou hast somewhat mended for Hrothgar, the famous prince, his wide-known sorrow? In my heart’s grief for that I was troubled with surgings of sorrow; I put no trust in my loved man venture; long while I besought thee that thou shouldest have naught to do with the murderous monster, let the South-Danes themselves fight out the struggle with Grendel. I utter thanks to God, that it is granted me to behold thee unscathed.
Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgthoew: ‘That is known, my lord Hygelac, to many men, the famous encounter; what struggle there was between Grendel and me in that place, where he brought very many sorrows upon the victorious Scyldings, lasting oppression. I avenged all that kin upon earth has cause to boast of that uproar at dawn, not he who lives longest of the loathly race, snared in sin.
‘Even there did I come to that ring hall to greet Hrothgar. Straightway the famous son of Healfdene, when he knew my purpose, assigned me a seat beside his own son. His troop was making merry; I have never seen under the vault of heaven greater mead joy of men sitting in hall. At times the famous queen, she who establishes peace among the peoples, moved throughout the hall, encouraged the young men; often she gave a ring to a warrior ere she went to her seat. At times Hrothgar’s daughter bore the ale flagon before the veterans, to the earls in the high places; then I heard men sitting in hall name Freawaru, where she bestowed the nail-studded vessel on the heroes; she, young, gold-adorned, is promised to the gracious son of Froda. (Beowulf foretells here the feud between Hrothgar and his son-in-law Ingeld, the Heathobard. A previous quarrel between the Danes and the Heathobards, in which Ingeld’s father, Froda, had been killed, has been ended by Hrothgar’s daughter marrying Ingeld. But some young Dane, Beowulf foresees, will proudly wear in Ingeld’s hall treasures won from the Heathobards in the former fight. Some old unforgiving warrior will urge Ingeld to revenge such insult; the young Dane will be killed, and the feud will break out again. See Widsith for reference to the story of Ingeld.) The friend of the Scyldings, the ruler of the realm, has brought that about, and counts it a gain that he should settle with the woman a part of his deadly feuds and struggles. It is always a rare thing, when a little while after the fall of the prince the murderous spear sinks to rest, even though the bride is of worth.
‘That may rankle with the prince of the Heathobards and each thane among the people, when he goes in hall with the bride, that a noble scion of the Danes should tend the warriors. On him gleams the armour of his forefathers, hard and ring-marked, the treasure of the Heathobards, whilst they were able to wield those weapons, until they led their dear comrades and themselves to ruin at the shield-play.
‘Then an old spear-warrior who gazes on the treasure, who bears in mind all the slaughter of men, speaks at the beer-drinking – grim is his heart – he begins in mournful mood to test the thoughts of the young warrior by the musings of his mind, to stir up evil strife – and he utters these words:
‘” Canst thou, my friend, recognize the sword, the precious blade, thy father bore to battle, where the Danes slew him when under his helmet for the last time; the bold Scyldings held the field when Withergyld lay low, after the fall of heroes. Now some youth or other of those murderers exulting in his adornments walks here in the hall; boasts of the slaughter and wears the treasure, which thou shouldst rightfully own.”
‘Thus at all times he admonishes and stirs up memories with baneful words till the season comes when the bride’s thane slumbers, stained with blood after the sword stroke, his life forfeited because of her father’s deeds. The other escapes with his life, he knows the country well. Then on both sides are broken the solemn oaths of earls. Afterwards deadly hatred surge up against Ingeld, and his love for his wife grows cooler from his anguish of mind. Wherefore I look not for the goodwill of the Heathobards, nor for much loyalty, void of malice, to the Danes, nor firm friendship.
‘I shall speak once again about Grendel, that thou, the giver of treasure. Mayst know well what was later the issue of the hand-struggle of heroes.
‘After the jewel of the sky glided over the fields, the monster came raging, the dread night foe, to seek us out, where safe and sound we held the hall. There was war fatal to Hondscio, a violent death to the doomed man. He was the first to fall, the girded warrior. Grendel devoured him, the famous liege man; he swallowed the whole body of the loved man. Nevertheless the bloody-toothed slayer, his thought set on evil, was not minded to go out again from the gold-hall empty-handed; but, strong in his might, he pitted himself against me, laid hold with ready hand. A pouch hung wide and wondrous, made firm with artful clasps; it was all cunningly devised by the power of the devil and with dragon skins. He, the savage worker of deeds, purposed to put me into it, though guiltless with many others: it could not come to pass thus when I stood upright in my wrath.
‘It is too long to tell how I gave requital to the people’s foe for every ill deed. There, my prince, did I bring honour on thy people by my deeds. He escaped forth; for a short space he enjoyed the pleasures of life; yet his right hand remained in Heorot for a token of him; and he, departing thence wretched, sank down, sad in mind, to the bottom of the mere.
‘When morning came and we had sat down to the banquet, the friend of the Scyldings rewarded me richly for the deadly onslaught with beaten gold, with many treasures. There was singing and merriment. An aged Scylding of great experience told tales of long ago. At times one bold in battle drew sweetness from the harp, the joy-wood; at times wrought a measure true and sad; at times the large-hearted king told a wondrous story in fitting fashion. At times again an old warrior bowed down with age began to speak to the youths of prowess in fight; his heart swelled within him, when, old in years, he brought to mind many things.
‘Thus we took our pleasure there the livelong day, till another night came to men. Then forthwith again Grendel#s mother was ready to avenge her grief; sorrowful, she journeyed. Death, the hostility of the Weders, had carried off her son. The monstrous woman avenged her child, she slew a warrior in her might. There life went out from Aeschere, a wise councillor through many years. Nor, when morning came, might they, the men of the Danes, consume with fire him who had been made powerless by death; nor lay the loved man on the pyre. She bore off that body in a fiend’s embrace under the mountain stream. That was to Hrothgar the heaviest of the sorrows which for a long while had laid hold on the prince of the people. Then the prince, lamenting, entreated me by thy life, that, in the press of the floods, I should perform a deed of prowess, should hazard my life, should achieve a heroic exploit. He promised me reward. Then I found the grim, terrible guardian of the depths of the surging water, who is known far and wide. There for a space was hand-to-hand grappling; the water welled with blood, and in that hall in the depths I cut off the head of Grendel’s mother with a gigantic sword; with violence I tore her life from her; I was not yet doomed to death, but the protector of earls, the son of Healfdene, gave me again many a treasure.
‘Thus did the king of the people lives as was fitting; in no way did I lose the rewards, the guerdon of my strength; but he, the son of Healfdene, gave me treasures into my own keeping. Them I will bring and gladly proffer to thee, king of warriors. Once more all favours come from thee. I have few close men save thee, Hygelac.’
Then he commanded to be brought in the boar-image, the banner, the helmet riding high in battle, the grey corslet, the splendid was sword. Afterwards he spoke:
‘Hrothgar, the wise prince, gave me this battle garment; he expressly bade that I should first declare his goodwill to thee. He said that King Heorogar, prince of the Scyldings, had it, the breast-armour, for a long space; that nevertheless he would not give it to his son, the bold Heoroweard, though he was loyal to him. Use all things well.’
I heard that four horses, reddish yellow, every whit alike, came next in order; he gave him possession of steeds and stores; thus must a kinsman do, and not waeve a cunning net for another, prepare death for a comrade with secret guile. To Hygelac, stout in fight, his nephew was very loyal, and each was mindful of the other’s pleasure.
I heard that he presented to Hygd that neck-band, the precious, wondrous treasure, which Wealtheow, the prince’s daughter, gave him, together with three full of grace and furnished with gleaming saddles. When she had taken the ring her breast was made fair.
Thus the son of Ecgtheow, a man famous in battle, was bold in brave deeds; he lived honourably, never did he slay his hearth companions in his drunkenness; his was not a savage mind, but, fearless in fight, he guarded the precious gift which God had given him with the greatest strength among men. Long was he despised, for the men of the Geats accounted him worthless; nor was the lord of troops minded to do him much honour on the mead bench; they thought indeed that he was slothful, an unfit chieftain. A recompense came to the famous man for every slight.
Then the protector of earls, the king mighty in battle, bade them bring in the sword of Hrethel, decked with gold; there wasnot at that time with the Geats a better treasure among swords; he laid that in Beowulf’s bosom, and gave him seven thousand measures of land, a house, and princely rank. To them both in that country inherited land, ancestral clims, had come by natural right, but more to Hygelac, a wide realm, in that he was the more illustrious.
It came to pass in later days among the warriors, when Hygelac was laid low and battle swords slew Heardred under cover of his shield, after the bold battle heroes, the warlike Scylfings, sought him mid his victorious troop, pressed hard in fight the nephew of Hereric, that then the wide realm came under Beowulf’s sway. He ruled well for fifty years – he was then an aged king, an old guardian of the land – till a dragon which guarded treasure in a burial mound, a steep rock, began to show his might on the dark nights. A pathway lay beneath, unknown to men; some men entered there, greedily seized the pagan hoard. He took the flagon with his hand, large, bright with jewels; nor did he (the dragon) hide the act, though he had been tricked while he slept by thievish cunning. And thus the people, the neighbouring folk, come to know he was enraged.
He who did him (the dragon) sore hurt did not violate the dragon’s hoard eargerly of his own freewill; but some thane of the sons of heroeas was fleeing in great distress from hostile blows, and pressed down by his guilt, lacking in shelter, the man took hiding there. Straightway he looked in . . . dread of the monster lay upon him, yet in his misery . . . then the sudden attack seized him . . .
There were in the cave many such ancient treasures, which in days gone by some men carefully hid there, great relics of a noble race, precious store.
Death took them all off in past times, and still that one veteran of the people who tarried there longest, a watchman wearying for his friends, looked toward the like fate, that but for a short space he might have sway over the long-gathered treasures. The barrow stood all ready on open ground, hard by the waves, newly raised near the headland, strong in artful barriers. Into it the guardian of the rings bore the precious heap of the treasures of earls, of beaten gold. Few words he spoke:
‘Now, earth, do thou hold, now that heroes cannot, the wealth of earls! Lo! valiant men erstwhile took it from thee. Death in war, a sweeping slaughter, took off each of the men, my people, ho gave up this life; they had seen joy in hall. I have no one who can wield the sword or polish the golden vessel, the precious flagon; the old warriors have departed. The stout helmet adorned with gold must be reft of its beaten plates. The polishers slumber who should make splendid the battle masks; and the corslet likewise, which endured the stroke of swords in war mid the cracking of shields, follows the warrior to decay. The coat of mail cannot journey afar by the side of heroes after the passing of the warrior. There is no joy of the harp, delight of the timbrel, nor does the good hawk sweep through the hall, nor the swift steed stamp in the court. Violent death has caused to pass many generations of men.’
Thus, sad in mind, the latest left of all lamented his sorrow; day and night he wept joyless, till the surge of death touched his heart. The old twilight foe, the naked hostile dragon, who seeks out barrows, flaming as he goes, who flies by night compassed with fire, found the costly treasure standing unguarded. Him the dwellers in the land greatly fear. He must needs seek the hoard in the earth, where, old in years, he holds possession of the pagan gold; nor shall he profit one whit by that.
Thus did the people’s foe guard that mighty treasure-house in the earth for three hundred years, till a man angered him in mind. He bore the plated goblet to his master, begged his lord for protection. Then the treasure was found, the hoard of rings was lessened; the boon was granted to the unhappy man. For the first time the prince beheld the ancient work of men.
Then the dragon awoke, wrath was rekindled; he sprang along the rock; brave in heart, he came upon the enemy’s foot-track’ he had stepped with stealthy craft near the dragon’s head. Thus may a man, not destined to fall, who relies on the Almighty’s protection, easily survive sorrow and exile.
The treasure guardian, sore and savage in mind, made eager search along the ground; was set on finding the man, him who had done him scathe while he slept; often he made a whole circuit of the mound outside. There was no man in that waste place. Yet he was keen for the conflict, the work of war; at times he turned to the barrow, sought the treasure. Forthwith he found that some man had ransacked the gold, the rich stores. With difficulty did the treasure guardian delay til evening came; then wrathful was the warden of the barrow; the foul creature was determined to avenge with fire the precious flagon.
Then day had departed, as the dragon desired; no longer would he wait on the wall, but went forth with fire, furnished with flame. The first onslaught was terrifying to the people in the land, even as it was speedily ended with sorrow for their giver of treasure.
Then the monster began to belch forth flames, to burn the bright dwellings. The flare of the fire brought fear upon men. The loathly air-flier wished not to leave aught living there. The warring of the dragon was widely seen, the onslaught of the cruel foe far and near, how the enemy of the people of the Geats wrought despite and devastation. He hastened back to the hoard, to his hidden hall, ere it was day. He had compassed the dwellers in the land with fire, with flames, and with burning; he trusted in the barrow, in bravery, and the rampart. His hope deceived him.
Then quickly the terror was made known to Beowulf according to the truth, that his own abode, the best of buildings, the gift-throne of the Geats, was melting in the surges of flame. That was sorrow to the good man’s soul, greatest of griefs to the heart. The wise man thought that, breaking established law, he had bitterly angered God, the Lord everlasting. His breast was troubled within by dark thoughts, as was not his wont.
The fire-dragon had destroyed with flames the stronghold of his subjects, the land by the sea from without, the countryside. The warlike king, the prince of the Weders, gave him requital for that. Then the protector of warriors, the lord of earls, bade an iron shield, a splendid was targe, to be wrought for him. Full well he knew that wood could not help him; linden wood against fire. The chieftain long famous was fated to endure the end of fleeting days, of life in the world, and the dragon with him, though for long space hahad held the treasure store.
Then the prince of rings scorned to seek the far-flier with a troop of men, with a great host. He feared not the fight, nor did he account as aught the valour of the dragon, his power and prowess; because ere this, defying danger, he had came through many onslaught, wild attacks, when he, the man of victory, purged Hrothgar’s hall, and in war killed with his grip the kin of Grendel, the hateful race.
That was not the most paltry of hand-to-hand struggles, where they slew Hygelac, when hte king of the Geats, the friendly prince of the peoples, the son of Hrethel, died in the rushes of battle in the land of the Frisians, his blood shad by the sword, beaten down by the brand. Beowulf came thence by his own strength; swam over the sea. Alone he held on his arm thirty suits of armour when he set out to sea. The Hetware, who bore the linden shields forward against him, had no cause to boast of the battle on foot. Few escaped from that battle hero to seek their home. The son of Ecgthoew swam over the stretch of the gulfs, the hapless solitary man back to his people, where Hygd tendered him treasure and kingdom, rings and the throne; she did not trust her son, that he could hold his fatherland against hostile hosts, now that Hygelac was dead.
Yet the unhappy mn could in no way win the chieftain’s consent that he would be lord over Heardred, or that he would elect to rule the realm. Nevertheless he upheld him among the people with friendly counsel, graciously with support, until Heardred grew older; he ruled the Weder-Geats. Exiles, the son of Ohtere, sought him over the sea. (Eanmund and Eadgils rebel against their uncle Onela, King of Sweden, and flee to the Geats, where Heardred shelters them. onela follows with an army, attacks and kills Heardred. It is in this battle that Weohstan kills Eanmund (Section XXXVI). Onela returns to Sweden, leaving Beowulf undisturbed as Heardred’s successor. Later Beowulf befriends Eadgils, who, after conquering and killing Onela, becomes King of Sweden). They had risen against the protector of the Scyldings, the best of sea-kings who gave out treasure in Sweden, a famous prince. That ended his life. deadly wounds from sword slashes he, the son of Hygelac, gained there for his hospitality; and the son of Ongenthoew departed again to seek his home when Heardred was laid low; he let Beowulf hold the throne, rule over the Geats. That was a good king.
In after days he forgot not requital for the prince’s fall; he became a friend to the wretched Eadgils. He aided the son of Ohtere over the broad sea with a troop, with warriors and weapons. He took vengeance afterwards with cold, sad marches; he drprived the king of life.
Thus he, the son of Ecgtheow, had survived every onslaught, dread battles, mighty ventures, until that day when he was to encounter the dragon. The lord of the Geats went then with eleven others, raging with anger, to behold the dragon. He had heard then whence the feud arose, the sore affliction of men; the famous costly vessel came into his possession through the hand of the finder.
He who brought about the beginning of that strife, fettered, sad in mind, was the thirteenth man in the troop; he was forced, though in misery, to show the way. He went against his will, till he could spy that cave, the barrow under the ground, hard by the surge of the waters, the struggle of the waves. Within, it was full of jewels and wire ornaments. The monstrous guardian, the ready fighter, grown old beneath the earth, held the treasures. That was no easy matter for any man to enter there.
The king, mighty in onslaught, sat down then on the headland, whilst he, the gold friend of the Geats, saluted his hearth companions. His mind was sad, restless, brooding on death; fate exceeding near which was destined to come on the old man, to seek the treasure of his soul, to part asunder life from the body. Not for long after that was the chieftain’s spirit clothed in flesh.
Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow: ‘In my youth I came through many rushes of war, times of combat. I remember all that. I was seven tears old when the prince of treasures, the friendly ruler of the peoples, took me from my father; King Hrethel brought me up and fostered me, bestowed on me treasures and banqueting, bore in mind our kinship; in his life I was no less loved by him, a child in the court, than any of his children, Herebeald and Haethcyn, or my Hygelac. For the eldest a bed of death was made ready by deeds not fit for a kinsman, when Haethcyn smote him with curved bow, his friendly prince with an arrow; he missed his mark and shot his kinsman, one brother the other with bloody shaft. That was a violent deed not to be atoned for by gifts, cunningly wrought, weighing sore on his heart. Yet in spite of that the chieftains must needs pass from life unavenged.
‘In like manner it is sad for an aged man to endure, that his son in his youth should swing from the gallows. Then he makes a measure, a song of sorrow, when his son hangs, a delight for the raven, and he, aged and full of years, can in no way bring him help. He is ever reminded each morning of his son’s death; he cares not to await the birth of another son in his court after the one has made acquaintance with evil deeds by the agony of death. Sorrowful he gazes on his son’s room, the deserted wine hall, a resting-place for the wind, reft of noise. The horsemen slumber, the heroes in their graves; there is no music of the harp, joy in the palace, as there was of yore.
‘He goes then to his sleeping-place, sings a song of sorrow, one man for another; his lands and dwelling seemed all too spacious for him. Thus did the protector of the Weders bear surging sorrow in his heart for Herebeald; he could no whit avenge the murderous deed on the slayer. Nor could he work hurt to the warrior, though he was not dear to him. Then with that grief which came sorely upon him, he forsook joy of men, chose God’s light; left to his sons, as a worthy man does, land and cities, when he departed from life.
‘Then guilt and strife came to be the protion of Swedes and Geats (See section XI) over the wide water, a bitter hostility after Hrethel died, and Ongentheow’s sons were brave and bold in fight. They did not wish to keep up friendship over hte lakes, but often they contrived dread slaughter near Hreosnaburh. That did my friendly kinsman revenge, the feud nd the outrage, as was well known, though one of them paid for it at a dear price with his life. To Haethcyn, lord of the Geats, war proved fatal. Then I heard that in the morning one brother avenged the other on the slayer with the sword edge. There Ongentheow seeks out Eofor. The war helmet was shattered, the aged Scylfing fell mortally stricken; the hand forgot not the feud; it drew not back from the deadly blow.
‘With gleaming sword I repaid in war, as chance was given me, the treasures he bestowed on me. He gave me land, domain, an ancestral seat. There was no need for him to seek among the Gepidae, or the Spear-Danes, or in the kingdom of the Swedes for less worthy warriors, to buy them with treasure. Ever I wished to be before him on foot, alone in the van, and so shall I do battle while my life lasts, while this sword endured that early and late has often followed me. Afterwards I slew Daeghrefn, the champion of the Hugas, (A name for the Franks) in the presence of the veterans. He was not able at all to bring adornments, breast ornaments, to the king of the Frisians, but the keeper of the banner, the chieftain in is might, fell amid the warriors. The sword was not the slayer, but my battlegrip crushed the surges of his heart and hisbody. Now the edge of the sword, the hand and the keen blade, shall wage war for the treasure.’
Beowulf spoke, he uttered words of boasting for the last time: ‘In my youth I passed through many battles; yet I, aged protector of the people, wish to seek the fight, to achieve the heroic deed, if the foul foe comes out of his cave to face me.’
Then for the last time he greeted each of the men, brave bearers of helmets, dear comrades: ‘I would not bear a sword, a weapon against the monster, as erstwhile I did againt Grendel; but here I expect hot battle flame, a blast of breath, and poison. Wherefore I bear shield and corslet. I will not give back the space of a foot before the keeper of the barrow, but the fight shall be between us at the wall, as Fate, the master of every man, shall decide for us. I am brave in mind, so that I can keep from boasting against the winged fighter. Do ye, clad in corslets, warriors in battle array, bide on the barrow to see which of us two can better survive wounds after the deadly onslaught. This is not your venture, nor is it in any man’s power, except mine alone, to strive with his strength against the monster, to perform heroic deeds. With my might I shall gain the gold; or war, a perilous death, shall carry off your prince.’
Then with his shield the strong warrior arose, stern under his helmet; he bore the battle corslet under the rocky cliffs; he trusted in the strength of a single man. Such is no coward’s venture.
Then he, excellent in virtues, who had survived very many combats, wild attacks, when foot-warriors crashed together, saw a stone arch standing by the wall, a stream gushing out thence from the barrow. The surge of the spring was hot with battle fires; by reason of the dragon’s flame he could not endure for any time unburnt the recess near the treasure. The prince of the Weder-Geats, when he was angered, let a word go out from his breast; the strong-hearted man was wrathful; his voice loud in battle went in resounding under the grey stone.
Hate was aroused, the treasure guardian heard the speech of a man; that was no time for seeking of friendship; first the monster’s breath, hot sweat of battle, issued out from the stone; the earth resounded. The warrior, lord of the Geats, swung his shield under the barrow against the dread creature. Then the heart of the recoiling dragon was ready to seek strife. The valiant warlike king first brandished the sword, the ancient blade, not dull in its edges. Each of the two hostile-minded ones felt fear of the other. The ruler of friends stood staunchly against his high shield, whe the dragon quickly recoiled together; he waited in his war gear. Then striding amid flames, concorted he went, hastening to his fate. The shield guarded life and body well for the famous prince less time than he wished. There then for the first time he had to show his strength without Fate allotting him fame in battle. The lord of the Geats raised up his hand, he struck the dread gleaming monster with the precious sword, so that the bright edge turned on the bone; it bit less keenly than its king, hard pressed by trouble, has need. Then after the battle stroke the guardian of the treasure was in savage mood; he cast forth deadly fire; far leaped the war flames. The gold-friend of the Geats boasted not of famous victories; the naked battle blade failed at need, as it should not have done, the long-famou brand. That was no easy step for the famous son of Ecgtheow to consent to yield that ground; against his will he must needs inhabit a dwelling elsewhere; thus must every man forsake fleeting days.
It was not long till the fighters closed again. The treasure guardian took heart anew. His breast laboured with breathing. He who before held sway over the people suffered anguish, ringed round the fire.
No whit did his comrades, son of chieftains, stand about him in a band with valour, but they took to the wood, they hid for their lives. In one of them the mind was roused to face sorrows. In him who well considers nothing can ever stifle kinships.
He was called Wiglaf, son of Weohstan, a valued shield-warrior, prince of the Scylfings, kinsman of Aelfhere; he saw his pord suffering the heat under his war helm. Then he called to mind the favour which formerly he had bestowed on him, the rich dwelling-place of the Waegmundings, all the rights his father possessed. He could not then hold back; his hand seized the shield, the yellow linden wood, drew the ancient sword, that was among men a relic of Eanmund, son of Ohtere. Weohstan slew him in battle with the edge of the sword, a friendless exile, and bore off from his kin the bright gleaming helm, the ringed corslet, the gigantic old sword that Onela gave him, his kinsman’s war trappings, ready battle equipment. He spoke not of the feud, though he had killed his brother’s child. (Weohstan, at this time a retainer of Onela, offers his lord the war gear of Ednmund. Onela refuses it, because he does not wish openly to approve of his nephew’s slaying. ‘He [Onela] spoke not of the feud, though the [Weohstan] had killed his brother’s child’) Many years he held the adornments, brand, and corslet until his son could achieve mighty deeds like his old father. Then when he departed from life, old in his passing hence, he gave among the Geats an exceeding number of battle garments.
That was the first time that the young warrior was to stand the rush of battle with his prince. His spirit did not weaken, nor did his father’s sword fail in the fight. The dragon discovered that when they had come together. Wiglaf spoke, uttered many fitting words to his comrades; his mind was sad: ‘I remember that time when we were drinking mead, hen in the beer hall we promised our lord who gave us these rings, that we would requite him for the war gear, the helms and sharp swords, if need such as this came upon him. Because of this he chose us among the host of his own will for this venture, he reminded us of famous deeds and gave me these treasures, the more because he counted us good spear-warriors, bold bearers of helmets, though our lord, the protector of hte people, purposed to achieve this mighty task unaided, because among men he had wrought most famous deeds, daring ventures. Now the day has come when our lord needs the strength of valiant warriors. Let us go to help our warlike prince, while the fierce dread flame yet flares. God knows that, as for me, I had much rather the flame should embrace my body with my gold-giver. It does not seem fitting to me, that we should bear shields back to our dwelling, if we cannot first fell the foe, guard the life of the prince of the Weders. I know well that, from his former deeds, he deserves not to suffer affliction alone among the warriors of the Geats, to fall in fight; sword and helmet, corslet and shirt of mail shall be shared by us both.’
He wnet then through the deadly reek, bore his helmet to the aid of the prince, few words he spoke: ‘Dear Beowulf, achieve all things well as thou sadist long ago in thy youth, that thou wouldst not let thy repute fail while life lasted; now, resolute chieftain, mighty in deeds, thou must guard they life with all thy strength; I will help thee.’
After these words the dragon came raging once more, the dread evil creature, flashing with surges of flame, to seek out his foes, the hated men. The shield was burnt away to the rim by waves of fire. The corslet could not give help to the young shield-warrior; but the youth fought mightly beneath his kinsman’s buckler, when his own was consumed by the flames. Then again the warlike king was mindful of fame; he struck with his battle sword with mighty strength, so that, urged by the force of hate, it stuck in his head. Naegling burst apart; Beowulf’s sword, ancient and grey, failed in fight. It was not granted to him that the edges of swords might aid him in the struggle. His hand was too strong, he who, as I have heard, tried every sword beyond its strength, when he bore to battle the weapon hardened by blood of wounds. It profited him nothing.
Then for the third time the enemy of the people, the bold fire-dragon, was set on fighting; he rushed on the mighty man, when a chance offered, hot and fierce in fight; he clutched his whole neck with sharp teeth; Beowulf grew stained with his lifeblood; the gore welled out in surges.
Then I heard that, in the peril of the people’s prince, the exalted earl showed courage, strength and daring, as was his nature. He guarded not his head, but the brave man’s hand burned when he helped his kinsman, so that he, the man in his armour, beat down a little thehostile creature; and the sword sank in, gleaming and plated; and the fire after began to abate. Then once more the king himself was master of his thoughts; he brandished the battle knife, keen and sharp for the fray, which he wore on his corslet; the protector of the Weders cut through the dragon in the midst. They felled the foe; force drove out his life; and then they both had slain him, the noble kinsmen. Such should a man be, a thane in time of need.
That was the last victory for the prince by his deeds, the end of his work in the world. Then the wound which erstwhile the earth-dragon dealt him began to burn and swell. He found forthwith that the poison was working with pestilent force within his breast. Then the chieftain went till, taking wise thought, he sat down on a seat by the wall’ he gazed on the work of giants, saw how the eternal earth building held within stone arches, firm fixed by pillars. Then with his hands the exceeding good time bathed him with water, the blood-stained famous prince, his friendly lord, wearied with battle; and loosed his helm.
Beowulf spoke, he talked of his wound, of the hurt sore unto death; he knew well that he had ended his days, his joy on earth. Then all his length of days was passed away, death was exceeding close: ‘Now I would give armour to my son, if it had been so granted that any heir, sprung from my body, should succeed me. I have ruled this people for fifty years. there was no people’s king among the nations about who durst come against me with swords, or oppress me with dread. I have lived the appointed pan in my land, guarded well my portion, contrived no crafty attacks, nor sworn many oaths unjustly. Sticken with mortal wounds, I can rejoice in all this; whereafore the Ruler of men has no cause to blame me for the slaughter of kinsmen, when my life passess out from my body. Now, dear Wiglaf, do thou go quickly to behold the hoard under the grey stone, now that the dragon lies low, sleeps sorely wounded, spoiled of the treasure, may eagerly gaze on the bright gems of artful work, so that, after winning the great store of jewels, I may the more easily leave life and land, which long I have guarded.’
Then I heard that the son of Weohstan after these words quickly obeyed his wounded lord, stricken in battle, bore his ringed corslet, his woven shirt of mail, under the roof of the barrow. Then, exulting in victory, the brave kinsman-thane, as he went by the seat, beheld many costly ornaments, gold gleaming along the ground, wondrous work on the wall, and the lair of the dragon, the old flier at twilight; vessels standing, goblets of olden time, lacking a furbisher, reft of their ornaments. There was many a helm, ancient and rusty, many bracelets cunningly bound. Treasure, gold on the ground, may easily madden nay man; conceal it who will!
Likewise he saw a banner all gilt lying high above the hoard, greatest of wonders wrought by hand, cunningly woven in stitches. A gleam shone forth from it so that he might see the floor, beheld the jewels. There was no trace of the dragon there, for the sword had carried him off. Then I heard that one man rifled the hoard, the old work of giants in the mound, laid in his bosom flagons and dishes at his own will; took also the banner, brightest of beacons. The sword of the old chieftain – its edge was iron – had earlier laid low him who long while was guardian of the treasures; he bore with him to guard the treasure a dread hot flame, blazing out in battle at midnight, till violently he perished. The messenger was in haste, eager to return, urged on by the treasures. Desire was strong on hom to know whether he, the courageous one, should find the mortally wounded prince of the Weders alive in that place where erstwhile he left him.
Then with the treasures he found the famous prince, his lord bleeding, at the end of his life. Again he began to dash water upon him, until speech came from him. Then the warrior spoke, the aged man in pain; he gazed on the gold:
‘I give thanks in words to the Prince of all, the king of glory, the eternal Lord, for the adornments which I behold here, that I have been able to win such for my people before my death-day. Now have I sold my old life for the hoard of treasures; attend ye now to the need of my people. No longer may I tarry here. Bid the men famed in battle raise at the sea headland a gleaming mound after the burning. It shall tower high on Hronesness, a reminder to my people, so that seafarers may afterwards call it Beowulf’s barrow when from afar the ships drive over the dark sea.’ (Compare the description of the burial of Achilles in the Odyssey (Book xxiv) ).
The prince of brave mind took from his neck a golden ring, gave to the thane, the young spear-warrior, his helm bright with gold, his ring and corslet; bade him use them well: ‘Thou art the last of our race, of the Waegmundings. Fate has swept all my kinsmen away to their destiny, earls in their might; I might needs follow them.’
That was the last word from the old man’s thoughts, before he sought the pyre, the hot, fierce surges of flame. His soul passed from his breast to seek the splendour of the saints.
Then was it sorrow for the young man to see on the earth the man he loved best, his life closed, lying there helpless. The slayer also lay low, the dread earth-dragon, reft of life, vanquished by violence. No longer could the coiled dragon keep guard over the treasure-stores, but iron blades, sharp battle-notched swords, forged by hammers, had carried him off, so that the wide-flier sank to the ground near the treasure-house, still from his wounds. No more did he wheel in his flight through the air at midnight, no more displayed himself exulting in costly possessions; but he fell to the earth because of the warrior’s handiwork. Few of a truth among men, among those of might in the land, as I have heard, though they were eager for all exploits, have succeeded in rushing against the blast of the venomous foe, or seizing with hands the hall of rings, if they found the guardian on watch dwelling in the barrow. Beowulf had paid with his death for the many costly treasures; each had gone to the end of fleeting life.
It was not long then till the cowards left the wood, weak failers in loyalty, the ten together, who durst not before wirld spears in their lord’s great need; but shamefully they bore their shields, the war gear, where the old man lay; they looked at Wiglaf. He, the foot-warrior, sat wearied, hard by the prince’s shoulders, tried to recall him with water. No whit did he succeed; he could not, though dearly he wished, keep life in the prince on earth; nor alter the will of the almighty. The might of God was pleased to show its power over all men by its deeds, as He yet does now.
Then a grim speech came readily from the youth to those who erstwhile had lost their courage. Wiglaf spoke, son of Weohstan, a man sad at heart; he looked at the hated men: ‘Lo! he, who wishes to tell the truth, can say that the lord who gave you treasures, warlike adornments, wherein ye stand there, when on the ale bench he often bestowed on men sitting in hall, a prince to his thanes, helmet and corslet, the most excellent he could anywhere find far or near, that doubtless he miserably cast away the garments of war, when battle beset him. The people’s king had indeed no cause to boast of his comrades in fight; yet God, the Disposer of victories, granted that he alone with his sword avenged himself, when he had need of might. Small protection to his life could I afford him in the fight, and yet I tried to aid my kinsman beyond my power. When with the sword I smote the deadly foe, he grew ever weaker, his fire surged out less strongly from his breast. Too few protectors pressed round the prince, when the time came upon him. Now the receiving of jewels, giving of swords, all the splendid heritage, and life’s necessities, shall pass away from your race. Every man of the people shall wander, stripped of his rights in the land, when chieftains from afar hear of your flight, the inglorious act. Death is better for all earls than a shameful life.’
He bade then the battle be proclaimed in the entrenchment, up over the sea-cliff, where that troop of earls, bearing their shields, sat sad in mind the whole morning, expecting both issues, the death and the return of the loved man. He who rode up to the headland held back little of the late tidings, but truthfully he told them all:
‘Now is the giver of delights among the people of the Weders, the lord of the Geats, fast in his deathbed, he bides in his slaughterhouse couch by the deeds of the dragon. By his side lies the deadly foe stricken with knife wounds; he could not in any way deal a wound to the monster with a sword. Wiglaf, son of Weohstan, sits over Bowwulf, the eral over the other lifeless one; reverently he keeps watch over friend and foe.
‘Now there is prospect of a time of strife for the people, when the fall of the king becomes widely known to Franks and Frisians. The harsh strife with the Hugas was brought about when Hygelac went to the land of the Frisians with a nazy, where the Hetware laid him low in battle; they did mightily with their greater numbers, so that the corslet-warrior was forced to yield; he fell mid his troops; the prince gave no adornments to his veterans. To us ever since the goodwill of the Merovigian king has been denied.
‘Nor do I expect any peace or good faith from the people of Sweden; for it was widely known that Ongentheow robbed Haethcyn, son of Hrethel, of life near Ravenswood, when the warlike Scylfings first sought in their pride the people of the Geats. Straightway the aged father of Ohtere, old and terrible, dealt him a blow in return, killed the sea-guide, the old man freed the bride, the wife reft of her gold, the mother of Onela and Ohtere; (The wife of Ongentheow whom haethcyn had captured) and the he followed his deadly foes till with difficulty they escaped, leaderless, to Ravenswood. Then he besieged with a mighty host those who had escaped the sword, wearied from wounds; often through the livelong night he threatened the wretched band with misery; he said that in the morning he would do them hurt with the edge of the sword; some on the gallows-tree for the sport of the birds. With dawn came relief again to the woeful, when they heard Hygelac’s horn and the blare of the trumpet, when hte valiant one came on the track of the warriors of the people.
‘The blood trail of Swedes and Geats, the deadly attack of men, was widely noted, how the men roused strife between one another. Then the valiant one departed with his kinsmen, the old man very sad, to seek his stronghold. The earl Ongentheow went on further; he had heard of Hygelac’s skill in battle, of the proud man’s war strength; he relied not on resistance to check the seamen, to defend treasure, children and wife against the sea raiders the aged man turned thence once more behind a rampart. Then chase was given to the men of the Swedes, the banner to Hygelac. Upon that they overran the stronghold after the people of Hrethel had penetrated the fastnesses. There the grey-haired Ongentheow was constrained to tarry by the edge of the sword, so that the people’s king had to suffer the might of Eofor alone. Wulf, son of Wonred, angrily struck him with the sword, so that after the blow the blod gushed from the veins under his hair. Yet was he not daunted, the aged Scylfing, but quickly repaid that deadly stroke with a worse in exchange, as soon as he, the people’s king, turned thither. The strong son of Wonred could not give a blow in return to the old man, for he first clove his helmet on his head, so that, stained with blood, he had to give back: he fell on the ground: he was not doomed yet, but he revived, to hugh a wound had stricken him. The bold thane of Hygelac, when his brother was laid low, caused his broad sword, old gigantic brand, to crash the massive helmet over the wall of shields: then the king sank down, the protector of the people; he was stricken unto death. Then were there many who bound up his kinsman; they lifted him speedily when space was cleared for them, so that they might hold possession of the battle-field. Then one warrior spoiled another, took from Ongentheow his iron corslet, his sharp hilted sword, and his helm also; bore the trappings of the old man to Hygelac. He received the adornments, and graciously promised him rewards amid the people, and thus did he fulfil it; the lord of the Geats, the son of Hrethel, when he came to his home, rewarded Eofor and Wulf with exceeding rich treasures for that onslaught; to each of them he gave a hindred thousand measures of land and twisted rngs; men on earth had no cause to blame him for the gifts, when they fought heroically; and then to Eofor he gave hos only daughter, to adorn his dwelling, as a pledge of goodwill. (The narrative of the battle is somewhat hard to follow. Ongeltheow, the Swedish king, attacks haethcyn, king of the Geats, and slays him. The leaderless Geats retreat to Ravenswood, where they are rescued by Hygelac. Ongentheow now retires to some sort of fortification, where he is attacked by the Geats. He is assailed by the brothers Eofor and Wulf: he deals with Wulf a heavy stroke, but Eofor strikes Ongentheow down.)
‘That is the feud and the hostility, the deadly hatred of man, which I look for, of Swedish men who will come upon us, when they learn that our prince is dead, who erstwhile guarded treasure and kingdom, the bold sea-Geats, against foes after the fall of heroes, did what was best for the people, and performed heroic deeds more and more.
‘Now haste it best, that we should gaze there upon the people’s king, and bring him, who gave us rings, on his way to the pyre. No solitary thing shall be consumed with the brave man, but there is store of treasures, untold gold dearly gained, and now, at the last, rings bought with his own life; the flame shal devour, the fire enfold them; the earl shall not wear the treasures as a memorial, nor shall the fair maid bear on her neck the adornment of a circlet, but sad in mind, reft of gold, shall walk in a strange land, not once but oftentimes, now that the leader of the host ha done with laughter, joy and merriment. Wherefore many a spear, cold in the morning, shall be grasped with fingers, raised aloft with hands; the sound of the harp shall not rouse the warriors, but the dark raven, ready above the fallen, shall speak many things, shall tell the eagle how he sped at the feasting, when with the wolf he spoiled the slain.’
Thus the bold man told evil tidings; he lied not at all in his forecasts and words. The troop all rose up, sadly they went under Earnanaess, with tears welling up, to behold the wonder. Then they found him lifeless on the sand, keeping his helpless couch, him who in former times gave them rings. Then the last of days had come to the valiant one, on which the warlike king, the prince of the Weders, perished a wondrous death. First they saw there a stranger creature, the hateful dragon lying opposite on the ground there: the fire-dragon, the grim dread monster, was scorched with flames; he measured fifty feet long as he lay: often he had taken his pleasure in the air at night; he had come down again to visit his lair; and now he was firm bound by death; he had taken his last delight in the earth-caves. By him stood goblets and flagons, dishes lay there and costly swords eaten through by rust, as if they had remained there a thousand years in the earth’s embrace. Moreover, that mighty heritage, gold of men of olden time, had a curse laid upon it, so that none among men might touch that ring hall, unless God Himself, the true King of victories – He is the helper of men – granted to whom He would to lay open the hoard; even to that man who seemed good unto Him.
Then it was clear that the way of them, who had wrongfully hidden the jewels under the wall, had not prospered. Fort the guardian slew one; then the feud was fiercely revenged. It is unknown where an earl, mighty in valour, may come to the end of life, when he may no longer sit on the mead bench with his kinsmen. Thus was it with Beowulf, when he sought out the guardian of the barrow and battle; he knew not himself in what easy his passing from the world should come about.
Thus did the famous princes, who stored that there, lay a heavy ban upon it till dommsday, so that man who should plunder the place should be guilty of sins, confined in cursed places, fast in bonds of hell, smitten with plagues. He would rather not have beheld the gold-treasure, owner’s might.
Wiglaf spoke, son of Weohstan: ‘Often must many an earl suffer sorrow through the will of one, as has come upon us. We could not counsel the dear prince, the protector of the kingdom, not to approach the guardian of the gold, but to let him lie there, where long he had been; bide in his dwelling till the end of the world. We have suffered sore fortune; the hoard is seen grimly won; that fate was too hard which drew the people’s king thither. I was within and beheld all that, the stores of the building, when the chance was granted me; in no pleasant way was a passage opened to me in under the earth-wall. In haste I seized a mighty burden of precious treasures in my hands; bore them out hither to my king; he was still living then, wise and clear in mind; the old man in his agony spoke many things, and bade me greet you; asked they ye should raise on the site of the pyre a high barrow, great and famous, befitting his exploits, even as he was among men the renowned warrior far and wide throughout the earth, whilst he could enjoy wealth in his castle. Let us now hasten to behold and seek once more the heap of rare gems, the wondrous sight beneath the wall. I will guide you, so that ye may see the rings and broad gold near at hand. Let the bier be made ready, speedily wrought, when we come out and bear then our prince, the loved man, where long he shall wait in the Almighty’s keeping.’
Then the son of Weohstan, the hero bold in battle, bade orders be given to many of the men who were owners of dwellings, that they, the leaders of bands, should bring from afar wood for the funeral fire to where the valiant man lay: ‘Now shall the fire consume – the dark flame tower up – the ruler of warriors, him who often endured the iron shower when the storm of arrows, urged with might, darted over the shield-wall, when the shafts did its office; fitted with feathers, it aided the barb.’
In truth the wise son of Weohstan called out the king’s thanes from the troop, the best seven together; he went with the seven under the hostile roof of the foemen; one who went in front bore in his hand a torch. It was not settled by lot then who plundered that hoard when the men saw any part unguarded remaining in the hall, lying there perishing; little did any of them mourn that they bore out quickly the precious treasures; also they shoved the dragon, the monster, over the cliff; they let the wave take him, the flood embrace the guardian of the treasures. There was twisted gold wholly beyond measure loaded on the wagon; the chieftain, the grey-haired warrior, was borne to Hronesness.
Then the people of the Geats made ready for him a pyre firm on the ground, hung round with helmets, battle targes, bright corslets, as he had craved; then the sorrowing men laid in the midst the famous prince, their loved lord. The warriors began to rouse on the barrow the greatest of funeral fires; the wood-reek mounted up dark above the smokeing glow, the crackling flame, mingled with the cry of weeping – the tumult of the winds ceased – until it had consumed the body, hot to the heart. Sad in heart, they lamented the sorrow of their souls, the slaying of their lord; likewise the old woman with bound tresses sang in sadness a dirge for Beowulf, declared heavily that she sorely dreaded the onset of evil days, many slayings, a warrior’s terror, his humiliation and captivity. The sky swallowed up the smoke.
Then the people of the Weders wrought a mound, which was lofty and broad, at the edge of the headland, visible far and wide to seafarers; and in ten days they finished the beacon of the man mighty in battle; the ashes they compassed rond with a wall, as exceeding wise men might most worthily devise it. They laid on the barrow rings and ornaments, all such adornments as men, eager for combat, had erstwhile taken from the hoard; they let the earth keep the treasure of earls, the gold in the ground, where it lies, as useless to men as it was before. Then men bold in battle, sons of chieftains, twelve in all, rode about the mound; they were minded to utter their grief, to lament the king, to make a chant and so speak of the man; they exalted his heroic life and praised his valorous deed with all their strength.
Thus it is fitting that a man should extol his friendly lord in words, should heartily love him, when he must needs depart from his body and pass away. Thus did the men of the Geats, his hearth companions, bewail the fall of their lord; they said that among the kings of the world he was the mildest of men and most kindly, most gentle to his people and most eager for praise.
This fragment was found written on a single leaf in the library of Lambeth Palace by George Hicks and was printed by him in 1705. Since then the manuscript has unfortunately been lost. The story told in the fragment can be made out fairly plainly. A young king guarding a hall, apparently with a companion, is startled by moonlight gleaming on the armour of approaching enemies. He rouses his men. Sigeferth and Eaha station themselves at one door; Ordlaf, Guthlaf, and Hengest at the other door. We then turn to the assailants. Garulf is about to lead the attack. Guthere tries to dissuade him from risking his life at the beginning of the fight. But Ganrulf advances to the door and asks to hold it. Sigeferth replies and the fight begins. Garulf is the first to fall. For five days the hall is held without loss to the defenders. Finally the attackers draw off and reckon their losses. So much is clear, but the poem presents many difficulties. Garulf is called son of Guthlaf. Among the defenders there is also a Guthlaf. Possibly the two Guthlafs are the same, and then story involves the tragic opposition of son and father. The chief problem is the relationship of the fragments to the story of Finn as told in Beowulf (Sections xvii and xviii). There is no agreement on this matter. One view which has a good deal to recommend it is as follows: The fragment deals with the treacherous attack made by Finn upon his Danish guests. The young king would then be Hnaef. Ordlaf and Guthlaf, mentioned among the defenders of the hall, are probably the same as Oslaf and Guthlaf in the Beowulf account.
. . . the gables are ever burning.’ Then the king young in war spoke: ‘This is neither the dawn from the east, nor does a dragon fly hither, nor are the gables of this hall here burning, but they are launching a sudden attack; the birds are singing; the grey corslet rings; the spear clashes; shield answers to shaft. Now gleams the wandering moon beneath the clouds; now dire deeds come to pass which will enact the hatred of this people. But awake now, my warriors, grasp your shields, be mindful of courage, strive in the front of the fight, be resolute.’Then rose up many gold-decked thane, girded on his sword; then to the door went the excellent warriors, Sigeferth and Eaha, drew their swords; and Ordlaf and Guthlaf at the other door, and Hengest himself came behind them.
Then Guthere exhorted Garulf that he was in his armour should not risk so noble a life at the first onslaught on the doors of the hall, since one bold an attack (That is, Sigeferth) was minded to take it away; but he, the daring indeed hero, openly asked over all who it was held the door.
‘Sigeferth is my name’, said he, ‘I am a warrior of the Secgan, a hero widely known. Many trials have I undergone, stern conflicts; now is decreed for thee here what thou shalt gain from me.’ Then by the wall there was uproar of deadly struggles; shields must needs be in the hands of the bold men, the helmet must burst – the floor of the fortress rang – until Garulf, son of Gothlaf, fell in the fight, first of all dwellers in the land; round him many valiant men. The flying raven circled over the bodies; dusky and dark brown, it wheeled; there was gleaming swords as if all Finnesburh was in flames. Never have I heard of sixty triumphant warriors bearing themselves better, more worthily in the battle of men, nor even of youths making better requital for sweet mead then his liege men yielded to Hnaef.
Five days they fought without any of the warriors falling, but they held the doors. Then the hero departed wounded; he said that his corslet was broken, his battle-dress useless, and his helmet also was pierced. Then the protector of the people straightway asked him how their warriors had survived their wounds, or which of the young men . . .
[In 1860 two leaves of Anglo-Saxon manuscript were discovered at Copenhagen. These two fragments are all that survive in English of what was apparently a poem of considerable length. The story was well known on the Continent and is told in a spirited Latin poem of Ekkehard of St. Gall (d. 973). Its main outlines are as follows: Hildegund, a Burgundian princess, Walter of Aquitaine, and Hagen, a warrior of the Franks, are hostages with Attila, king of the Huns. They remain together at the court of Attila until Hagen escapes to join Gunther, the new king of the Franks. Walter and Hildegund, who are lovers, also escape, and flee to the west, taking with them great store of treasure. Gunther, hearing of their flight, is eager to rob them, and persuades the unwilling Hagen to join him in the cowardly enterprise. With eleven other warriors, they came upon Walter and Hildegund in a narrow pass. Walter’s offers of rings are refused, and the onset begins. The Franks come forward one by one up the path and all except Hagen and Gunther are slain. So the day’s fighting ends. The next morning Gunther and Hagen attack Walter, and in the struggle Gunther loses a leg, Hagen an eye, and Walter his right hand. The fight ends.
The first fragment of the Old English Waldere is part of a speech by Hildegund encouraging Walter.
The second fragment opens with the end of the speech, apparently by Gunther, and then gives Walter’s reply.]
. . . She encouraged hi eagerly: ‘Surely the work of Weland will fail not any of men, of those who can hold stout Mimming (The most famous of the swords made by Weland). Often in the battle one warrior after another has fallen blood-stained and stricken with the sword. Best warrior of Attila, let not thy might now perish today, thy valour fail. Now the day has come, when thou, son of AElfhere, must do one of two things – lose thy life or achieve lasting glory among men. Never shall I blame thee in words, my friend, that I saw thee at the sword-play flee from any man’s onset as a craven, or fly to the wall to save thy life, though many foes cut thy corslet with swords. But thou soughtest ever to press the fight further. Wherefore I feared for thy fate, that thou shouldest seek the fight too keenly, battle with another man on the field. Win fame by valiant deeds, and may God guard thee the while. Have no misgivings for thy sword; the choicest of treasures was given to thee for help to us two. With it thou shalt break the boast of Guthhere, since he first sought the battle wrongly; he refused the sword and the treasures, the many rings; now must he needs depart from this battle bare of rings; the lord must seek his old domain, or here die before, if he then . . .’
‘ . . . a better sword except the one which I also have laid at rest in its scabbard set with tones. I know that Theodric thought of sending it to Widia himself and also much treasure with the sword, and of decking much beside it with gold. The kinsman of Nithhad, Widha, son of Weland, received the meed for past deeds, because he had delivered him from durance. Through the domain of the monsters he hastened forth.’Waldhere spoke, daring warrior; he had in his hand the help in battle, the piercing war sword; he spoke in measured words: ‘Lo, surely, thou didst think, friend of the Burgundians, that Hagen’s hand would prevail against me and remove me from combat; come and take, if thou darest, the grey corslet from me, who am thus weary of battle. The heirloom of AElfhere lies here on my shoulders good and broadly woven, adorned with gold, no mean dress for a prince to bear, when his hand protects his life against foe; it will not turn against me when evil kinsman make a new onset, meet with swords, as ye did to me. Yet He can give victory who is ever prompt and wise in every matter of right; he who trusts to the Holy One for help, to God for aid, finds it ready there, if he takes thought before how to deserve it. Then may the proud give wealth, rule over possessions; that is . . .’
[Widsith or Farway was probably composed in the seventh century, but seems to have received later additions, such as the passage referring to the Medes, Persians, and Hebrews. The poem is thus one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in our language. It is a song of a wandering minstrel who tells with pride of the rulers, the peoples, and the heroes he has known. Widsith is not to be taken as the record of the actual travels of a gleemen. A minstrel who had been at the court of Eormanric who died A. D. 375 could not have been in Italy with Aelfwine (Aboin) who invaded Italy in 568. Widsith is a record of the tribes and heroes of the age of the barbarian invasions of Italy, and its author was a man who loved the old stories of dead kings and warriors. He gives a catalogue of heroic lore, the repertoire of stories which an English minstrel of his day had at his command. For a full treatment of the allusions in the poem, see R. W. Chamber’s Widsith (Cambridge University Press.]
Widsith spoke, unlocked his word-hoard, he who of men had fared through most races and peoples over the earth; often he had received in hall precious treasure. His ancestors sprang from the Myrgings. (1) He with Ealhhild, gracious weaver of peace, first from Angel in the east, sought the home of the Gothic king Eormanric, the savage faithless one. (2) He began then to speak many things.
‘I have heard of many men ruling over the peoples; every prince must needs live fittingly; one earl after another must rule the land, he who wishes his throne to prosper. Of these Hwala was for a time the best and Alexander mightiest of all the races of men, and he prospered most of those of whom I have heard tell throughout the earth. AEtla (3) ruled the Huns, Eormanric the Goths, Becca (4) the Banings, Gifca the Burgundians. Caesar rules the Greeks and Caelic the Finns, Hagena the Island-Rugians and Heoden (5) the Glommas. Witta ruled the Swabians, Wade (6) the Haelsings, Meaca for Myrgings, Mearchealf the Hundings. Theodric (7) ruled the Franks, Thyle the Rondings, Breoca (8) the Brondings, Billing the Waernas. Oswine ruled the Eowan, and Gefwulf the Jutes, Fin Folcwalding (9) the race of the Frisians. Sigehere rules the Sea-Danes for a very long time, Hnaef (10) the Hocings, Helm the Wulfings, Wald the Woingas, Wod the Thuringians, Saeferth (11) the Secgan, Ongentheow (12) the Swedes, Sceafthere the Ymbras, Sceafa the Longobards, Hun the Haetwere, and Holen the Wrosnas. Hringweald was called king of the pirates. Offa rules Angel, Alewih the Danes: he was the bravest of all these men, yet he did not perform mighty deeds beyond Offa; but Offa, first of men, while still a youth, gained the greatest of Kingdoms; no one of the same age achieved greater deeds of valour in battle: with his single sword he fixed the boundary against the Myrgings at Fifeldor. (13) Afterwards the Angles and Swabians held it as Offa had won it. Hrothwulf and Hrothgar kept peace for a very long time, uncle and nephew, when they had driven away the race of the Vikings and overcome the array of Ingeld, destroyed at Heorot the host of the Heathobards. (14) Thus I travelled through many foreign lands, through this wide world; good and evil I suffered there, cut off from kinsmen, far from those of my blood; I served far and wide.
‘Wherefore I may sing and utter a measure; recite before the company in the mead hall how the noble ones were liberal to me in their generosity. I was with the Huns and with the glorious Goths, with the Swedes and with Geats and with South-Danes. With the Wendlas I was and with the Waernas and with the Vikings. With the Gefthas I was and with the Wends and with the Gefflegas. With the Angles I was and with the Swabians and with the AEnenas. With the Saxons I was and with the Secgan and with the Sweordweras. With the Hronas I was with the Danes and the Heathoremes. With the Thuringians I was and with the Throwendas and with the Burgundians, where I received an armlet; Guthhere (15) gave me there a splendid jewel in reward for my song; that was no sluggish king! With the Franks I was, and with the Frisians and with the Frumtings. With the Rugas I was, and with the Glommas and with the Romans. Likewise I was in Italy with AElfwine; he had, I have heard, the promptest hand among mankind to gain praise, a heart most generous in giving of rings, gleaming armlets, the son of Eadwine. (16) I was with the Saracens and with the Serings. With the Greeks I was and with the Finns and with Caesar who had festive cities in his power, riches and things to be desired, and the kingdom of Welshland. With the Scots I was, and with the Picts, and with the Scride-finns. With the Lidwicings I was with the Leonas and with the Longboards, with the Haethnas and with the Haerethas and with the Hundings. With the Israelites I was and with the Assyrians, with the Hebrews and the Jews and with the Egyptians. With the Medes I was and with the Persians and with the Myrgings and the Mofdings and against the Myrgings and with the Amothingas. With the East Thuringians I was and with the Eolas and with the Iste and with the Idumingas.
‘And I was with Eormanric all the time; then the king of the Goths treated me well; he, prince of the city-dwellers, gave me a ring in which there was reckoned to be six hundred pieces of pure gold counted by shillings; I gave it into the keeping of Eadgils, (17) my protecting lord, when I came home, as reward to the dear one because he, the prince of the Myrgings, gave me land, my father’s dwelling-place; and then Ealhhild, the daughter of Eadwine, a queen noble in majesty, gave me another. Her praise was spread through many lands, whenever it fell to me to tell it in song, where under the sky I best knew a gold-adorned queen bestowing gifts. When Scilling and I with clear voice raised the song before our victorious lord – loud to the harp the words sounded in harmony – then many men proud in mind, of full knowledge, said they had never heard a better song. Thence I passed through all the land of the Goths; i sought ever the best of companions, that was the household of Eormanic. Hethca I sought and Beadeca and the Harlungs, Emerca and Fridla; (18) and East-Gota, (19) wise and good, father of Unwen. Secca I sought and Becca, Seafola and Theodric, (20) Heathoric and Sifeca, (21) Hlithe and Incgentheow. Eadwine I sought and Elsa, AEgelmund and Hungar and the proud band of the Withmyrgings. Wulfhere I sought and Wyrmhere: (22) full often there war did not fail when the army of the Goths with their strong swords must defend their ancient domain against the people of AEtla by the Vistula-wood. Raedhere I sought and Rondhere, Rumstan and Gislhere, Withergield (23) and Frederick (24) Wudga and Hama; (25) those were not the worst companions though I am to name them last. Full often from that band the yelling spear flew screaming against the hostile people; Wudga and Hama, wanderers, had sway there over men and women by twisted gold. So I ever found it in my faring, that he is most dear to dwellers in a land to whom God gives power over men to hold while he lives here.
Thus the minstrels of men go wandering, as fate directs, through many lands; they utter their need, speak the word of thanks; south or north, they always meet one wise in measures, liberal in gifts, who wishes to exalt his glory before the warriors, to perform valorous deeds, until light and life fall in ruin together: he gains praise, he has lofty glory under the heavens.
1 – Probably between the Eider and the Elbe. Most of the tribes in the poem lived on the shores of the North Sea or the Baltic.
2 – Eormanric’s wolfish mind is mentioned in Doer. Ealhhild is probably his wife. The story is that he murdered her.
3 – Atilla.
4- Eormanric sent his son and Becca to woo Swanhild (probably the same as Ealhild) on his behalf. Becca proved traitor both to Eormanric and to the son.
5 – Heoden carried off Hagena’s daughter Hild.
6 – Father of Weland. He helped Heoden to carry off Hild. He was credited with power over the sea and with great strength.
7 – The historical Theodoric I of the sixth century. He became a famous figure in later medieval poetry. His son Theodebert conquered Hygelac. (see Beowulf)
8 – Apparently the Breca of Beowulf.
9 – The Finn of Beowulf and Finnesburh.
10 – see Beowulf.
11 – The Sigeferth of Finnesburh.
12 – See Beowulf.
13 – Offa is mentioned in Beowulf as the husband of Thryth; here as the champion of the Angles against the Myrgings. Fifeldor is the Eider.
14 – See Beowulf.
15 – Same as the Guthhere of Waldhere; historical king of the Burgundians in fifth century. For centuries he remained a famous figure in poetry. In the Nibelungen Lied he appears as Gunther.
16 – Aelfwine and his father Eadwine are the Alboin and Audoin (d. 565) of history, kings of the Lombards.
17 – Not the Eadgils of Beowulf.
18 – Emerca and Fridla were nephews of Eormanric.
19 – Ancestor of Eormanic.
20 – Probably Theodoric the Goth, not Theodric the Frank mentioned earlier. Seafola was his retainer.
21 – A traitor whose evil advice led Eormanric to put his sons to death.
22 – Hlithe, Incgentheow, and Wyrmhere are probably heroes of the wars between the Huns and Goths.
23 – Probably the same as the Withergyld of Beowulf (section xxx).
24 – Probably the son of Eormanric.
25 – Wudga is a Gothic hero. He is mentioned in Waldhere as receiving a reward for helping Theodric. Hama is spoken of in Beowulf as having robbed Eormanric.
[Deor is the lament of a minstrel who has been supplanted in his lord’s favour by a rival singer. He seeks comfort by recalling ‘old, unhappy, far-off things’, and in the refrain, which is found only here and in Wulf and Eadwacer in Old English poetry, he expresses his hope that his trouble may pass as the troubles of men before him have done.
The poem is interesting not only because of the refrain, but also because it refers to stories which were well known in England, but which have not been preserved for us in English poems.
Weland, the famous smith of Teutonic legend, was carried into captivity by Nithhad, but he avenged himself and escaped. Beadohild, the daughter of Nithhad, was outraged by Weland, but bore a mighty son Widia. Widia is referred to in Waldhere as receiving a reward for aiding Theodric. The Great love for Maethhild is apparently one of the many stories which have been lost. Among the stories which gathered round the historical Theodoric was a story of his thirty exile. Probably the passage in Deor refers to this. The rule of Eomanric was oppressive to men, but death ended his sovereignty.
Thinking of these old tales, Deor hopes that he may not always be an unhappy wanderer.]
Weland, the resolute warrior, had knowledge of exile; he suffered hardship; sorrow and longing he had for companions, wintry cold exile. Often he found woes after Nithhad put compulsion upon him, supple bonds of sinew upon a more excellent man.
That passed away, so may this.
Her brothers’ death was not so sore upon Beadohild’s mind as her own state, when she had clearly seen that she was with child. She could never think with a light heart of what must come of that.
That passed away, so many this.
Many of us have heard that the Geat’s love for Maethhild grew boundless, that his grievous passion wholly reft him of sleep.
That passed away, so may this.
Theodric ruled for thirty years the stronghold of the Merovingians; that was known to many.
That passed away, so may this.
We have heard of the wolfish mind of Eormanric; he held wide sway in the kingdom of the Goths; he was a savage king. Many a warrior sat, bound by sorrow, expecting woe, often wishing his kingdom should be overcome.
That passed away, so may this.
The sad-minded man sits bereft of joys; there is gloom in his mind; it seems to him that his portion of sufferings is endless. Then he may think that throughout this world the wise Lord brings many changes; to many a man He grants honour, certain fame; to some a sorrowful portion.
I will say this of myself, that once I was a minstrel of the Heodeningas, dear to my lord. Deor was my name. For many years I had a good office, a gracious lord, until now Heorrenda, a man skilled in song, has received my land that the protector of warriors formerly gave me.
That passed away, so may this.
[The Wanderer is an elegy uttered by one who had formerly known happiness and honour in his lord’s hall. Now his lord is dead, and he has lost his post. He has become a wanderer who knows that ‘sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.’]
Often the solitary man prays for favour, for the mercy of the Lord, though, sad at heart, he must needs stir with his hands for a weary while the icy sea across the watery ways, must journey the paths of exile; settled in truth is fate! So spoke the wanderer, mindful of hardships, of cruel slaughters, of the fall of kinsmen:’Often I must bewail my sorrows in my loneliness at the dawn of each day; there is none of living men now to whom I dare speak my heart openly. I know for a truth that it is a noble custom of man to bind fast the thoughts of his heart, to treasure his broodings, let him think as he will. Nor can the weary in mood resist fate, nor does the fierce thought avail anything. Wherefore those eager for glory often bind fast in their secret hearts a sad thought. So I, sundered from my native land, far from noble kinsmen, often sad at heart, had to fetter my mind, when in years gone by the darkness of the earth covered my gold-friend, and I went thence in wretchedness with wintry care upon me over the frozen waves, gloomily sought the hall of a treasure-giver wherever I could find him far or near, who might know me in the mead hall or comfort me, left without friends, treat me with kindness. He knows who puts it to the test how cruel a comrade is sorrow for him who has few dear protectors; his is the path of exile, in no wise the twisted gold; a chill body, in no wise the riches of the earth; he thinks of retainers in hall and the receiving of treasure, of how in his youth his gold-friend was kind to him at the feast. The joy has all perished. Wherefore he knows this who most long forgo the counsels of his dear lord and friend, when sorrow and sleep together often bind the poor solitary man; it seems to him in his mind that he clasps and kisses his lord and lays hands and head on his knee, as when erstwhile in past days he was near the gift-throne; then the friendless man wakes again, sees before him the dark waves, the sea-birds bathing, spreading their feathers; frost and snow falling mingled with hail. Then heavier are the wounds in his heart, sore for his beloved; sorrow is renewed. Then the memory of kinsmen crosses his mind; he greets them with songs; he gazes on them eagerly. The companions of warriors swim away again; the sols of sailors bring there not many known songs. Care is renewed in him who must needs send very often his weary mind over the frozen waves. And thus I cannot think why in this world my mind becomes not overcast when I consider all the life of earls, how of a sudden they have given up hall, courageous retainers. So this world each day passes and falls; for a man cannot become wise till he has his share of years in the world. A wise man must be patient, not over-passionate, nor over-hasty of speech, nor over-weak or rash in war, nor over-fearful, nor over-glad, nor over-covetous, never over-eager to boast ere he has full knowledge. A man must bide his time, when he boasts in his speech, until he knows well in his pride whither the thoughts of the mind will turn. A wise man must see how dreary it will be when all the riches of this world stand waste, as in different places throughout this world walls stand, blown upon by winds, hung with frost, the dwellings in ruins. The wine halls crumble; the rulers lie low, bereft of joy; the mighty warriors have all fallen in their pride by the wall; war carried off some, bore them on far paths; one the raven bore away over the high sea; one the grey wolf gave over to death; one an earl with sad face hid in the earth-cave. Thus did the Creator of men lay waste this earth till the old works of giants stood empty, free from the revel of castle-dwellers. Then he who has thought wisely of the foundation of things and who deeply ponders this dark life, wise in his heart, often turns his thoughts to the many slaughters of the past, and speaks these words: ‘”Whither has gone the horse? Whither has gone the man? Whither has gone the giver of treasure? Whither has gone the place of feasting? Where are the joys of the halls? Alas, the bright cup! Alas, the warrior in his corslet! Alas, the glory of the prince! How that time has passed away, has grown dark under the shadow of night, as if it had never been! Now in the place of the dear warriors stands a wall, wondrous high, covered with serpent shapes; the might of the ash-wood spears has carried off the earls, the weapon greedy for slaughter – a glorious fate; and storms beat upon these rocky slopes; the falling storm binds the earth, the terror of winter. Then comes darkness, the night shadow casts gloom, sends from the north fierce hailstorms to the terror of men. Everything is full of hardship in the kingdom of earth; the decree of fate changes the world under the heavens. Here possessions are transient, here friends are transient, here man is transient, here woman is transient; all this firm-set earth becomes empty.”’ So spoke the wise man in his heart, and sat apart in thought. Good is he who holds his faith; nor shall a man ever show forth too quickly the sorrow of his breast, except he, the earl, first know how to work its cure bravely. Well it is for him who seeks mercy, comfort from the Father in heaven, where for us all security stands.
[The Seafarer is taken by some critics to be a dialogue in which an old sailor tells of the lonely sufferings of life at sea, and is answered by a youth who urges that it is the hardness of the life which makes it attractive. The poem, however, may be a monologue in which the speaker tells of his sufferings, but also admits the fascination of the sea. The mood of contempt for the luxuries of land and his yearning to set forth on the voyage lead him to think of the future life and the fleeting nature of earthly pomps and joy.]
I can utter a true song about myself, tell of my travels, how in toilsome days I often suffered a time of hardship, how I have borne bitter sorrow in my breast, made trial of many sorrowful abodes on ships; dread was the rolling of the waves. There the hard night-watch at the boat’s prow was often my task, when it tosses by the cliffs. Afflicted with cold, my feet were fettered by frost, by chill bonds. There my sorrows, hot round my heart, were sighed forth; hunger within rent the mind of the sea-weary man. The man who fares most prosperously on land knows not how I, careworn, have spent winter as an exile on the ice-cold sea, cut off from kinsmen, hung round the icicles. The hail flew in showers. I heard naught there save the sea booming, the ice-cold billow, at times the song of the swan. I took my gladness in the cry of the gannet and the sound of the curlew instead of the laughter of men, in the screaming gull instead of the drink of mead. There storms beat upon the rocky cliffs; there the tern with icy feathers answered them; full often the dewy-winged eagle screamed around. No protector could comfort the heart in its need. And yet he who has the bliss of life, who, proud and flushed with wine, suffers few hardships in the city, little believes how I often in weariness had to dwell on the ocean path. The shadow of night grew dark, snow came from the north, frost bound the earth; hail fell on the ground, coldest of grain. And yet the thoughts of my heart are now stirred that I myself should make trail of the high streams, of the tossing of the salt waves; the desire of the heart always exhorts to venture forth that I may visit the land of strange people far hence. And yet there is no man on earth so proud, nor so generous of his gifts, nor so bold in youth, nor so daring in his deeds, nor with a lord so gracious unto him, that he has not always anxiety about his seafaring, as to what the Lord will bestow on him. His thoughts are not of the harp, nor of receiving rings, nor of delight in a woman, nor of joy in the world, nor of aught else save the rolling of the waves; but he who sets out on the waters ever feels longing. The groves put forth blossoms; cities grow beautiful; the fields are fair; the world revives; all these urge the heart of the eager-minded man to a journey, him who thus purposes to fare far on the ways of the flood. Likewise the cuckoo exhorts with sad voice; the harbinger of summer sings, bodes bitter sorrow to the heart. The man knows not, the prosperous being, what some of those endure who most widely pace the paths of exile. And yet my heart is now restless in my breast, my mind is with the sea-flood over the whale’s domain; it fares widely over the face of the earth, comes again to me eager and unsatisfied; the lone-flier screams, resistlessly urges the heart to the whale-way over the stretch of seas.
Wherefore the joys of the Lord are more inspiring for me than this dead fleeting life on earth. I have no faith that earthly riches will abide for ever. Each one of three things is ever uncertain ere its time comes; illness or age or hostility will take life away from a man doomed and dying. Wherefore the praise of living men who shall speak he is gone, the best of fame after death for every man, is that he should strive ere he must depart, work on earth with bold deeds against the malice of fiends, against the devil, so that the children of men may later exalt him and his praise live afterwards among the angels for ever and ever, the joy of life eternal, delight amid angels.
The days have departed, all the pomps of earth’s kingdom; kings, or emperors, or givers of gold, are not as of yore when they wrought among themselves greatest deeds of glory, and lived in most lordly splendour. This host has fallen, the delights have departed; weaklings live on and possess this world, enjoy it by their toil. Glory is laid low; the nobleness of the earth ages and withers, as now every man does throughout the world. Old age comes on him; his face grows pale; grey-haired he laments; he knows that his former friends, the sons of princes, have been laid in the earth. Then, when life leaves him, his body can neither taste sweetness, nor feel pain, nor stir a hand, nor ponder in thought. Though he will strew the grave with gold, bury his brother with various treasures beside dead kinsmen, that will not go with him. To the soul full of sins the gold which it hoards while it lives here gives no help in the face of God’s wrath. Great is the fear of God, whereby the earth turns; He established the mighty plains, the face of the earth, and the sky above. Foolish is he who fears not his Lord; death comes to him unexpected. Blessed is he who lives humbly; mercy comes to him from heaven; God establishes that heart in him because he trusts in his strength.
One must check a violent mind and control it with firmness, and be trustworthy to men, pure in ways of life.
Every man should show moderation in love towards a friend and enmity towards a foe. . . . Fate is more strong, God more mighty than any man’s thought. Let us consider where we possess our home, and then think how we might come thither, and let us then also attempt to win there, to the eternal bliss, where life springs from God’s love, joy in heaven. Thanks be for ever to the Holy One because He, the Prince of glory, the Lord ever-lasting, has honoured us. Amen.
THE WIFE’S LAMENT
[The Wife’s Lament is a monologue by a woman parted from her husband. Her husband has left his country, perhaps driven out by a feud. In this absence the wife has been persecuted and forced to dwell in the wilderness, apparently by her husband’s enemies. She throws all the blame on the foe and calls down a curse on him, praying that he may know the wretchedness of exile and loneliness. It is possible that there is a connection between this poem and The Husband’s message.]
I make this song of my deep sadness, of my own lot. I can say that since I grew up I have not endured miseries new or old more than now. Ever I suffer the torment my exile. First my lord went hence from his people over the tossing waves. I had sorrow at dawn as to where in the land my lord might be. Then I set out, a friendless exile, to seek helpers in my woeful hard straits. The man’s kinsmen began to plot in secret thought to part us, so that we should live most wretchedly, most widely sundered in the world, and a yearning came upon me. My lord bade me take up my dwelling here; since I found the man most mated to me unhappy, sad in heart, cloaking his mind, plotting mischief with blithe manner. Full often we two pledged one another that naught but death should divide us; that is changed now. Our friendship now is as if it had not been. I must needs endure the hate of my dear one far and near. They bade me dwell in the forest grove under the oak-tree in the earth-cave. Old is this earth-hall; I am filled with yearning. Dim are the valleys, high the hills, harsh strongholds o’ergrown with briers, dwellings empty of joy. Full often the departure of my lord has seized cruelly upon me. There are loving friends alive on the earth; they have their bed; while alone at dawn I pass through this earth-cave to beneath the oak-tree, where I sit a long summer’s day. There I can mourn my miseries, many hardships, for I can never calm my care of mind, nor all that longing which has come upon me in this life. Ever may that youth be sad of mood, grievous the thought of his heart; may he likewise be forced to wear a blithe air and also care in his breast, the affliction of constant sorrows. May all his joy in the world depend on himself only; may he be banished very far in a distant land where my friend sits under a rocky slope chilled by the storm, my friend weary in mind, girt round with water in a sad dwelling. My friend suffers great grief; too often he remembers a happier home. Ill is it for him who must suffer longing for his loved one.
THE HUSBAND’S MESSAGE
[The Husband’s Message is spoken by the letter itself which comes to assure the faithful, waiting wife of her husband’s faith. He has prepared a new home for her abroad and calls on her to sail thither in the spring when the cuckoo’s song is heard.
The poem resembles the Riddles in its device of making inanimate objects speak. The runic letters at the end of the poem are perhaps a kind of secret sign from the husband understood by the wife.]
Now I will tell thee apart my lineage as a tree. I grew up in my youth elsewhere in the land; a voyage took me over the salt streams. Very often in the boat’s bosom I sought high dwellings where my master sent me. Now I have come here in the ship, and now thou shalt know how thou mayest think in thy mind of my lord’s love. I dare promise that thou wilt find there firm faith.
Lo! He who engraved this wood bade me pray thee that thou, treasure-adorned, shouldst call to thy mind the promise which you two often spoke in earlier days, while yet you might have your abode in the mead castles, live in the same land, enjoy friendship. A feud drove him away from the victorious people; now he himself has bidden me tell thee joyfully, that thou shouldst cross the sea, when on the edge of the mountain thou hast heard the sad cuckoo cry in the grove. After that let no living man hold thee from the journey or hinder thy going. Go seek the sea, the home of the gull! Board the ship, so that south from here thou mayest find thy husband over the path of the sea, where thy lord lives in hope of thee. Nor may a wish in the world come more to his mind, from what he said to me, than that Almighty God should grant you two that together you may afterwards give treasure, studded armlets, to warriors and companions. He has enough treasures of beaten gold, though in a foreign land he holds his dwelling, in a fair country. Many proud heroes wait upon him, though here my friendly lord, driven by necessity, launched his boat and was forced to go forth alone on the stretch of the waves. On the way of the flood, to furrow the ocean streams, eager for departure. Now the man has overcome woe; he lacks not his desires, nor horses, nor treasures, nor mead joys, none of the precious stores of earls on the earth, O prince’s daughter, if he enjoy thee in spite of the old threat against you two. I put together S. R. EA. W. And D. to assure thee with an oath that he was there, and that he would perform, while he lived, the true faith which you two often spoke in earlier days.
WULF AND EADWACER
[This poem is very obscure and has been interpreted in various ways. It is found in the Exeter Book immediately preceding the Riddles, and the old view was that it was a riddle itself. By doing some violence to the text the solution Cynnewulf was found, and this led to the theory that Cynwulf was the author of the Riddles. These conjectures are now discredited, and the poem is generally believed not to be a riddle at all, but a dramatic monologue such as Deor and The Wife’s Lament. This view was first stated by Henry Bradley in 1888. Attempts have been made to connect the poem with Teutonic and with Norse legend but nothing has been proved. The main features of Bradley’s view are as follows: The speaker is a woman, and apparently a captive in a foreign land. Wulf, whom she longs for, is her outlawed lover, and Eadwacer probably her tyrannous husband. There are difficult words and phrases in the text and any translation must be regarded as tentative. Like Deor the poem is remarkable for its use of a refrain.
Is to my people as if one gave them an offering.
Will they feed him, if he should feel want? It is not so with us.
Wulf is on an island, I on another; Closely begirt is that island with bog; Cruel men are there on the island; Will they feed him, if he should feel want? It is not so with us.
I waited for my Wulf with far-wandering yearnings, When it was rainy weather and I sat weeping.
When the warlike man wound his arm about me,It was pleasure to me, yet it was also pain.
Wulf, my Wulf, my yearnings for thee Have made me sick, thy rare visits,A woeful heart and not want of food.
Dost thou hear, Eadwacer? Our cowardly cub Wulf shall bear off to the wood They can easily sunder that which was never joined together,The song of us two together.
[This elegy on a ruined city with its fallen walls and departed glory is taken by many to refer to the city of Bath. The text of the poem is unfortunately in a very imperfect condition and the meaning often uncertain, but the passionate regret with which it pictures the city’,where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe long ago’, make it one of the greatest of Old English poems.’
Wondrous is this wall-stone; broken by fate, the castles have decayed; the work of giants is crumbling. Roofs are fallen ruinous are the towers, despoiled are the towers with their gates; frost is on their cement, broken are the roofs, cut away, fallen, undermined by age. The grasp of the earth, stout grip of the ground, hold its mighty builders, who have perished and gone; till now a hundred generations of men have died. Often this wall, grey with lichen and stained with red, unmoved under storms, has survived kingdom after kingdom; its lofty gate has fallen . . . the bold in spirit bound the foundation of the wall wondrously together with wires. Bright were the castle-dwellings, many the bath-houses, lofty the host of pinnacles, great the tumult of men, many a mead hall full of the joys of men, till Fate the mighty overturned that. The wide walls fell; days of pestilence came; death swept away all the bravery of men; their fortresses became waste places; the city fell to ruin. The multitudes who might have built it anew lay dead on the earth. Wherefore those courts are in decay and these lofty gates; the woodwork of the roof stripped of tiles; the places have sunk into ruin, levelled to the hills, where in times past many a man light of heart and bright with gold, adorned with splendours, proud and flushed with wine, shone in war trappings, gazed on treasure, on silver, on precious stones, on riches, on possessions, on costly gems, on this bright castle of the broad kingdom. Stone courts stood here; the stream with its great gush sprang forth hotly; the wall enclosed all within its bright bosom; there the baths were hot in its centre; that was spacious . . .
THE BATTLE OF BRUNANBURGH
[The poem celebrates a victory won in 937 by Aethelstan against Constantine, king of Scotland, allied with the Strathclyde Welsh and the Norwegians. The site of Brunanburgh is uncertain; perhaps it is on the Solway Firth. Tennyson’s translation of the poem is well known.]
In this year King Aethelstan, the lord of earls, ring-giver of men, and his brother also, Prince Eadmund, won in battle ever-lasting glory with the edges of their swords at Brunanburgh. The sons of Eadweard split the shield wall, hewed the linden targes with forged brands; as befitted their descent from noble kinsmen, often in fight they guarded their land, treasure, and homes against every foe. Enemies fell, Scots and seafarers sank doomed; the field grew slippery with the blood of men when the sun, the famous light, glided over the earth in the morning, the bright candle of God, the eternal Lord, until that noble creation sank to rest. There many a warrior lay destroyed with spears, many a Northman and Scot likewise pierced above hos shield, weary, sated with war. The West Saxons in bands pursued the hateful troops all day, hewed the fugitives sorely from behind with swords ground sharp. The Mercians refused not the hard hand-play to any heroes who, fated to the fight, sought land with Anlaf in the bosom of the ship over the surging waves. Five young lings lay low in the field of battle, put asleep by swords, likewise seven earls of Anlaf and a countless number of the host, seamen and Scots. There the leader of the Northmen was put to flight, driven to the prow of the boat with a small troop; the galley hastened to sea; the king went out on the dark flood, saved his life. Also there the crafty one, Constantine, went fleeing north to his native land; the old warrior had no cause to exult at the meeting of swords; he was reft of his kinsmen, deprived of friends on the battle-field, slain in fight, and he left his son destroyed with wounds on the place of slaughter, the young man in battle. The grey-haired man, the old crafty one, had no cause to vaunt of the striking with swords, and no more had Anlaf. They had no cause to laugh with the remnants of their host that they had the better in war-like deeds in the clash of standards on the battle-field, the meeting of javelins, the struggle of men, the conflict of weapons, which they played on the field of slaughter with the sons of Eadweard. Then the Northmen departed in their nailed boats, bloody survivors of javelins, humiliated, on Dingesmere (This may not be the name of the place. The right translation may be ‘the loud-sounding sea.’) over the deep water to seek Dublin, Ireland once again. Likewise both brothers together, king and prince, sought their own land, the country of the West Saxons, exulting in war. They left behind them the dark-coated, swart raven, horny-beaked, to enjoy the carrion, and the grey-coated eagle, white-tailed, to have his will of the corpses, the greedy war-hawk, and that grey beast, the wolf in the wood. Never yet before this was there greater slaughter on this island of an army felled by the edge of the sword such as books, old learned men, tell us of, from the time when Angles and Saxons came up from the east hither, sought the Britons over the broad seas, when proud workers of war overcame the Welshmen and gallant earls seized the land.
THE BATTLE OF MALDON
[The battle between the English and the Danes, described in the poem, was fought in 991 at Maldon, on the Blackwater (Panta), in Essex. The entry in the Chronicle says: ‘This year Ipswich was ravaged and after thay very shortly was Byrhtnoth the ealdorman slain at Maldon.’ The invaders were between two branches of the river and were thus separated from the English host, composed of the Essex levy under Byrhtnoth. When the tide ebbed, Bryhtnoth, in proud confidence, allowed the Danes to cross, and the English were completely defeated. The poem was apparently written very soon after the battle. Though a fragment, it is a magnificent record of heroism, Its spirit is best expressed in the words of Bryhtnoth, the old companion: ‘Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as thou might lessens.’]
…It was broken. Then he commanded each of the warriors to leave his horse, to drive it away and to go forth, to think of his hands and of good courage. Then the kinsman of Offa first found out that the earl was not minded to suffer cowardice. Then he let the loved hawk fly from his hands to the wood, and went forward to the battle. Thereby one might know that the youth would not weaken in the fight when he grasped the weapons. Eadric also wished to attend his leader, his prince, to battle. Then he began to bear his spear to the fight. He had a good heart while with his hands he could hold shield and broad sword’ he achieved his boast, that he should fight before his prince.
Then Byrhtnoth began there to exhort his warriors. He rode and instructed; he directed the warriors how they should stand and keep their station, and bade them hold their shields upright firmly with their hands and be not afraid. When he had fairly exhorted those people, then he alighted with his men where he best wished, where he knew his most trusty household troops were. Then the messenger of the Vikings stood on the shore, called out fiercely, spoke with words; he boastfully announced to the earl where he stood on the bank the messenger of the seafarers:
‘Bold seamen have sent me to thee, bade me say to thee that thou mayest quickly send rings as a defence; and it is better for you they ye should avert with tribute this rush of spears than that we, so hardy, should deal out battle. We need not destroy each other, if ye will consent to that. We will establish a truce with that gold. If thou who art mightiest here wilt agree to disband thy men, will give to the seamen at their own judgement money for peace and accept a truce from us, we are willing to embark with that tribute, to go to sea, and keep peace with you.’
Bryhtnoth spoke; he grasped the shield; he brandished the slender spear of ash. He uttered words; angry and resolute, he gave him answer: ‘Dost thou hear, seafarer, what his people say? They will give you darts for tribute, poisonous spears and ancient swords, gear which will profit you naught in the fight. Messenger of the seamen, take word back again, say to thy people far more hateful tidings, that here stands a noble earl with his troop who will defend this land, the home of Aethelred, my prince, the people, and the ground. The heathen shall fall in the battle. It seems to me too shameful that yo should embark with our tribute with impunity, now that ye have come thus far hither to our land. Nor shall ye win treasure so lightly; point and edge shall reconcile us first, grim battle-play, ere we yield tribute.
Then he commanded shields to be borne, the warriors to go, so that they all stood on the river bank. One troop could not come at the other there by reason of the water; there the flood came flowing after the ebb-tide; the stream ran together; they were impatient to clash their spears. There they stood in array beside the stream of Panta, the battle-line of the East Saxons and the ship-army. Nor could one of them injure the other, unless anyone received death from the arrow’s flight. The tide went out; the pirates stood ready, many Vikings eager for battle. Then the protector of heroes commanded a warrior, stern in fight, to hold the bridge; he was called Wulfstan, old among his race – he was the son of Ceola – who with his spear struck the first man who there most boldly stepped upon the bridge. There stood with Wulfstan warriors unafraid, Aelfere and Maccus, two brave men. They would not take to flight at the ford, but they firmly kept guard against the foe as long as they could wield weapons. When they beheld that and clearly saw that they found the guardians of the bridge fierce there, the hostile strangers began then to practice deceit. They asked to be allowed to approach, to go over the ford, to lea their soldiers. Then the earl began in his pride to yield the hateful people too much land. Then the son of Byrhtelm began to call over the cold water; the warriors listened:
‘Now is space granted to you; come hither to us quickly, warriors to the battle. God alone can tell who will hold the place of battle.’
Then the slaughterous wolves, the horde of Vikings, passed west over Panta. They cared not for the water; they bore shields over the gleaming water; the seamen carried targes to land. There Byrhtnoth stood ready with his warriors to oppose the enemy; he commanded the war hedge to be made with shields and that troop to hold out stoutly against the foes. Then was the fight near, glory in battle; the time had come when doomed men must needs fall there. Then clamour arose; ravens wheeled, the eagle greedy the carrion; there was shouting on earth. They they let the spears, hard as a file, go from their hands; let the darts, ground sharp, fly; bows were busy shield received point; bitter was the rush of battle. Warriors fell on either hand; young men lay low. Wulfmaer was wounded; he, the kinsman of Bryhtnoth, his sister’s son, chose a bed of slaughter; he was sorely stricken with swords. There requital was given to the Vikings. I heard that Eadweard slew one with his sword stoutly’ he withheld not the stroke, so that the fated warrior fell at his feet. For that his prince gave thanks to him, to the chamberlain, when he had the opportunity. Thus the brave warriors stood firm in battle; eagerly they considered who there could first mortally wound a fated man with a spear, a warrior with weapons; the slain fell to the earth. They stood steadfast; Byrhtnoth incited them; he bade each warrior give thought to war who could win glory against the Danes. Then he who was hardy in battle advanced; he raised up the weapon, the shield for a defence, and stepped towards the man. Thus the earl went resolute to the churl; each of them planned evil to the other. Then the seafarer sent a spear of southern make, so that the lord of warriors was wounded. He thrust then with the shield, so that the shaft burst; and the spear broke, and sprang back again. The warrior was enraged; with a spear he pierced the proud Viking who gave him the wound. The warrior was skilful; he let his lance go through the man’s neck. His hand guided it, so that he reached the life of his sudden enemy. Then hastily he darted another, so that the corslet burst; he was wounded in the breast through the coat of ring-mail; the poisonous spear stood at his heart. The earl was the gladder; then the brave man laughed, gave thanks to God for that day’s work which the Lord granted him. Then one of the warriors let fly a javelin from his hand, from his fist, so that it went forth through the noble thane of Aethelred. By his side stood a youthful warrior, a stripling in the fight; full boldly he, Wulfstan’s son, the young Wulmaer, plucked the bloody spear from the warrior. He let the exceeding hard spear go forth again; the point went in, so that he who erstwhile had sorely smitten his prince lay on the ground. Then a warrior went armed to the earl; he was minded to seize the bracelets of the man, the armour and rings and ornamented sword. Then Byrhtnoth drew the sword from the sheath, broad and gleaming edged, and struck at the corslet. One of the seafarers hindered him too quickly and destroyed the earl’s arm. Then the sword with golden hilt fell to the ground, nor could he hold the hard brand, wield the weapon.
Then the old warrior yet spoke these words, encouraged the fighters, bade the valiant comrades go forth; nor could he then longer stand firm on his feet; he looked to heaven: ‘I thank Thee, O Lord of the peoples, for all those joys which I have known in the world. Now, gracious Lord. I have most need that Thou shouldst grant good to my spirit, that my soul may journey to Thee. May pass in peace into Thy keeping, Prince of angels. I entreat Thee that devils may not do it despite’ Then the heathen men hewed him, and both the men who stood by him, Aethnoth and Wulmaer, were laid low; then they gave up their lives by the side of their prince.
Then they who were not minded to be there retired from the battle. There the sons of Odda were the first to flight; Godrinc and Godwig, galloped with him; they cared not for war, but they turned from the fight and sought the wood; they fled to that fastness and saved their lives, and more men than was at all fitting, if they had all remembered the rewards which he had given them for their benefit. (Compare the cowardice of Beowulf’s men in his fight with the dragon) Thus earst while Offa once said to him in the meeting-place, when he held assembly, that many spoke bravely there who would not endure in stress.
Then the people’s prince had fallen, Aethlred’s earl; all the hearth companions saw that their lord was laid low. Then proud thanes, brave men, went forth there, eagerly hastened. Then they all wished for one of two things – to depart from life or to avenge the loved one. Thus the son of Aelfric urged them on, a warrior young in years. he uttered words; Aelfwine spoke then; boldly he said: ‘Remember the times when often we spoke at the mead-drinking, when on the bench we uttered boasting, heroes in hall, about hard strife. Now he who is brave may show it in the test. I will make known my lineage to all, that I was of a mighty race among the Mercians. My old father was called Ealhelm, a wise alderman, prosperous in the world. Thanes shall not reproach me among the people, that I wish to leave this army, to seek my home, now my prince lie low, hewn down in battle. That is the greatest of griefs to me; he was both my kinsman and my lord.’ Then he went forth; he forgot not the feud; he smote one pirate in the host with spear, so that he lay on the earth, slain by his weapons. Then he began to admonish his friends, companions, and comrades, that they should go forth.
Offa spoke; he shook his spear-shaft: Lo! thou, Aelfwine, hast admonished all the thanes as is needed. Now that our prince lies low, the earl on the earth, it is the task of all of us, that each should exhort the other warrior to fight whilst he can grasp and hold a weapon, a hard brand, a spear, and good sword. Godric, the cowardly son of Odda, has betrayed us all. Very many men believed when he rode on a horse, on the proud steed, that it was our lord. Wherefore here on the field the army was divided, the shield array broken. May his enterprise fail for putting so many men to flight here.’
Leofsunu spoke and raised his shield, his targe in defence; he spoke to the man: ‘I promise that I will not flee hence a footstep, but will go forward, avenge in fight my friendly lord. The steadfast heroes about Sturmere (A lake or fen in Essex, or the mouth of the Stour.) shall have no cause to taunt me with words, now that my friend has fallen, that I journey home lacking a lord, turn from the fight; but the weapon, spear and brand, shall take me.’ He went very wrathful, fought staunchly; he scorned flight.
Dunnere spoke then forth; they recked not of life. Then the retainers began to fight stoutly, fierce bearers of spears, and prayed God that they might evenge their friendly lord and work slaughter on their foes. The hostage began to help them eagerly; he was of a stout race among the Northumbrians, the son of Ecglaf; his name was Aecferth. He wavered not at the war-play, but often he urged forth the dart; at times he shot on to the shield; at times he wounded a man. Ever and again he dealt out wounds whilst he could wield weapons.
Then Eadweard the tall still stood in the line of battle, ready and eager. With words of boasting he said that he would not flee a foot’s length of land or move back, now that his leader lay low. He broke the wall of shields and fought with the men until he worthily avenged on the seamen his giver of treasure ere he lay among the slain. Likewise did Aetheric, the brother of Sibyrht, a noble companion, eager and impetuous; he fought earnestly, and many others also split the hollow shields; the bold man made defence. The border of the shield broke and the corslet sang a terrible song. Then in the fight Offa smote the seamen, so that he fell to the earth, and there the kinsman of Gadd sought the ground. Quickly was Offa hewn down in the battle; yet he had accomplished what he promised his prince, as erstwhile he boasted with his giver of rings, that they should both ride to the stronghold, unscathed to their home, or fall amid the host, perish of wounds on the field of battle. Near the prince he lay low, as befits a thane.
Then there was breaking of shields; the seamen advanced, enraged by war. Often the spear pierced the body of a fated man. Then Wistan went forth, the son of Thurstan; he fought with the men; he slew three of them in the press ere Wigelin’s son was laid low among the slain. There was a stern meeting; the warriors stood firm in the struggle; fighters fell. Wearied with wounds; the slaughtered dropped to the earth. Oswold and Ealdwold, both the brothers, exhorted the men al the while; they bade their kinsmen with words to bear up there in the stress, use their weapons resolutely. Bryhtnoth spoke; he grasped his shield; he was an old companion; he shook his ash spear; full boldly he exhorted the warriors: ‘Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens. Here lies our leader all hewn down, the valiant man in the dust play; may he lament for ever who thinks now to turn from this war-play. I am old in age; I will not hence, but I purpose to lie by the side of my lord, by the man so dearly loved.’ Godric, son of Aethelgar, likewise exhorted them all to fight. Often he let fly the spear, the deadly dart, against the Vikings, as he went foremost in the host. He hewed and struck down until he fell in the battle; that was not the Godric who fled from the fight.