Beowulf

Part IV

Sections: XVI-XX

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.


Contents


XVI:Lines:1050-1124: The Bard Sings Again

Then to each man of the hero’s company,

Who sat at the benches, each of those

Who’d sailed the sea-roads with Beowulf,

Hrothgar gave treasure, ancient heirlooms,

And decreed requital in gold for the Geat

Whom Grendel had first cruelly destroyed,

As he would have more, if God’s foresight,

And a man’s courage had not thwarted him.

Since a measure of fate rules all mankind,

Therefore in all things knowledge is best,

And mind’s forethought; he who would joy

In this life for long, in these days of strife,

Must suffer much hatred, with the love.

Then were music and words, all together,

Performed for Halfdane’s battle-leader;

The lyre plucked, the oft-told tale recited,

As Hrothgar’s bard was asked to chant

A saga, for the men on the mead-benches,

About Finn’s heirs, with whom was fated

To fall, on the disastrous Frisian field,

Hnaef, the Shielding, the Half-Danes’ hero.

Small reason had Hildeburgh, his sister,

Finn’s wife, to trust the Jutes, blameless

She was bereft of her dear son and brother,

Wounded in battle, foredoomed by fate;

That was a mournful woman, Hoc’s daughter,

With reason to grieve fate’s decree, at dawn,

When, beneath the sky where she had beheld

All delight on earth, she saw dread slaughter;

War took all of Finn’s thanes but a few alone,

So how could he end that clash with Hengest,

And conclude the thing, in that trysting place;

Or the sad remnant dislodge the prince’s thane

From his ground? So they offered a settlement:

That they’d grant the Danes different quarters,

Hall and throne to be shared with the Frisians,

And every day, at the giving of treasure, Finn,

The son of Focwalden, would honour the Danes,

Grant rings, with even hand, to Hengest’s men,

As much wealth in wrought gold as he himself

Would wish to give his Frisians in the beer hall,

To fire their courage. Then both sides pledged

To keep the peace. Finn first swore a solemn,

Binding oath to Hengest, that he would hold

The sad remnant in honour, and so be judged,

If none of them, by word or deed, broke treaty,

Nor ever laid claim in malice, though leaderless;

Forced by fate to follow their ring-giver’s bane.

And if any Frisian recalled that murderous feud,

Hereafter, sword’s blade to decide the outcome.

A funeral pyre was built, and Ing’s gold brought

From the hoard. The War-Shieldings’ great hero,

Hnaef, was laid on the bier. There was a sight:

The prince had slaughtered many a fine man;

Everywhere blood-stained mail and helms,

Adorned with forged-iron boars, all gilded.

Then Hildeburh ordered that her son’s body

Should be burnt on the one pyre with Hnaef.

That the corpse be set on the bier beside him.

At his shoulder the woman keened, lamenting

And grieving in song. The warrior lay there.

That vast fire of the dead rose to the clouds,

Roared by the mound, as their heads melted,

Wound-blisters burst, and the blood sprang

Out of gashed flesh. Flame swallowed all,

That greedy guest; all the dead of both sides

Fallen in battle; their powers were scattered.

XVII:Lines:1125-1191:Of Hengest and Finn

The living, bereft of their friends, returned

To their home in Friesland, to their houses

And high forts, but Hengest, he was with Finn,

All that death-soiled winter, no companions,

Homesick for his country, unable to leave;

In such seas, no ship with whorled prow

Could endure; the swollen waves fought

With the storms; winds locked the shore

In bonds of ice, until another year came

To the yards, as it always does, endlessly

Bringing the seasons, in a glory of weather,

Brightening the air. The winter was gone,

Earth in her beauty. The exile, the guest

Was pining to go. But thought more often

Of vengeance than voyaging on sea-roads;

Of how to provoke some bitter encounter

With those sons of the Jutes, he brooded on.

So he did not baulk at thoughts of vengeance,

Once Hunlafing had set on his lap the finest

Blade, a sword that shone, a light-in-battle,

Whose edges the Jutes knew only too well.

And Finn was attacked in turn, in his house,

By his mortal enemies, in a fatal onslaught,

After Guthlaf and Oslaf, re-crossing the sea,

Bemoaned their suffering, a vicious ambush,

Blaming their woes on Finn. He could not

Restrain his fierce spirit. So the hall saw

His enemy’s blood; Finn, the king, killed,

With his men; Hildeburh, the queen, seized.

The Shieldings took everything they found,

Of that king of a nation’s household wealth;

Jewels and gemstones. Over the sea-paths

The warriors bore the noble lady; took her

To the Danes. So the bard sang, so the poet

Recited the tale. All there were delighted;

Praise rose from the benches, the stewards

Poured wine from rare pitchers. Wealhtheow

Then; gold her crown; came to sit by Hrothulf

And Hrothgar, nephew and uncle, still as kin

True to each other. Unferth, the outspoken,

Also sat at the king’s feet, known for spirit

And courage, although he had slain his kin

When the swords clashed. The queen spoke:

‘Take this full cup from me, my noble lord;

Granter of riches to men, be joyful; gold-giver,

Speak kind words to the Geats, as one should;

Be gracious to them, and remember the gifts

You yourself were given from near and far.

We hear you’d have this leader of armies,

As your son. Yet Heorot the bright ring-hall’s

Now cleansed. Then enjoy your many delights

While you can, but leave both folk and kingdom

To your own kin, when you must depart at last

As is fated. I am sure, Friend of the Shieldings,

My gracious Hrothulf will honour the young,

If you chance to leave this world before him.

I believe he will treat our two boys kindly,

When he recalls all we have done, in his youth,

For his sake, and for his name in the world.

She turned, then, to the bench where her sons,

Hrethric and Hrothmund, sat, with the rest

Of the young nobles; and the virtuous man,

Beowulf the Geat, sat by the two brothers.

XVIII:Lines:1192-1250: Gifts For Beowulf

The full cup was brought him; kind words

Of praise spoken; treasures of braided gold

Graciously given; a pair of arm-bracelets,

Robes and rings, and the finest of torques

I have heard of, on earth or under the sky,

Out of heroes’ hoard, since Hama ran off

With the Brosings’ neck-ring; took its gems

And setting to his battle-bright stronghold.

He fled from Eormenric’s wiles and enmity,

And achieved in the end an eternal reward.

Hygelac the Geat, grandson of Swerting,

Wore the ring given to Beowulf, when he

On his last raid, under his banner, defended

His spoils, his wealth in war. Fate took him,

When he, out of pride, provoked sorrow,

Feuding with Frisians: beneath his shield

He fell. He had brought that same treasure,

With its gemstone, on crossing the waves:

And the king’s body passed to the Franks,

The torque, and the armour, all together:

The Geats clothed the field with their dead,

And lesser warriors plundered the corpses

After the killing. There was loud applause.

Then, before them all, Wealhtheow spoke:

‘Fortune be with you in wearing this ring,

Dear Beowulf; make good use of this mail,

From our hoard; and long may you prosper.

Prove yourself strong, be gentle in guiding

These lads; and I shall ever remember you.

This is your doing, that you will be known,

Your fame as wide as the waters around

The sea-cliffs, the winds’ home, forever.

Be happy in life, prince: I wish you well,

And rich in treasure; a possessor of joy,

Always kind in respect of my two sons.

Here every man who defends their lord

Is true to the others, is generous of mind.

Let the thanes be as one, the nation alert,

Warriors who have pledged, do as I bid.’

She took her seat at the finest of feasts,

The men drank wine, ignorant of fate,

The gloom gathering, as it has fallen

On many a hero. When evening came

And Hrothgar went off to his quarters,

The ruler to rest, the crowd of earls

Guarded the hall as they had before,

Clearing the benches. They spread

Bedding and bolsters. One man, now

Marked out for death, settled to rest.

At their heads they set bossed shields

Of bright lime-wood. Over each man,

There on the bench, catching the eye,

Was a tall battle-helm, shirt of mail,

And a shapely spear. Their habit was

To be ready for war, on all occasions,

At home or not; to fight for their lord,

When needed. They were right loyal.

XIX:Lines:1251-1320: A Second Attack

They sank into sleep. But one paid dearly

For taking his rest, as others before him,

When Grendel had invaded the gold-hall,

Inflicting pain, until, at the end, finding

Death for his crimes. Then it was seen,

Clearly by all, once the fight was over,

An avenger existed, despite the conflict,

One that, still living on after the battle,

Had bided her time. Grendel’s dam, his

Monstrous mother, brooded in misery,

Forced to live there in the dreadful depths,

In the chill water, once Cain brought strife,

Murdering his sole brother, his father’s son

With his blade, and then, branded an exile,

Marked by that killing, fled to the wilds,

Far from human joy. Then many a doomed

Spirit arose. And Grendel was one of them,

Banished in hatred, to find there at Heorot

A watchful man, biding his time for battle.

The monster came to close grips with him,

But Beowulf relied on his mighty strength,

God’s generous gift, and he trusted then

On the Almighty’s favour, on His comfort,

And care. And by these, overcame the fiend,

Grounded that hell-ghost, mankind’s enemy,

Who fled in suffering and devoid of all joy

To seek his death-bed. But now the mother,

Dark with greed, decided to pursue the trail,

In a wretched attempt to avenge his death.

She came to Heorot, found the Ring-Danes

Asleep in the hall. Then was a great reverse

For those earls, when Grendel’s dam found

Her way inside. The onslaught was lighter

By only as much as the power of the female,

Her violence in war, is less than the male’s

When the wrought blade, the forged iron,

The blood-stained sword with honed edge,

Shears the boar’s crest from an enemy helm.

Now were the sharp swords over the benches

Unsheathed, and many a wide-bossed shield

Gripped in the hand: then was no thought

Of mail-coat or helm, on seeing the horror.

She was in panic, when she was first seen,

Desperate to flee, now, in haste for her life.

She had swiftly seized on one of the nobles,

Gripping him fast. Then she fled for the fen.

The great warrior she had torn from his rest

Was, to Hrothgar, the best-loved companion

Among all his friends, between the two seas,

A mighty shield-man – Beowulf was missing.

He lay in another place, one assigned to him,

To that leader of Geats, after the gift-giving.

Loud cries rang round Heorot. She’d snatched

Grendel’s gory limb. Fresh sorrow had come

To the house. That transaction proves hard,

For which either side is then forced to pay

With the life of a friend. There the wise king,

The grey-haired warrior, was deeply troubled,

When he knew the noble thane was no more,

That the dearest of all his friends was dead.

At dawn, Beowulf, that winner of battles,

Was quickly brought to the king’s chamber:

That noble champion, the earl among earls,

Went with his company to find Hrothgar,

Who waited, and wondered if the Almighty

Would ever stem that tide of sad news.

The warrior advanced with his companions –

The floorboards echoing under their feet –

And addressed the Prince of the Ingwins;

With humble words asked if he had spent

A pleasant night, in accord with his wishes.

XX:Lines:1321-1382: And Second Challenge

Then spoke Hrothgar, Helm of the Shieldings,

‘Ask not after pleasure. Sorrow is renewed,

For the Danish people. Aeschere is dead,

He who was Yrmenlaf’s elder brother,

My close friend, my cautious counsellor:

He stood at my shoulder, when, in a fight,

The boar-crests guarding our helms clashed

With the foe. Such as a man should be,

Wise and noble, such was Aeschere.

She snatched him, slew him in Heorot,

That errant evil. Who knows what lair

She ran for, glorying in his carcase,

Glutted by gorging, all in vengeance

For last night’s fight, for Grendel torn

By your heavy hand in a harsh clasp.

He winnowed and wasted my people

For far too long, so he fell in conflict,

Forfeited life, but now this other comes,

A mighty man-slayer, avenging her kin,

Carrying the feud to its furthest end,

Or so it seems to these grieving thanes,

Sad at heart for the ring-giver gone,

Taking it hard, now that hand is still,

That had granted every man his wish.

I have heard it said by the upland men

Of my people, counsellors in this hall,

That they have seen two such as them,

Mighty hill-marchers, moor-roamers,

Alien spirits, and as far as they could

Clearly make out, one of the two was

Like to a female, the other, wretched,

Went like an outcast, in man’s form,

Except he was larger than any man.

The countrymen called him Grendel

In days gone by; his father unknown,

Or whether either one was conceived

Of darkling spirits. They lived hidden,

Below wolf-slopes, by a windswept ness,

Over trails in the fen, where hill-streams

Dark under that ness, flow on down,

To flood under fields: only a few miles

Further from there, stands the mere;

Overhanging, a frost-gripped grove,

Deep-rooted trees shadowing the water,

Where, every night, weirdness is seen;

Fire on the flood. Not even the wisest

Of men knows the depths of its bed.

Though the hart with strong antlers,

The stepper-on-heath, is driven hard

By the pack, in its flight from afar,

It will seek the woods, before giving

Its life on that shore, before it will dip

Its head in the wave. The place is foul.

From it dark waterspouts rise upwards,

Wild to the welkin, when winds stir;

Fierce storms, till the air’s darkened,

The skies weep. Once more help rests

On you alone. You cannot yet know

The dread place where you may find

That sinful creature. Seek if you dare.

Settle the feud and take your reward;

I’ll give old treasures, wealth as before,

Braided gold, if you win your way home.’