image

Beowulf in modern English, translated by Seamus Heaney, Beowulf (5)

Whoever she was

who brought forth this flower of manhood,

if she is still alive, that woman can say

that in her labour the Lord of Ages

bestowed a grace on her. So now, Beowulf,

I adopt you in my heart as a dear son.

Nourish and maintain this new connection,

you noblest of men; there'll be nothing you'll want for,

no worldly goods that won't be yours.

I have often honoured smaller achievements,

recognized warriors not nearly as worthy,

lavished rewards on the less deserving.

But you have made yourself immortal

by your glorious action. May the God of Ages

continue to keep and requite you well.”

Beowulf's account of the fight

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“We have gone through with a glorious endeavour

and been much favoured in this fight we dared

against the unknown. Nevertheless,

if you could have seen the monster himself

where he lay beaten, I would have been better pleased.

My plan was to pounce, pin him down

in a tight grip and grapple him to death—

have him panting for life, powerless and clasped

in my bare hands, his body in thrall.

But I couldn't stop him from slipping my hold.

The Lord allowed it, my lock on him

wasn't strong enough, he struggled fiercely

and broke and ran. Yet he bought his freedom

at a high price, for he left his hand

and arm and shoulder to show he had been here,

a cold comfort for having come among us.

And now he won't be long for this world.

He has done his worst but the wound will end him.

He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain,

limping and looped in it. Like a man outlawed

for wickedness, he must await

the mighty judgement of God in majesty.”

The trophy: Grendel's shoulder and claw

There was less tampering and big talk then

from Unferth the boaster, less of his blather

as the hall-thanes eyed the awful proof

of the hero's prowess, the splayed hand

up under the eaves. Every nail,

claw-scale and spur, every spike

and welt on the hand of that heathen brute

was like barbed steel. Everybody said

there was no honed iron hard enough

to pierce him through, no time-proofed blade

that could cut his brutal, blood-caked claw.

The damaged hall repaired

Then the order was given for all hands

to help to refurbish Heorot immediately:

men and women thronging the wine-hall,

getting it ready. Gold thread shone

in the wall-hangings, woven scenes

that attracted and held the eye's attention.

But iron-braced as the inside of it had been,

that bright room lay in ruins now.

The very doors had been dragged from their hinges.

Only the roof remained unscathed

by the time the guilt-fouled fiend turned tail

in despair of his life. But death is not easily

escaped from by anyone:

all of us with souls, earth-dwellers

and children of men, must make our way

to a destination already ordained

where the body, after the banqueting,

sleeps on its deathbed.

A victory feast

Then the due time arrived

for Halfdane's son to proceed to the hall.

The king himself would sit down to feast.

No group ever gathered in greater numbers

or better order around their ring-giver.

The benches filled with famous men

who fell to with relish; round upon round

of mead was passed; those powerful kinsmen,

Hrothgar and Hrothulf, were in high spirits

in the raftered hall. Inside Heorot

there was nothing but friendship. The Shielding nation

was not yet familiar with feud and betrayal.

Victory gifts presented to Beowulf

Then Halfdane's son presented Beowulf

with a gold standard as a victory gift,

an embroidered banner; also breast-mail

and a helmet; and a sword carried high,

that was both precious object and token of honour.

So Beowulf drank his drink, at ease;

it was hardly a shame to be showered with such gifts

in front of the hall-troops. There haven't been many

moments, I am sure, when men exchanged

four such treasures at so friendly a sitting.

An embossed ridge, a band lapped with wire

arched over the helmet: head-protection

to keep the keen-ground cutting edge

from damaging it when danger threatened

and the man was battling behind his shield.

Next the king ordered eight horses

with gold bridles to be brought through the yard

into the hall. The harness of one

included a saddle of sumptuous design,

the battle-seat where the son of Halfdane

rode when he wished to join the sword-play:

wherever the killing and carnage were the worst,

he would be to the fore, fighting hard.

Then the Danish prince, descendant of Ing,

handed over both the arms and the horses,

urging Beowulf to use them well.

And so their leader, the lord and guard

of coffer and strongroom, with customary grace

bestowed upon Beowulf both sets of gifts.

A fair witness can see how well each one behaved.

The other Geats are rewarded

The chieftain went on to reward the others:

each man on the bench who had sailed with Beowulf

and risked the voyage received a bounty,

some treasured possession. And compensation,

a price in gold, was settled for the Geat

Grendel had cruelly killed earlier—

as he would have killed more, had not mindful God

and one man's daring prevented that doom.

Past and present, God's will prevails.

Hence, understanding is always best

and a prudent mind. Whoever remains

for long here in this earthly life

will enjoy and endure more than enough.

Another performance by the minstrel

They sang then and played to please the hero,

words and music for their warrior prince,

harp tunes and tales of adventure:

there were high times on the hall benches

and the king's poet performed his part

with the saga of Finn and his sons, unfolding

the tale of the fierce attack in Friesland

where Hnaef, king of the Danes, met death.

Hildeburh, a Danish princess married to the Frisian King Finn, loses her son (unnamed here) and her brother Hnaef in a fight at Finn's hall

Hildeburh

had little cause

to credit the Jutes:

son and brother,

she lost them both

on the battlefield.

She, bereft

and blameless, they

foredoomed, cut down

and spear-gored. She,

the woman in shock,

waylaid by grief,

Hoc's daughter—

how could she not

lament her fate

when morning came

and the light broke

on her murdered dears?

And so farewell

delight on earth,

war carried away

Finn's troop of thanes,

all but a few.

How then could Finn

hold the line

or fight on

The Danish attack is bloody but indecisive. Hnaef is killed, Hengest takes charge and makes a truce with Finn and the Frisians

to the end with Hengest,

how save

the rump of his force

from that enemy chief?

So a truce was offered

as follows: first

separate quarters

to be cleared for the Danes,

hall and throne

to be shared with the Frisians.

Then, second:

every day

at the dole-out of gifts

Finn, son of Focwald,

should honour the Danes,

bestow with an even

hand to Hengest

and Hengest's men

the wrought-gold rings,

bounty to match

the measure he gave

his own Frisians—

to keep morale

in the beer-hall high.

The Danish survivors to be quartered and given parity of treatment with the Frisians and their allies, the Jutes

Both sides then

sealed their agreement.

With oaths to Hengest

Finn swore

openly, solemnly,

that the battle survivors

would be guaranteed

honour and status.

No infringement

by word or deed,

no provocation

would be permitted.

Their own ring-giver

after all

was dead and gone,

they were leaderless,

in forced allegiance

to his murderer.

So if any Frisian

stirred up bad blood

with insinuations

or taunts about this,

the blade of the sword

would arbitrate it.

A funeral pyre

was then prepared,

effulgent gold

brought out from the hoard.

The pride and prince

of the Shieldings lay

awaiting the flame.

Everywhere

there were blood-plastered

coats of mail.

The pyre was heaped

with boar-shaped helmets

forged in gold,

with the gashed corpses

of well-born Danes—

many had fallen.

Then Hildeburh

ordered her own

son's body

be burnt with Hnaef's,

the flesh on his bones

to sputter and blaze

beside his uncle's.

The woman wailed

and sang keens,

the warrior went up.

The bodies of the slain burnt on the pyre

Carcass flame

swirled and fumed,

they stood round the burial

mound and howled

as heads melted,

crusted gashes

spattered and ran

bloody matter.

The glutton element

flamed and consumed

the dead of both sides.

Their great days were gone.

Warriors scattered

to homes and forts

all over Friesland,

fewer now, feeling

loss of friends.

Hengest stayed,

lived out that whole

resentful, blood-sullen

winter with Finn,

homesick and helpless.

The Danes, homesick and resentful, spend a winter in exile

No ring-whorled prow

could up then

and away on the sea.

Wind and water

raged with storms,

wave and shingle

were shackled in ice

until another year

appeared in the yard

as it does to this day,

the seasons constant,

the wonder of light

coming over us.

Spring comes

Then winter was gone,

earth's lap grew lovely,

longing woke

in the cooped-up exile

for a voyage home—

but more for vengeance,

some way of bringing

things to a head:

his sword arm hankered

to greet the Jutes.

So he did not balk

once Hunlafing

placed on his lap

Dazzle-the-Duel,

the best sword of all,

whose edges Jutes

knew only too well.

Danish warriors spur themselves to renew the feud. Finn is killed, his stronghold looted, his widow, Hildeburh, carried back to Denmark

Thus blood was spilled,

the gallant Finn

slain in his home

after Guthlaf and Oslaf

back from their voyage

made old accusation:

the brutal ambush,

the fate they had suffered,

all blamed on Finn.

The wildness in them

had to brim over.

The hall ran red

with blood of enemies.

Finn was cut down,

the queen brought away

and everything

the Shieldings could find

inside Finn's walls—

the Frisian king's

gold collars and gemstones—

swept off to the ship.

Over sea-lanes then

back to Daneland

the warrior troop

bore that lady home.

The poem was over,

the poet had performed, a pleasant murmur

started on the benches, stewards did the rounds

with wine in splendid jugs, and Wealhtheow came to sit

in her gold crown between two good men,

uncle and nephew, each one of whom

still trusted the other; and the forthright Unferth,

admired by all for his mind and courage

although under a cloud for killing his brothers,

reclined near the king.

The queen spoke:

“Enjoy this drink, my most generous lord;

raise up your goblet, entertain the Geats

duly and gently, discourse with them,

be open-handed, happy and fond.

Relish their company, but recollect as well

all of the boons that have been bestowed on you.

The bright court of Heorot has been cleansed

and now the word is that you want to adopt

this warrior as a son. So, while you may,

bask in your fortune, and then bequeath

kingdom and nation to your kith and kin,

before your decease. I am certain of Hrothulf.

He is noble and will use the young ones well.

He will not let you down. Should you die before him,

he will treat our children truly and fairly.

He will honour, I am sure, our two sons,

repay them in kind when he recollects

all the good things we gave him once,

the favour and respect he found in his childhood.”

She turned then to the bench where her boys sat,

Hrethric and Hrothmund, with other nobles' sons,

all the youth together; and that good man,

Beowulf the Geat, sat between the brothers.



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Whoever she was

who brought forth this flower of manhood,

if she is still alive, that woman can say

that in her labour the Lord of Ages

bestowed a grace on her. So now, Beowulf,

I adopt you in my heart as a dear son.

Nourish and maintain this new connection,

you noblest of men; there'll be nothing you'll want for,

no worldly goods that won't be yours.

I have often honoured smaller achievements,

recognized warriors not nearly as worthy,

lavished rewards on the less deserving.

But you have made yourself immortal

by your glorious action. May the God of Ages

continue to keep and requite you well.”

Beowulf's account of the fight

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“We have gone through with a glorious endeavour

and been much favoured in this fight we dared

against the unknown. Nevertheless,

if you could have seen the monster himself

where he lay beaten, I would have been better pleased.

My plan was to pounce, pin him down

in a tight grip and grapple him to death—

have him panting for life, powerless and clasped

in my bare hands, his body in thrall.

But I couldn't stop him from slipping my hold.

The Lord allowed it, my lock on him

wasn't strong enough, he struggled fiercely

and broke and ran. Yet he bought his freedom

at a high price, for he left his hand

and arm and shoulder to show he had been here,

a cold comfort for having come among us.

And now he won't be long for this world.

He has done his worst but the wound will end him.

He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain,

limping and looped in it. Like a man outlawed

for wickedness, he must await

the mighty judgement of God in majesty.”

The trophy: Grendel's shoulder and claw

There was less tampering and big talk then

from Unferth the boaster, less of his blather

as the hall-thanes eyed the awful proof

of the hero's prowess, the splayed hand

up under the eaves. Every nail,

claw-scale and spur, every spike

and welt on the hand of that heathen brute

was like barbed steel. Everybody said

there was no honed iron hard enough

to pierce him through, no time-proofed blade

that could cut his brutal, blood-caked claw.

The damaged hall repaired

Then the order was given for all hands

to help to refurbish Heorot immediately:

men and women thronging the wine-hall,

getting it ready. Gold thread shone

in the wall-hangings, woven scenes

that attracted and held the eye's attention.

But iron-braced as the inside of it had been,

that bright room lay in ruins now.

The very doors had been dragged from their hinges.

Only the roof remained unscathed

by the time the guilt-fouled fiend turned tail

in despair of his life. But death is not easily

escaped from by anyone:

all of us with souls, earth-dwellers

and children of men, must make our way

to a destination already ordained

where the body, after the banqueting,

sleeps on its deathbed.

A victory feast

Then the due time arrived

for Halfdane's son to proceed to the hall.

The king himself would sit down to feast.

No group ever gathered in greater numbers

or better order around their ring-giver.

The benches filled with famous men

who fell to with relish; round upon round

of mead was passed; those powerful kinsmen,

Hrothgar and Hrothulf, were in high spirits

in the raftered hall. Inside Heorot

there was nothing but friendship. The Shielding nation

was not yet familiar with feud and betrayal.

Victory gifts presented to Beowulf

Then Halfdane's son presented Beowulf

with a gold standard as a victory gift,

an embroidered banner; also breast-mail

and a helmet; and a sword carried high,

that was both precious object and token of honour.

So Beowulf drank his drink, at ease;

it was hardly a shame to be showered with such gifts

in front of the hall-troops. There haven't been many

moments, I am sure, when men exchanged

four such treasures at so friendly a sitting.

An embossed ridge, a band lapped with wire

arched over the helmet: head-protection

to keep the keen-ground cutting edge

from damaging it when danger threatened

and the man was battling behind his shield.

Next the king ordered eight horses

with gold bridles to be brought through the yard

into the hall. The harness of one

included a saddle of sumptuous design,

the battle-seat where the son of Halfdane

rode when he wished to join the sword-play:

wherever the killing and carnage were the worst,

he would be to the fore, fighting hard.

Then the Danish prince, descendant of Ing,

handed over both the arms and the horses,

urging Beowulf to use them well.

And so their leader, the lord and guard

of coffer and strongroom, with customary grace

bestowed upon Beowulf both sets of gifts.

A fair witness can see how well each one behaved.

The other Geats are rewarded

The chieftain went on to reward the others:

each man on the bench who had sailed with Beowulf

and risked the voyage received a bounty,

some treasured possession. And compensation,

a price in gold, was settled for the Geat

Grendel had cruelly killed earlier—

as he would have killed more, had not mindful God

and one man's daring prevented that doom.

Past and present, God's will prevails.

Hence, understanding is always best

and a prudent mind. Whoever remains

for long here in this earthly life

will enjoy and endure more than enough.

Another performance by the minstrel

They sang then and played to please the hero,

words and music for their warrior prince,

harp tunes and tales of adventure:

there were high times on the hall benches

and the king's poet performed his part

with the saga of Finn and his sons, unfolding

the tale of the fierce attack in Friesland

where Hnaef, king of the Danes, met death.

Hildeburh, a Danish princess married to the Frisian King Finn, loses her son (unnamed here) and her brother Hnaef in a fight at Finn's hall

Hildeburh

had little cause

to credit the Jutes:

son and brother,

she lost them both

on the battlefield.

She, bereft

and blameless, they

foredoomed, cut down

and spear-gored. She,

the woman in shock,

waylaid by grief,

Hoc's daughter—

how could she not

lament her fate

when morning came

and the light broke

on her murdered dears?

And so farewell

delight on earth,

war carried away

Finn's troop of thanes,

all but a few.

How then could Finn

hold the line

or fight on

The Danish attack is bloody but indecisive. Hnaef is killed, Hengest takes charge and makes a truce with Finn and the Frisians

to the end with Hengest,

how save

the rump of his force

from that enemy chief?

So a truce was offered

as follows: first

separate quarters

to be cleared for the Danes,

hall and throne

to be shared with the Frisians.

Then, second:

every day

at the dole-out of gifts

Finn, son of Focwald,

should honour the Danes,

bestow with an even

hand to Hengest

and Hengest's men

the wrought-gold rings,

bounty to match

the measure he gave

his own Frisians—

to keep morale

in the beer-hall high.

The Danish survivors to be quartered and given parity of treatment with the Frisians and their allies, the Jutes

Both sides then

sealed their agreement.

With oaths to Hengest

Finn swore

openly, solemnly,

that the battle survivors

would be guaranteed

honour and status.

No infringement

by word or deed,

no provocation

would be permitted.

Their own ring-giver

after all

was dead and gone,

they were leaderless,

in forced allegiance

to his murderer.

So if any Frisian

stirred up bad blood

with insinuations

or taunts about this,

the blade of the sword

would arbitrate it.

A funeral pyre

was then prepared,

effulgent gold

brought out from the hoard.

The pride and prince

of the Shieldings lay

awaiting the flame.

Everywhere

there were blood-plastered

coats of mail.

The pyre was heaped

with boar-shaped helmets

forged in gold,

with the gashed corpses

of well-born Danes—

many had fallen.

Then Hildeburh

ordered her own

son's body

be burnt with Hnaef's,

the flesh on his bones

to sputter and blaze

beside his uncle's.

The woman wailed

and sang keens,

the warrior went up.

The bodies of the slain burnt on the pyre

Carcass flame

swirled and fumed,

they stood round the burial

mound and howled

as heads melted,

crusted gashes

spattered and ran

bloody matter.

The glutton element

flamed and consumed

the dead of both sides.

Their great days were gone.

Warriors scattered

to homes and forts

all over Friesland,

fewer now, feeling

loss of friends.

Hengest stayed,

lived out that whole

resentful, blood-sullen

winter with Finn,

homesick and helpless.

The Danes, homesick and resentful, spend a winter in exile

No ring-whorled prow

could up then

and away on the sea.

Wind and water

raged with storms,

wave and shingle

were shackled in ice

until another year

appeared in the yard

as it does to this day,

the seasons constant,

the wonder of light

coming over us.

Spring comes

Then winter was gone,

earth's lap grew lovely,

longing woke

in the cooped-up exile

for a voyage home—

but more for vengeance,

some way of bringing

things to a head:

his sword arm hankered

to greet the Jutes.

So he did not balk

once Hunlafing

placed on his lap

Dazzle-the-Duel,

the best sword of all,

whose edges Jutes

knew only too well.

Danish warriors spur themselves to renew the feud. Finn is killed, his stronghold looted, his widow, Hildeburh, carried back to Denmark

Thus blood was spilled,

the gallant Finn

slain in his home

after Guthlaf and Oslaf

back from their voyage

made old accusation:

the brutal ambush,

the fate they had suffered,

all blamed on Finn.

The wildness in them

had to brim over.

The hall ran red

with blood of enemies.

Finn was cut down,

the queen brought away

and everything

the Shieldings could find

inside Finn's walls—

the Frisian king's

gold collars and gemstones—

swept off to the ship.

Over sea-lanes then

back to Daneland

the warrior troop

bore that lady home.

The poem was over,

the poet had performed, a pleasant murmur

started on the benches, stewards did the rounds

with wine in splendid jugs, and Wealhtheow came to sit

in her gold crown between two good men,

uncle and nephew, each one of whom

still trusted the other; and the forthright Unferth,

admired by all for his mind and courage

although under a cloud for killing his brothers,

reclined near the king.

The queen spoke:

“Enjoy this drink, my most generous lord;

raise up your goblet, entertain the Geats

duly and gently, discourse with them,

be open-handed, happy and fond.

Relish their company, but recollect as well

all of the boons that have been bestowed on you.

The bright court of Heorot has been cleansed

and now the word is that you want to adopt

this warrior as a son. So, while you may,

bask in your fortune, and then bequeath

kingdom and nation to your kith and kin,

before your decease. I am certain of Hrothulf.

He is noble and will use the young ones well.

He will not let you down. Should you die before him,

he will treat our children truly and fairly.

He will honour, I am sure, our two sons,

repay them in kind when he recollects

all the good things we gave him once,

the favour and respect he found in his childhood.”

She turned then to the bench where her boys sat,

Hrethric and Hrothmund, with other nobles' sons,

all the youth together; and that good man,

Beowulf the Geat, sat between the brothers.

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