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BEOWULF (c. 700)*


Lo, we have heard of the fame in old time
of the great kings of the Spear-Danes,
how these princes valor displayed.
Oft Scyld, Scef's son, from robber-bands,
from many tribes, their mead-seats took,
filled earls with fear, since first he was
found all forlorn. Howe 'er, he won comfort,
waxed great 'neath the welkin, in dignities

until every one of those dwelling near

over the whale-road, was bound to obey him and pay him tribute: that was a good king. To him a son was afterward born,


a child in his courts whom God sent
to comfort the people; He felt the dire need
they erst had suffered, how they had princeless
been a long while. Therefore the Lord of Life,
Glory-prince, gave to him worldly honor.
Renowned was Beowulf, widely the glory

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from far ways, ornaments brought.

I have heard of no comelier keel adorned
with weapons of war and martial weeds,
with glaves and byrnies. On his bosom lay 40
many treasures which were to go with him,
far depart into the flood's possession.
Not less with gifts, with lordly treasures,
did they provide him, than did those others
who at the beginning sent him forth
alone o'er the wave, a little child.

20 They set moreover a golden ensign

of Scyld's offspring in the Scanian lands.
So shall a prudent man do good works
with bountiful gifts in his father's hall,
that in his old age still may surround him
willing companions, and when war comes
the people may follow him. By praiseworthy

Of the three large sections into which the story
of Beowulf falls-the fight with Grendel in
Denmark, the fight with Grendel's mother, and
the subsequent deeds of Beowulf in Geatland
(Sweden)-the first is here given practically
entire, and the second in part. It should be
noted that the Beowulf mentioned in the open-
ing canto is a Scylding, or Dane: Beowulf the
Geat, or Weder-Geat, for whom the poem is
named, is not introduced until the fourth
canto. The translation is virtually the literal
one of Benjamin Thorpe (1855), relieved of
some of its harsher inversions and obscurities
and made more consistently rhythmical, also
occasionally altered to conform to a more

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probable interpretation. No attempt is made to
preserve the original alliteration. For this
feature, as well as for the continual repetition
or "parallelism" of phrase, and the poetic
synonyms or "kennings," like whale-road for
ocean, see Newcomer's English Literature, p.
20. Certain recurring archaic words are:
atheling, prince nicker, orken, sea-
brand, sword
byrnie, corslet sark, cuirass
hithe, harbor
jotun, giant
mere, sea, lake
ness, headland

scóp, poet (Eng. Lit., p.

thane, war-companion,
wyrd, fate

II. THE BUILDING OF HEOROT Then in the towns was Beowulf, the Scyldings'

beloved sovereign, for a long time

famed among nations (his father had passed


the prince from his dwelling), till from him in turn sprang

the lofty Healfdene. He ruled while he lived, old and war-fierce, the glad Scyldings. From him four children, numbered forth, sprang in the world, from the head of hosts: 60 Heorogar and Hrothgar and Halga the good;

and I have heard that Elan1 was wife of Ongentheow the Heathoscylfing.

Then was to Hrothgar war-prowess given, martial glory, that his dear kinsmen gladly obeyed him, till his young warriors grew, a great train of kinsfolk. It ran thro' his mind that he would give orders for men to make a hall-building, a mighty mead-house, which the sons of men should ever hear of; and therewithin to deal out freely


to young and to old, whatever God gave him, save the freeman's share and the lives of men. Then heard I that widely the work was proclaimed

to many a tribe thro' this mid-earth

the plain of bright beauty which water embraces;

in victory exulting set sun and moon,
beams for light to the dwellers on land;
adorned moreover the regions of earth
with boughs and leaves; life eke created
for every kind that liveth and moveth.
Thus the retainers lived in delights,
in blessedness; till one began


to perpetrate crime, a fiend in hell. Grendel was the grim guest called, great mark-steppers that held the moors, the fen and fastness. The sea-monsters' dwelling

the unblest man abode in awhile, after the Creator had proscribed him.* On Cain's race the eternal Lord that death avenged, the slaying of Abel; the Creator joyed not in that feud, but banished him far from men for his crime.

Thence monstrous births all woke into being, jotuns, and elves, and orken-creatures, likewise the giants who for a long space warred against God: He gave them requital.

III. THE GRIM GUEST OF HEOROT When night had come he went to visit the lofty house, to see how the Ring-Danes

that a folk-stead was building. Befel him in after their beer-feast might be faring.


soon among men, that it was all ready,

He found therein a band of nobles
asleep after feasting; sorrow they knew not,

of hall-houses greatest; and he, whose word was misery of men, aught of unhappiness.
law far and wide, named it Heorot.*
He belied not his promise, bracelets distri


Grim and greedy, he was soon ready, rugged and fierce, and in their rest


treasures at the feast. The hall arose high and horn-curved; awaited fierce heat of hostile flame. Nor was it yet long when sword-hate 'twixt son- and father-in-law, after deadly enmity, was to be wakened.†

Then the potent guest who in darkness dwelt with difficulty for a time endured that he each day heard merriment



took thirty thanes; and thence departed, in his prey exulting, to his home to go, with the slaughtered corpses, his quarters to visit.

Then in the morning, at early day, was Grendel's war-craft manifest: after that repast was a wail upraised, a great morning cry. The mighty prince, the excellent noble, unblithe sat;

loud in the hall. There was sound of the the strong thane suffered, sorrow endured, harp,

when they beheld the foeman's traces,


loud song of the gleeman. The scôp, who the accursed sprite's. That strife was too could

the origin of men from far back relate, told how the Almighty wrought the earth,

1 Perhaps the fourth child.

2 so that


"The Hart"-probably SO named from gable decorations resembling a deer's horns. Hrothgar's son-in-law. Ingeld. tried to avenge upon him the death of his father, and it may have been he who gave the hall to "hostile flame."


loathsome and tedious. It was no longer than after one night, again he perpetrated greater mischief, and scrupled not

at feud and crime; he was too set on them. Then were those easily found who elsewhere sought their rest in places of safety,

3 roamer of the marches, or land-bounds That is, Grendel is of the monstrous brood of Cain. The passage is one of the Christian additions to a legend wholly pagan in origin.

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the hall-thane's hate; held themselves after farther and faster who the fiend escaped. So Grendel ruled, and warred against right, alone against all, until empty stood that best of houses. Great was the while, twelve winters' tide, the Scyldings' friend endured his rage, every woe, ample sorrow. Whence it became openly known to the children of men, sadly in songs, that Grendel warred awhile against Hrothgar, enmity waged, crime and feud for many years, strife incessant; peace would not have with any man of the Danish power, nor remit for a fee the baleful levy; nor any wight might hold a hope


for a glorious satisfaction at the murderer's


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because of the Lord, nor knew His design. 'Twas great distress to the Scyldings' friend, grief of spirit; often the wise men sat in assembly; counsel devised they what for strong-souled men it were best to do against the perilous horrors. Sometimes they promised idolatrous honors at the temples, prayed in words that the spirit-slayer aid would afford against their afflictions.

Such was their custom, the heathen's hope; hell they remembered, but the Creator, the Judge of deeds, they knew not-knew not the Lord God, knew


how to praise the heavens' Protector, Glory's Ruler. Woe to him who thro' cruel malice shall thrust his soul in the fire's embrace; let him expect not comfort to find. Well unto him who after his death-day may seek the Lord, and win to peace in his Father's bosom.


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in that day of this life, noble and vigorous. He bade for himself a good wave-rider to be prepared; said he would go over the swan-road to seek the war-king, the prince renowned, since men he had need of. Dear though he was, his prudent liegemen little blamed him for that voyage,

whetted him rather, and noted the omen.

Then the good chief chose him champions
he could find, and, fourteen with him,
of the Geat-folk, whomso bravest
sought the vessel. Then the hero,

Time passed; the floater was on the waves,
the sea-crafty man, led the way to the shore.
the boat 'neath the hill; the ready warriors
stepped on the prow; the streams surged
the sea 'gainst the sand; the warriors bare
into the bark's bosom bright arms,
a rich war-array. The men shoved out
on the welcome voyage the wooden bark.



Most like to a bird the foamy-necked floater, impelled by the wind, then flew o'er the waves till about the same time on the second day the twisted prow had sailed so far that the voyagers land descried, shining ocean-shores, mountains steep, spacious sea-nesses. Then was the floater at the end of its voyage. Up thence quickly the Weders' people stept on the plain; the sea-wood tied; their mail-shirts shook, their martial weeds; thanked God that to them the paths of the waves had been made easy. who the sea-shores had to keep, When from the wall the Scyldings' warder,

saw bright shields borne over the gunwale, war-gear ready, wonder arose

within his mind what those men were. Hrothgar's thane then went to the shore, on his horse riding, stoutly shook


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1 Apartments used mainly by the women.

* Beowulf. Hygelac was his uncle, and king of the Geats, or Weder-Geats, who lived in Sweden.

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