Beowulf: Gummere Chapter 01

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Now Beowulf bode,     in the burg of the Scyldings,

leader beloved,     and long he ruled,

in fame with all folk,     since his father had gone,

away from the world,     till awoke an heir,

haughty Healfdene,     who held through life,

sage and sturdy,     the Scyldings glad.

Then one after one,     there woke to him,

to the chieftain of clansmen,     children four:

Heorogar then Hrothgar,     then Halga brave;

and I heard,     that — was –‘s queen,

the Heathoscylfing’s,     helpmate dear.

To Hrothgar was given,     such glory of war,

such honor of combat,     that all his kin,

obeyed him gladly,     till great grew his band,

of youthful comrades.     It came in his mind,

to bid his henchmen,     a hall uprear,

a master mead-house,     mightier far,

than ever was seen,     by the sons of earth,

and within it then,     to old and young,

he would all allot,     that the Lord had sent him,

save only the land,     and the lives of his men.

Wide I heard,     was the work commanded,

for many a tribe,     this mid-earth round,

to fashion the folkstead.     It fell as he ordered,

in rapid achievement,     that ready it stood there,

of halls the noblest:      Heorot[1] he named it,

whose message had might,     in many a land.

Not reckless of promise,     the rings he dealt,

treasure at banquet:      there towered the hall,

high gabled wide,     the hot surge waiting,

of furious flame.[2]     Nor far was that day,

when father and son-in-law,     stood in feud,

for warfare and hatred,     that woke again,[3]

With envy and anger,     an evil spirit,

endured the sorrow,     in his dark abode,

that he heard each day,     the din of revel,

high in the hall:     there harps rang out,

clear song of the singer.     He sang who knew,[4]

tales of the early,     time of man,

how the Almighty,     made the earth,

fairest fields,     enfolded by water,

set triumphant,     sun and moon,

for a light to lighten,     the land-dwellers,

and braided bright,     the breast of earth,

with limbs and leaves,     made life for all,

of mortal beings,     that breathe and move.

So lived the clansmen,     in cheer and revel,

a winsome life,     till one began,

to fashion evils,      that fiend of hell.

Grendel this monster,     grim was called,

march-riever[5] mighty,     in moorland living,

in fen and fastness;      fief of the giants,

the hapless wight,     a while had kept,

since the Creator,     his exile doomed.

On kin of Cain,     was the killing avenged,

by sovran God,     for slaughtered Abel.

Ill fared his feud,[6]     and far was he driven,

for the slaughter’s sake,     from sight of men.

Of Cain awoke all,     that woeful breed,

Etins[7] and elves,     and evil-spirits,

as well as the giants,     that warred with God,

weary while:      but their wage was paid them!

[1] That is, “The Hart,” or “Stag,” so called from decorations in the gables that resembled the antlers of a deer. This hall has been carefully described in a pamphlet by Heyne. The building was rectangular, with opposite doors — mainly west and east — and a hearth in the middle of the single room. A row of pillars down each side, at some distance from the walls, made a space which was raised a little above the main floor,and was furnished with two rows of seats. On one side, usually south, was the high-seat midway between the doors. Opposite this, on the other raised space, was another seat of honor. At the banquet soon to be described, Hrothgar sat in the south or chief high-seat, and Beowulf opposite to him. The scene for a flyting (see below, v.499) was thus very effectively set. Planks on trestles — the “board” of later English literature — formed the tables just in front of the long rows of seats, and were taken away after banquets, when the retainers were ready to stretch themselves out for sleep on the benches.

[2] Fire was the usual end of these halls. See v. 781 below. One thinks of the splendid scene at the end of the Nibelungen, of the Nialssaga, of Saxo’s story of Amlethus, and many a less famous instance.

[3] It is to be supposed that all hearers of this poem knew how Hrothgar’s hall was burnt, — perhaps in the unsuccessful attack made on him by his son-in-law Ingeld.

[4] A skilled minstrel. The Danes are heathens, as one is told presently, but this lay of beginnings is taken from Genesis.

[5] A disturber of the border, one who sallies from his haunt in the fen and roams over the country near by. This probably pagan nuisance is now furnished with biblical credentials as a fiend or devil in good standing, so that all Christian Englishmen might read about him. “Grendel” may mean one who grinds and crushes.

[6] Cain’s.

[7] Giants.

 

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