Beowulf Hall Chapter 01

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BEOWULF.

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I. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SCYLD.

{The famous race of Spear-Danes.}

Lo! the Spear-Danes’ glory,       through splendid achievements,
The folk-kings’ former,       fame we have heard of,
How princes displayed then,       their prowess-in-battle.

{Scyld, their mighty king, in honor of whom they are often called Scyldings. He is the great-grandfather of Hrothgar, so prominent in the poem.}

Oft Scyld the Scefing,       from scathers in numbers,
From many a people,       their mead-benches tore. — 5.
Since first he found him,       friendless and wretched,
The earl had had terror:       comfort he got for it,
Waxed ‘neath the welkin,       world-honor gained,
Till all his neighbors,       o’er sea were compelled to,
Bow to his bidding,       and bring him their tribute: — 10.
An excellent atheling!       After was borne him,

{A son is born to him, who receives the name of Beowulf–a name afterwards made so famous by the hero of the poem.}

A son and heir,       young in his dwelling,
Whom God-Father sent,       to solace the people.
He had marked the misery,       malice had caused them,
[1.]That reaved of their rulers,       they wretched had erstwhile,[2.] — 15.
Long been afflicted.       The Lord, in requital,
Wielder of Glory,       with world-honor blessed him.
Famed was Beowulf,       far spread the glory,
Of Scyld’s great son,       in the lands of the Danemen.

{The ideal Teutonic king lavishes gifts on his vassals.}

So the carle that is young,       by kindnesses rendered, — 20.
The friends of his father,       with fees in abundance,
Must be able to earn,       that when age approacheth,
Eager companions,       aid him requitingly,
When war assaults him,       serve him as liegemen:
By praise-worthy actions,       must honor be got, — 25.
‘Mong all of the races.       At the hour that was fated,

{Scyld dies at the hour appointed by Fate.}

Scyld then departed,       to the All-Father’s keeping,
Warlike to wend him;       away then they bare him,
To the flood of the current,       his fond-loving comrades,
As himself he had bidden,       while the friend of the Scyldings, — 30.
Word-sway wielded,       and the well-lovèd land-prince,
Long did rule them.[3.]       The ring-stemmèd vessel,
Bark of the atheling,       lay there at anchor,
Icy in glimmer,       and eager for sailing;

{By his own request, his body is laid on a vessel and wafted seaward.}

The belovèd leader,       they down there, — 35.
Giver of rings,       on the breast of the vessel,
The famed by the mainmast.       A many of jewels,
Of fretted embossings,       from far-lands brought over,
Was placed near at hand then;       and heard I not ever,
That a folk ever furnished,       a float more superbly, — 40.
With weapons of warfare,       weeds for the battle,
Bills and burnies;       on his bosom sparkled,
Many a jewel that,       with him must travel,
On the flush of the flood,       afar on the current.
And favors no fewer,       they furnished him soothly, — 45.
Excellent folk-gems,       than others had given him,

{He leaves Daneland on the breast of a bark.}

Who when first he was born,       outward did send him,
Lone on the main,       the merest of infants:
And a gold-fashioned standard,       they stretched under heaven,
High o’er his head,       let the holm-currents bear him, — 50.
Seaward consigned him:       sad was their spirit,
Their mood very mournful.       Men are not able,

{No one knows whither the boat drifted.}

Soothly to tell us,       they in halls who reside,[4.]
Heroes under heaven,       to what haven he hied.

— NOTES —

[1.] For the ‘Þæt’ of verse 15, Sievers suggests ‘Þá’ (= which). If this be accepted, the sentence ‘He had … afflicted’ will read: He (i.e. God) had perceived the malice-caused sorrow which they, lordless, had formerly long endured.
[2.] For ‘aldor-léase’ (15) Gr. suggested ‘aldor-ceare’: He perceived their distress, that they formerly had suffered life-sorrow a long while.
[3.] A very difficult passage. ‘Áhte’ (31) has no object. H. supplies ‘geweald’ from the context; and our translation is based upon this assumption, though it is far from satisfactory. Kl. suggests ‘lændagas’ for ‘lange’: And the beloved land-prince enjoyed (had) his transitory days (i.e. lived). B. suggests a dislocation; but this is a dangerous doctrine, pushed rather far by that eminent scholar.
[4.] The reading of the H.-So. text has been quite closely followed; but some eminent scholars read ‘séle-rædenne’ for ‘sele-rædende.’ If that be adopted, the passage will read: Men cannot tell us, indeed, the order of Fate, etc. ‘Sele-rædende’ has two things to support it: (1) v. 1347; (2) it affords a parallel to ‘men’ in v. 50.

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