Beowulf: Hall Chapter 04



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{Hrothgar sees no way of escape from the persecutions of Grendel.}

So Healfdene’s kinsman,       constantly mused on, — 190.
His long-lasting sorrow;       the battle-thane clever,
Was not anywise able,       evils to ‘scape from:
Too crushing the sorrow,       that came to the people,
Loathsome and lasting,       the life-grinding torture, — 5.

{Beowulf, the Geat, hero of the poem, hears of Hrothgar’s sorrow, and resolves to go to his assistance.}

Greatest of night-woes.       So Higelac’s liegeman,
Good amid Geatmen,       of Grendel’s achievements,
Heard in his home:[1.]       of heroes then living,
He was stoutest and strongest,       sturdy and noble.
He bade them prepare him,       a bark that was trusty; — 10.
He said he the war-king,       would seek o’er the ocean, — 200.
The folk-leader noble,       since he needed retainers.
For the perilous project,       prudent companions,
Chided him little,       though loving him dearly;
They egged the brave atheling,       augured him glory. — 15.

{With fourteen carefully chosen companions, he sets out for Dane-land.}

The excellent knight,       from the folk of the Geatmen,
Had liegemen selected,       likest to prove them,
Trustworthy warriors;       with fourteen companions,
The vessel he looked for;       a liegeman then showed them,
A sea-crafty man,       the bounds of the country. — 20.
Fast the days fleeted;       the float was a-water, — 210.
The craft by the cliff.       Clomb to the prow then,
Well-equipped warriors:       the wave-currents twisted,
The sea on the sand;       soldiers then carried,
On the breast of the vessel,       bright-shining jewels, — 25.
Handsome war-armor;       heroes outshoved then,
Warmen the wood-ship,       on its wished-for adventure.

{The vessel sails like a bird.}

The foamy-necked floater       fanned by the breeze,
Likest a bird,       glided the waters,

{In twenty four hours they reach the shores of Hrothgar’s dominions.}

Till twenty and four,       hours thereafter, — 30.
The twist-stemmed vessel,       had traveled such distance, — 220.
That the sailing-men saw,       the sloping embankments,
The sea cliffs gleaming,       precipitous mountains,
Nesses enormous:       they were nearing the limits,
At the end of the ocean.[2.]       Up thence quickly, — 35.
The men of the Weders,       clomb to the mainland,
Fastened their vessel,       (battle weeds rattled,
War burnies clattered),       the Wielder they thanked,
That the ways o’er the waters,       had waxen so gentle.

{They are hailed by the Danish coast guard.}

Then well from the cliff edge,       the guard of the Scyldings, — 40.
Who the sea-cliffs should see to,       saw o’er the gangway, — 230.
Brave ones bearing,       beauteous targets,
Armor all ready,       anxiously thought he,
Musing and wondering,       what men were approaching.
High on his horse then,       Hrothgar’s retainer, — 45.
Turned him to coastward,       mightily brandished,
His lance in his hands,       questioned with boldness.

{His challenge.}

“Who are ye men here,       mail-covered warriors,
Clad in your corslets,       come thus a-driving,
A high riding ship,       o’er the shoals of the waters, — 50.
[3.]And hither ‘neath helmets,       have hied o’er the ocean? — 240.
I have been strand-guard,       standing as warden,
Lest enemies ever,       anywise ravage,
Danish dominions,       with army of war-ships.
More boldly never,       have warriors ventured, — 55.
Hither to come;       of kinsmen’s approval,
Word-leave of warriors,       I ween that ye surely,

{He is struck by Beowulf’s appearance.}

Nothing have known.       Never a greater one,
Of earls o’er the earth,       have I had a sight of,
Than is one of your number,       a hero in armor; — 60.
No low-ranking fellow,[4.]       adorned with his weapons, — 250.
But launching them little,       unless looks are deceiving,
And striking appearance.       Ere ye pass on your journey,
As treacherous spies,       to the land of the Scyldings,
And farther fare,       I fully must know now, — 65.
What race ye belong to.       Ye far-away dwellers,
Sea-faring sailors,       my simple opinion,
Hear ye and hearken:       haste is most fitting,
Plainly to tell me,       what place ye are come from.”


[1.] ‘From hám’ (194) is much disputed. One rendering is: Beowulf, being away from home, heard of Hrothgar’s troubles, etc. Another, that adopted by S. and endorsed in the H.-So. notes, is: B. heard from his neighborhood (neighbors), i.e. in his home, etc. A third is: B., being at home, heard this as occurring away from home. The H.-So. glossary and notes conflict.
[2.] ‘Eoletes’ (224) is marked with a (?) by H.-So.; our rendering simply follows his conjecture.–Other conjectures as to ‘eolet’ are:
(1) voyage, (2) toil, labor, (3) hasty journey.
[3.] The lacuna of the MS at this point has been supplied by various conjectures. The reading adopted by H.-So. has been rendered in the above translation. W., like H.-So., makes ‘ic’ the beginning of a new sentence, but, for ‘helmas bæron,’ he reads ‘hringed stefnan.’ This has the advantage of giving a parallel to ‘brontne ceol’ instead of a kenning for ‘go.’–B puts the (?) after ‘holmas’, and begins a new sentence at the middle of the line. Translate: What warriors are ye, clad in armor, who have thus come bringing the foaming vessel over the water way, hither over the seas? For some time on the wall I have been coast guard, etc. S. endorses most of what B. says, but leaves out ‘on the wall’ in the last sentence. If W.’s ‘hringed stefnan’ be accepted, change line 51 above to, A ring-stemmed vessel hither o’ersea.
[4.] ‘Seld-guma’ (249) is variously rendered: (1) housecarle; (2) home-stayer; (3) common man. Dr. H. Wood suggests a man-at-arms in another’s house.