Beowulf: Hall Chapter 17

Contents

Download  Listen as you read along.

XVII. BANQUET (continued).–THE SCOP’S SONG OF FINN AND HNÆF.

{Each of Beowulf’s companions receives a costly gift.}

And the atheling of earlmen,       to each of the heroes,
Who the ways of the waters,       went with Beowulf,
A costly gift-token,       gave on the mead-bench,
Offered an heirloom,       and ordered that that man,

{The warrior killed by Grendel is to be paid for in gold.}

With gold should be paid for,       whom Grendel had erstwhile, — 5.
Wickedly slaughtered,       as he more of them had done,
Had far-seeing God,       and the mood of the hero, — 1140.
The fate not averted:       the Father then governed,
All of the earth-dwellers,       as He ever is doing;
Hence insight for all men,       is everywhere fittest, — 10.
Forethought of spirit!       much he shall suffer,
Of lief and of loathsome,       who long in this present,
Useth the world,       in this woful existence.
There was music and merriment,       mingling together,

{Hrothgar’s scop recalls events in the reign of his lord’s father.}

Touching Healfdene’s leader;       the joy-wood was fingered, — 15.
Measures recited,       when the singer of Hrothgar,
On mead-bench should mention,       the merry hall-joyance, — 1150.
Of the kinsmen of Finn,       when onset surprised them:

{Hnæf, the Danish general, is treacherously attacked while staying at Finn’s castle.}

“The Half-Danish hero,       Hnæf of the Scyldings,
On the field of the Frisians,       was fated to perish. — 20.
Sure Hildeburg needed,       not mention approving,
The faith of the Jutemen:       though blameless entirely,

{Queen Hildeburg is not only wife of Finn, but a kinswoman of the murdered Hnæf.}

When shields were shivered,       she was shorn of her darlings,
Of bairns and brothers:       they bent to their fate,
With war-spear wounded;       woe was that woman. — 25.
Not causeless lamented,       the daughter of Hoce,
The decree of the Wielder,       when morning-light came and, — 1160.
She was able ‘neath heaven,       to behold the destruction,
Of brothers and bairns,       where the brightest of earth-joys,

{Finn’s force is almost exterminated.}

She had hitherto had:       all the henchmen of Finn, — 30.
War had offtaken,       save a handful remaining,
That he nowise was able,       to offer resistance,[1.]

{Hengest succeeds Hnæf as Danish general.}

To the onset of Hengest,       in the parley of battle,
Nor the wretched remnant,       to rescue in war from,
The earl of the atheling;       but they offered conditions, — 35.

{Compact between the Frisians and the Danes.}

Another great building,       to fully make ready,
A hall and a high-seat,       that half they might rule with — <1170
The sons of the Jutemen,       and that Folcwalda’s son would,
Day after day,       the Danemen honor,
When gifts were giving,       and grant of his ring-store, — 40.
To Hengest’s earl-troop,       ever so freely,
Of his gold-plated jewels,       as he encouraged the Frisians,

{Equality of gifts agreed on.}

On the bench of the beer-hall.       On both sides they swore then,
A fast-binding compact;       Finn unto Hengest,
With no thought of revoking,       vowed then most solemnly, — 45.
The woe-begone remnant,       well to take charge of,
His Witan advising;       the agreement should no one, — 1180.
By words or works,       weaken and shatter,
By artifice ever,       injure its value,
Though reaved of their ruler,       their ring-giver’s slayer, — 50.
They followed as vassals,       Fate so requiring:

{No one shall refer to old grudges.}

Then if one of the Frisians,       the quarrel should speak of,
In tones that were taunting,       terrible edges,
Should cut in requital.       Accomplished the oath was,
And treasure of gold,       from the hoard was uplifted. — 55.

{Danish warriors are burned on a funeral-pyre.}

The best of the Scylding braves,       was then fully,
Prepared for the pile;       at the pyre was seen clearly, — 1190.
The blood-gory burnie,       the boar with his gilding,
The iron-hard swine,       athelings many,
Fatally wounded;       no few had been slaughtered. — 60.
Hildeburg bade then,       at the burning of Hnæf,

{Queen Hildeburg has her son burnt along with Hnæf.}

The bairn of her bosom,       to bear to the fire,
That his body be burned,       and borne to the pyre.
The woe-stricken woman,       wept on his shoulder,[2.]
In measures lamented;       upmounted the hero.[3.] — 65.
The greatest of dead-fires,       curled to the welkin,
On the hill’s-front crackled;       heads were a-melting, — 1200.
Wound-doors bursting,       while the blood was a-coursing,
From body-bite fierce.       The fire devoured them,
Greediest of spirits,       whom war had offcarried, — 70.
From both of the peoples;       their bravest were fallen.

— NOTES —

[1.] For 1084, R. suggests ‘wiht Hengeste wið gefeohtan.’–K. suggests ‘wið Hengeste wiht gefeohtan.’ Neither emendation would make any essential change in the translation.
[2.] The separation of adjective and noun by a phrase (cf. v. 1118) being very unusual, some scholars have put ‘earme on eaxle’ with the foregoing lines, inserting a semicolon after ‘eaxle.’ In this case ‘on eaxe’ (i.e., on the ashes, cinders) is sometimes read, and this affords a parallel to ‘on bæl.’ Let us hope that a satisfactory rendering shall yet be reached without resorting to any tampering with the text, such as Lichtenheld proposed: ‘earme ides on eaxle gnornode.’
[3.] For ‘gúð-rinc,’ ‘gúð-réc,’ battle-smoke, has been suggested.

Contents