Hastily Towards the Pyre (ll.2999-3010a) [Old English]

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A Snappy Eulogy, Eager Flames
Burning the Body
Closing

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Abstract

The messenger wraps up his story, and relates how they must now hasten to bring Beowulf’s body to the funeral pyre.

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Translation

“‘That is the root of our feud and foeship,
this very deadly hostility, which, as I truly believe,
means that we shall be sought by the Swedes,
after they hear of how our lord is now lifeless,
the one who in earlier days defended
our people and treasures against our enemies,
after our warriors fell, a prelude to the Scylfings,
worked ever for the people’s benefit and went further
than any other to be like a true lord. Now haste is best,
that we our king see to there
and bring there, he who gave us rings,
to the funeral pyre.'”
(Beowulf ll.2999-3010a)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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A Snappy Eulogy, Eager Flames

Speaking quickly is one thing, going several lines without a full stop is another. Once again, the poet is making the poem’s language reflect its content, as the long first sentence of this passage is an encapsulation of Beowulf’s deeds. In fact, it may even be a sort of eulogy for him before the funerary party departs for the pyre at Whale’s Ness.

But why cut it so short?

And what happened to Beowulf’s adventures with the Danes?

It seems his glory as a king and a ring-giver has overshadowed his youthful deeds, no doubt a good thing since it would also mean the departing from memory of Beowulf’s needing to go to the Danes to prove himself in the first place.

As to the length of this eulogy, and the messenger’s haste to get Beowulf to the pyre, both suggest an extreme need for closure.

Perhaps the Geats have some sort of scrying tradition, wherein they gaze into the pyre of a dead king and see his successor if he is without a son? Though that seems unlikely, since no one is speaking of bringing in a new king, they’re all merely resolute in their fates.

In terms of closure more generally, if the Geats foresee their doom, then it is entirely possible that they’re eager to complete one last communal ritual as they work to fulfil Beowulf’s final wish. And, the poet(s)’s no doubt eager for a clean close to a poem that has become as much about the Geats as its titular hero.

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Burning the Body

Though, it’s also possible that the messenger’s desire for haste points to something more macabre and more practical all at the same time. Maybe the Geats want to simply get rid of BEowulf’s body.

Why? Well, to keep the Swedes from plundering it, taking some part of it as a trophy, and maybe with the hope that, having been scorched into nothingness, they can build up a grand story about Beowulf’s ascent into the afterlife or some sort of immortality.

Perhaps there’s some belief that the spirit of an old chieftan can act as a guardian force. This protective possibility can’t be entirely ruled out, since the messenger emphasizes over and over again just how resolute Beowulf was in protecting his people.

However, not being an expert in Anglo-Saxon funerals and rites, I can’t say for sure what could be underlying the messenger’s urging haste. And if any rites apply to this situation, Anglo-Saxon ones are definitely relevant, since the poem’s language *is* Old English rather than a form of Old Icelandic or German.

In fact, Beowulf’s primary audience (based on its language, anyway) is Anglo-Saxons. Thus, the matter of rushing to give a funeral for a fallen king must have been something that the Anglo-Saxons related to, and would have reason to do.

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Closing

The Recordings will return! But for sure, next week sees the messenger describing Beowulf’s funeral, the fate of the gold, and a bit of the fate of the Geats themselves.

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