What a quiet moment in Beowulf means (ll.1785-1798)

The Original Old English
My Translation
A Quick Question

A scop sings his boasts, just like Beowulf does before Hrothgar.

Image found at http://bit.ly/2jumA3j

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I know that February is almost done, and so 2017 is already started. But, one of the things that I want to do over the course of this year is to trim back on the padding that I’ve built into my work in the past. I want to make 2017 Twenty-Seven-Lean. Both in that I trim the fat from what I do and in that I use the time I’m left with to lean more into the core of what I do.

I can’t say for sure yet, but I’m starting to consider using these shorter translation post formats from here forward. If you want to share your thoughts on this potential change, let me know in the comments.

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Beowulf parties before hitting the hay.

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The Original Old English

“Geat wæs glædmod, geong sona to
setles neosan, swa se snottra heht.
þa wæs eft swa ær ellenrofum
fletsittendum fægere gereorded
niowan stefne. Nihthelm geswearc
deorc ofer dryhtgumum. Duguð eal aras.
Wolde blondenfeax beddes neosan,
gamela Scylding. Geat unigmetes wel,
rofne randwigan, restan lyste;
sona him seleþegn siðes wergum,
feorrancundum, forð wisade,
se for andrysnum ealle beweotede
þegnes þearfe, swylce þy dogore
heaþoliðende habban scoldon.”
(Beowulf ll.1785-1798)

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My Translation

“The Geat was glad-hearted at that, he descended the dais,
sought out a seat, as the wise one had commanded.
Then was it as it had been before for the bold,
the sitters in the hall spoke fairly with voices renewed.
The mantle of night fell to darken the world
outside the warriors’ hall. All that company arose;
the grey-haired one then sought his bed,
leader of the Scyldings, the Geat, renowned shield warrior
was also eager for such rest. Soon to him,
the one wearied along the warrior’s way, a hall thane came,
one to guide the far-flung one on his way,
he who for etiquette’s sake waited on all
thane’s needs, such as should be had in those days
for far-flung seafaring warriors.”
(Beowulf ll.1785-1798)

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A Quick Question

The core of this passage is that Beowulf is shown as a warrior who observes good manners in waiting for his host to go to bed before heading there himself. Other than that, there’s not much here.

Although, the absence of action or conflict or major dramatic events speaks to how quiet this moment in the poem is. This isn’t just a break between beating up monsters, but for Beowulf the character this is the end of his labours in Daneland. He has slept in Heorot before, but this is the first night where he can sleep without worrying about staying awake for Grendel or without the shadow of Grendel’s mother looming over him. Daneland has been saved from monsters, and so his work is done.

But this moment also fits in between the major events in the social drama of Beowulf. Hrothgar has said his piece about kingship, and the big ceremonial giving of gifts happens in the morning. Right now the poet is singing where normally he’d be taking a break. And that’s what makes this part of the poem significant in my mind.

In particular, since it’s about the need for rest, I see this part of the poem as a very human moment in a poem that is otherwise all about the supernatural and non-human.

But what do you think? Should the poet have just said “And after Hrothgar spoke, they all went to bed to rest up for the gift-giving. And what a gift giving!” to get on with it? Or is there some reason for this curious quiet moment? Let me know in the comments!

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Next week, Beowulf’s thoughts turn to home, and Unferth’s sword returns to him.

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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2 thoughts on “What a quiet moment in Beowulf means (ll.1785-1798)

  1. Pingback: Beowulf and the Geats get ready for their costume change | A Blogger's Beowulf

  2. Pingback: Hrothgar starts to step out of the story | A Blogger's Beowulf

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