Boasts and Beer-Drinking: Book VII – Book IX

VII

Hrothgar spoke, protector of the Scyldings:

“For manly deeds you, friend of mine Beowulf,
and for our benefit, have you sought us.
Thy father fought his way into a terrible feud,
in time he killed Heatholaf with his own hand
while among the Wulfings. Thus he could not have
shelter with those kin for dread of war.
From thence he sought South Dane folk
over the surging waves, the Ar-Scyldings;
that was when I had just begun rule of the Danish people
and in youth governed this fierce empire,
walled and treasure-filled towns of warriors.
At that time was Heregar dead, my elder kinsmen left unliving,
son of Halfdane; alas, he was better than I!
Nonetheless, I settled your father’s feud with goods;
I sent to the Wulfings, over the water’s ridges,
old treasures; for that bold Ecgtheow swore oaths to me.
Yet it grieves me at heart to tell,
indeed, to any man, what affliction Grendel has wrought
on me and on Heorot amidst his hostile designs,
those spiteful attacks. Because of him my hall troop,
my band of warriors, is made thin; wyrd swept them
into Grendel’s terror. But God may easily
put an end to the deeds of that fell-destroyer!
Quite often ale-drunken threats
issued from warriors while belching over ale-cups,
that they would wait in the beer-hall
for Grendel’s onslaught with horrible swords raised high.
Yet when morning came to this mead hall,
this noble-hall was blood-stained, as day was lit,
all the bench space was smeared with blood,
the hall battle-bloodied. Then had I fewer loyal
dear men, death itself had carried them off.
Here and now, sit to our feast, and in the hall hear
of heroes’ glorious victories, as thine heart urges thee!”

At his final word, a space was cleared on a beer hall bench
for all the Geat men to sit together.
There the bold went to feast,
exulting in their strength. A thane bore them refreshment,
he who in hand bore the adorned ale cup,
he poured out the sweet brightness; the poet meanwhile sang
clear in Heorot. There were, as Hrothgar promised, songs of heroic joy
among the none too few noble warrior Danes and Geats.

VIII

Unferth spoke, son of Ecglaf,
he who sat at the foot of the Scylding lord.
That man unbound battle words, ready to halt Beowulf’s venture,
the deed of the courageous sea-farer, he bore the hero a great grudge,
for he would not allow that any other man
over all the earth and under heaven
could ever achieve fame to match his own:

“Are you the Beowulf, he who contended against Breca
on the wide sea in a swimming contest,
where you two for pride moved as you could
and for a foolish boast in the deep water
ventured your lives? No man whatever,
neither loved nor loathed, could dissuade you two
from that distressing journey, not even as you rowed out to sea.
Out there you two eagerly covered the waters with your arms,
traversing the sea-street, moving most quickly with your hands,
gliding over spear-like waves. Ocean ripples roiled,
the winter’s surge. You two on the waters
had toil for seven nights. He the flood overcame,
it had the greater strength, so that come the morning
the sea had carried him to the land of the Heatho-Reams.
Then he sought his dear father land
those dear to him, the land of the Brondings,
splendid strongholds against war, where he had folk,
fortress, and rings. So in truth the son of Beanstan
fully bested you by endurance in your bet with him.
As that is, I believe that you will have the worse outcome,
though thou hast thrived in combat everywhere,
bloody battle, if you will dare wait
nearly all the long night for Grendel.”

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“Well, you are very much, my friend Unferth,
beer-drunken to be speaking of Breca,
telling of his victory! The truth as I reckon
is that I more swimming strength had,
endured more hardship on the waves, than any other man.
We two dared and bet with each other
since we were children — we two were then
yet in youth — that we two out on the spear-sea
would risk our lives, and so it happened.
We held our naked swords as we two rowed over the waves,
hardiness in hand. We two bore these blades against the whales,
thought to protect ourselves. Breca not at all far from me
could float on the ocean-flow,
being the swifter on the swell, I would not stray from him.
When we two together had been on the sea
for five nights’ time, then we drifted apart on the flood,
wading on the raging waves, in the coldest of weather,
the night darkened, and the north wind
blew battle-grim against us. Wild were the waves,
enraging the hearts of the sea-fish.
Then against the loathed creatures my corselet,
hard, hand-woven, was of great help,
the broad coat of mail that on my breast lay
gold adorned. Yet, in spite of that coat the hostile enemy
pulled me to the bottom, held fast
in its grim grip. I was yet given this mercy:
I could reach the fiend with sword-point,
my battle blade. In the war rush I seized the life
of the stalwart sea-deer with my own hand.”

IX

Very often the vile enemy
vexed me violently; I stretched out to them
my dear sword, as was suitable.
They did not have much joy in that,
the evildoers, they that would have me served up at a feast like this,
they came to permanent seats in the sea-bed.
Come morning, with sword wounds
even more were laid upon the shore,
set to sleep by the sword, so that afterward none
near the steep ford could hinder
the seafarers’ course. Light of the east,
God’s bright beacon, rose. The sea abated
so that I the sea-cliff could see,
set my eyes upon the windy shore. Wyrd oft saves
the unmarked man, when his strength thrives.
However they confined me, I, with the sword, slew
nine sea-beasts. Never have I heard of any, for all my asking,
able to fight so hard beneath heaven’s vault by night,
nor of any man so miserable on the sea.
Yet I continued to survive the hostile distance,
weary of the journey. It was then that the sea bore me up,
the waters brought me to Finland,
borne on the sea of a foreign land. I from no man
have heard tell of you set in such strife,
darkened sword terror. Neither you nor Breca
have tales of such battle-play, neither of you two
have done sincerely such deeds
with the stained sword — nor do I mean to boast in this —
though you brought death to your own brother,
near blood relation; thus in hell shall you
suffer damnation, pain your tongue cannot untie.
I tell to you the truth, son of Ecglaf:
Grendel never could such a horror perpetuate,
that dire demon, over your people,
the humiliation of Heorot, were thy courage,
your heart, so fierce as you yourself says it is.
He has discovered that he need not greatly fear the vendetta,
the terrible thronging swords of your people,
slashings from the Victory-Scyldings.
After all, against that apostle of violence none arise
from among the Danish people, so he wars as he likes,
killing and feasting, prosecution he knows comes not
from the Spear-Danes. But I shall now surprise
him with the might and strength of the Geats,
bringing him battle. Afterward whomever wants to
go to mead shall and shall heartily, once the morning light
brings another day to humanity,
when the light-clad sun shall shine once more from the south.”

These words warmed the treasure-giver in his hall,
grey-haired and battle strong; consolation lived
for the ruler of the bright Danes, he heard in Beowulf
the guardian of a people’s steadfast hope.
There followed the laughter of men, the roar of singing,
words were joyful. Then came forth Wealhtheow,
Hrothgar’s queen, mindful of her king;
she greeted the gold-ornamented warriors in the hall,
and the freeborn woman quickly gave
first to the lord of the East-Danes’ realm;
told him to be blithe at the beer-drinking,
dear to the people. At that he turned more to
the feast and the hall-goblet, a king revelling in victory.
After that that Helming woman went about
to each section of the noble and the young,
she offered the costly vessel to each and every, until that time
that she, the ring adorned queen
of distinguished mind, bore the mead cup to Beowulf.
She greeted the Geatish man, thanked god
with wise words, that he her will fulfilled,
that she could find consolation in any living warrior
against her people’s plaguing sin. He partook of that cup,
the fierce fighter, offered from Wealhtheow,
and then sang the one ever ready for war,
Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“I thought upon that, as I came across the sea,
seated in the sea boat amidst the multitude of my men,
that I completely for your people
would work that will, or die in the slaughter,
held fast in the fiend’s fist. I shall perform
the lordly deed, or find the end
of all my days in this mead hall!”

That lady well liked those words,
the boast-speech of the Geat; then went gold-laden
the stately queen of her people to sit with her lord.
At last it was again as it had been in the hall,
brave words were spoken, people milled about beneath the roof,
the sounds of a victorious people, until in a short time
the son of Halfdane’s will turned to seeking his
evening rest. Knew he that the wretch
against that high hall planned attack,
after the sun’s light might be seen,
when then night had grown dark over all,
draped in shade-mail the shape would come stalking
under the waning heavens. All the throng arose.
Greeted the men each other then,
Hrothgar Beowulf, and to him wished health,
gave over rule of the drinking hall, and these words said:

“Never before have I to any man yielded up,
since I could raise my own hand, my own shield,
the noble house of the Danes but to you now.
Have now and hold this best of houses:
Have remembrance of fame, mighty valour’s seed,
be wakeful against the wrathful one! Thy desire shall not
lack if you survive this brave deed with your life.”

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