Going from Hrothgar to Hygelac: Book XXV – Book XXVII

Beowulf and every Geat with him sail from Hrothgar to Hygelac.

Beowulf and the Geats sail across the “gannet-bath”. Image from http://www.mainlesson.com/display.php?author=marshall&book=beowulf&story=beowulf.

XXV

          “It is a wonder to say,
how mighty God distributes among us depths of wisdom,
land and rank; indeed It wields all power.
At times It lets the minds of men wander
toward dreams of fame to match their kin’s,
gives them a native country and earthly pleasures
to protect and enjoy, a fortified city to control and friends to help,
lets him hold sway over a region of the world,
to rule far and wide. Until, that is, unwisely, the man never thinks
of his own end or considers the limit of his life.
But a great man dwells in prosperity, not at all is he hindered
by sickness or age, neither does his mind go dark
with evil anxieties, nor does enmity bare its blade
to him anywhere, and he goes through all the world
according to his desires. He knows nothing is wrong,
but within him a measure of arrogance grows
and flourishes, while the guard sleeps,
his soul’s shepherd lounges. That sleep is too deep,
weighed down with a diet of worldly cares; the slayer then slinks near,
the psyche-dweller who wickedly notches an arrow to his bow and shoots.

“Then that sharp arrow slides beneath the great man’s defenses,
it bites into his heart — he knows no need to guard himself —
the perverse strange command of the evil in his spirit then has hold.
That man begins to think little of what he had long held:
going forth angry-minded he only covets, for pride he never gives
rings of hammered gold. What he had been destined for
is forgotten and neglected, what was shown in the Almighty’s past gifts,
God’s glory, all that was made clear in his share of honour.
Afterwards the common end comes to that man,
that prince’s transitory body declines,
what is fated to die always falls; then another takes what had been that man’s,
one who ungrudgingly shares that former prince’s ancient treasures
among their earls, fearing no retribution.

“Guard against such evil hostility, dear Beowulf,
best of men, and be sure to make the better choice:
eternal gain! Be not intent on pride,
oh renowned warrior! Now is your power prospering
for but a short while, soon will either
illness or the blade deprive you of that strength,
or the grip of flames, or the surging waters,
or an attack by sword, or the flight of spears,
or terrible old age, or the light of your eyes
will fail and grow dim. Presently such will come
upon you, oh lord of battle, and death will overpower you.

“Mindful of such I have ruled the Ring-Danes under the sky
for one hundred half-years, and have protected
them against war with many nations from across this world,
from both spears and swords, such that I see no other beneath the sky’s expanse as an adversary.

“But lo! A hard reversal came to my native land,
grief following joy, once Grendel appeared,
that ancient adversary, that invader of my peace.
At that arrival I continually bore persecution
and great sorrow of mind. Thus I now thank God,
the eternal Lord, that I might experience in my life,
after the struggle, the chance to gaze with my own eyes
upon the beast’s head blood-stained from battle.
Go now to the bench, joyously join the
mirth of feasting. We two shall share
a great many treasures when the morning comes.”

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.

Then Beowulf rested his great heart. The hall towered,
gabled and gold-chased. Within the guests slept
until the black-plumed raven called out
heaven’s joy with a bright heart. Then came the shadow-shifting
morning light. The warriors hastened,
those nobles were eager to set out
for the lands of their own people; the strangers, bold in spirit,
sought out the prow of their ship.
Beowulf then commanded that hard Hrunting
be born to Ecglaf’s son, ordered that the man be given his sword,
that dear iron. He said his thanks to him for that gift,
went on with wise words to say it was a good war-friend,
a powerful battle companion, not a word was breathed
against the blade’s edge: all was said sincerely.

And those ready for a journey, they were skilfully
geared as warriors. The leader of those people went
openly to the Danish prince, to where that other worthy was.
The hale hero greeted Hrothgar.

XXVI

Beowulf spoke, the son of Ecgtheow:

“Now we seafarers must say,
we who have come from far off, that we are eager to go,
to return to our lord Hygelac. Here we were received as kin,
our desires were entertained; you have indeed treated us well.
If I may do anything on earth
to earn more of your heart’s affection,
oh lord of men, beyond what I have thus far done
by warlike deeds, I will quickly be ready.
If, while over the sea’s expanse I learn
that neighbouring peoples threaten you with terror,
as enemies formerly did to your people,
I shall bring the help of a thousand thanes,
the aid of warriors. Of Hygelac, lord of the Geats,
I know, though he is young, that,
as the protector of my people, he will support me
with words and with deeds, so that I may honour thee
and bear to you a forest of spears as help,
the strength of support, when you have need of men.
Then, if Hrethric decides to go to
the Geatish hall, your son, oh prince, he shall
find countless friends there; for far-flung countries
are most hospitable to those who are themselves worth meeting.”

Hrothgar spoke to him in answer:

“The Lord in Its wisdom sent those words
into your mind; never have I heard wiser words
from one so young in age.
You are of powerful strength and of wise mind,
with wit in your words. I consider it something to be expected,
that if it shall happen that the spear takes him,
if fierce battle seizes the son of Hrethel,
if illness or iron edge claims your lord,
the guardian of the people, and you still have your life,
then the Sea Geats will not have
anyone better to choose as king,
warrior of hoard guardians, if you will rule
the kingdom of your kin. The better I know you,
the more I like you, dear Beowulf.
You have brought it about so that by all people it shall be said,
by the Geatish people and by the spear Danes,
we have a shared peace and ceased strife,
ended the enmity that we once endured,
and that it was while I ruled over a wide kingdom,
over common treasures, while I greeted with gifts
many others from across the gannet’s bath.
Our ring-prowed ships shall ever bring
gifts and love-tokens across the heaving crests. I of your people
know that you are firm with friend or with foe alike,
steadfast in every respect in the old ways.”

Then the protector of warriors, son of Halfdane,
gave him twelve treasures,
then he commanded those dear ones to
go forth in safety, and to quickly come back.
The king then kissed that one of good and noble descent,
the lord of the Scyldings embraced that best of men,
with arms about his neck; then the
grey-haired one fell to tears. Two things were known to him,
the old one of great wisdom, one of the two was clearer:
that he would never afterward see Beowulf,
meet for a heart to heart. To him that man was so beloved
that he could not restrain his surging emotion,
his heartstrings were wound tight at that thought,
he keenly felt his fondness for the man whom
he now knew as his dearest friend. From him Beowulf then went,
the warrior now proudly wound in gold walked the green earth,
exulting in his treasure. He went to where his ship waited
for its owner and lord, where it had ridden at anchor.
Thereafter the gifts of Hrothgar were often praised
as the Geats went on their way. He was a true king,
blameless in all respects, until age deprived him
of the might of joy, as it has ever oppressed a host of others.

XXVII

Came they then to the sea, the very brave
and young company of Geats; they wore their ring-mail,
their shirts of interlocking rings. The coastguard observed
their coming, as he had earlier observed their arrival,
but he did not greet those guests of
the craggy promontory with insult from afar, he rode towards the band.
He said to them that they would be welcome by the Weder people,
those warriors in bright armour that went to their ship.
There on the spacious beach that craft was
laden with armour, the ring-prowed ship,
and with horses and with treasures; the mast towered
over the hoarded treasures from Hrothgar.
The lord of the Geats then gave that guard a sword
bound in gold, so that afterwards he was
honoured all the more among the mead-benches for that treasure,
the gilded heirloom. Then the ship of them plunged into the sea,
stirred up the deep waters. Thus they left Daneland.

Then the mast was dressed with its sea garb,
the sail bound with rope; the sea wood creaked.
The wave-floater’s journey was not hindered
by wind over waves, that sea-goer swept forth
riding onwards atop foamy necked waters.
The ship with the ring-bound prow went over the sea current
so swiftly that they soon saw the Geatish cliffs,
the familiar headlands appeared, as the ship came closer
until that wind-battered boat rested upon the sands.
Swiftly the harbour guard was ready at the water,
he who for a long time had eagerly looked
far out to sea for that dear man.
He moored that roomy ship on the beach,
fixed it there with anchor ropes, lest the force of the waves
drive that beautiful boat from shore.

Then it was commanded that the prince’s treasure be carried up,
ornaments and plated gold. It was not far from there
for Beowulf to go to the treasure bestower,
Hygelac, son of Hrethel, he who dwelled within
his own home, living near the sea-cliff with his companions.
The building there was magnificent, the king was of princely fame,
one exalted in the hall, along with Hygd, his young queen,
a woman wisely accomplished, though she had lived
within the enclosed stronghold for but a few winters,
daughter of Haereth. Yet she was not bent down by vanity,
she was not sparing in gifts to the Geatish people,
she gave a great many treasures.

          Not so Modthryth, the noble
people’s queen, she committed terrible crimes.
For not anyone of that brave, dear company,
save for her husband, would venture to look upon her
during the day or even meet her eye,
lest they be bound in deadly bonds
thorny and twisted by hand, then made to wait for the mercy
of a sword held tight in their tormentor’s hand,
a blade with branching patterns that must settle their debt,
must slake its thirst for public blood. Such acts cannot compare
to the true custom of queens, even if she be peerless in beauty.
For such women are peace-weavers, and must not steal away life
from dear men for imagined insults.
Indeed, Hemming’s kinsman put an end to that.

The ale drinkers in the hall told another tale:
that Modthryth caused much less trouble to her people,
favoured fewer malicious acts, as soon as she was
given to the young lord while gowned in gold,
a man of noble descent, as soon as she boarded a boat
to cross the pale waters to marry Offa
according to her father’s counsel. Once there
the woman worked well on the throne, renowned for goodness,
she made the most of her destined life-span while alive;
she maintained her deep love with the prince of warriors
among all kingdoms, as I have heard,
the best between the two seas
of all mankind. As such, Offa was foremost
in gifts and in wars, a spear-bold man,
one honoured widely, who ruled his nature
and lands with wisdom. Then Eomer was born,
a help to warriors, Hemming’s kinsman,
grandson of Garmund, powerful in battle.

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!

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One thought on “Going from Hrothgar to Hygelac: Book XXV – Book XXVII

  1. Pingback: Grendel and Grendel’s Mother Don’t Survive Beowulf’s Final Cut: Book XXIII – Book XXIV | A Blogger's Beowulf

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