29 June 2011

Fitt the Fourth (Our Hero Enters)

 In this short section, King Hrothgar is presented as helpless, and a mysterious "man of the Geats" hears stories of his plight. He is, we are told, the "mightiest man" alive at this time. He does not rush off half-cocked to help Hrothgar, but consults with older men who, in turn, consult the signs and portents before encouraging him. He then assembles a band of fourteen trustworthy comrades (with himself, they made fifteen), finds a ship, stocks it, and sails off. The journey to Denmark is one of the beautiful bits of description. When the man with no name (yet) disembarks in Denmark, a watchful coastguard immediately rides down to challenge him.

As happens in intense or important moments of the poem, the intensity is marked by more and more lines alliterating on three stresses instead of two. This is very hard to reproduce in a translation, so I do so where I can, and where I can't, I substitute by having two pairs of alliterating words. For example:

Three alliterating stresses: "The skiff scudded on, skipping over waves," (skiff, scudded, skipping).

Two pairs of alliterating stresses:  "found some comrades, full of courage," (found, comrades//full, courage).

For the record, it is much easier to find two pairs of alliterations than to find three alliterations, so I over-use this technique.


In this time of heartbreak Healfdene’s son
had whirling thoughts. His wisdom could not        190
restrain their troubles. The strife was too great,
that lay on his people, loathsome and long,
fiendish and fierce, the first among nightmares.

He heard news at home, Hygelac’s thane,
a good Geatsman, of Grendel’s deeds.
He was, of all men, the mightiest one
in that earlier day of earthly life,
princely and strong. He said to prepare
a walker on waves. The war-king who lived
over the swan-road he swore he would find,        200
since that mighty lord was lacking men.
The prince was not discouraged by his prudent friends
from facing this danger, though dear to them.
They pressed on the hero and praised the omens.
The good man had, among the Geats,
found some comrades, full of courage,
the finest of men, to make fifteen.
Seeking a sea-wood, the soldiers followed
an able seaman to the edge of land.

The short days passed; the ship floated on waves,    210
the boat under cliffs. They climbed aboard
and went to the prow. The waters turned
sea against sand. The sailors carried
into the boat’s bosom bright war-harness,
weapons and mail. The men pushed off
on a trip they craved in the trim craft.
The skiff scudded on, skipping over waves,
the foam-necked floater, flying like a bird
until the due time came, on the day after,
that the curving prow approached journey’s end.    220
So the sailors sighted the land:
sea-cliffs shining, shores towering,
headlands wide. Then wandering halted
at the sea’s limit. They leapt over the sides,
and the Wedermen waded ashore
and moored the sea-wood. Their mail rattled,
those battle garments. The band thanked God
that the Lord had stilled the sea-lanes for them.

Then he saw from the wall, a sentry of Scyldings
fulfilling his duty, defending sea cliffs,        230
that carried on gangplanks were glittering shields,
fighting equipment. Questions filled him.
To learn what manner of men these were,
he cantered his horse to the coastline below,
Hrothgar’s bondsman. He brandished his spear,
the great wood shaft, and greeted them as he should:
“What are you, then, wearers-of-armour,
“in shirts of steel, who steered this ship,
“setting a course across the sea-ways,
“here over waters, wearing helmets?            240
“I am coast warden, watching the sea
“so in the Danish realm no reaver could
“launch an attack from a longboat fleet.
“No-one has ever more openly come
“with linden shields, and, lacking the password
“our warriors say, you certainly lack
“our kinsmen’s agreement. No greater have I seen
“or more noble than a man with you,
“that mail-clad one; no commoner
“jumped up with a sword, to judge by his looks,         250
“so different from others’. But I must now
“learn your family, before allowing
“enemy spies who entered Denmark
“to go farther in. Foreigners, now,
“seafarers all, receive from me
“one simple thought: the sooner the better,
“tell me the land you left for here.”

No comments:

Post a Comment