02 July 2011

Fitt the Fifth: Beowulf Answers the Coastguard and Goes to Heorot

Notice how Beowulf answers the Coastguard here. First, he names his king, then his family. Beowulf's fame is not enough to impress a Dane (yet), so he claims respectability by referring to his eminent father. He does not even give his own name here! Finally, he says that he will "unfold his full message" to the guard, but does not. He actually intends to end Hrothgar's problems with Grendel by personally killing the monster, but does not tell the guard this. Instead, he says merely that he has "a proposal of weight" for the king to consider.  

Beowulf gives an impression of being entirely open and honest to the Coastguard while withholding quite a bit of information. This turns out to be typical of the man. He does give his name later, when he needs to, at the door of Heorot. He "unfolds his full message" only when he needs to, to King Hrothgar himself. His speech exposes Unferth to scorn, comforts the queen, rouses the King, and so on. More than anyone else, Beowulf varies both the style and content of his speech to fit his audience and his purpose.

The Coastguard is satisfied that the Geats intend no harm, so he puts a guard on their ship to keep it safe and leads them to Heorot to see the king.
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V. BEOWULF AND THE COAST GUARD
He who was eldest then answered him;
the warriors’ leader unlocked his word-hoard:
We are kindred of the clan of Geats 260
and share the hearth of Hygelac.
My father was known, famed by the people,
an eminent noble, Ecgtheow by name.
Worn by winters, he went at last
away, ag├Ęd, but often remembered
the wide world over by the wisest men.
We firmly decided to find your lord,
are seeking here Healfdene’s son,
the people’s guard. I pray you to guide us.
We have for the prince a proposal of weight 270
for the Dane himself. I see no reason
not to unfold my full message.
You should know the truth of news we were told:
to Scyldings a killer, I am not sure what kind,
a slinking demon in the dark of night,
enacts horrors, unequalled hatred,
suffering and ruin. To the ruler I can
from an open heart offer counsel
how he, wise and good, may worst the ghoul,
that is, if his curse can ever end, 280
a cure arrive for his restive mind,
and care’s hot waves wash cooler then,
or else, forever, anguish will endure,
suffering stay, while that stands erect,
high on the hill, that house without equal.”

The warden said, sitting there on his horse,
that ready retainer, “Truly, every
shrewd-minded soldier should know the difference
between words and works, if he weighs them right.
From what I hear I grasp this group means no harm 290
to the Scylding king; so carry on, bearing
your weapons and armour on the way I show.
Also, to my men I will issue commands
to keep a watch on your craft for foes,
that ship on the sand that shines with new tar,
to safeguard it until it sails, bearing
over water-streams the well-loved man,
the curve-necked wood to the Weder lands.
Men who perform such fitting deeds
are held from harm in the heat of war.” 300

They started their march. Unmoving, the boat
rode on the sand, the roomy ship,
fastened by its anchor. Figures of boars
engraved in gold guarded their cheeks,
fire-hardened and shining, a shield to lives.
In a heroic mood, the men hurried,
headed forward till the hall of wood
stood in their sight, stately and gold-trimmed.
That was the best for beings on earth
of halls under heaven, where Hrothgar lived.
Its lustre lit the lands around. 310
Then the bold man to the battlers’ house,
all brilliant, led them, bringing them along
the straightest way. The sturdy warrior
turned his horse round and hailed them all.
I must now leave. The Almighty Father,
I pray will grant grace and protection
safeguarding you. I go to the sea
to watch and ward against warring foes.”

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