22 July 2011

XV. Hrothgar's Congratulations

In this Fitt, Hrothgar sees Grendel's arm and realizes that his enemy is dead. He gives a speech that reminds everyone of the suffering Grendel had caused. Now Beowulf has done what "not one of us ever accomplished,/“try as we might." He vows to treat Beowulf like a son for the rest of his life:  "Let it be strong,/“this new kinship. You cannot lack/for worldly wealth if I wield power." These are not casual words: he begins them with a HWAET, meaning "Pay attention," just as the poem Beowulf does, and he announces them before the entire population of his hall. Beowulf tells Hrothgar about the battle and wishes that Hrothgar could have been there to see it. Unferth's brags are silenced when he looks at Grendel's arm and recognizes Beowulf as a mightier (and perhaps as a braver) man. All the men gaze at Grendel's strong claws and talk about how swords were useless against him.

By the way, the following lines from this Fitt are among my favorite bits from this translation. The words fit the original meaning and form as I had hoped they would:
                                  "the wound
“cruelly clutched him. It enclosed him
“in frightful fetters, forced him to wait,
“the guilt-stained villain, for the great verdict
“that Wyrd’s bright ruler renders at will.”

(Although Unferth's brags are silenced, mine are not).

When Hrothgar came to the hall he spoke.
He stood on the steps. The steep roof above
gloried in gold and Grendel’s hand.
“For this sight at last I send the Almighty
“immediate thanks! My miseries thronged,
“griefs from Grendel, but God can work 930
“wonder after wonder, the Warden of Glory.
“Hardly long past I held for myself
“no faith the ill-fortunes that filled my life
“could end in blessings when, blood-coated,
“the stateliest house stood red from battle.
“Woe washed over the wisest men
“who had no hope of holding power
“to fend foes off our forted walls,
“shucks and shinings.1 A shieldbearer now
“has managed a deed with the Almighty’s help 940
“that not one of us ever accomplished
“try as we might. NOW. She truly may say,
“whoever gave birth to this good man,
“brought him to life, if she is breathing still,
“that the Giver of Fate was good to her
“as she bore her child. Beowulf, you,
“the best of swordsmen, like a son I would
“love you through life. Let it be strong,
“this new kinship. You cannot lack
“for worldly wealth if I wield power. 950
“I often, for less, have lavished honours,
“rewards of wealth on a weaker man,
“less strong in a struggle. This striving, yours,
“your deeds guarantee that your good name
“will live forever. Let the All-Ruler
“who showed you blessings shower down more.”

Beowulf spoke, the son of Ecgtheow.
“We gladly took this test of courage,
“pledged to this fight, plunged fearlessly,
“unaware of his strength. I would have preferred 960
“that you yourself had seen him there,
“the fully-armed fiend facing his death.
“I hurried to clutch then clasp him hard,
“to fasten him firmly to his final bed.2
“Because of my hand-grip, he had, I thought,
“to keep fighting for life and could not leave.
“But I had no chance, against Heaven’s choice,
“to hold him close nor hinder escape
“by that warlike foe. He was too mighty,
“the fiend, at fleeing, but forfeited his hand 970
“to save his life. He left behind
“his arm and shoulder without a shred
“of benefit gained by the gross creature,
“no longer life allowed for the brute,
“sunk in his sins, since the wound
“cruelly clutched him. It enclosed him
“in frightful fetters, forced him to wait,
“the guilt-stained villain, for the great verdict
“that Wyrd’s bright ruler renders at will.”

The swordsman fell silent, the son of Ecglaf3 980
from making proud boasts of his battle-deeds
when they gazed at proof of the Geat’s power,
beholding the hand high up on the roof,
the fiend’s fingers. In front of each
instead of a nail, and near-hard as steel,
was a heathen hand-spur from that hard fighter,
an unsettling claw. They said, each man,
that no fine weapon would fall on him,
though well-tested iron, and one could not harm
the demon’s claw, so dark with blood. 990
1The Black Shuck or Old Shuck is a preternatural black dog. Its name is a modern descendant of the word used in the poem, scucc. Shinings would be some kind of wraith. Hrothgar is including Grendel as one threat within a category of supernatural threats.
2His grave.

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