26 July 2011

XVI. Celebration in Heort

With Grendel dead, a celebration is in order. Hrothgar sees to it. The hall has been damaged but, with weavings hung and precious goods set out, is still beautiful and impressive. Grendel's fate reminds the poet that we all "struggle and die" which is "no light thing." Once the party is going, Hrothgar and Hrothulf sit companionably, neither knowing that Hrothulf would, one day, kill at least one of Hrothgar's sons and take the throne for himself. As the poet says, "No false-hearted strokes / had flown as yet between Folk-Scyldings." Then Hrothgar gave Beowulf several gifts: "a golden flag,/an embroidered banner. A byrnie and helmet/and splendid sword." These gifts are a warm-up for a more substantial one. Hrothgar orders that eight horses be brought into the hall so that he can give them to Beowulf. One of them is bearing Hrothgar's own finely-worked and precious saddle.
 It is important that these were given publicly, ceremonially. They "were seen by many/borne to Beowulf." Hrothgar's generosity confirms him as honorable and properly grateful, a man worth serving. This message would not be lost on his own men.

On hurried orders, Heorot’s rooms
were made ready by many hands.
Women and men in the wine-hall
and guest-hall prepared. Gold shone brightly,
weavings on walls, wonderful sights.
Each man stood and stared, amazed.
That bright building was broken inside
though straps of steel strengthened its walls.
Hinges hung off; the hall-roof alone
remained intact from the time the fiend, 1000
tainted by misdeeds, twisted to run
with no hope of life: No light thing, that,
to flee for one’s life; let anyone try.
But soul-bearers struggle and win
(and so they must, the sons of men
and all that live) to empty lodgings
where their bodies, bound to death-beds,
sleep after the feast. At the fitting time
Haelfdene’s son proceeded to the hall.
The king himself would sit to feast. 1010
I have never heard of a host so large
that bore themselves better about their lord.
They bent onto benches. The bearers of glory
were glad at the table. They took with grace
countless meadcups, two mighty kinsmen,
fearless heroes in the festive hall,
Hrothgar and Hrothulf. Heort inside
was filled with friends. No false-hearted strokes
had flown as yet between Folk-Scyldings.
Then Healfdene’s son handed Beowulf 1020
a gift for his triumph, a golden flag,
an embroidered banner. A byrnie and helmet
and splendid sword were seen by many
borne to Beowulf. The brave man picked up
a flagon from the floor. He felt not at all
poorly repaid by these precious gifts.
I have failed to find that four such treasures
so rich with gold were given often
by lords on benches with a better will.
A hard ridge there on the helmet’s roof, 1030
wound round with wires, warded off damage,
so no files’ work, though fiercely driven,
could shear the tempered helm when a shielded earl
must face his foes in the field of war.

The earl-saver then ordered eight of his horses
with handsome halters onto the hall’s floor
within the walls. One of them stood,
its saddle skilfully set with jewels.
That was the sovereign’s seat of battle
when Healfdene’s son had decided 1040
to fight in the front. It never failed his need
nor famed skills at fighting amid falling dead.
Then Beowulf received both of these treasures;
the Ingwins’ guard gave him possession
of horses and weapons, with hopes for good use.
By such manly means, the admired lord,
warden of war-gold, rewarded armed clashes
with horses and heirlooms. He behaved with honour
say those who tell the truth as it is.

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