02 August 2011

XVII. The Story of Finn and Hengest Begins

Hrothgar completes the ceremony of thanking the Geats for their efforts against Grendel. He rewards Beowulf's crew members and pays wergild, gold to compensate for a man's death, for the crew member who was killed. The poet considers how the events that had passed reveal the condition of human life: "One comes to face / much love and much hate if he lasts on earth / to savour life these uncertain days." What we must do, then, is contemplate how the evil events may lead to good results because "The Maker ordained for mankind's good / as God still does."

At this point, the scop (pronounced "shop," a musician and poet, a singer of songs such as Beowulf) begins the story of a disastrous encounter between the Dane Hengest and the Frisian Finn. There will be more to say about that in the next Fitt, when the story concludes.

Also the lord to each of the men 1050
who joined Beowulf to journey at sea
awarded honours from his ale-bench,
heirloom items, and ordered gold
to make amends for the man Grendel
first wickedly killed, and would have kept on,
but the wise Father frustrated Wyrd
as did the brave man. The Maker ordained
for mankind’s good, as God still does.
Understanding this is always best,
so cultivate forethought. One comes to face 1060
much love and much hate, if he lasts on Earth
to savour life these uncertain days.

The sounds of music and song mingled
about Haelfdene’s battle-planner.1
Many strings were struck for story telling
when Hrothgar’s harpist held their attention.
in front of the ale-bench. He was asked to perform
of Finn’s descendants, sent to their fates
with Haelfdene’s hero, Hnaef the Scylding,
all fated to fall on Frisian land. 1070

Hildeburh need hold no high opinion
of the Ettins’ good faith. The innocent woman
lost her loved ones to the lances’ play.
Both son and brother were broken by Fate,
wounded by spears. The woman grieved
with due reason. The daughter of Hoc
mourned Fate’s command. When morning came
she was able to see, under the sky,
her kinsmen murdered where she most keenly
had felt the world’s joys. Fate had claimed all 1080
except a few of Finn’s soldiers,
so it was past his strength at that place and time
to finish off the fight with Hengest
or move the men who remained alive.

So the prince’s man then made a pact
that another shelter should be emptied,
hall and high seat, half ruled by them
and all the rest by the Ettins’ sons,
and when Finn gave out the fighters’ gold
every day, he would honour the Danes 1090
by handing rings to Hengest’s men,
equally, even objects fashioned
of fine-worked gold, as Frisians got
to boost their spirits in the beer-hall.
Then they solemnly swore, both sides together,
a firm agreement. Finn to Hengest
openly pledged that, upon his honour,
as sages advised, the scraps of his army
would be held in order, so any man
by word or action not weaken the pact 1100
or, evilly plotting, ever complain
Danes had joined ranks with their ring-giver’s killer,
masterless men without many choices.
If any free-tongued Frisian taunted,
reminding the men of the murderous feud
then a sword’s edge would settle the matter.

The bone-fire was prepared and precious gold
fetched from the hoard. The Fighting-Scyldings’
best warrior was on his bier.
Piled on the pyre in plain sight were 1110
the gory sarks, the golden swine,
the iron-hard boars. Their army had many
slain by their wounds, wasted in slaughter.
At Hildeburh’s bidding, by Hnaef’s body,
the son she had borne was bedded for flames,
the body’s bone-frame for burning, and had
white arm over shoulder. The woman sang
and wailed for the dead. The warrior laid,
the great corpse-fire coiled far above
and howled from the hill. Heads melted down, 1120
body-wounds burst, and blood spurted
from the sword’s bites. The blaze swallowed all—
the greediest guest. It glutted on war-dead
from both peoples. Their power dispersed.

1Hrothgar. He had worked in this role for his father.

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