06 August 2011

XVIII. The Story of Finn and Hengest Ends

This Fitt concludes the story of Finn and Hengest. It tells how the enemies lived together through the winter, locked in by winter storms. When the ice breaks and a Danish ship comes, all hell breaks loose and Finn and his men are killed.

With the story over, revelry starts up again. There is foreshadowing that Hrothulf will eventually betray his uncle Hrothgar's family, coupled with a reminder that Unferth had killed his own brothers.

Queen Wealhtheow then enters, presents drink to the King, then addresses him in front of the court. Her concern seems to be that Hrothgar had promised to treat Beowulf as a son, and she wants to remind him to place his own sons firmly in the line of succession, not the newly-adopted Geat hero.

She opens her speech by encouraging Hrothgar to give proper and generous rewards to the Geats who had helped him. Then she comes to her purpose:

In either case, trusting in Hrothulf is her only hope that her children will ever come to the throne. That could never happen if Beowulf became the Danish king. His own children would inherit.

Several lines in this Fitt are longer than usual or, to use the technical term, they are hypermetric. Those are the ones marked with an asterisk (*). They are the first of three short clusters of hypermetric lines in the poem. The greater length of a hypermetric line is not achieved by adding a few extra syllables at random, though: they simply follow different rules than a normal line. The rules should be a topic for another post.



Soldiers set off to seek their homes,
with friends missing. They made for Frisia,
their houses and stronghold, but Hengest still
waited out with Finn that fouled winter,
maintaining the peace, remembering his land
but he could not drive a curve-prowed ship 1130
through the stiff seas. Storm-waves mounted,
fought with the wind, then winter locked them
in icy bindings till another year
came to the courtyards, as they come today,
presenting new cycles of seasons in turn,
wonderful weathers. Then winter was gone.
Earth’s breast was fair. The exile fretted
to leave his lodgings, but longing for revenge
consumed his mind more than seaways,
bringing about a bitter meeting, 1140
for the Ettins’ sons were always remembered.

So he did not spurn the expected duty
when the battle-light, the blade Hunlafing,
the noblest sword, was set on his knees,
its edge familiar to the Ettin men.
So their fiercest foe, Finn, was repaid
in his own home, was hacked with swords
for Guthlaf and Oslaf reopened their grief
after sea-travel. They told of their sorrow
and blamed him1 in part. The perturbation 1150
broke from his breast. The building then reddened
with foes’ lifeblood. Finn, too, was slain,
the king with his guard, and the queen taken.
Brave-hearted Scyldings bore to the ships
loot they had claimed from the land’s king,
all they could find in Finn’s estate,
jewelwork and gems. They journeyed the sea-path
to lead the lady to the land of Danes
and her own people.

                                           The poem was over,
the maker’s song. Once more there sprang 1160
boisterous bench-joy. Bearers offered
* wine from wondrous containers. And then Wealhtheow entered,
* going in a golden torc to where a good pair of men
* idled, uncle and nephew, without enmity yet,
* each one true to the other. Near them, Unferth, the spokesman,
* couched himself at the king’s feet. They still kept faith in him,
* cordially trusted his keen heart, although his kin had found
his swordplay too sharp.
                                               The Scylding lady spoke.
“Drink from this cup, my dearest lord,
“giver of jewels. Be joyful, you, 1170
“dispenser of gold. Speak to the Geats
“in unselfish words that suit a man.
“Be gracious with those men, remembering the gifts
“that you now have from near and far.
“It was told me that you wish to take
“this hero as a son. Heort is purged,
“the bright jewel-hall. Enjoy, while you may,
“your full storerooms and bestow on your family
“both men and land, when you must leave
“to meet your Maker. My mind is sure 1180
“of gracious Hrothulf, who will foster
“the young ones’ hopes if you, before him,
“friend of the Scyldings, forsake this world.
“I trust he will treat the two of them well,
“our two young sons, if he retains a thought
“of favours we did, how we furthered his rise,
“chose to aid him from childhood on.”
Then she turned to the bench where her boys sat,
Hrethric and Hrothmund, with heroes’ sons,
young men together. The good one, too, 1190
sat with the brothers, Beowulf the Geat.


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