11 October 2011

XXV. Hrothgar's Sermon

Once Beowulf arrives back at Heorot with Grendel's head, he hands over to Hrothgar a hilt. This is all that is left of the giants' sword that had killed Grendel's mother. It is a "sign of glory," he says, then summarizes the fight. He credits God for timely help. He promises that the danger to Hrothgar's people is over now and that appropriate revenge was taken.

Hrothgar examines the hilt and then speaks. He praises Beowulf, of course, but obviously sees a great future for him, and offers the benefit of his experience to prepare him for it.

He tells Beowulf to keep hold of the credit he has won by protecting and comforting those set under him. His admonition is the same as that in Luke 12:48: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." More concisely, He is reminding Beowulf that noblesse oblige.

Heremod is again mentioned as someone whose strength and position gave him a potential for greatness, but who forgot his duty, killed his own people and failed to reward with appropriate gifts.  He died alone and unhonoured.

Hrothgar then paints a more general picture of a man to whom God gives a rich and easy life, so his pride in himself grows to the point that his soul is in danger from "the killer / whose arrows' aim is always good."

This speech is sometimes called "Hrothgar's Sermon," and it is continued in the next Fitt.

Lines 1705-7 are the poem's second use of hypermetric lines (a specific form that produces longer-than-usual lines). They are marked with an asterisk (*).
Beowulf spoke, the son of Ecgtheow.
“NOW. This sea-won hilt, Healfdene's son,
“Prince of the Danes, we are pleased to bring you.
“You see before you a sign of glory.
“To leave with my life was less than easy,
“war under water. The work I did
“required all my strength. Still, and quickly,
“that grapple would have ended, but God shielded me.
“With Hrunting I held no hope of success;
“it worked no effect, though a fine weapon. 1660
“But the Lord of Men allowed me the grace
“to behold on the wall, hanging in beauty,
“a potent old sword—often he points out
“a way to the friendless. I forced out the blade
“and felled in the fight, when fate allowed,
“the home's defenders. Then that fighting sword,
“wave-patterned, burned up as blood washed over,
“the hottest war-sweat. The hilt, though, I carried
“here from the demons. I redressed the crime
“of Danish deaths, as due and right. 1670
“You have my word that you will, in Heort,
“sleep without sadness with your soldier band,
“and each thane, too, all through your kingdom,
“father and son. Fear no more evil
“to come from that quarter, King of the Scyldings,
“no more of the death-wounds you dreaded before.”
Then the golden hilt was handed over
to the aged fighter, the august king.
The old work of giants joined the possessions
of the Danish king after the devils' fall: 1680
a wonder-smith's work, when the Earth lost
the furious fiend, the foe of God,
guilty of murder, and his mother, too.
It went to the keeping of kings of this world
who excelled the others by either sea
of Northern lands in lavish giving.
Then Hrothgar spoke. He inspected the hilt,
the ancient heirloom, etched with the story
of the old dispute, when the ocean slew
the race of giants in rushing floods. 1690
They fared poorly, a people divided
from eternal God. They got in return
rising waters as the Ruler’s gift.
Engraved in the gold of the glowing hilt,
the uprights of runes, rightly inscribed,
set down and said the sword's first owner,
the man it was made for, that matchless blade
and winding-snake hilt.
                                               And the wise one spoke,
Healfdene’s son. The hall fell silent.
“One who treats men with truth and right, 1700
“remembers old times, protected this land,
“may tell you this: Truly, this lord here
“was born to excel! You have built a name
“to the farthest fringes, my friend Beowulf;
* “credit comes from all quarters, so now keep hold of it
* “steadily, with strength from wisdom, and I still shall give you
* “support, such as we spoke of. You must spread comfort to those
“who live in your care, through long years to come,
“and help heroes.
                                    “Heremod did not
“to Ecgwela's sons, the Honour-Scyldings. 1710
“He bore no blessing but bitter slaughter
“dealing out death to Danish folk.
“He felled in fury friends of his table,
“companions in the press, till he passed alone,
“that lofty king, from life's pleasures.
“Though mighty God gave him strength
“that made him more than men about him,
“garnered him greatness, there grew in his heart
“a breast’s treasure1 of blood-thirst. No bracelets were given
“to honour Danes. Dour, he existed 1720
“enduring the pain of daily strife,
“a plague on his people.
                                                “Profit from this
“to understand virtue. This story's teller
“is wise from his winters. How wonderful to say
“how mighty God gives to mankind
“wisdom—He draws it from deep knowledge—
“stout heart and estate. He stands over all.
“He delights, at times, to allow a man
“of fine family his fondest wish,
“awards in his birthplace the best of this world: 1730
“to have command of men in a hold,
“to put under his rule part of the earth,
“a wide kingdom. He cannot himself,
“blind to its cause, believe it will end.
“He lives in plenty. No pain arrives
“from illness nor age; no anguish afflicts him,
“darkens his spirit; nor disputes arise
“stemming from hatred. Instead the world
“wends as he wills it, no worse than before.
“Meanwhile, inside him, his measure of pride 1740
“grows and engorges till the guard is asleep,
“the soul's keeper. The sleep is profound
“and caught up in distractions. The killer is near
“whose arrows’ aim is always good.”

1The breast’s treasure is the heart.

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