21 October 2011

XXVI. The Sermon Ends, and the Last Night at Heort

Hrothgar continues his moral advice to Beowulf, first because he values the man himself and second because he senses that Beowulf may eventually become a king. The specific sin he highlights is covetousness: attempting to accumulate wealth for its own sake, rather than using it to recognize and reward his supporters. A covetous man, he says, gives up the "place of honour" he should have.

Hrothgar then focuses on mortality, as it applies to man in general and to Beowulf and himself in particular. The points he makes about his own life later apply to Beowulf's. Hrothgar ruled his people for fifty years, as Beowulf will; Hrothgar's prowess in war brought security to his people for a time, as Beowulf's will. The peace he forged for the Danes was shattered by the monster Grendel, as the Geats' peace would be by a dragon. Finally, Hrothgar speaks of his satisfaction at seeing his enemy lying, dead, as Beowulf will see the dragon. In a way, as Hrothgar seems to recognize, Beowulf is a younger version of himself.

Night comes. The men sleep.

In the morning, the raven announces that a new day has come, and Beowulf begins his farewells. First, he returns Unferth's sword to him, politely praising its quality, although it had not helped him in the fight against Grendel's mother. He then approaches King Hrothgar.

Then under the armour they enter the heart,
the cruel shafts. He cannot resist
crooked counsel of the cursed spirit.
It seems too little, what he had saved too long.
Greedy and cruel, he keeps for himself
the rings of fine gold. The future is then 1750
forgotten, foregone, which God had intended,
the Prince of Glory, a place of honour.”

It always comes in the end to this:
the living frame loaned to him fails;
it falls, as it must. The man who follows
gladly gives out golden treasures
the earl had hoarded, heeding no fear.”1

These wicked ways, beware, Beowulf, dear man,
first among men, and favour the better,
the timeless truth. Turn from self-pride, 1760
famous soldier. We celebrate your power
a little time. Not long from now
illness or edge will end your strength,
or flow of flood, or flame's embrace,
or clutch of sword, or course of spear,
or hideous age, or the eyes' reflection
will dull and dim. The day will soon come
that has you, hero, humbled by death.”

So the Ring Danes I have, these half-hundred years,
held under heaven, and helped in war 1770
with many a tribe of Middle Earth,
with ash-wood and sword, till it seemed that none
under sky's cover counted as foes.”

NOW. Those times in my country came to an end.
Grief followed joy since Grendel became
a familar foe forced upon me.
I bore without pause his persecution.
I grieved greatly. God then be thanked,
Lord of Ages, that life remains
so on that head, hacked and bloody, 1780
our fight at last finished, I can feast my eyes.
Take your seat now; attend our glad meal,
graced by your trials. Time and again,
I will share wealth, when morning comes.”

The Geat felt glad, going at once
to his waiting seat, as the wise man said.
Then, as before, the fighting-tough,
the seated guests, were given a banquet,
another time. Night’s helmet darkened,
black over the war-band. All warriors rose. 1790
The aged one wanted his bed,
the grey-haired Scylding. The Geat very much,
brave warrior, wanted to rest.
An attendant took the tired wayfarer
from far away, went as a guide
as courtesy called for, and cared for each
of the soldier’s needs, for such, in those days,
seafaring heroes had as a right.
The big-hearted one rested. The building reared high,
gabled and gilded.
                               The guest slept inside 1800
till the black raven, bliss of the sky,
sang light-hearted, then swift brightness came,
shine after shadow. The shield-bearers hurried.
The nobles were, away to their people,
eager to leave on the long journey;
the great-hearted guest, to go to his ship.
He told the tough man to take Hrunting;
the son of Ecglaf was offered his sword,
beloved iron, along with thanks.
The war-friend2 was warmly praised 1810
by war’s master. No words slighted
the broadsword’s blade. He bore himself well.
And then, wanting to go, their war-gear on,
the warriors waited. He went, loved by Danes,
the noble to the throne. There was the other.
The great in heart greeted Hrothgar.

1With no fear of the dead lord’s ghost.


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