06 November 2011

XXVIII. Beowulf Returns. Queens Hygd and Thryth

Beowulf and his men return to their ship and meet the coast guard who had challenged them when they arrived. They reward him, load the ship, and return to Geatland. We are treated to a short description of a journey at sea, similar to the one in lines 210-228. After they land, King Hygelac's wife, Hygd, has her virtues contrasted to the vices that another queen, Thryth (or Modthryth) had shown before she married and reformed.
They came to the sea with confident hearts,
young warriors. They wore ring nets,
meshed coats of mail. The march warden 1890
saw the earls come, as he earlier did.
He called down no insults from the clifftop heights
to greet the guests but guided his horse
and said they would be welcomed home,
warriors in bright mail.
                                         He went to the ship.
Then, on the sand, the sea-curved boat
from stem to stern was stocked with armour,
mounts and rich metal. The mast towered
over the hoard of Hrothgar's wealth.
Beowulf gave the boat's protector 1900
a sword, gold-inset, so that he would
at meadbench receive respect for the treasure
passed on through ages. He put out to sea
to stir the deeps. He struck oar from Denmark.

They raised up the mast a mighty sea-cloth
bound by the bowlines. The boards thundered.
The wave floater was not hindered
by wind over waves. The warriors sailed.
The foamy-neck floated on waves,
the tight-fitted prow parted the currents, 1910
till the Geats’ headlands grew in their sight,
familiar cliffs. The keel rushed up,
worn by weather. It washed up on land.

Quickly the coast guard came to the water.
Weeks he had watched for the well-loved men,
fervently peering far out to sea.
The broad-beamed boat was bound to sand,
stayed with anchors, to stop the waves' force
from floating away the faithful wood.
He urged them to take the earls’ treasure 1920
trophies and trappings. The trip was not far
to go to the one who gave out wealth,
Hygelac son of Hrethel, at home where he lived,
he and his comrades, close to the headlands.

The house was impressive; the prince, battle-tough;
the hall was high; and Hygd,1 very young,
flourishing, wise, though few winters
had lapsed in the walled town while she had lived there.
Hareth's daughter's hand was open,
not grudging gifts to Geatish men 1930
of splendid things.
                           Spite had filled Thryth.
That famous queen inflicted wrongs.
Not even the boldest braved the danger,
in all that band, only her lord,
to look long at her in the light of day.
He would be taken and tied for killing;
cords were hand-knotted. Quickly after
the man was seized, a sword was ordered
to settle the matter; the mottled sword
called out the killing. Such queenly manners 1940
are wrong for a lady, rare though she be,
that a peace-weaver deprive of life
a much-loved man for imagined harm.

But Hemming’s kinsman curbed her behaviour.
The ale-drinkers also told us
she came to plague her people less
with malice and anger after she was
given in gold to a gloried youth
of fine family. Her father sent her,
in his deep wisdom, over dark waters 1950
to Offa’s hall, and here she was
fitly enthroned, famed for her virtue.
For her fated span she spent life well,
holding deep love for the heroes' lord,
the best there was between the seas
of his mighty kind because Offa
in giving and conflict was keen as a spear,
widely honoured, wisely ruling
his own country. Then Eomer woke,2
the heroes' helper, Hemming's kinsman, 1960
Garmund's grandson, good in a fight.
1This is the first reference to Hygelac's wife, the queen.
2was born.

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