15 December 2012

Alliterative Verse Explanation

--> Here is an introduction to the rules of Alliterative verse taken from that chapter in my book on poetry. If you are interested to see more, visit my Author's Spotlight page on Lulu.com and make an order.


Alliterative Verse is the oldest form of poetry in English. It is sometimes called Anglo-Saxon Verse because of the people who first wrote it or Old English Verse because of the language it was first written in. After being forgotten for centuries, it found new popularity in the twentieth century. It offers poets and readers a middle path between the strictness of metrical poetry and the Wild West freedom of Free Verse. To appreciate or write it, you must understand the rules that govern its rhythm and its alliteration.

Normal Lines

The rhythm of any line of Alliterative Verse is governed by the number two. First, the line is divided into two half lines by a pause, called a caesura. Each half line, in turn, has two stressed syllables (called lifts). It also has two locations filled with unstressed syllables, called dips. You can think of the line as baskets into which the lifts and dips get tossed, like this.
 The smallest basket, the one at the beginning of a line, can hold an anacrusis, one or two unstressed syllables. Better yet, it can be left empty. Too many lines with anacrusis will weaken the strong beat of alliterative verse.

The remaining parts of a half line are the two large baskets followed by two smaller ones. Any of these baskets can take a lift or a normal, one-syllable dip. However, at least one of the big baskets must hold a lift, and a dip in one of the big baskets may hold up to five unstressed syllables instead of just one. The potential for such an extended dip is symbolized as dip(...) instead of just dip.

Let us toss the syllables of a line—“Secret meetings at the slaughterhouse”1—into the appropriate baskets to see its rhythm at work.

The caesura is between “Secret meetings” and “at the slaughterhouse.” Neither of the half lines has an anacrucis. The first half line clearly has the rhythm lift dip lift dip (SEcret MEETings), and I pronounce the second half line with the rhythm dip(...) lift lift dip (at the SLAUGH-TER house), though dip(...) lift dip lift (at the SLAUGH-ter HOUSE) is possible.

“Secret meetings,” then, has one of the three most common rhythms for a half line, the ones beginning with a lift.
  • Type A: lift dip(...) lift dip
  • Type D: lift lift dip dip
  • Type E: lift dip(...) dip lift
“At the slaughterhouse” has one of the two rarer rhythms that begin with a dip.
  • Type B: dip(...) lift dip lift
  • Type C: dip(...) lift lift dip
Specifically, “Secret meetings” is Type A, and “at the slaughterhouse” is either Type B or C. These patterns are called Sievers’ Types, after Eduard Sievers, who first noticed them.

It is usual for a line to have half lines of different types, for variety’s sake.

Hypermetric Lines

A poet might choose to make some longer lines, called hypermetric lines. In them, the first half line is preceded by an extra lift and dip(...) and the second by a dip(...). These lines do not occur by themselves, but in groups a few lines long, like this one from the poem Beowulf, lines 1160-1164.
                                                                 ...Béarers óffered
wíne from | wóndrous contáiners. || And then | Wéaltheow éntered,
góing in | a gólden tórc || to where | the twó góod ones
ídled | úncle and néphew || without | émnity yét,
éach one | trúe to the óther....2
Why the old poets used hypermetric lines, I cannot say, but you might find a use for them to slow up the action, describe a setting, or just add a little variety.


In the following advice from Beowulf, notice that the half lines have different rhythms, as defined by Sievers’ Types, but alliterating words unite the line.
Éach óne of us || wáits for the énd  (Types D and E; one and waits)
of mórtal lífe; || mán should then stríve for (Types B and A; mortal and man)
fáme before déath! || To a fíghter, thát, (Types E and B; fame and fighter)
when lífe clóses, || lásts as a cómfort. (Types C and A; life and lasts,
closes and comfort)
As in these lines, one or both lifts in the first half line always alliterate with the third lift of the line, which is sometimes called the pivot or the rhyme-giver. Alliteration on the first three lifts of a line was probably considered more emphatic than alliteration on only two. The fight scenes of Beowulf are consistently told in three-alliteration lines. For example,
He behéld in the háll || a hóst of soldiers,
a círcled assémbly || of sléeping kin,
a hórde of héroes. || His héart laughed then.
A rarer alternative is to have two pairs of alliterations binding the two half lines. For example,
Próud and déadly, || he púshed my dóor.
has lifts that begin with P and D, then P and D again: PDPD. Otherwise
Déadly and próud, || he púshed my dóor.
has lifts that begin with D and P, then P and D: DPPD. This is equally fine, but you would not usually find a line that alliterated all four lifts, like this:
And how dísmal the dáy || when I dánced with my déar.3
By the way, the Old English poets had a slightly different definition of alliteration than we do. It would look like this:

Alliteration means that the same letter sound begins the stressed syllables of two words, but all vowels alliterate with each other, and some consonant clusters (sc, sp, and st) only alliterate with identical consonant clusters.

Since all vowels alliterated, in Old English, the ea in eagle would alliterate with the ow in owl. This makes alliterating words much easier to find.

On the other hand, since some clusters of consonants alliterate only with an identical cluster, the sk in sky alliterates with the sc in score, but not the st in stop nor the sp in spot. This makes alliteration a little harder to manage.

In the end, the choice is yours: alliterate in the old way or the new, or in some mixture of the two.

1From W. H. Auden, “The Age of Anxiety.” In W.H. Auden, Collected Poems, edited by Edward Mendelson, Faber and Faber, London, 1976. pp. 345-371.
2Translations from Beowulf by Gareth Jones.
3From W. H. Auden, “The Age of Anxiety.” In W.H. Auden, Collected Poems, edited by Edward Mendelson, Faber and Faber, London, 1976. pp. 345-371.

11 October 2012

A Milestone Worth Mentioning

At this moment, the number of page views that this site has received is 10,003. Ten thousand views is a very large number to me, especially considering the narrow focus of this site. Not only that, but the number of visitors over just the last thirty days is almost 2,000. Several days have had over a hundred visitors a day.

I am surprised and gratified by the steady increase in the number of visitors. I'd like to thank all of you for your interest. If any of you are repeat visitors or even regular visitors, an especial "thank you" goes out to you.

Certain posts receive more attention than others. The star draws over the life of this blog, defined as the posts that get about 200 page views or more, are

  1. Second half of Fitt XXXVI: Beowulf gets bitten (732 page views)
  2. Smaug and the Hobbit Movie (322 page views)
  3. Eowyn's Lament (572 page views)
  4. Beowulf's Attitude to Crises, in Youth and Age (206 page views)
  5. XXV. Hrothgar's Sermon (196 page views)
  6. XXIII. Beowulf Finds Grendel's Mother (507 page views)
  7. The Beowulf Rap (454 page views)
  8. Sutton Hoo, Beowulf, and History (392 page views)
  9. Beowulf On-Line (522 page views)
As it turns out, this is also a special day for my other blog. It is just a hair away from receiving its 3,000th visit (2,983 right now) and has had over 1,000 visitors in just the last month. Given that it is a younger blog, I find these numbers equally impressive.

08 October 2012

The Heroic Imagination

I inquired in an earlier post whether thinking about the character of Beowulf could strengthen a reader's own character. I came down on the side that it could. What brought that matter back to mind was discovering Dr. Phil Zimbardo, who has run experiments on how easily people can be induced by a situation into behaving brutally. He is now interested in how they can be induced, when the situation calls for it, to behave heroically. He says that the way is to rehearse heroic actions in one's mind. When the moment comes, the appropriate behaviour will then come with it.

If we want heroes, as I believe we do, then
it is vital for every society to have its institutions teach heroism, building into such teachings the importance of mentally rehearsing taking heroic action—thus to be ready to act when called to service for a moral cause or just to help a victim in distress.
He calls this mental rehearsing, "the heroic imagination." It needs examples of heroic behaviour, such as Beowulf, to feed on.


He bid them to tell the tidings of battle
over the cliff, to the armsmen there
sitting sadly that slow morning’s day,
the spearbearers expecting both    2895
their king was killed or would come again,
the dearest man.
                                       The despatch rider
left out little that lapsed on the headlands,
but told them all the honest truth.
“Now the one who held the Weders’ hopes,    2900
“the lord of the Geats, lies on his death-bed,
“in slaughter’s sleep from the serpent’s deed.
“He lies beside his lethal foe,
“weakened by saxe-blows. No sword was able
“to make a mark on that monstrous being,    2905
“whatever he tried. Wiglaf was sitting
“beside Beowulf, Weohstan’s son,
“a living lord at the lost ones' side,
“weary in mind, watching the dead,
“the loved and the loathed. Our land now must suffer    2910
“a time of war when the truth has spread
“to Franks and Frisians, unfriendly ears,
“the king was killed. The conflict started...

19 September 2012

Apologies for the delay, and Hobbit Trailer 2

It's been a while since I've put up a section of the translation. If anyone out there has been impatiently waiting for the ending (speak up, if you're there!), I'm sorry. I have been spending spare time on my other blog and working on getting my book about poetry ready to place on the Amazon market.

There's a new trailer for the first movie in The Hobbit trilogy (which is how Peter Jackson intends to film it). Here it is

19 August 2012

Fitt 39 Finishes: The cowards return, and Wiglaf criticizes them

The soldiers who had run into the forest come back to their dead king and see Wiglaf sitting, exhausted, beside him. He tells them exactly what he thinks of their cowardice. He points out all the gifts they had received from the king were not paid back by service when he needed it. He forecasts that they and their families will pay for their faithlessness by loss of land and name. Death would be kinder than that

                                          Beowulf paid
by losing his life for lordly treasures.
Each of the pair* passed to the end
of his lease on life. Not long after,
the battle shirkers abandoned the woods—
gutless traitors, ten together—
who lacked the heart to heft their spears
when the lord they followed faced great danger.
Now, caught in shame, they carried shields,
battle armour where the old man lay.

They saw Wiglaf, sitting weary,
the shieldbearer by his baron’s shoulder,
He could not wake his king with water.
No way in the world, though he wished it, existed,
to lengthen the life of his leader in war,
to let or hinder Heaven’s servant.
The judgement of God would govern the deeds
of every man, as it still does.

Then the young man gave a grim answer
that came quickly for those whose courage fled.
Wiglaf spoke out, Weohstan’s son,
a sorehearted swordsman, on seeing the outcasts.

“What one would say, who wants the truth,
“is that the great lord gave you treasures,
“the horseman’s gear and garb you stand in,
“when he often, on the ale bench, gave
“helmet and byrnie to the hall sitters,
“the Lord to his followers, the finest ones
“that could be found, close by or far,
“this one who discarded his war clothing.
“How can you boast, his brothers in arms,
“of your glorious king? Yet God allowed him,
“Triumph's Master, to take his revenge
“alone with a sword when spirit was needed."

“I had small power to save his life
“to bring to battle, but I began
“to better my best, backing my kinsman.
“With every stroke its strength diminished,
“the lethal foe. The fire lessened
“that flowed from its head. Too few heroes
“came to the king in his cusp of need."

“Now gifts of treasure and tendered swords
“will come to a close, accustomed delights;
“your clan will lose their claim to land,
“each man among them, the moment earls,
“however far, hear how you ran,
“dead to glory. Death is better
“to any earl than an empty life.”

*Beowulf and the dragon.

07 August 2012

Hypermetric Lines

I promised long ago to explain Hypermetric Lines. The following explanation is from my book, The Complete Poetry Guide and Workbook:

A poet might choose to make some longer lines, called hypermetric lines. In them, the first half-line is preceded by an extra lift and dip(...) and the second by a dip(...). These lines do not occur by themselves, but in groups a few lines long, like this one from the poem Beowulf, lines 1160-1164.
...Bearers offered
wíne from | wóndrous containers. || And then | Wealtheow entered,
góing in | a gólden tórc || to where | the twó góod ones
ídled | úncle and néphew || without | émnity yét,
éach one | trúe to the óther....
Why the old poets used hypermetric lines, I cannot say, but you might find a use for them to slow up the action or add a little variety.

My Poetry Workbook is on Sale!

I've been away from this site for over a month now, but I have an excuse. I was editing a book for publication. The book is The Complete Poetry Guide and Workbook. It represents two years of research and writing plus I don't know how much editing.  You should be able to order a copy on Amazon, but I will get a larger share of the purchase cost if you buy it direct from Lulu.com on this page. The cost to you is the same either way. Let me tell you about it, though. Here's the cover:

Here is the Table of Contents for the first half of the book, including the page numbers:

Introduction 10
  • Poetry in General 11
  • What is Poetry? 11
  • Poetry Came From Music 13
  • A Working Definition of Poetry 14
  • Barriers to Poetry 15
Poetic Devices 17
  • Poetic Devices of Timing and Stress 19
    • Lines 19
    • Rhythm 25
    • Metre 29
  • Poetic Devices that Repeat Sounds 38
    •  Alliteration 39
    • Assonance 45
    • Consonance 48
    • Rhyme 51
    • Repetition 59
    • Onomatopoeia 61
  •  Poetic Devices of Meaning 64
    • Simile, Metaphor, and Personification 64
    • Imagery 69
    • Symbolism 73
    • Allusion 81
  • Poetic Forms 87
    • Introduction 87
    • Non-Metric Forms 88
      • Prose Poetry 88
      • Free verse 98
      • Alliterative Verse 107
      • Japanese Forms: Haiku, Senryu, Tanka 116
    • Metric, Unrhymed Forms 131
      • Cinquains 131
      • Blank Verse 133
    • Metric, Rhymed Forms 140
      • Couplets and Heroic Couplets 140
      • Tercets 143
      • Quatrains 149
      • Quintains, Especially Limericks 159
      • Sonnets 161
    • Typographic Forms 170
      • Acrostics and Acronyms 170
      • Calligrams and Concrete poetry 177
    • Translation 184
      • What is a Good Translation? 184
      • Why Translate? 186
      • How to Translate 187
    • Sharing Your Work 194
  • Glossaries 199
    • Poetic Terminology 199
    • Examples of Poetic Forms and Subjects 208
Each of the chapters is followed by exercises, graded into three levels of difficulty. The second half of the book is an anthology of over 150 classic poems. They serve as examples of forms as well as inspiration for poets and just plain enjoyable reading for everyone else.

I really believe in this project. I hope you'll consider buying it and that you let me know what you think. The next challenge is to distribute it as an e-book.

14 June 2012

Fitt 39, Part 1: The Dragon and Beowulf Praised

Wiglaf has heard Beowulf's last request. Now the poet contrasts the dead dragon with the power and pride it had in life. Beowulf is praised for his rare courage in killing the beast. (89% of the translation's done).


Then everything took a turn for the youth
towards the worse. There was, on the ground,
his beloved lord, his life at its end,
still suffering. The slayer, too,
the dreadful earth dragon, was dead himself,   2825
badly beaten. The bounty of rings
could not be kept by the coiling wyrm.
Instead, the stroke of steel took him,
the hard, war-dented hammers' leavings,
so the far-flier, transfixed by wounds,    2830
fell to the earth not far from his hoard,
no longer lithe, aloft in the air
in deep darkness, drunk with treasure,
displaying himself, but sank to earth,
which was the work of the war-leader's hands.   2835

I find there are few fighters on earth,
however strong, as I hear tell,
and daring in every act of valour,
to brave a dragon's deadly breath
or disturb with hands his hall of rings      2840
if a warden, watching, were discovered
denned in the barrow.

05 June 2012

Poetry Praising Objects

The Beowulf poet cannot seem to mention the tools of a warrior's trade without giving them a physical description, sometimes its history, and usually its fine protective or offensive qualities. He sometimes does this for swords and helmets but always, it seems, for shirts of mail. For example, Beowulf tells Hrothgar,
“But if I sink in death, send Hygelac      452
“the wonderful armour worn over my breast,
“the best of hauberks that Hrethel left me,
“Wayland's handwork."
“An aid against foes, my armoured shirt 550
“strong and hand-linked, helped me withstand,
“safeguarding my breast, my braided sark
“adorned with gold."
The modern reader might wonder why so much attention goes to an item of protective clothing, but the listeners apparently never tired of hearing such details. Perhaps we can understand them by describing other items that are of narrow but deep interest to particular groups. For example, passages like this would interest one segment of society:
His vehicle waited,   a V-8 turbo
with twin overhead cams   that came from his father
an avid collector.   The Camaro was painted
in metallic red.   A racing stripe
adorned its length   and leather seats,
factory-fresh,   in front and back.
An over six-thousand   cc engine
carefully tuned   by qualified techs
zoomed in three seconds    from zero to sixty.
If you are aware that Camaros did not have 6000 cc V-8 engines, you are a perfect audience for this type of description. Other people would pay attention to
A chinois Chanel   shaped to perfection...
A Mac computer   from Cupertino...

31 May 2012

Fitt 38, Part 2, Beowulf Dies

There is little to say about this posting. At Beowulf's dying request, Wiglaf brings him a sample of the dragon's wealth. Beowulf is still alive when he returns, but still bleeding. Beowulf thanks God that he has won a treasure that would be of use to his people after he is dead. He gives instructions about how he is to be buried: burned and then his remains placed in a tower, near the sea, so that sailors would see it and remember his name. He wills his golden necklace, coat of chain mail, and gold-decorated helmet to Wiglaf, then dies.
He filled his arms with flagons and plates      2775
and chose to bring the banner, too,
the brightest beacon. The blade of his old lord--
its edge was iron-- had earlier wounded
the one who had guarded the wealth of treasures.
down through the ages. It endured blazing flames,    2780
hot, for the hoard's sake, a hostile upwelling
late in the night, till he lost the struggle.

The herald hurried, hoping to return,
goaded by goldwork, greedy to learn
if the iron-willed would find him alive,
where he waited, the Wedera lord,
his power failing, in the place he was left.

So he fetched treasures to his famous lord,
the one he followed, and found him bleeding
in his last moments. He must again          2790
wash him with water, till the word's thrusting point
broke through the breast hoard.1
The elder saw gold in the arms of the youth.
"I give thanks for this gold to God Almighty,
"have words of praise for Heaven's King,
"the Lord of Life for letting me see
"what I have won of worth to my people,
"before my death to find such riches.
"For the treasure hoard I have now tendered
"the last of my life. Then look after       2800
"the country's needs. I cannot remain."

"Make veteran men mound up my barrow
"to shine after the fire, facing the sea
"to bring me back to my people's minds
"as it watches from high on the Whales’ Headland,
"so that sailors will say it is
"Beowulf's Barrow, aboard their ships,
"the men who sail through mists at sea."

He took from his neck the torc of gold,2
the glorious king, to give to his thane,
the young hero, and a helmet with gold
with the torc and sark, and he said, “Use them well.
“You are the last one alive of our clan,
“the Waegmundings. Wyrd swept them off,
“all my family to their fated deaths,
“earls in their might. I must follow.”

The old man spoke no other word
before accepting the seething blaze,
the funeral fire, then, flying outward
his soul set off to seek true judgement.

1It seems like only half a line.
2Possibly the one that Queen Wealhtheow had given to Beowulf and that he, in turn, had given to Queen Hygd.

28 May 2012

My New Blog on Almost Everything

Making this blog has been a good experience. I've liked having my material on-line and seeing how many people want to share it. So far, that's over five thousand visits. However, this is a very specialized blog, and I am not, shall we say, very narrow in my interests. So, for everything except Beowulf, have a look at the "My Continuing Education" blog.

23 May 2012

Fitt 38, Part 1: Wiglaf takes treasure to Beowulf

We are certainly progressing through the poem. And so we should be, considering that it has been a year and a half since I started the translation! My request a few posts back that visitors leave a comment on the work, whether positive or helpful (that is, negative), went without response, I'm sad to say. I'll continue the translation, nevertheless. This post makes it over 87% complete.

Since Beowulf's dying request was to see the dragon's hoard, Wiglaf enters the old barrow to fetch it. He sees old armour, a wonderful golden "standard," and a heap of treasure. He fills up his arms and exits the chamber.

The standard, flag, or banner referred to interests me. It is a counterpart to the standard that was mentioned at the poem's start, which was raised on the boat that brought the baby Scyld to the Danes. What would it have looked like?

The Bayeux tapestry shows the Anglo-Saxons with dragon-shaped windsock banners. One is upright, the other has fallen.

More information is available here.

The tapestry also shows triangular flags that may be raven banners, like those of the vikings.

 My imagination pictures it as a Roman-style vexillum, like this.
That, however, is pure speculation.


At once, I heard, Weohstan's son,
after the words of the wounded king,
obeyed the injured man, bore the ring net,
the woven war-shirt, within the barrow.                2755
Verging the seat the victor saw,
the spirited youth, a splendour of jewels,
glittering gold on the ground itself,
 wonders on the wall; and the worm's sleeping place--
the old twilight flyer. And flagons stood             2760
of bygone nobles--no burnishers there--
stripped of their riches; a store of helmets,
rusted relics; rings for the arm,
cleverly clasped.
                                   It can easily,
such gold in the ground, grab hold of a man        2765
and, whoever hides it, it will have its way.

A golden standard also struck his eye,
high over the hoard, a handmade wonder,
carefully crafted. It cast a light
that let the man look from the ground;                 2770
it drew his eyes. Of the dragon itself,
he saw no sign. The sword's edge took him.

Then the heaped-up hoard, I heard, was plundered;
the old work of giants, by just one man.
He filled his arms with flagons and plates              2775
and chose to bring the banner, too,
the brightest beacon. The blade of his old lord--
its edge was iron-- had earlier wounded
the one who had guarded the wealth of treasures.

16 May 2012

Fitt XXXVII, Part II. Beowulf asks to see the Dragon's treasure

Beowulf regrets that he has no son to succeed him. He asks Wiglaf to bring the dragon's gold outside, where he can see it. He knows this is his last request. He says that he is dying with a clear conscience, having ruled for a long time, protected his people, told the truth, and never having killed a member of his own family.

“This is when I would have wished on my son
“body armour, had I been given                             2730
“one who would watch the wealth I leave
“when I am gone. I governed the people
“fifty winters. Not one of the folk-kings
“in neighbouring lands, no living soul,
“wished to meet me with weapons bared,
“bringing terror. I abided my fate
“here on the earth, helped my people,
“sought no deceit and seldom made
“an oath without right. In all these things
“though fatally wounded, I find some comfort       2740
“that man’s Maker may not condemn me
“for kinslaughter when I cannot hold
“life in my body. Now, be away!
“Take stock of the gold under grey pale stone
“my dear Wiglaf, now the worm lies dead,
“sore-wounded, asleep, and stripped of treasure,
“and waste no time. I want to see
“the wealth I have won, old wonders of gold,
“facetted gems, and find my rest
“with an easier heart, the hoard in sight,            2750
“and leave my life and long dominion.”

11 May 2012

Fitt 37: A Dragon Dies, Beowulf is Dying

I've been away from the translation for a while now. Consider it a holiday after about a long haul. However, I'm back on the job, and here is the first part of Fitt 37.

Wiglaf stabs the dragon and Beowulf, despite his wound, kills it. Beowulf recognizes that his time has come, so sits by the rock wall of the tomb and Wiglaf washes the blood off him.

I look forward to polishing some of the lines here before I'm done, but first I want to push on toward completing the poem, then toward a more polished version.


I heard that then, to help his king,
the earl at his side summoned up courage,
power and nerve, all part of his nature.
He scorned its head; though his hand was scorched,
the man helped his kin with mind and strength.

A little lower on the outlandish foe
the armored soldier sank his weapon            2700
bright and golden, so the blaze began
to lose its light.
                                  At last the king
gathered his wits, got out his war-knife
bitter and sharp, sheathed on his byrnie.
The Weders' helm then halved the worm,
their fierce courage felled their rival
and it took those two together to kill it,
lordly kinsmen.  Likewise men ought
to be loyal when needed.
                                                     For the lord that was
the last of his deeds that led to success.        2710
his work in the world. The wound started
that the earth dragon earlier made
to swell and fester. He soon discovered
a deadly evil deepened in his breast,
poison inside. The prince then went
by the wall of rock, wise in his thinking,
and seated himself. He saw the Giants' work
how stone arches on strong pillars
held up forever the hall in the earth.

With hands that were bloody from battle then        2720
the famous lord, the faultless thane,
cleansed with water his king and friend,
exhausted from battle, and unbuckled his helmet.

Beowulf spoke, despite his hurt,
his awful wound. He understood
his days of life were done at last,
the pleasures of the earth, that all had passed
of his numbered days, death very near.

31 March 2012

Second half of Fitt XXXVI: Beowulf gets bitten!

Above is a picture, courtesy of Wikipedia, of white-bearded Beowulf with his iron shield directly facing the dragon's fire. You might want to compare it with a scene from Disney's Sleeping Beauty that terrified me as a young boy.

Wiglaf finishes his exhortation to the other troops to enter the fight to support Beowulf, who is outmatched by the dragon. He receives no response, so rushes out himself and encourages the king with a few words. The dragon then burns Wiglaf's wooden shield "to the boss." That is the metal centre to the Viking shield. Again, Wikipedia shows a clear picture of what is meant.

So Wiglaf shelters behind his king's iron shield, which was made not to burn. Beowulf's sticks his sword in the dragon's head, but it breaks. We are specifically told that the "bursting" of the sword is not the sword's fault, nor the dragon's victory, but was due to Beowulf's strength. Apparently, he was always doing that to swords.

His sword, Naegling, is pronounced like "nailing" and means either "the Nailer" "the Nailed One."

In the dragon's third rush, he bites Beowulf in the neck. Blood spurts over him.
                                "As God is my witness:
"I would rather surrender my body
"and benefactor to the fire's embrace.
"It cannot be right that we carry shields
"back to our land unless we first
"have felled the foe, defended the life
"of the Weders' lord. Well do I know:
"the deeds that he did do not deserve
"that, out of our army, only he suffers
"and sinks in struggle. My sword and helmet,
"byrnie and shroud will be his too."

Through the reek of war he waded in helmet
to support his lord, and spoke a few words.
"Dear Beowulf, be brave in your actions,
"as you told us in the time of your youth,
"you would not allow, while you still lived,
"your fame to fade. Now, fight boldly,
"a strong-minded noble, with nothing reserved;
"defend yourself! I stand with you."

After these words, the worm came in anger,
the awful affliction another time
to wash his foes in flaming waves,
the hated humans. The heat-waves burned
his shield to the boss. His byrnie failed
to aid the young hero in any way,
but the young man kept behind his kinsman's shield
advancing bravely, when his own had been
fuel for the fire.
                                   The fighting king
remembered his strength and struck mightily
so that his sword stood from the head,
narrowly driven, and Naegling burst.
Beowulf's sword broke in the fight,
old and grey-streaked. Not granted to him
that iron edges ever provided
help in the fight. His hand was too strong,
so each of his swords, or so I have heard,
was destroyed by the strength of his stroke in battle.
Even wound-tempered weapons were no better.

Then, for the third time, the threat to the people,
the fire dragon, vindictive and fierce,
rushed at the warrior when there was room,
a burning terror, and took the whole neck
between his teeth. A torrent of blood
Spread over him, spurting in waves.

26 March 2012

First Half of Fitt XXXVI: Wiglaf to the rescue!

Here we begin a new chapter in the story by introducing Wiglaf, one of the dozen men Beowulf had taken with him to the dragon's den. When he sees that Beowulf is struggling against the greater power of the dragon, Wiglaf is filled with memories of gifts and favours his family had received, and feels bound by duty and love to take support him.

We learn a little of Wiglaf's background then: his father is Weohstan, a Scylfing (Swede). Weohstan had slain Eanmund, the son of Ohthere, who was himself the brother of King Onela. However, Onela did not pursue revenge on Weohstan, but allowed him to keep Eanmund's armour and weapons. Weohstan held onto them for many years, until he passed them on, in some form of public ceremony, to Wiglaf himself.

Wiglaf is, at this time, an untested fighter. However, the poem makes clear that he is brave and loyal.

Wiglaf begins a speech to the other men, reminding them of their oaths and urging them to join him in an attack on the dragon. The rest of the speech will be in the next posting.


He was called Wiglaf, Weohstan's son,
a shieldbearing friend of the Scylfing folk,
Aelfhere's kinsman. His king, he saw,
hurt from the heat under the helmet's mask.
His mind remembered many favours,
the wealthy estate of the Waegmundings,
and each one's folk rights, as his father had held,
then could not hold back. His hand seized the shield
of yellow linden. He lifted his old sword
that all recognize as Eanmund's,
Ohthere's son, slain in battle,
unwanted, an exile, by Weohstan's hand
and a broadsword's blade. He brought to his kin
a bright bronze helm, a byrnie of rings,
an old sword of the Ettins. Onela returned
the war clothing that his kinsman wore.
He made no mention of manslaughter
though a blow brought down a brother's son.

He minded the treasures for many seasons,
sword and byrnie, till his son was able
to fight a good fight, as his father had done.
Then, with Geats watching, he gave equipment,
countless, all kinds, then came to his end,
wise as he parted.
                               This was the first time
the young champion charged into battle
to act as he ought for his honoured lord.
Neither unmelted mettle nor remaining strength
would fail the fighter, as his foe discovered.
when each would face the other in combat.

Then Wiglaf spoke inspiring words.
Sad to his soul, he said to his friends:
"I remember a time of taking mead,
"when we swore to save our sovereign lord,
"there, in the beer hall, to our breaker of rings,
"we would pay him back for our battle gear
"if need for our aid ever arose
"for helms and hard swords. Hence he chose us.
"out of the army of his own free will
"as fit to earn fame, and found me these treasures
"because he counted us as keen spearmen
"helm-bearers with heart, though he had intended
"that the lord take on this task alone,
"the folk's defender perform this deed
"because out of all men he has earned most fame
"for daring deeds."
                              "The day has now come!
"Our noble master has need of the might
"of loyal fighters. Let us go forward
"and help our leader while heat surrounds him
"aggressive and grim. God is my witness,(...)"

19 March 2012

Fifth Chunk of Fitt XXXV: The battle against the dragon continues

Once again, here it is in first draft. This brings the translation to 80% complete. The battle of Beowulf and the dragon is in full swing here.


The serpent came--coiling, burning--
rushing to its fate. The famous ruler
had body and soul safe for a while
in the shield's shelter, though a shorter time
than he had wished, when it was tested
that first trial. But fate withheld
glory in battle. The Geats' leader
lifted his hand to the loathesomely-hued
with his heirloom sword so the edge weakened,
bright on the bone. It bit less fiercely
than men's master demanded of it,
goaded by need. The guard of the barrow,
after the battle-blow, was bloody-minded,
He spewed deadly fire that spread out far,
a battle light. No boast was made
by the Geats' gold-friend. His good sword failed
naked in battle, as it never should,
that wonderful weapon. Nor was it easy
for the honoured son of Ecgtheow
to willingly hazard the whole world.
Against his will, he would soon enter
a distant dwelling, as does each man
when his loaned days end. Not long after,
the fierce fighters faced each other.
The hoard-guard took heart, heaved in a breath
another time. He knew torture,
folded in flames, who formerly ruled.
Not in the least did his loyal companions
sons of nobles, stand around him
brave in battle. They backed off to the trees
to save their lives. One soul alone
was filled with care. Kinship can never
weaken at all in one who thinks well.

15 March 2012

Who Best to Read out Beowulf?

Latter-day scops (poets and singers) still tell Beowulf aloud, both in the Old English and the new. Among those who use the Old, Benjamin Bagby is unique. He has memorized sections of the poem and performs them in a mixture of dramatic story-telling and song. He accompanies himself on a reproduction of an Anglo-Saxon harp. I cannot say if his style is the same as the old scops', but it is the best effort that has been made, and is thrilling in its own right. Here are are links to two short samples: the opening lines and Grendel's ambush.

Anyone interested in Beowulf should consider getting the dvd of Bagby's full performance.

A free recording of the Gummere translation, read by Kara Schallenberg, was released as part of the Librivox project. However, when I imagine my translation being read aloud, I hear a different type of voice speaking it.
First, it is a man's voice. With no disrespect meant to Ms. Schallenberg, Beowulf is a story by, for, and about men. If a woman was given Queen Wealhtheow's lines to speak, which are almost the only lines attributed to a woman, then she would have only thirty-five lines out of more than three thousand.

Next, it should be a slow, deliberate voice that gives appropriate weight to the alliteration and action, and a deeper voice would be better than a higher one.

Finally, I must admit that I hear it in my head spoken with a West Country accent...one from the counties to the west and South of London: Wiltshire, Somerset, Avon, Devon and the like. If you are not familiar with this manner of speech, think of pirates talking, or Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings movies, or Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies. In fact, Robbie Coltrane, the actor who plays Hagrid, would do a fine job, Scot though he is.

However, the best voice I've heard for the reading of Beowulf, even though I do not believe he has ever done it, belongs to a Yorkshire-born actor, Jim Carter, who played Lord Faa of the Gyptian folk in the film The Golden Compass. These lines of his could be considered an audition for the job of reading Beowulf
When the time comes to punish, we shall strike such a blow as'll make their hearts faint and fearful. We shall strike the strength out of 'em. We shall leave them ruined and wasted, broken and shattered, torn in a thousand pieces and scattered to the four winds.
Now that's an alliteration-heavy formal boast very close in spirit and style to Beowulf's own, and Carter delivers it perfectly.

One reason that I imagine Beowulf read in a West Country accent is that I was born in that part of England and would probably have that accent myself, if my family had not emigrated. A better reason is that this accent is the most direct descendant of the Old English language that Beowulf was written in.

Wikipedia puts it this way: "The West Country dialects derive not from a corrupted form of modern English, but reflect the historical origins of the English Language and its historical pronunciation, in particular Late West Saxon, which formed the earliest English language standard, from the time of King Alfred until the late 11th century.")

To get an idea of its sound, listen to this Wiltshireman, Phil Harding, being interviewed. 

Another accent that would sound "right" to me, though, is Yorkshire's. After all, it descends from Viking language, spoken by invading Danes, and much of Beowulf is the about those Danes. Here's what it sounds like, unadulterated, and here's Jim Carter himself in an interview.


Late breaking. I'd wanted to include a clip of Jim Carter saying his little speech of vengeance, but can't find one on-line. This one, however, does include him in character as Lord Faa.

11 March 2012

Fourth Chunk of Fitt XXXV, and a Small Request

Writing, for many people, including me, keeps the writer and the audience pretty separate. I know how many hits this site gets in a day, but I don't know who comes, why, or what they think of the translation so far. I'd appreciate it if you take a moment during your visit to let me know something about yourself and your thoughts on this project. It needn't be much, but it would be appreciated.


Then he let his rage rise from his lungs,
a word went out from the Weder lord,
the staunch-heart stormed. A strident call
rang out against the grey pale rocks.
Hatred was raised. The hoard's guard knew
the voice of a man. No moment was left
to try for a truce. The tunnel released
breath from the beast, burning vapour
out of the stone. The earth thundered.

The knight swung shield, beneath the tomb,
to the loathesome guest, the Geats' leader.
Then, coiled and hooped, its heart compelled it
to search out a fight. He drew his sword,
an ancient heirloom, the excellent war-king,
rash with edges, and each of the pair
of opposing foes feared the other.
With stern spirit he stood with his steep-bossed shield,
first among friends, as the firedrake coiled,
winding in haste. He waited in harness.

04 March 2012

Third Chunk of Fitt XXXV

This, again, is a rough draft. Still, putting lines up in this state helps to boost my spirit by showing some forward movement. With any luck, you'll like what I have, too.

This takes us from lines 2534 to 2549. When I reach the end of the Fitt (line 2601), it will be a substantial milestone. I will have finished almost exactly 80% of the translation.

Beowulf continues his address to his men and spots a steaming, deadly stream emerging from the entrance to the tomb. He realizes that he cannot survive if he enters. The dragon's heat and poisonous breath would overcome him.
He knew the terror would take all his strength
and prove his worth. "I must go bravely 2535
"and gain the gold, or give up to war--
"from vicious wounds--your very lord."

The strong one stood, steadied by his shield,
hard under helmet, hauberk in place,
under cliffs of stone; staking all on the power 2540
of a man alone, not like a coward.

He saw by the wall then, the worthy lord,
who emerged alive from many battles,
clashes of arms, when armies collided,
that a stone arch was standing. A stream emerged 2545
that broke from the barrow. The brook's current
had deadly heat. The hoard beyond it
he could never near, not for an instant,
nor endure the deeps for the dragon's flame. 2549

28 February 2012

Smaug and The Hobbit movie

Here is Tolkien's illustration of the dragon, Smaug, on his hoard. A small thief can be seen on the right side. Like the dragon in Beowulf that clearly inspired his creator, Smaug is enraged by a theft from his hoard and flies off to punish the nearby settlement with flame.

Smaug appears in Tolkien's book The Hobbit. He describes it like this (pp. 205-6):

There he lay, a vast red-golden dragon, fast asleep; a
thrumming came from his jaws and nostrils, and wisps
of smoke, but his fires were low in slumber. Beneath
him, under all his limbs and his huge coiled tail, and
about him on all sides stretching away across the
unseen floors, lay countless piles of precious things,
gold wrought and un-wrought, gems and jewels, and
silver red-stained in the ruddy light.

Smaug lay, with wings folded like an immeasurable bat,
turned partly on one side, so that the hobbit could see
his underparts and his long pale belly crusted with
gems and fragments of gold from his long lying on his
costly bed. Behind him where the walls were nearest
could dimly be seen coats of mail, helms and axes,
swords and spears hanging; and there in rows stood
great jars and vessels filled with a wealth that could
not be guessed.
 Another of Tolkien's own drawings appears on the cover of the book. (The same edition I owned, by the way).

This is Smaug dying from an arrow that hit a small patch of his breast that was not encrusted with the treasure he had lain on. Beneath him, a village burns.

Thanks to the site smaugthemagnicent for putting up some of these scans.

By the way, The Hobbit is being made into a pair of films and the trailer is available. Unfortunately, Smaug does not appear in the trailer.

Here's another video from the movie's set.

Second Chunk of Fitt XXXV

Beowulf continues speaking to his men before fighting the dragon.

He backs up his claim that, past and present, he never shirks a fight by mentioning how he had killed Daeghrefn (Day-raven), whom I assume had killed Haethcyn. Although he could accomplish that without a sword, both "hand and weapon" would be needed now. Presumably, Beowulf is hinting not only that the dragon is a stronger opponent but that Beowulf himself is older than he was, and past his physical prime. He never says this directly.

The "breast adornment" that Daeghrefn fails to carry to the Frisian king may be the one that went from Wealhtheow to Hygd.

He instructs his men to stay close, but out of the fight, as he is the only one strong enough to face the dragon. He hints that he is not strong enough to survive the dragon, however: his men "can better/survive their wounds in the violent clash/than I am able."

This is still a bit rough. A couple of lines aren't properly formed, and others could be  improved, but I didn't want to make you wait too long.


"I was always out in the front
"of the battle line, and always must
"be so in battle, while my blade endures,
"which, past and present, proved itself often
"since I, in the front lines felled Daeghrefn,
"killed by my hand, the Hugas' champion.
"He fetched no riches for the Frisian king
"could bring back no breast adornment,
"but that flag bearer fell with his band.
"the noble in courage. No blade killed him
"but my hard grip halted his heart's beating,
"and his bone-house broke. The blade's edge must now
"fight for the hoard, hand and weapon."

Beowulf said a solemn vow,
the last he would make. "Many trials
"I risked in my youth, and yet I wish,
"old folk defender, to find redress,
"to earn honour, if the evil one
"climbs from his cave to confront me."

He paid honour to each person,
fearless fighters, one final time,
his brothers in arms. "I would bear no sword
"no worm-killer weapon, if a way were found
"to let me go against the beast,
"grapple for glory, as with Grendel before,
"but I expect that flame will pour out in fury
"poisonous, choking, so I chose to bring
"byrnie and board. From the barrow-guard
"I will not flee a foot, but we face whatever
"befalls at the the wall, as fate determines,
"the Maker of men. My mind is bold
"so I will not boast against the war-flyer."

"Stay by the barrow, byrnie wearers,
"harnessed heroes, who can better
"survive their wounds in the violent clash
"than I am able. It is not your fight.
"No other is able. I only have the power"

14 February 2012

Miniskirts poem

It's Valentine's Day, so this bit of fluff I wrote is vaguely relevant. :-)

Miniskirts must madden the eye,
haul round the head, hammer the reason.
The pupil dilates to let in the light,
giving a golden glow to the girl.

No crumb of comfort comes to the boy
Till age gives him ease, if it ever does.

09 February 2012

The First Chunk of Fitt XXXV.

This Fitt is a long one, so I will put it up in parts.

The first 2.5 lines finish the Father's Lament,  describing the grief of a father whose son has died and who has no recourse to justice (wergild--payment in return for a death) or revenge. That feeling is then ascribed to King Hrethel of the Geats when one of his sons (Haethcyn) accidentally kills another (Herebeald). Then Hrethel dies.

Once Hrethel was gone, King Ongentheow of Sweden and his sons begin to harry the Geats. Hygelac, now the Geats' king, gave battle at Hreosnabeorh (Hreosna Hill). Haethcyn died, then a warrior named Eofor killed Ongentheow.

The family tree below, from this page, may make things clearer.

             |              |             |              |
          Herebeald       Hæþcyn       Hygelac        daughter       Ecgþeow
                                          |              |              | 
                                          |              ----------------
                          Hygd            |                       |
                            |             |                    Beowulf 
                            |             |
                         Heardred      daughter       Eofor
                                          |            |

He goes to his chambers and chants laments,        2460
a man for a man. The manse and fields
feel all too large. So the refuge of Weders—
his heart's sorrow for Herebeald's sake
ever deeper—endured without hope
of having amends made for the killing
nor showing the hate he held for the killer
through angry acts, though all love was gone.
Then, with the sorrow he suffered under,
he left human joys for the light of God.
He willed to his heirs, as a wealthy man,        2470
land and defences when life departed.

Then crime and conflict crossed the waters
as Geat and Swede began to battle
in heartfelt hatred, when Hrethel died
and Ongentheow's offspring grew
willful and warlike, wanting no friendship
to hold over ocean. Near Hreosnabeorh
vicious and vile invasions were common.
My close kindred claimed their revenge,
murder and mayhem, as many know,        2480
though one of the pair paid with his life,
a hard bargain. Haethcyn would bear—
the Geats' own prince—the price of battle.
I heard, in the morning, his murderer fell;
a kinsman was slain by a kinsman's sword.
Eofor attacked Ongentheow there.
The war-helm split. The white-crowned Scylfing
was pale as he perished. The practiced hand,
remembering feuds, refused to spare him.

The precious gifts he placed in my hand        2490
were paid back in war, as well as I could,
with gleaming sword. He gave me land,
a portion for my home. He had no need
to look to Sweden or Spear-Danes either
or even the Gifths to gain the support
of worse warriors, won over with gold.

25 January 2012

Adventures in Self-Publishing

As I've mentioned before, it's my hope to be selling a book with this translation sooner or later. It's useful to look ahead to that goal. With that in mind, this chapter from a series called "Adventures in Self-Publishing" seems helpful.

"We Were Talking of Dragons" by C.S. Lewis

A nice bit of Alliterative Verse, suitable to introduce the form to people who do not know it. (from the essay "The Alliterative Metre" in Selected Literary Essays by Clive Staples Lewis).

We were talking of dragons, Tolkien and I
In a Berkshire bar. The big workman
Who had sat silent and sucked his pipe
All the evening, from his empty mug
With gleaming eye glanced towards us:
"I seen 'em myself!" he said fiercely.

 I've removed the capitalizations that are meant to show the lifts in the line and the indications of the caesuras.

24 January 2012

Eowyn's Lament (Funeral of Theodred)

In the film The Two Towers (that is, in the extended DVD edition of that film), the Lady Eowyn sings a dirge at a funeral that made my hairs stand on end. You can listen to it here.

Since the song is in Old English, I have an excuse to include it here.  Here's what I found on the 'net on this useful page: ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Title: "Funeral of Theodred," also called "Lament for Theodred"
Music by Plan 9
Words by Philippa Boyens
Translated into Old English by David Salo
Sung by choir and Miranda Otto.  

The Lyrics are found in The Annotated Score of the Two Towers.

Old English (Rohirric)
Nú on théostrum licgeth Théodred se léofa 
hæ´letha holdost.
ne sceal hearpan sweg wigend weccean;
ne winfæ´t gylden guma sceal healdan,
ne god hafoc geond sæ´l swingan,
ne se swifta mearh burhstede beatan.
Bealocwealm hafað fréone frecan forth onsended
giedd sculon singan gléomenn sorgiende
on Meduselde thæt he ma no wære
his dryhtne dyrest and maga deorost.   
The text in green indicates the portion of the lyrics used in the film. She concludes the singing with an extra "bealo" (evil death).

In modern English.
Now dear Théodred lies in darkness,
most loyal of fighters.
The sound of the harp shall not wake the warrior;
nor shall the man hold a golden wine-cup,
nor good hawk swing through the hall,
nor the swift horse stamp in the courtyard.
An evil death has set forth the noble warrior 
A song shall sing sorrowing minstrels 
in Meduseld that he is no more,
to his lord dearest and kinsmen most beloved.
The inspiration is said to be line 2265 of Beowulf:

    Bealocwelm hafað fela feorhcynna forð onsended...
    'Baleful death has many of my living kin sent forth...'

However, the "good hawk" and "swift horse" lines are also in the same section of Beowulf, "The Lay of the Last Survivor." Here are lines 2262 ff.

                                    No harp delights
    with glad music, no good hawk now
    soars through the hall, nor swift horses
    clatter in courtyards. Cruel destruction
    has killed what little was left of my kin. 

Beowulf's Attitude to Crises, in Youth and Age

I've been thinking about whether Beowulf's attitude to danger has changed between his earlier victories over Grendel and his mother and his struggle with the dragon more than fifty years later.

In the earlier contests, he was not completely inexperienced, as he tells Hrothgar. He had bound up five giants, killed sea monsters, and "Unnumbered times/I avenged the woes that Weders suffered,/struck down the aggressors" (lines 420-425). However, as with any job interview, the applicant (Beowulf) puts the best face on his experience and skills. He tells Hrothgar that "the wisest carls" all "understand the strength I possess./They saw it themselves...." (lines 418-419). He does not mention that Hygelac's officers had little respect for him. In fact,
                                  He had borne distain;
the sons of Geats regarded him poorly.
Not much of honour on mead-benches
was allowed him by warriors' lords.
They called him lazy and lax in his ways,
no bold noble.
(lines 2183-2188). Here is the reason why Beowulf chooses "war without weapons" against Grendel. He needed to prove himself to a doubtful court. In fact, he almost admits just that to Hrothgar, saying
I have also heard the horrid being
in reckless fury fears no weapons.
I too forswear them, so Hygelac,
my high-born prince, will be proud at heart
that I bring no sword nor a broad shield
trimmed with yellow, but will try my grip
when I face this fiend, fighting for life,
foe against foe."
(lines 433-440). Fortunately, this worked, and Beowulf became celebrated at home. "Now all that changed," we are told, "for the man among men, each misery cancelled" (lines 2188-2189).

Beowulf, in the first contests, attributes victory to fate (which is personified as Wyrd) and to God, who can override fate, as much as to his strength. He admits God's role to Hrothgar: "Faith will be needed/for God’s will guides who goes with death" (lines 440-441). Also, Wyrd's: "Wyrd does as she must” (line 455). He also offers this observation: "Wyrd often saves him/whose doom has not come, if his courage lasts" (lines 572-3). The difficulty with this, of course, is that one does not know when one's doom has come. In one's last moments, it is near, but invisible. As a result, Beowulf automatically couples every statement of his intention to kill Grendel or his mother with a statement of what should be done if he dies. Before the fight with Grendel, he tells Hrothgar to "So make no provisions/for funeral offerings...But if I sink in death, send Hygelac/the wonderful armour worn over my breast..." (lines 450-454). Similarly, before he enters the water to fight Grendel's mother, he makes out an oral will: If I die, he says, look after my men, send the gifts I have won to Hygelac, and let Unferth keep my sword (lines 1479-1490).

So, how have decades of fame, rule, and aging altered Beowulf? His first thought, after the news of the dragon's depradations reaches him, is that he is to blame. He must have angered God by breaking some "ancient law." Later, he discovers the link between the dragon's anger and the theft of its cup, so his thought is focussed on revenge for the dragon's attack rather than atonement for his own sins, whatever they might be. This time, the habit of victory has made him confident that he will not disgrace himself in the fight.
                          He felt no concern,   
nor did he dread the dragon's fire,   
its power and courage because often,   
in desperate straits, he still survived
clashes of arms that came after he   
had cleansed Heorot for Hrothgar's sake   
with a killing grip for Grendel's clan,   
the loathed family line. 
(lines 2347-54)

That passage seems to state that Beowulf is confident that he will win his fight. However, it is more likely that his history of facing danger has made him confident that he will not disgrace himself with fear when he faces the dragon. If he were confident of victory, then certainly the confidence had eroded before he faces the beast. He senses his death.
The king sat on the cliffs, accustomed to war.
and welcomed his hearthmates with wishes for health,
the Geats' gold-friend, now given to sadness,
fretting and fierce, his fate beside him,
ready to greet the grey-haired man
to seize his soul's wealth, sever the link
of life and limb. No long time would
the noble's breath be bound in his flesh.
Unlike before, however, he does not directly speak of the possibility of his death. Instead, he reflects on his life and the death of lords before him: how Hrethel (now departed) had taken him in at the age of seven and treated him like one of his own sons. How one of those sons, Haethcyn, accidentally killed another, Herebeald. He then speaks an epic simile often called "The Father's Lament" (lines 2444-2462), which tells how the pain of a loved one's death is intensified if no justice can be found. He has clearly not recovered from the uncharacteristic gloomy thoughts that filled his mind when he heard of the dragon burning his home (lines 2331-2332).

Then Beowulf tells his men that they should not interfere in the fight and that it is in God's hands. In Benjamin Slade's translation of lines 2556-2557, Beowulf says it will "happen at the wall as Fate allots us,/the Creator of all men." He helps himself to his feet with the aid of his shield and calls out the dragon to fight.

Some facts indicate that Beowulf may have considered his own death was the most likely outcome in his fight against the dragon.
  1. Unlike before, he does not make a formal boast that he will win.
  2. Unlike before, he does not directly mention his possible death.
  3. Unlike before, he speaks at length about others' deaths.
  4. Unlike before, he speaks about the pain of not being able to have one's revenge.
  5. Like before, he indicates that God will determine who wins.
Against this is the fact that he makes no "will" to say what should happen if he dies. Nevertheless, I believe that his main concern was not achieving victory, but maintaining his custom of personal courage, so that he will not tarnish his reputation in this, most likely his last fight.

23 January 2012

Interpretations of Beowulf, and My Stuff on Scribd

A web page with many interpretations of Beowulf (the person) and Beowulf (the book): http://www.public.asu.edu/~atrja/beowulf.html

It's short, but full of material to think about.

While doing a little more web surfing, I found the content of this blog had been uploaded on a web site called Scribd. It's a compliment that someone wanted to put up a mirror, but annoying that he or she didn't ask me, or even leave me a comment. I've requested Scribd to take down my work.

22 January 2012

XXXIV. Beowulf's Revenge for Heardred. The Father's Lament.

I am posting this at once, but am sure I will alter it later.

In this fitt, Beowulf takes his revenge on King Onela of the Swedes for killing Heardred.

Coming back to the present, we are told that twelve men, including Beowulf, are in the dragon-hunting party, not including the person who had stolen the dragon's cup. He, the thirteenth man, goes to guide them.

 I assume this passage is the origin of Michael Crichton's concept of "the thirteenth warrior" in the book Eaters of the Dead  (later a movie called The Thirteenth Warrior). The narrator of the book explains:
I learned that these Northmen have some notion that the year does not fit with exactitude into thirteen passages of the moon, and thus the number thirteen is not stable and fixed in their minds. The thirteenth passage is called magical and foreign, and Herger says, "Thus for the thirteenth man you were chosen as foreign."
I should mention that Eaters of the Dead is, in part, a retelling of Beowulf.

Beowulf sits on a sea cliff and feels that his death is close. He tells his companions how Hrethel had taken him in at the age of seven and treated him as a son. He also says that one of Hrethel's three natural sons, Herebeald, had accidentally killed another Haethcyn. Worse than the death, he says, is the fact that the king cannot, in these circumstances, receive proper repayment for the loss.

That situation is like, we are told, that of a man who sees his son sentenced to hang. His life feels empty, over. Nothing can be done. This famous passage is called "The Father's Lament."


He remembered the price of a prince's death.
In days to come, he became Eagdil's
friend in misfortune. His forces went
over the ocean to Ohtere's son,
warriors and weapons. He was avenged.
He killed the old king in cold onslaughts.
So he came safely through such encounters
in every case, Ecgtheow's son
with daring deeds, till the day had come
that drove Beowulf to battle the dragon.
The Geat lord went, one out of twelve,
swollen with rage, to see the dragon.
He had then heard how the feud started,
the cursed conflict. He clutched to his breast
the costly cup come from the informant.
They took the thrall as the thirteenth man,
the one who started the strife and pain.
The miserable captive was made to come
as guide to the grave, against his will,
the hall in the earth that he alone knew
the buried barrow with billows near,
the struggling sea. Inside was filled
with worked gold and wires, watched by a beast
an aggressive guard grasping the treasures
old under earth. No easy bargain
for any man entering there.

The king sat on the cliffs, accustomed to war.
and welcomed his hearthmates with wishes for health,
the Geats' gold-friend, now given to sadness,
fretting and fierce, his fate beside him,
ready to greet the grey-haired man
to seize his soul's wealth, sever the link
of life and limb. No long time would
the noble's breath be bound in his flesh.

Beowulf said, the son of Ecgtheow,
"I often, when young, weathered blows,
in times of war. I remember them all.
I was seven winters when the wealthy lord,
the folk's lord and friend, from my father took me
to have and to hold. Hrethel, the king
gave feasts and gifts, regardful of kinship.
Throughout my life there, he thought me no less,
a man of his fortress, than his flesh and blood,
Herebald and Haethcyn and my Hygelac.

Without warning, the eldest of these
was borne to his death-bed by a brother's act,
when Haethcyn killed him with a horn-bow,
his lord and friend felled by an arrow
that missed its mark, and murdered his kinsman,
one brother the other, with a bloody shaft.
No fee made it good, a grievous wrong,
exhausting the heart, but, hard as it is,
the earl must die without requital.

It is tragic for an aged man
to suffer the sight of his son riding,
a youth on the gallows. He gives a lament
a sorrowful song that his son hangs there
to comfort a raven. He cannot give
from age or wisdom, any assistance
He still remembers, every morning
who had departed. He hopes for no other
and will not wait walled up for a child
to inherit his wealth, when the one he had
by Death's decree was cruelly treated.
He sees, in sadness, his son's dwelling,
the wine-hall wasted, a wind-swept shelter,
robbed of pleasure. The riders sleep,
heroes hidden. No harp resounds
in happy halls, as had once been.