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...