The Oldest English Epic/Chapter 1/Beowulf 15

The Oldest English Epic by Unknown, translated by Francis Barton Gummere
Beowulf: XV

XV

There was hurry and hest in Heorot now
for hands to bedeck it, and dense was the throng
of men and women the wine-hall to cleanse,
the guest-room to garnish. Gold-gay shone the hangings
995that were wove on the wall, and wonders many
to delight each mortal that looks upon them.
Though braced within by iron bands,
that building bright was broken sorely;[1]
rent were its hinges; the roof alone
1000held safe and sound, when, seared with crime,
the fiendish foe his flight essayed,
of life despairing.—No light thing that,[2]
the flight for safety,—essay it who will!
Forced of fate, he shall find his way
1005to the refuge ready for race of man,
for soul-possessors, and sons of earth;
and there his body on bed of death
shall rest after revel.
Arrived was the hour
when to hall proceeded Healfdene’s son:
1010the king himself would sit to banquet.
Ne’er heard I of host in haughtier throng
more graciously gathered round giver-of-rings!
Bowed then to bench those bearers-of-glory,
fain of the feasting. Featly received
1015many a mead-cup the mighty-in-spirit,
kinsmen who sat in the sumptuous hall,
Hrothgar and Hrothulf.[3] Heorot now
was filled with friends; the folk of Scyldings
ne’er yet had tried the traitor’s deed.
1020To Beowulf gave the bairn of Healfdene
a gold-wove banner, guerdon of triumph,
broidered battle-flag, breastplate and helmet;
and a splendid sword was seen of many
borne to the brave one. Beowulf took
1025cup in hall:[4] for such costly gifts
he suffered no shame in that soldier throng.[5]
For I heard of few heroes, in heartier mood,
with four such gifts, so fashioned with gold,
on the ale-bench honoring others thus!
1030O’er the roof of the helmet high, a ridge,
wound with wires, kept ward o’er the head,
lest the relict-of-files[6] should fierce invade,
sharp in the strife, when that shielded hero
should go to grapple against his foes.
1035Then the earls’-defence[7] on the floor[8] bade lead
coursers eight, with carven head-gear,
adown the hall: one horse was decked
with a saddle all shining and set in jewels;
’twas the battle-seat of the best of kings,
1040when to play of swords the son of Healfdene
was fain to fare. Ne’er failed his valor
in the crush of combat when corpses fell.
To Beowulf over them both then gave
the refuge-of-Ingwines right and power,
1045o’er war-steeds and weapons: wished him joy of them.
Manfully thus the mighty prince,
hoard-guard for heroes, that hard fight repaid
with steeds and treasures contemned by none
who is willing to say the sooth aright.

  1. There is no horrible inconsistency here such as the critics strive and cry about. In spite of the ruin that Grendel and Beowulf had made within the hall, the framework and roof held firm, and swift repairs made the interior habitable. Tapestries were hung on the walls, and willing hands prepared the banquet.
  2. The usual litotes for “impossible.” So, v. 1027, below, “few” means “none at all.”—As for the matter, a moral commonplace is not very happily forced into the narrative.
  3. Uncle and nephew. It would seem that after a long period of amity (cf. Widsith, 45) they quarrelled and fought. See also below, v. 1164.
  4. From its formal use in other places, this phrase, to take cup in hall, or “on the floor,” would seem to mean that Beowulf stood up to receive his gifts, drink to the donor, and say thanks.
  5. The comitatus; the soldurii.
  6. Kenning for sword. Charles Lamb (“On the Inconvenience Resulting from being Hanged”) calls a resuscitated man “the leavings of the rope.”
  7. Hrothgar. He is also the “refuge of the friends of Ing,” of v. 1044. Ing belongs to myth.
  8. Horses are frequently led or ridden into the hall where folk sit at banquet: so in Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale, in the ballad of King Estmere, and in the romances.