The Oldest English Epic/Chapter 1/Beowulf 26

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

XXVI

Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow:—
“Lo, we seafarers say our will,
far-come men, that we fain would seek
1820Hygelac now. We here have found
hosts to our heart: thou hast harbored us well.
If ever on earth I am able to win me
more of thy love, O lord of men,
aught anew, than I now have done,
1825for work of war I am willing still!
If it come to me ever across the seas
that neighbor foemen annoy and fright thee,—
as they that hate thee erewhile have used,—
thousands then of thanes I shall bring,
1830heroes to help thee. Of Hygelac I know,
ward of his folk, that, though few his years,
the lord of the Geats will give me aid
by word and by work, that well I may serve thee,
wielding the war-wood to win thy triumph
1835and lending thee might when thou lackest men.
If thy Hrethric should, come to court of Geats,[1]
a sovran’s son, he will surely there
find his friends. A far-off land
each man should visit who vaunts him brave.”
1840Him then answering, Hrothgar spake:—
“These words of thine the wisest God
sent to thy soul! No sager counsel
from so young in years e’er yet have I heard.
Thou art strong of main and in mind art wary,
1845art wise in words! I ween indeed
if ever it hap that Hrethel’s heir[2]
by spear be seized, by sword-grim battle,
by illness or iron,[3] thine elder and lord,
people’s leader,—and life be thine,—
1850no seemlier man will the Sea-Geats find
at all to choose for their chief and king,
for hoard-guard of heroes, if hold thou wilt
thy kinsman’s kingdom! Thy keen mind pleases me
the longer the better, Beowulf loved!
1855Thou hast brought it about that both our peoples,
sons of the Geat and Spear-Dane folk,
shall have mutual peace, and from murderous strife,
such as once they waged, from war refrain.
Long as I rule this realm so wide,
1860let our hoards be common, let heroes with gold
each other greet o’er the gannet’s-bath,
and the ringed-prow bear o’er rolling waves
tokens of love. I trow my landfolk
towards friend and foe are firmly joined,
1865and honor they keep in the olden way.”
To him in the hall, then, Healfdene’s son
gave treasures twelve, and the trust-of-earls
bade him fare with the gifts to his folk beloved,
hale to his home, and in haste return.
1870Then kissed the king of kin renowned,
Scyldings’ chieftain, that choicest thane,
and fell on his neck. Fast flowed the tears
of the hoary-headed. Heavy with winters,
he had chances twain, but he clung to this,[4]
1875that each should look on the other again,
and hear him in hall. Was this hero so dear to him,
his breast’s wild billows he banned in vain;
safe in his soul a secret longing,
locked[5] in his mind, for that lovéd man
1880burned in his blood. Then Beowulf strode,
glad of his gold-gifts, the grass-plot o’er,
warrior blithe. The wave-roamer bode
riding at anchor, its owner awaiting.
As they hastened onward, Hrothgar’s gift
1885they lauded at length.—’Twas a lord unpeered,
every way blameless, till age had broken
—it spareth no mortal—his splendid might.

  1. Courteous, dignified, smoothly phrased, this leave-taking speech is admirable.—The custom of sending one’s son to serve and live in other noble families was maintained in England down to relatively modern times. The concluding sententia admirably balances advantage of travel with the dangers of those who go far from the protection of their own kin.
  2. Hygelac.—The involutions and variations of this period—high compliment—are characteristic of all formal speeches in the epic.
  3. Compare for this combmation of abstract and concrete, Genesis, v. 2296:—

    When from thy heart hunger or wolf
    soul and body at the same time tears.

    So, also, “battling and bulwarks,” v. 2323, below.

  4. That is, he might or might not see Beowulf again. Old as he was, the latter chance was likely; but he clung to the former, hoping to see his young friend again “and exchange brave words in the hall.”
  5. The Anglo-Saxon gnomic poems insist on this secrecy of thought. When a man speaks or sings, “he unlocks his word-hoard.” The advice of secrecy is emphasized for exiles and kinless men, as witness The Wanderer, v. 11:

    Sooth I know,
    in every earl ’tis an excellent trait
    that he bar and bind his breast amain,
    keep fast his thought-treasure,—think as he will.