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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From ‘Beowulf’

By Anglo-Saxon Literature

  • Translation of John Leslie Hall

    (See full text.)
  • [The Spear-Danes intrust the dead body of King Scyld to the sea, in a splendidly adorned ship. He had come to them mysteriously, alone in a ship, when an infant.]

  • AT the hour that was fated

    Scyld then departed to the All-Father’s keeping

    War-like to wend him; away then they bare him

    To the flood of the current, his fond-loving comrades,

    As himself he had bidden, while the friend of the Scyldings

    Word-sway wielded, and the well-lovèd land prince

    Long did rule them. The ring-stemmèd vessel,

    Bark of the atheling, lay there at anchor,

    Icy in glimmer and eager for sailing;

    The beloved leader laid they down there,

    Giver of rings, on the breast of the vessel,

    The famed by the mainmast. A many of jewels,

    Of fretted embossings, from far-lands brought over,

    Was placed near at hand then; and heard I not ever

    That a folk ever furnished a float more superbly

    With weapons of warfare, weeds for the battle,

    Bills and burnies; on his bosom sparkled

    Many a jewel that with him must travel

    On the flush of the flood afar on the current.

    And favors no fewer they furnished him soothly,

    Excellent folk-gems, than others had given him

    Lone on the main, the merest of infants:

    And a gold-fashioned standard they stretched under heaven

    High o’er his head, let the holm-currents bear him,

    Seaward consigned him: sad was their spirit,

    Their mood very mournful. Men are not able

    Soothly to tell us, they in halls who reside,

    Heroes under heaven, to what haven he hied.

    They guard the wolf-coverts,

    Lands inaccessible, wind-beaten nesses,

    Fearfullest fen-deeps, where a flood from the mountains

    ’Neath mists of the nesses netherward rattles,

    The stream under earth: not far is it henceward

    Measured by mile-lengths the mere-water standeth,

    Which forests hang over, with frost-whiting covered,

    A firm-rooted forest, the floods overshadow.

    There ever at night one an ill-meaning portent,

    A fire-flood may see; ’mong children of men

    None liveth so wise that wot of the bottom;

    Though harassed by hounds the heath-stepper seek for,

    Fly to the forest, firm-antlered he-deer,

    Spurred from afar, his spirit he yieldeth,

    His life on the shore, ere in he will venture

    To cover his head. Uncanny the place is:

    Thence upward ascendeth the surging of waters,

    Wan to the welkin, when the wind is stirring

    The weather unpleasing, till the air groweth gloomy,

    Then the heavens lower.

    [Beowulf has plunged into the water of the mere in pursuit of Grendel’s mother, and is a whole day in reaching the bottom. He is seized by the monster and carried to her cavern, where the combat ensues.]

    The earl then discovered he was down in some cavern

    Where no water whatever anywise harmed him,

    And the clutch of the current could come not anear him,

    Since the roofed-hall prevented; brightness a-gleaming,

    Fire-light he saw, flashing resplendent.

    The good one saw then the sea-bottom’s monster,

    The mighty mere-woman: he made a great onset

    With weapon-of-battle; his hand not desisted

    From striking; the war-blade struck on her head then

    A battle-song greedy. The stranger perceived then

    The sword would not bite, her life would not injure,

    But the falchion failed the folk-prince when straitened:

    Erst had it often onsets encountered,

    Oft cloven the helmet, the fated one’s armor;

    ’Twas the first time that ever the excellent jewel

    Had failed of its fame. Firm-mooded after,

    Not heedless of valor, but mindful of glory

    Was Higelac’s kinsman; the hero-chief angry

    Cast then his carved-sword covered with jewels

    That it lay on the earth, hard and steel-pointed;

    He hoped in his strength, his hand-grapple sturdy.

    So any must act whenever he thinketh

    To gain him in battle glory unending,

    And is reckless of living. The lord of the War-Geats

    (He shrank not from battle) seized by the shoulder

    The mother of Grendel; then mighty in struggle

    Swung he his enemy, since his anger was kindled,

    That she fell to the floor. With furious grapple

    She gave him requital early thereafter,

    And stretched out to grab him; the strongest of warriors

    Faint-mooded stumbled, till he fell in his traces,

    Foot-going champion. Then she sat on the hall-guest

    And wielded her war-knife wide-bladed, flashing,

    For her son would take vengeance, her one only bairn.

    His breast-armor woven bode on his shoulder;

    It guarded his life, the entrance defended

    ’Gainst sword-point and edges. Ecgtheow’s son there

    Had fatally journeyed, champion of Geatmen,

    In the arms of the ocean, had the armor not given,

    Close-woven corselet, comfort and succor,

    And had God Most Holy not awarded the victory,

    All-knowing lord; easily did heaven’s

    Ruler most righteous arrange it with justice;

    Uprose he erect ready for battle.

    Then he saw ’mid the war-gems a weapon of victory,

    An ancient giant-sword, of edges a-doughty,

    Glory of warriors: of weapons ’twas choicest,

    Only ’twas larger than any man else was

    Able to bear to the battle-encounter,

    The good and splendid work of the giants.

    He grasped then the sword-hilt, knight of the Scyldings,

    Bold and battle-grim, brandished his ring-sword.

    Hopeless of living, hotly he smote her,

    That the fiend-woman’s neck firmly it grappled,

    Broke through her bone-joints, the bill fully pierced her

    Fate-cursed body, she fell to the ground then:

    The hand-sword was bloody, the hero exulted.

    [Fifty years have elapsed. The aged Beowulf has died from the injuries received in his struggle with the Fire Drake. His body is burned, and a barrow erected.]

    A folk of the Geatmen got him then ready

    A pile on the earth strong for the burning,

    Behung with helmets, hero-knight’s targets,

    And bright-shining burnies, as he begged they should have them;

    Then wailing war-heroes their world-famous chieftain,

    Their liege-lord belovèd, laid in the middle.

    Soldiers began then to make on the barrow

    The largest of dead fires: dark o’er the vapor

    The smoke cloud ascended; the sad-roaring fire,

    Mingled with weeping (the-wind-roar subsided)

    Till the building of bone it had broken to pieces,

    Hot in the heart. Heavy in spirit

    They mood-sad lamented the men-leader’s ruin….

    The men of the Weders made accordingly

    A hill on the height, high and extensive,

    Of sea-going sailors to be seen from a distance,

    And the brave one’s beacon built where the fire was,

    In ten days’ space, with a wall surrounded it,

    As wisest of world-folk could most worthily plan it.

    They placed in the barrow rings and jewels,

    All such ornaments as erst in the treasure

    War-mooded men had won in possession:

    The earnings of earlmen to earth they intrusted,

    The gold to the dust, where yet it remaineth

    As useless to mortals as in foregoing eras.

    ’Round the dead-mound rode then the doughty-in-battle,

    Bairns of all twelve of the chiefs of the people,

    More would they mourn, lament for their ruler,

    Speak in measure, mention him with pleasure;

    Weighed his worth, and his warlike achievements

    Mightily commended, as ’tis meet one praise his

    Liege lord in words and love him in spirit,

    When forth from his body he fares to destruction.

    So lamented mourning the men of the Geats,

    Fond loving vassals, the fall of their lord,

    Said he was gentlest of kings under heaven,

    Mildest of men and most philanthropic,

    Friendliest to folk-troops and fondest of honor.