More Awesome Things About Beowulf

Actually just quotes.

(transl. credit to Seamus Heaney)

I may have memorized the beginning lines:

So.  The Spear-Danes in days gone by

And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.

We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,

A wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.

This terror of the hall-troops had come far.

A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on


The lines about courage and the greatness of times past seriously appeal to my closeted neoreactionary spirit.

(Also, the meter is exquisite.)

So his mind turned

To hall-building: he handed down orders

For men to work on a great mead-hall

Meant to be a wonder of the world forever;

It would be his throne-room and there he would dispense

His God-given goods to young and old—

But not the common land or people’s lives.

Far and wide through the world, I have heard,

Orders for work to adorn that wall stead

Were sent to many peoples.  And soon it stood there,

Finished and ready, in full view,

The hall of halls.  Heorot was the name

He had settled on it, whose utterance was law.

Nor did he renege, but doled out rings

And torques at the table.  The hall towered,

Its gables wide and high and awaiting

A barbarous burning.  That doom abided,

But in time it would come: the killer instinct

Unleashed among in-laws, the blood-lust rampant.

Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,

Nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him

To hear the din of the loud banquet

Every day in the hall, the harp being struck

And the clear song of a skilled poet

Telling with mastery of man’s beginnings,

How the Almighty had made the earth

A gleaming plain girdled with waters;

In His splendour He set the sun and moon

To be earth’s lamplight, lanterns for men,

And filled the broad lap of the world

With branches and leaves; and quickened life

In every other thing that moved.


“Damn elites listening to the clear songs of skilled poets!”

“On the government ring-dole”

“The presidents will be having a mead hall meeting”

“You didn’t built that mead-hall. The government built that.”

“A shining mead-hall on a hill”

“I’ll build a mead-hall and I’ll make the Danes pay for it.”


Okay, the next few quotes are a bit less lighthearted.

They shouldered him out to the sea’s flood,

The chief they revered who had long ruled them.

A ring-whorled prow rode in the harbour,

Ice-clad, outbound, a craft for a prince.

They stretched their beloved lord in his boat,

Laid out by the mast, amidships,

The great ring-giver.  Far-fetched treasures

Were piled upon him, and precious gear.

I never heard before of a ship so well furbished

With battle tackle, bladed weapons

And coats of mail.  The massed treasure

Was loaded on top of him: it would travel far

On out into the ocean’s sway.

They decked his body no less bountifully

With offerings than those first ones did

Who cast him away when he was a child

And launched him alone out over the waves.

And they set a gold standard up

High above his head and let him drift

To wind and tide, bewailing him

And mourning their loss.  No man can tell,

No wise man in hall or weathered veteran

Knows for certain who salvaged that load.


A ship sailing out to sea, prow glinting,

stacked high with the riches of a nation,

they must have loved him

they must have loved him so,

a jewel-laden ship

drifting beyond the crowded shores.

It was like the misery felt by an old man

Who has lived to see his son’s body

Swing on the gallows.  He begins to keen

And weep for his boy, watching the raven

Gloat where he hangs: he can be of no help.

The wisdom of age is worthless to him.

Morning after morning, he wakes to remember

That his child is gone; he has no interest

In living on until another heir

Is born in the hall, now that his first-born

Has entered death’s dominion forever.

He gazes sorrowfully at his son’s dwelling,

The banquet hall bereft of all delight,

The windswept hearthstone; the horsemen are sleeping,

The warriors underground; what was is no more.

No tunes from the harp, no cheer raised in the yard.

Alone with his longing, he lies down on his  bed

And sings a lament; everything seems too large,

The steadings and the fields.

                       Such was the feeling

Of loss endured by the lord of the Geats

After Herebeald’s death. He was hopelessly placed

To set to rights the wrong committed,

Could not punish the killer in accordance of the law

Of the blood-feud, although he felt no love for him.

Heartsore, wearied, he turned away

From life’s joys, chose God’s light

And departed, leaving buildings and lands

To his sons, as a man of substance will.

Then over the wide seas Swedes and Geats

Battled and feuded and fought without quarter.

Hostilities broke out when Hrethel died.


[no comment]

The Geat people built a pyre for Beowulf,

Stacked and decked it until it stood four-square,

Hung with helmets, heavy war-shields

And shining armor, just as he had ordered.

Then his warriors laid him in the middle of it,

Mourning a lord far-famed and beloved.

On a height they kindled the hugest of all

Funeral fires; fumes of wood smoke

Billowed darkly up, the blaze roared

And drowned out their weeping, wind died down

And flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house,

Burning it to the core.  They were disconsolate

And wailed aloud for their lord’s decease.

A Geat woman too sang out in grief:

With hair bound up, she unburdened herself

Of her worst fears, a wild litany

Of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded,

Enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,

Slavery and abasement.

Heaven swallowed the smoke.


Death is the last enemy to be destroyed.

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