Lo! the Spear-Danes' glory through splendid achievements
          The folk-kings' former fame we have heard of,
          How princes displayed then their prowess-in-battle.
          Oft Scyld the Scefing from scathers in numbers
5       From many a people their mead-benches tore.
          Since first he found him friendless and wretched,
          The earl had had terror: comfort he got for it,
          Waxed 'neath the welkin, world-honor gained,
          Till all his neighbors o'er sea were compelled to
10      Bow to his bidding and bring him their tribute:
          An excellent atheling! After was borne him
          A son and heir, young in his dwelling,
          Whom God-Father sent to solace the people.
          He had marked the misery malice had caused them,
15      That reaved of their rulers they wretched had erstwhile
          Long been afflicted. The Lord, in requital,
          Wielder of Glory, with world-honor blessed him.
          Famed was Beowulf, far spread the glory
          Of Scyld's great son in the lands of the Danemen.
20      So the carle that is young, by kindnesses rendered
          The friends of his father, with fees in abundance
          Must be able to earn that when age approacheth
          Eager companions aid him requitingly,
          When war assaults him serve him as liegemen:
25      By praise-worthy actions must honor be got
          'Mong all of the races. At the hour that was fated
          Scyld then departed to the All-Father's keeping
          Warlike to wend him; away then they bare him
          To the flood of the current, his fond-loving comrades,
30      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;
35      The belovèd 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
40      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.
45      And favors no fewer they furnished him soothly,
          Excellent folk-gems, than others had given him
          Who when first he was born outward did send him
          Lone on the main, the merest of infants:
          And a gold-fashioned standard they stretched under heaven
50      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.


  1. An Old English word, “welkin” is frequently found in poetry and used to refer to the clouds, the sky, or the vault of heaven, the home of the gods, above the earth. Scyld “waxed ‘neath the welkin,” which means that he not only gained fame among his people, but also he grew in fame under the eyes of the heavens.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. In a Christian world, God would receive the ship. However, in a pagan world, it's less known where the ship goes. Since Scyld was a pagan, the poet tells the audience that Scyld's final resting place is unknown; Scyld may have been a good king, but he was still a pagan, which is why the poet prefers to describe the burial of Scyld in strictly pagan terms.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The use of this word in the context of Scyld's burial at sea contains an extra connotation that the ship isn't just moving away from the shore, but that it is carrying the deceased leader towards an unknown destination for his afterlife.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. This line demonstrates another example of how the poet mixes Christianity and paganism. The line begins with a reference to the hour of death for the strong and unyielding Scyld, a reference to the destiny (or fate, or Wyrd) that pagans believe control their lives. However, the line concludes by saying Scyld goes to God's keeping instead of a mead-hall like Valhalla. This indicates that the poet won't abandon references to paganism despite being Christian and continue to mix them throughout.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Note that although the Beowulf poet and his audience are Christian, the story the poet tells predates Christianity. Consequently, although the world described in Beowulf is pagan, the poet uses both Christian and pagan imagery throughout the poem, sometimes blending and confusing the two. This contributes to a major theme throughout Beowulf. Additionally, the "God-Father" of Beowulf's time likely refers to Odin, the All-Father, as it has appeared in other translations of this story.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. This historical, obscure word is from the Old English æðeling, which means a member of a noble family, such as a king, prince, or baron. In Old English poetry, it is often used to refer to those of royal blood, heirs to the throne, or to the king. In other translations of Beowulf, this line reads "that was a good king!"

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. This is known a kenning, or compound two-word phrase, which is commonly used metaphorically in Anglo-Saxon poetry. Kennings play an important role throughout Beowulf as they not only help the audience visualize the poet's imagery but also provide additional metaphorical meaning and context to the world. For example, "world-honor" is a kenning for "fame," which tells us that Scyld is known over great distances and greatly respected.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Scyld's former status as "friendless and wretched" is very important because in this society, family is everything. In many cases, being born as an orphan or to a family without any connections is a death sentence because there is no one for protection. This makes Scyld's rise to greatness and power all the more impressive because he began life in such a dangerous situation.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. These mead-benches came from mead-halls, which were fortresses and gathering places for medieval Norse and Germanic tribes. Members of society gathered there in safety under the king's protection so that they could feast, share stories, and receive gifts. It is also notable that Valhalla and Folkvang, two divine mead-halls from Scandinavian mythology, are the places where dead souls go in the afterlife. The mead-hall is the center of society, making any attack on the hall, therefore, an assault upon the fabric of society itself.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Scyld of Scefing translates from Old English to "Shield, son of Sheaf." In Old English (Anglo-Saxon), an -ing after a name indicates "son of." In honor of Scyld's leadership, the Spear-Danes are also called "Scyldings."

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Beowulf has been translated into both prose and poetry versions. Regardless of version, the epic poem shares events from the point of view of an unnamed poet. Throughout the piece, the poet will use inclusive pronouns, as done here, call to the audience directly, and comment on aspects of the story, as shown later.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. The Danes are the residents of Denmark. The Hrothgar, Hrothulf, and Scylding dynasty of kings mentioned are actually spoken of in other Danish and Germanic sources (such as the poem Widsith). Some believe that Heorot, the hall of the Danes mentioned in Beowulf, was located on the island of Sjaelland, near the modern-day city of Roskilde, Denmark.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor