IV

BEOWULF GOES TO HROTHGAR'S ASSISTANCE

          So Healfdene's kinsman constantly mused on
          His long-lasting sorrow; the battle-thane clever
          Was not anywise able evils to 'scape from:
          Too crushing the sorrow that came to the people,
5       Loathsome and lasting the life-grinding torture,
          Greatest of night-woes. So Higelac's liegeman,
          Good amid Geatmen, of Grendel's achievements
          Heard in his home: of heroes then living
          He was stoutest and strongest, sturdy and noble.
10      He bade them prepare him a bark that was trusty;
          He said he the war-king would seek o'er the ocean,
          The folk-leader noble, since he needed retainers.
          For the perilous project prudent companions
          Chided him little, though loving him dearly;
15      They egged the brave atheling, augured him glory.
          The excellent knight from the folk of the Geatmen
          Had liegemen selected, likest to prove them
          Trustworthy warriors; with fourteen companions
          The vessel he looked for; a liegeman then showed them,
20      A sea-crafty man, the bounds of the country.
          Fast the days fleeted; the float was a-water,
          The craft by the cliff. Clomb to the prow then
          Well-equipped warriors: the wave-currents twisted
          The sea on the sand; soldiers then carried
25      On the breast of the vessel bright-shining jewels,
          Handsome war-armor; heroes outshoved then,
          Warmen the wood-ship, on its wished-for adventure.
          The foamy-necked floater fanned by the breeze,
          Likest a bird, glided the waters,
30      Till twenty and four hours thereafter
          The twist-stemmed vessel had traveled such distance
          That the sailing-men saw the sloping embankments,
          The sea cliffs gleaming, precipitous mountains,
          Nesses enormous: they were nearing the limits
35      At the end of the ocean. Up thence quickly
          The men of the Weders clomb to the mainland,
          Fastened their vessel (battle weeds rattled,
          War burnies clattered), the Wielder they thanked
          That the ways o'er the waters had waxen so gentle.
40      Then well from the cliff edge the guard of the Scyldings
          Who the sea-cliffs should see to, saw o'er the gangway
          Brave ones bearing beauteous targets,
          Armor all ready, anxiously thought he,
          Musing and wondering what men were approaching.
45      High on his horse then Hrothgar's retainer
          Turned him to coastward, mightily brandished
          His lance in his hands, questioned with boldness.
          "Who are ye men here, mail-covered warriors
          Clad in your corslets, come thus a-driving
50      A high riding ship o'er the shoals of the waters,
          And hither 'neath helmets have hied o'er the ocean?
          I have been strand-guard, standing as warden,
          Lest enemies ever anywise ravage
          Danish dominions with army of war-ships.
55      More boldly never have warriors ventured
          Hither to come; of kinsmen's approval,
          Word-leave of warriors, I ween that ye surely
          Nothing have known. Never a greater one
          Of earls o'er the earth have I had a sight of
60      Than is one of your number, a hero in armor;
          No low-ranking fellow adorned with his weapons,
          But launching them little, unless looks are deceiving,
          And striking appearance. Ere ye pass on your journey
          As treacherous spies to the land of the Scyldings
65      And farther fare, I fully must know now
          What race ye belong to. Ye far-away dwellers,
          Sea-faring sailors, my simple opinion
          Hear ye and hearken: haste is most fitting
          Plainly to tell me what place ye are come from."

Footnotes

  1. The presence of an unannounced ship full of heavily armed and armored men threatens Hrothgar's coast-guard. However, he does notice the regal bearing of their leader, our hero, and asks the group to declare their peaceful intentions before he allows them safe passage. This caution is not only appropriate with historical accounts, but it also illustrates how wary Hrothgar’s people have become since Grendel began his attacks.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. In some translations, the men thank God, which is another indication of the dichotomy between paganism and Christianity in the story. This version acknowledges that the Geats would have praised one of their own Norse gods, named here as the Wielder, for safe passage.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. According to the poem, the Geats are a seafaring tribe from the south of Sweden; they appear to have been conquered at some point in the early Middle Ages. Gregory of Tours, a Gallo-Roman historian, mentions that a group of “Danes” led by “Chochilaicus” (a possible Latinization of “Hygelac”) attacked the Franks around 520 A.D. Little other historical information is written about the Geats.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. At this point in the story, the poet introduces the hero of our tale but has yet to state his name. By not naming the hero immediately, the poet starts to build a reputation for him, alluding to his great deeds in an effort to make hero's self-introduction more powerful for the audience. This creates a sense of anticipation and suspense as the audience wonders who this hero is.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Medieval Scandinavians did most of their sea travel by following coastlines. Although they were capable of open-ocean sailing, they preferred the more reliable navigation offered by coastlines.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  6. In some translations, the ocean is referred to literally as the “swan-road.” In Old English poetry, this is known as a kenning—a compound word in place of a single word, in this case, "sea" or "ocean." Another common kenning is "bone-house" instead of "body." Old English poets were expected to use kennings as part of their poetic process.

    — Owl Eyes Reader