XIV

REJOICING OF THE DANES

          In the mist of the morning many a warrior
          Stood round the gift-hall, as the story is told me:
          Folk-princes fared then from far and from near
          Through long-stretching journeys to look at the wonder,
5       The footprints of the foeman. Few of the warriors
          Who gazed on the foot-tracks of the inglorious creature
          His parting from life pained very deeply,
          How, weary in spirit, off from those regions
          In combats conquered he carried his traces,
10      Fated and flying, to the flood of the nickers.
          There in bloody billows bubbled the currents,
          The angry eddy was everywhere mingled
          And seething with gore, welling with sword-blood;
          He death-doomed had hid him, when reaved of his joyance
15      He laid down his life in the lair he had fled to,
          His heathenish spirit, where hell did receive him.
          Thence the friends from of old backward turned them,
          And many a younker from merry adventure,
          Striding their stallions, stout from the seaward,
20      Heroes on horses. There were heard very often
          Beowulf's praises; many often asserted
          That neither south nor north, in the circuit of waters,
          O'er outstretching earth-plain, none other was better
          'Mid bearers of war-shields, more worthy to govern,
25      'Neath the arch of the ether. Not any, however,
          'Gainst the friend-lord muttered, mocking-words uttered
          Of Hrothgar the gracious (a good king he).
          Oft the famed ones permitted their fallow-skinned horses
          To run in rivalry, racing and chasing,
30      Where the fieldways appeared to them fair and inviting,
          Known for their excellence; oft a thane of the folk-lord,
          A man of celebrity, mindful of rhythms,
          Who ancient traditions treasured in memory,
          New word-groups found properly bound:
35      The bard after 'gan then Beowulf's venture
          Wisely to tell of, and words that were clever
          To utter skilfully, earnestly speaking,
          Everything told he that he heard as to Sigmund's
          Mighty achievements, many things hidden,
40      The strife of the Wælsing, the wide-going ventures
          The children of men knew of but little,
          The feud and the fury, but Fitela with him,
          When suchlike matters he minded to speak of,
          Uncle to nephew, as in every contention
45      Each to other was ever devoted:
          A numerous host of the race of the scathers
          They had slain with the sword-edge. To Sigmund accrued then
          No little of glory, when his life-days were over,
          Since he sturdy in struggle had destroyed the great dragon,
50      The hoard-treasure's keeper; 'neath the hoar-grayish stone he,
          The son of the atheling, unaided adventured
          The perilous project; not present was Fitela,
          Yet the fortune befell him of forcing his weapon
          Through the marvellous dragon, that it stood in the wall,
55      Well-honored weapon; the worm was slaughtered.
          The great one had gained then by his glorious achievement
          To reap from the ring-hoard richest enjoyment,
          As best it did please him: his vessel he loaded,
          Shining ornaments on the ship's bosom carried,
60      Kinsman of Wæls: the drake in heat melted.
          He was farthest famed of fugitive pilgrims,
          Mid wide-scattered world-folk, for works of great prowess,
          War-troopers' shelter: hence waxed he in honor.
          Afterward Heremod's hero-strength failed him,
65      His vigor and valor. 'Mid venomous haters
          To the hands of foemen he was foully delivered,
          Offdriven early. Agony-billows
          Oppressed him too long, to his people he became then,
          To all the athelings, an ever-great burden;
70      And the daring one's journey in days of yore
          Many wise men were wont to deplore,
          Such as hoped he would bring them help in their sorrow,
          That the son of their ruler should rise into power,
          Holding the headship held by his fathers,
75      Should govern the people, the gold-hoard and borough,
          The kingdom of heroes, the realm of the Scyldings.
          He to all men became then far more beloved,
          Higelac's kinsman, to kindreds and races,
          To his friends much dearer; him malice assaulted.--
80      Oft running and racing on roadsters they measured
          The dun-colored highways. Then the light of the morning
          Was hurried and hastened. Went henchmen in numbers
          To the beautiful building, bold ones in spirit,
          To look at the wonder; the liegelord himself then
85      From his wife-bower wending, warden of treasures,
          Glorious trod with troopers unnumbered,
          Famed for his virtues, and with him the queen-wife
          Measured the mead-ways, with maidens attending.

Footnotes

  1. The digression here to the story of Sigemund serves several purposes. First, by linking Beowulf to the cultural hero Sigemond, Beowulf is praised and his reputation is greatly enhanced. Second, the inclusion of this tale is meant to foreshadow more conflict in Beowulf's life.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The poet links Beowulf with the the legendary hero Sigemund, from a series of tales from the Old Norse Volsunga Saga that an Anglo-Saxon audience would know. The effect is to build on an existing narrative and perhaps foreshadow coming events in Beowulf's own story.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Crafting stories from the heroic exploits was expected at the time for sharing in the mead-halls. The poet sharing this story is possibly commenting on his own skill, and having some fun, when he describes this thane as singing "quite cleverly".

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Recall that the poet used a similar phrase at the beginning of the poem to refer to the great king Scyld Scefing (An excellent atheling!). While it's possible that this line might be slightly ironic considering Hrothgar's inability to protect his own territory, it's more likely that this is meant in earnest considering Beowulf's praise and loyalty to Hrothgar.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. While we know that Grendel was evil and doomed to hell regardless, the poet uses the word heathen (which means having a faith that is considered primitive or pagan) here to illustrate the early Christian belief that anyone not baptized goes to hell, a subtle reminder to the audience that even pagans who led good lives had no chance of entering heaven.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The poet takes this opportunity to remind his audience that this tale has been told and handed down from one generation to another in an effort to add credibility to his story by clarifying that he is relating the story as it happened and not inventing it.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Note that this chapter is unified by horse racing. This is a device commonly used in Old English poetry, often referred to as the envelope, to provide unity or symmetry in sections in which major or minor digressions occur.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  8. The negative aspects of a wayfaring life, which usually means a life at sea, include spiritual isolation, a lack of connection to everyday life, and, most importantly, detachment from one's tribe. Such qualities do not create a proper background for the leader of a tribe.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  9. Heremod (here-mod) in Old English means “warlike-disposition” or “war-mad,” so King Heremod, whose reputation is based on violence and cruelty to his own people, is used in this digression as a negative example and contrast to both Sigemund and Beowulf.

    — Owl Eyes Reader