XVII

BANQUET (continued)—HE SCOP'S SONG OF FINN AND HNÆF

          And the atheling of earlmen to each of the heroes
          Who the ways of the waters went with Beowulf,
          A costly gift-token gave on the mead-bench,
          Offered an heirloom, and ordered that that man
5       With gold should be paid for, whom Grendel had erstwhile
          Wickedly slaughtered, as he more of them had done
          Had far-seeing God and the mood of the hero
          The fate not averted: the Father then governed
          All of the earth-dwellers, as He ever is doing;
10      Hence insight for all men is everywhere fittest,
          Forethought of spirit! much he shall suffer
          Of lief and of loathsome who long in this present
          Useth the world in this woful existence.
          There was music and merriment mingling together
15      Touching Healfdene's leader; the joy-wood was fingered,
          Measures recited, when the singer of Hrothgar
          On mead-bench should mention the merry hall-joyance
          Of the kinsmen of Finn, when onset surprised them:
          "The Half-Danish hero, Hnæf of the Scyldings,
20      On the field of the Frisians was fated to perish.
          Sure Hildeburg needed not mention approving
          The faith of the Jutemen: though blameless entirely,
          When shields were shivered she was shorn of her darlings,
          Of bairns and brothers: they bent to their fate
25      With war-spear wounded; woe was that woman.
          Not causeless lamented the daughter of Hoce
          The decree of the Wielder when morning-light came and
          She was able 'neath heaven to behold the destruction
          Of brothers and bairns, where the brightest of earth-joys
30      She had hitherto had: all the henchmen of Finn
          War had offtaken, save a handful remaining,
          That he nowise was able to offer resistance
          To the onset of Hengest in the parley of battle,
          Nor the wretched remnant to rescue in war from
35      The earl of the atheling; but they offered conditions,
          Another great building to fully make ready,
          A hall and a high-seat, that half they might rule with
          The sons of the Jutemen, and that Folcwalda's son would
          Day after day the Danemen honor
40      When gifts were giving, and grant of his ring-store
          To Hengest's earl-troop ever so freely,
          Of his gold-plated jewels, as he encouraged the Frisians
          On the bench of the beer-hall. On both sides they swore then
          A fast-binding compact; Finn unto Hengest
45      With no thought of revoking vowed then most solemnly
          The woe-begone remnant well to take charge of,
          His Witan advising; the agreement should no one
          By words or works weaken and shatter,
          By artifice ever injure its value,
50      Though reaved of their ruler their ring-giver's slayer
          They followed as vassals, Fate so requiring:
          Then if one of the Frisians the quarrel should speak of
          In tones that were taunting, terrible edges
          Should cut in requital. Accomplished the oath was,
55      And treasure of gold from the hoard was uplifted.
          The best of the Scylding braves was then fully
          Prepared for the pile; at the pyre was seen clearly
          The blood-gory burnie, the boar with his gilding,
          The iron-hard swine, athelings many
60      Fatally wounded; no few had been slaughtered.
          Hildeburg bade then, at the burning of Hnæf,
          The bairn of her bosom to bear to the fire,
          That his body be burned and borne to the pyre.
          The woe-stricken woman wept on his shoulder,
65      In measures lamented; upmounted the hero.
          The greatest of dead-fires curled to the welkin,
          On the hill's-front crackled; heads were a-melting,
          Wound-doors bursting, while the blood was a-coursing
          From body-bite fierce. The fire devoured them,
70      Greediest of spirits, whom war had offcarried
          From both of the peoples; their bravest were fallen.

Footnotes

  1. This line is an excellent example of personification. The poet uses it to give the fire human qualities which add to this emotional scene in the tale. Additionally, personifying the fire as a demon is much closer to the pagan than the Christian belief system.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Various pagan funeral rites included burning the deceased, whereas Christians believed the only proper funeral was burial. This image would have drawn a sharp distinction for the poet's audience between their new religion, Christianity, and the old pagan beliefs. The distinction emphasizes that such practices are in the historical past.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. This sentence exemplifies the literary device litotes, or understatement. In this case Hildeburg, Hoce's daughter, actually had every reason to hate her enemies because they killed her son. However, the use of this device downplays the overall meaning because it uses a negative word in an affirmative sentence instead of a negative verb in a negative sentence.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. One of the more advanced societies in the time period known as the “Dark Ages," the Frisians were an early medieval tribe of people who occupied parts of what are the modern-day nations of Denmark, the Netherlands, and northern Germany. They traded with silver coins instead of bartering and engaged in maritime trade from the Baltic region to England. They were often rivals of the Franks, who lived to the southwest of their lands.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. In a typically Scandinavian / Anglo-Saxon style, Hrothgar's storyteller performs another story for the audience, known as "the Song of Finn and Hnaef” and sometimes called “the Finnsburg Fragment" or "Fight at Finnsburg." The story he shares doesn't include much detail beyond summarizing main events, which is likely an indication that the audience would be familiar with it.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. This is the Hengest of "Hengest and Horsa" fame who was invited into England by Vortigern to help fight the Picts, a northern tribe from what is now Scotland. Hengest and Horsa are considered the founders of the Anglo-Saxon race in England.

    — Owl Eyes Reader