Scandanavia and Beowulf

Scandanavia and Beowulf

Beowulf.Composed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf is the elegiac narrative of the adventures of Beowulf, a Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel’s mother.

Beowulf, written in Old English sometime before the Tenth Century CE, describes the adventures of a great Scandinavian warrior of the sixth century. Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic in British literature.

Beowulf then returns to his own country and dies in old age in a vivid fight against a dragon. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on in the exhausted aftermath. In the contours of this story, at once remote and uncannily familiar at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The wyrm is awakened from his slumber by an escaped slave who steals a cup from the dragon’s hoard. The dragon ravages the countryside until Beowulf slays him, being mortally wounded himself.

Beowulf Fights the Dragon

He saw by the cave,
he who had many virtues,
he who had survived many times
the battle flashes
when troops rush together,
a stream running
from the stone arch–
a stream of fire.

He could not enter
for the dragon’s flame.
Beowulf was angry,
the lord of the Geats,
he who stormed in battle.
He yelled into the cave.

The hoard-keeper perceived
a man’s voice and
didn’t plan to ask
for friendship.
Flames shot out
from among the stones,
hot battle-sweat.
The ground dinned.

The hero raised his shield
against the dreadful stranger.
Then the coiled thing
sought battle.
The war king drew his sword,
an ancient heirloom
with edges unblunt.
Each of them intended
horror to the other.

Stouthearted stood that war-prince
with his shield upraised,
waited in his war-gear.
The dragon coiled together,
went forth burning,
gliding toward his fate.

His shield protected
life and body
for a shorter time
than the prince had hoped.
That was the first day
he was not granted
glory in battle.
The lord of the Geats
raised his arm,
struck the horrible thing
with his ancestral sword,
but the edge gave way:
that bright sword
bit less on the bone
than the war-king needed.

After that stroke
the cave-guardian
was in a savage mood.
He threw death-fire–
widely sprayed
battle flashes.
The gold-friend of the Geats
wasn’t boasting of victory.
His war-sword had failed,
not bitten home
as it should have,
that iron which had
always been trustworthy.
This wasn’t a pleasant trip:
that famous king, Beowulf,
would have to leave this earth,
would have, against his will,
to move elsewhere.
(So must every man
give up
these transitory days.)

It wasn’t long before
the terrible ones
met again–
The hoard-keeper took heart,
heaved his fire anew.
He who once ruled a nation
was encircled by fire;
no troop of friends,
strong princes,
stood around him:
they ran to the woods
to save their lives.

Yet in one of them
welled a sorrowful heart.
That true-minded one
didn’t forget kinship.
Wiglaf he was called,
the son of Woehstan,
a beloved shield-warrior,
a lord of the Scylfings,
a kinsman of Aelthere.
He saw his lord
suffering from heat
under his helmet.
He remembered the gifts,
a rich home among
the Waegmundings,
the rich inheritance,
that his father had had.

Wiglaf could not refrain,
but grabbed his shield,
drew his ancient sword
that among men was known
as the heirloom of Eanmund,
the son of Othere.
(Eanmund, after a quarrel,
was killed by Weohstan
with the sword’s edge.
Weohstan became
a friendless exile.
To Eanmund’s own kinsmen
he bore the burnished helmet,
the ring-locked mail,
the old sword made by giants.

Onela had given Eanmund that,
the war-equipment,
and did not mention
the feud, though his
brother’s child was killed.
Weohstan held the treasure
many years,
the sword and mail,
until his son could
do heroic deeds
as his father had done.
He gave the war-dress to Wiglaf
and a great many treasures,
then departed this earth
old on his journey.
But this was the first time
the young champion
had gone into the war-storm.)

His spirit did not fail,
nor his heirloom: that
the dragon discovered
when they met in battle.

Wiglaf spoke words about duty,
said in sorrow to his companions:
“I remember the times
we drank mead and how
we promised our lord
there in the beer-hall,
he who gave us gifts,
that we would repay
all his largess,
the helmets and hard swords,
if the need
should ever befall.

He chose his best men
for this expedition,
gave us honor and
these treasures because
he considered us best
among spear fighters,
though he proposed to
do the job alone because
he had performed the most
famous deeds among men.

Tolkien and Beowulf.Now has the day come
that our lord
is in need of fighters,
of good warriors.
Let us go to him,
help the war-chief
in this fire-horror.
God knows, to me,
my lord means more
than my skin.
With him I will
embrace the fire.
It isn’t proper
that we bare shields
back to our homes
before we can
defend our lord
and kill the enemy.
He doesn’t deserve
to suffer alone.
We two shall share
the sword and helmet,
the mail and war-garment.”

Then Wiglaf advanced
through the death-fumes,
wore his helmet
to help his lord.

He spoke these words:
“Dear Beowulf, may you
accomplish all well,
as you did in youth,
as I have heard tell.
Don’t surrender the glory
of your life. Defend now,
with all your strength,
your brave deeds.
I will help.”

After these words
the dragon angrily came;
the terrible spirit
another time attacked
with surging fire.
Fire waves burned
Wiglaf’s shield
down to the handle,
his mail could not
protect the young
spear-warrior.
He ducked behind
his kinsman’s shield.

Then the war-king
remembered past deeds,
struck mightily with his sword
so that it stuck
in the dragon’s head;
Naegling, the great sword of Beowulf,
ancient and shining,
broke, failed in battle.
Fate had not granted that
the iron sword would help.

Beowulf. Dr. David Breeden.(I’ve heard that Beowulf’s
swing was too strong
for any sword,
overstrained any blade,
anytime he carried
a blood-hardened sword
into battle.)

Then the terrible dragon
a third time rushed,
hot and battle-grim.
He bit Beowulf’s neck
with sharp tusks–Beowulf
was wet with life’s blood;
blood gushed in waves.

Then, I’ve heard,
Wiglaf showed courage,
craft and bravery,
as was his nature–he went
not for the thought-seat,
but struck a little lower,
helped his kinsman
though his hand was burned.
The sword, shining
and ornamented,
drove in so that
the fire abated.
The death of Beowulf.Then the king controlled
his senses, drew his
battle knife, bitter
and battle sharp, which
he carried on his mail,
and cut the dragon
through the middle.
The enemy fell–strength
had driven out life;
the two kinsmen, together,
had cut down the enemy.
So should a warrior do.

That was Beowulf’s last victory;
his last work in this world.

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