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  Beowulf.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
I
 
 
NOW Beowulf bode in the burg of the Scyldings,
leader belovéd, and long he ruled
in fame with all folk, since his father had gone
away from the world, till awoke an heir,
haughty Healfdene, who held through life,        5
sage and sturdy, the Scyldings glad.
Then, one after one, there woke to him,
to the chieftain of clansmen, children four:
Heorogar, then Hrothgar, then Halga brave:
and I heard that Elan was Ongentheow’s queen,        10
the Heathoscylfing’s helpmate dear.
To Hrothgar was given such glory of war,
such honor of combat, that all his kin
obeyed him gladly till great grew his band
of youthful comrades. It came in his mind        15
to bid his henchmen a hall uprear,
a master mead-house, mightier far
than ever was seen by the sons of earth,
and within it, then, to old and young
he would all allot that the Lord had sent him,        20
save only the land and the lives of his men.
Wide, I heard, was the work commanded,
for many a tribe this mid-earth round,
to fashion the folkstead. It fell, as he ordered,
in rapid achievement that ready it stood there,        25
of halls the noblest: Heorot 1 he named it
whose message had might in many a land.
Not reckless of promise, the rings he dealt,
treasure at banquet: there towered the hall,
high, gabled wide, the hot surge waiting        30
of furious flame. 2 Nor far was that day
when father and son-in-law stood in feud
for warfare and hatred that woke again. 3
  With envy and anger an evil spirit
endured the dole in his dark abode,        35
that he heard each day the din of revel
high in the hall: there harps rang out,
clear song of the singer. He sang who knew 4
tales of the early time of man,
how the Almighty made the earth,        40
fairest fields enfolded by water,
set, triumphant, sun and moon
for a light to lighten the land-dwellers,
and braided bright the breast of earth
with limbs and leaves, made life for all        45
of mortal beings that breathe and move.
  So lived the clansmen in cheer and revel
a winsome life, till one began
to fashion evils, that fiend of hell.
Grendel this monster grim was called,        50
march-riever 5 mighty, in moorland living,
in fen and fastness; fief of the giants
the hapless wight a while had kept
since the Creator his exile doomed.
On kin of Cain was the killing avenged        55
by sovran God for slaughtered Abel.
Ill fared his feud, 6 and far was he driven,
for the slaughter’s sake, from sight of men.
Of Cain awoke all that woful breed,
Etins 7 and elves and evil-spirits,        60
as well as the giants that warred with God
weary while: but their wage was paid them!
 
Note 1. That is, “The Hart,” or “Stag,” so called from decorations in the gables that resembled the antlers of a deer. This hall has been carefully described in a pamphlet by Heyne. The building was rectangular, with opposite doors—mainly west and east—and a hearth in the middle of the single room. A row of pillars down each side, at some distance from the walls, made a space which was raised a little above the main floor, and was furnished with two rows of seats. On one side, usually south, was the high-seat, midway between the doors. Opposite this, on the other raised space, was another seat of honor. At the banquet soon to be described, Hrothgar sat in the south or chief high-seat, and Beowulf opposite to him. The scene for a flying (see below, v. 499, p. 19) was thus very effectively set. Planks on trestles—the “board” of later English literature—formed the tables just in front of the long rows of seats, and were taken away after banquets, when the retainers were ready to stretch themselves out for sleep on the benches. [back]
Note 2. Fire was the usual end of these halls. See v. 781, p. 26 below. One thinks of the splendid scene at the end of the Nibelungen, of the Nialssaga, of Saxo’s story of Amlethus, and many a less famous instance. [back]
Note 3. It is to be supposed that all hearers of this poem knew how Hrothgar’s hall was burnt,—perhaps in the unsuccessful attack made on him by his son-in-law Ingeld. [back]
Note 4. A skilled minstrel. The Danes are heathens, as one is told presently, but this lay of beginnings is taken from Genesis. [back]
Note 5. A disturber of the border, one who sallies from his haunt in the fen and roams over the country near by. This probably pagan nuisance is now furnished with Biblical credentials as a fiend or devil in good standing, so that all Christian Englishmen might read about him. “Grendel” may mean one who grinds and crushes. [back]
Note 6. Cain’s. [back]
Note 7. Giants. [back]
 

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