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Constance B.Hieatt: 1967

Beowulf and Other Old English Poems
Odyssey Press, Toronto 1967; Bantam, NY 1983/1988

 

go to:   l.33:   l.62:   l.99  

I shall tell you a true tale about myself; speak of my journeys, and how I have often endured days of toil in time of hardship. I have known bitter care in my breast, found many a place where care dwells on deck over the terrible tossing waves; often have I held the anxious night watch, there at the prow of a ship beating along cliffs. My feet were pinched with cold, bound in the cold grip of frost, as searing hot sorrows sighed around my heart and hunger tore from within at my sea-weary spirit.

All this is unknown to the man for whom all goes most beautifully on land. He little thinks how I, miserable with cares, kept to the paths of exile through the winter on the ice-cold sea, deprived of friends and kinsmen --- hung about with icicles, while hail fell in showers around me. There I heard nothing but the roaring sea, the ice-cold wave. At times the song of the wild swan had to do as my entertainment, the call of the gannet and the cry of the curlew for men's laughter, and the singing gull for the drinking of mead. Storms battered the cliffs, where the icy-feathered tern often answered the damp-feathered eagle's scream. No protecting kinsmen could comfort the destitute soul.

He who has known the joy of life in the dwellings of men, he who, standing proud and gladdened with wine, has had few bitter journeys: he cannot believe how I, in my weariness, have often had to endure on the paths of the sea. The shadow of night grew dark. Snow came from the north and frost bound the ground, while hail, the coldest of grains, fell on the ground. Yet indeed now thoughts beat at my heart that I should know the high seas myself, the crashing of the salty waves: desire of spirit constantly urges my heart to go forth to seek the home of strangers far away from here. For there is no man on earth so proud of spirit, nor so generously gifted, nor so spurred by youth or brave in deeds or dear to his lord that he shall always have no anxious thought for his voyage.

Then his thought is not on harping or on receiving rings: his delight is not in women or in worldly bliss, or anything else at all unless it is the tossing waves. He who is impelled to set out on the sea is always restless with longing. The groves burst into blossom and make the dwelling-places beautiful and the meadows fair. The world moves along. All these urge the eager spirit and the heart to its journey in one who indeed intends to depart along the far ways of the sea. Thus the cuckoo urges in sad song: summer's herald sings, foreboding bitter sorrow in the breast. A warrior blessed with comfort does not know what some then endure who lie most far away on the paths of exile.

Thus my mind now turns beyond the confines of my breast, and my thoughts turn widely with the flowing sea, over the home of whales and the surfaces of the world; it comes back to me eager and full of longing --- the lone flier cries out irresistibly, inciting the heart forth on the world's road, over the boundless sea, for to me the joys of the Lord are warmer by far than this dead and transitory life on land. I do not believe that earthly riches will stand firm for them forever. One of the three things always lies in wait for each retainer before his time is done: illness or old age or the sword of an enemy wrests life away from the man doomed to go forth. Therefore for every nobleman the best of reputations is glory given by the living speaking of him afterwards. This he can earn before he must take his way, through action on earth against every foe, brave deeds against the devil, so that he may afterwards be praised by the sons of men and his glory then live among the angels to eternity; eternal fruit of life, joy among the host.

The days have departed, all the pomp of earthly realms; nor are kings and emperors and givers-of-gold now as they once were, when they brought about among them the most great of glorious deeds and lived in lordly renown. All that host has fallen, and their joys have departed. The lesser remain and hold this world, toiling to make use of it. The fruit is brought low, the excellence of earth withers and decays, just as does every man now everywhere on earth. Age comes upon him and his face grows wan; the gray-haired man laments, knowing that his dear friend, the son of noblemen, has been given to the ground. His fleshly dwelling cannot, when it has lost its life, taste any sweetness or feel any sore, lift up a hand or think with a mind. Though a brother may strew gold on his sibling's grave, bury all sorts of treasure with the dead, they shall not go with him; nor can gold, which he hoarded before while he still lived here, be of help to the soul full of sins against the wrath of God.

Great is the wrath of the Creator, for the earth turns away from it. He made the firm grounds, the surfaces of the earth, and the heavens above. Foolish is he who does not dread his Lord: death comes upon him unexpectedly. Blessed is he who lives in humbleness: grace shall come to him from heaven. The Creator made him firm in spirit, for he believed in his might. A man must steer a strong spirit and keep it firm and constant to its undertakings and pure in its ways.

Every man should keep moderation in his love for those he cares for and in his malice towards those he hates, even if he sees one unjustly rewarded or a dear friend destroyed on a pyre. Destiny is stronger, and the Maker mightier, than any man conceives. Let us consider where we have a home, and then how we may come thither; and let us so endeavour that we may go to that eternal blessedness where there is endless life in the love of the Lord, bliss in heaven. May the Holy One be thanked for that: that he, Father of glory, the eternal Lord, so honored us for all time.

 

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