Modern Version stanzas 25-30; Anglo-Saxon lines 100-125

The lines divide as follows: stanza 1 MV = lines 1-6a AS; 2 = 6b-8a; 3 = 8b-12a; 4 = 12b-16; 5 = 17; 6 = 18-25a; 7 = 25b-26; 8 = 27-30; 9 = 31-33a; 10/11 = 33b-38; 12 = 39-43; 13 = 44-47; 14 = 48-52; 15 = 53-55a; 16 = 55b-57; 17 = 58-62a; [centre] 18 = 62b-64a; 19 = 64b-67; 20 = 68-71; 21 = 72-80a; 22 = 80b-85; 23 = 86-93; 24 = 94-99; 25 = 100-105; 26 = 106-107; 27 = 108; 28 = 109-116; 29 = 117-122a; 30 = 122b-124/5. Click on numbers for transportation.

(g): General overview of stanza. (e): Excerpts and echoes from many sources. (s): Specific points that attracted attention during interpretation. (a): Ambiguities, puns, homonyms, multiple meanings, reinforcements, sliding syntax, mainly in the MV.


ne mæg þære sawle | þe biþ synna ful                 (100)
gold to geoce | for godes egsan
þonne he hit ær hydeð | þenden he her leofað
micel biþ se meotudes egsa | forþon hi seo molde oncyrreð
se gestaþelade | stiþe grundas
eorþan sceatas | ond uprodor                       (105)


Nor can his sinful soul, quaking before his God
call hoarded gold or mortal glory to his aid
that Architect is awesome
Whose might moves the world
Whose hand has fixed the firmament
earth's vaults and vapours



6. They that trust in their wealth and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; 7. None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; 17. When he dieth he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him. Psalm 49, AV.

1. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Psalm 19, AV.

This goodly frame the earth ... this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire. William Shakespeare, Hamlet, c 1601.

Oh let our Voice his Praise exalt,/Till it arrive at Heavens Vault. Andrew Marvell, Bermudas, 1681.

The spacious firmament on high/And all the blue ethereal sky/And spangled heavens, a shining frame/Their great Original proclaim. Joseph Addison, 1672-1719.

Various episodes are recorded in the sagas in which gold and silver is buried in the ground. Gurevitj refers, for example, to the famous Icelandic poet Egill Skalla-Grimsson, who had been given several chests of silver by the King of England. Together with a couple of slaves he took the chests to a secret place on his land, buried them and killed the slaves. Gurevitj mentions several examples of treasures of gold and silver which were buried in the ground or thrown into the sea. The written accounts however give no indication of the treasures being recovered, and Gurevitj therefore concludes that the evidence is that the Northmen kept their wealth in the ground in order to preserve it, so that they could bring it with them to the world of the dead in the same way as it was necessary to be accompanied by weapons, equipment, ships, carts, horses, dogs and so on. In contrast to the grave goods, which were first provided at the funeral, a man did what he could during his life to make sure that he would have some part of his worldly wealth with him in the life to come either by burying it himself or sinking it in open water. (Gurevitj 1970, pp. 85-86: A.J.Gurevitj, Feodalismens Uppkomst i Västeuropa, Borås, Swedish trans, 1979.) Lotte Hedeager, Iron Age Societies, Blackwell 1992. p.73.


ne mæg þære sawle: When the Anglo-Saxon means "soul", he says sawle, not hyge.

þe biþ synna ful: synna ful: Blackie's Compact Etymological Dictionary: sin: OE synn, Cf. MDu sonde, OS sunde, Ger sünde. Poss. cogn. with L. sons, guilty.

John Ayto, Dictionary of Word Origins: ... from a prehistoric Germanic *sunj, a close relative of which produced German sünde, Dutch zonde, and Swedish and Danish synd "sin". ... it has been linked with Latin sons "guilty", and also with English sooth "truth" and Sanskrit satya- "real, true", as if its ancestral meaning were "(truly) guilty".

W.W.Skeat, Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: AS synn (sinn, senn); Icel. synd synð; OHG suntea. ... AS synn represents a Teut. type *sundjã, fem., or ... an Idg. type *s@ntj; where *s@nt is the weak grade of sent: sont. Allied to L. sons (stem sont-), guilty, sinful, orig. "real". (Language regards the guilty man as the "man who it was;" Curtius.) Cf Ion.Gk. e-ont... being; pres. pt. of eimi, I am. [eimi is the title of a book by e e cummings.]

E.Wessén, Våra Ord: "synd": ... till ett adj. med bet. "sann, skyldig", egentl. "varande" (ie "being"), besläktat med "sann" (ie "true"); äldst på runstenen U 323 Sölna: forgefi hanum sakar ok syndir "förlåte honom skulder och synder". The interesting point is whether the emphasis is finally on "real" rather than "true". Skeat's mention of "Sanskrit satya- 'real, true', as if its ancestral meaning were '(truly) guilty'" seems to beg this question. It would be attractive if satya- was more akin to "real" than "true"; since the implication would be that sin = reality; ie it would imply that existence (reality itself) was sinful. Sin would vanish at death, with the flesh, when the soul escapes the "body's vest", the flæschoma. Here, the soul can remain synna ful across the divide. Ger. wir sind.

gold to geoce for godes egsan:

þonne he hit ær hydeð: another pun on ær

þenden he her leofað:

micel biþ se meotudes egsa:

forþon: See SSAS.

hi seo molde oncyrreð:

se gestaþelade:

stiþe grundas: firmament.

eorþan sceatas: earth's vaults. See SSAS.

ond uprodor: and vapours.



dol biþ se þe him his dryhten ne ondrædeþ | cymeð him se deað unþinged
eadig bið se þe eaþmod leofaþ | cymeð him seo ar of heofonum



Dull is the man that does not dread the Lord
on him will death's descent be sudden
blissful the man that meekly lives
on him will heaven benisons bestow




5. God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 6. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time. 7. Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Psalm 91, AV.

3. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 5. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5, AV.

Dull would he be of soul...... William Wordsworth, Upon Westminster Bridge, 1802


dol biþ se:

his dryhten ne ondrædeþ :

deað unþinged:

eadig bið se:

þe eaþmod leofaþ:

ar: there seems to be a pun here; to be investigated.

of heofonum:



meotod him þæt mod gestaþelað | forþon he in his meahte gelyfeð



A mind was given man by God to glory in his might        




From things visible, to consider of things invisible; from things bodily, to conceive of things spiritual: from things transitory, and momentary, to meditate of things permanent: by things have some perceiverance of immortality. And to conclude, most briefly, by the most marvellous frame of the whole world, philosophically viewed, and circumspectly weighed, numbered, and measured....most faithfully to love, honour, and glorify always, the Framer and Creator thereof. John Dee: A Letter.... , written 1595, published 1604; quoted by Frances Yates in The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, 1979


meotod him þæt mod gestaþelað:

forþon: See SSAS.

he in his meahte gelyfeð:


A mind was given man .... : ie Man is innately furnished with the inclination, or desire, (ie "minded to") to worship a god; God gave Man a mind (to think with). "His" is ambiguous, referring either to God, or Man, or both (God's or Man's might): each is created in the image of the other. The use of "might" sets up a feeling of doubt.


stieran mon sceal strongum mode | ond þæt on staþelum healdan
ond gewis werum | wisum clæne                       (110)
scyle monna gehwylc | mid gemete healdan
wiþ leofne ond wið laþne | bealo
þeah þe he hine wille | fyres fulne
oþþe on ble | forbærnedne
his geworhtne wine | wyrd biþ swiþre                 (115)
meotud meahtigra | þonne þænges monnes gehygd


A man should steer a steadfast course
be constant, clean and just in judgement
a man should curb his love or loathing
though flame consume his comrade
and fire the funeral pyre
for fate is set more surely
God more great, than any man surmise


Stieran here appears to offer the only obvious link of the poem's second part with its first. The connection should be clearly made.


9. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. 10. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold. Psalm 19, AV.

7. Your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire. 1 Peter, 1, AV.

Philosophia: The only stable order in things is that which connects the beginning to the end and keeps itself on a steady course. Boethius; Consolations, Book III, Poem 3.

My mariners,/Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me. Alfred Tennyson, Ulysses, 1833.


stieran mon sceal strongum mode:

ond þæt on staþelum healdan:

ond gewis werum:

wisum clæne:

scyle monna gehwylc:

mid gemete healdan: cf Sw med måtta hålla, and måttlig. The basic concept is very frequent in demotic Swedish, eg det får vara måttligt/nån måtta (as it also is in the very common word nog --- cognate with "enough" but encompassing a much wider range), and is difficult to render simply in English. It contains the senses of "moderation", "restraint", and what is "fitting", as well as measurement, justice and frugal sufficiency.

wiþ leofne ond wið laþne:


þeah þe he hine wille:

fyres fulne:

oþþe on ble:


geworhtne wine: In her note to this expression Gordon compares it with Proverbs of Alfred, (Skeat 129): of fremde freond iwurche. The word freond, however, is more likely to mean "kinsman" than "friend"; Cf Sw frände, "male blood relation". The fellow-feeling in Tennyson's "soul that has wrought with me" offers, in my view, a close approximation to geworhtne wine, although I had conflated the words into "comrade" before noticing his line. The grammatical constructions seem insignificant. For wine cf Sw vän, "friend", often implying sentimental affection.

wyrd biþ swiþre:

meotud meahtigra:

þonne þænges monnes gehygd :


any man surmise/any man's surmise


uton we hycgan | hwær we ham agen
ond þonne geþencan | hu we þider cumen
ond we þonne eac tilien | þæt we to moten
in þa ecan | eadignesse                     (120)
þær is lif gelong | in lufan dryhtnes
hyht in heofonum |


Come, consider where we have a home, how
we can travel to it, how our travail here
will lead us to the living well-head
and heaven haven of our Lord's love



4. To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you. 1 Peter, 1, AV.

15. And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16. But now they desire a better country, that is an heavenly. Hebrews 11, AV.

18: For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8, AV. Noted by J.Glenn.

ða us gerymde rodera waldend halge on heahþu þa he heofonum astag. Christ 2, 865-66. "Let us fix our hope/Upon that haven which the Lord of heaven,/In holiness on high, has opened." C.W.Kennedy trans.

Trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God, who is our home: William Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality,1807.

And I have asked to be/Where no storms come,/Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,/And out of the swing of the sea. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Heaven-Haven, 1864.

The chapel was shaped like a little stone ship. At sunset they sang in the choir: "Be thou in the bread and wine of the seamen, hidden in the sea chest./Be thou, Lord, at the helm, when at last the voyager turns his face to the west". George Mackay Brown, Vinland, John Murray 1992. Last page.


uton we hycgan:

hwær we ham agen:

ond þonne geþencan:

hu we þider cumen:

ond we þonne eac tilien:

þæt we to moten:

in þa ecan:


þær is lif gelong:

in lufan dryhtnes:

hyht in heofonum:



                          þæs sy þam halgan þonc
þæt he usic geweorþade | wuldres ealdor
ece dryhten | in ealle tid

Amen     (125)


Thus let us thank His hallowed name
that He has granted us His grace
Dominion enduring, the Ancient of Days
for all time




9. The thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of Days did sit. 22. The Ancient of Days came, and judgement was given. Daniel 7, AV.

Hallowed be thy name. The power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. Matthew 6, 9-13. AV.

us to hælo hyþe gelædde godes gæstsunu ond us giefe sealde. Christ 2, 859-60. "God's Spirit-Son/Guided us to the harbour of salvation and granted us grace." C.W.Kennedy trans.

Thus sang they in the English boat/An holy and a chearful note. Andrew Marvell, Bermudas, 1681.

O worship the King, all glorious above!/O gratefully sing his power and his love!/Our Shield and Defender - the Ancient of Days,/Pavilioned in splendour, and girded with praise. Sir Robert Grant, 1779-1838, Hymn.

In praising Beowulf, (Hrothgar) says that the hero's mother was blessed by Ealdmetod (945) a unique and curious word which may have been suggested by Daniel's vision of the Judge who is called antiquus dierum (Dan 7:9 and 7:22); it has an appropriately antique sound in Hrothgar's mouth. Margaret Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning of Beowulf, University of London Athlone Press, 1970, p.158. [If Beowulf's mother was blessed by Ealdmetod, was she then, like Mary, "full of grace"? And is not Beowulf, therefore, like Christ?]


þæs sy þam halgan þonc:

þæt he usic geweorþade: God has considered Man to be "worthy" of life; we should be thankful that we are alive. That we are conscious that we live is all that we know --- our only knowledge since plucking the fruit from the forbidden tree: the rest remains in darkness.

wuldres ealdor: wuldorgimm is rendered "sun"; ie "gem of glory"; wuldor is said in the dictionaries to mean "glory": and what is "glory"? Is it not "effulgence" or "radiance"; ie daylight, hence "of Days"? The sun is life. For ealdor as "Ancient", cf Margaret Goldsmith's remark, above.

ece dryhten: Is there an Anglo-Latin pun here on ecce? Is the man not the lord? Dryhten, cf Sw drott, connotes power, lordship, authority: hence "Dominion".

in ealle tid: cf Sw i evig tid.

Amen: If this word were chanted, as it often is, and thereby elongated into a full line, the poem would consist of 125 lines; and the word unwearnum, at the end of line 62, would occur at its exact centre.


Dominion: connotes a) Mastery; b) Instruction; c) Judgement. Doom and domination merge.


end of poem:  back


annotation introduction

Modern Version stanzas 1-7; Anglo-Saxon lines 1-26

MV stanzas 8-14; AS lines 27-52:  MV stanzas 15-20; AS lines 53-71

MV stanzas 20-24; AS lines 72-99:  MV stanzas 25-30; AS lines 100-125

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