So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.
Lines 1-3: Opening lines speak of courage
as the ultimate form of greatness and glorifies the deeds
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
A wrecker of mead benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall-troops had come far.
A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on
as his powers waxed and his worth was proved.
In the end each clan on the outlying coasts
beyond the whale-road had to yield to him
and begin to pay tribune. That was one good king.
Lines 9-11: Narrator tells us what constitutes
a good king.
Afterwards a boy-child was sent to Shield,
a cub in the yard, a comfort sent
by God to that nation. He knew what they had tholed,
the long times and troubles they'd come through
without a leader; so the Lord of Life,
the glorious Almighty, made this man renowned.
Lines 12-17: The poet attributes the
feats of great men to God's favor and the divine plan.
And a young prince must be prudent like that,
giving freely while his father lives
so that afterwards in age when fighting starts
steadfast companions will stand by him
and hold the line. Behaviour that's admired
is the path to power among people everywhere.
Lines 20-25: An important custom on road
to leadership is the giving of gifts by young princes in exchange
Shield was still thriving when his time came
And he crossed over into the Lords keeping.
His warrior band did what he bade them
When he laid down the law among the Danes:
They shouldered him out to the seas flood,
The chief they revered who had long ruled them.
A ring-whorled prow rode in the harbour,
Ice-clad, outbound, a craft for a prince.
They stretched their beloved lord in his boat,
Laid out by the mast, amidships,
The great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures
Were piled upon him, and precious gear.
Lines 26-37: The burial at sea of Danish
King Shield Sheafson.
They stretched their beloved lord in his boat,
laid out by the mast, amidships,
the great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures
were piled upon him, and precious gear.
I never heard before of a ship so well furbished
with battle tackle, bladed weapons
and coats of mail. The massed treasure
was loaded on top of him: it would travel far
on out into the ocean's sway.
Lines 34-42: The funeral of the Danis
king Shield Sheafson, buried at sea. This passage deals with
mortality and shows that no matter how noble and loved Shield
was, he still was goig to die.
Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
to hear the din of the loud banquet
every day in the hall, the harp being struck
and the clear song of a skilled poet
telling with mastery of man's beginnings,
how the Almighty had made the earth
a gleaming plain girdled with waters;
in His splendour He set the sun and the moon
to be earth's lamplight, lanterns for men,
and filled the broad lap of the world
with branches and leaves; and quickened life
in every other thing that moved.
Lines 86-98: The threat to Heorot comes
in the form of the demon Grendel maddened by the bard's recitation
of the story of creation in the hall.
So times were pleasant for the people there
until finally one, a fiend out of hell,
began to work his evil in the world.
Lines 99-101: Grendel is the personification
Grendel was the name of this grim demon
Haunting the marches, marauding round the heath
And the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time
In misery among the banished monsters,
Cain's clan, whom the creator had outlawed
And condemned as outcasts. For the killing of Abel
The Eternal Lord exacted a price:
Cain got no good from committing that murder
Because the Almighty made him anathema
And out of the curse of his exile there sprang
Ogres and elves and evil phantoms
And the giants too, who strove with God
Time and again until He gave them their reward.
Lines 102-114: The demon Grendel, who
represents the ultimate evil in medieval Scandanavian culture,
is the descendant of Cain, the man who killed his brother.
the God-cursed brute was creating havoc:
greedy and grim, he grabbed thirty men
from their resting places and rushed to his lair,
flushed up and inflamed from the raid,
blundering back with the butchered corpses.
Lines 120-125: Grendel is a creature
of excessive and murderous violence.
For twelve winters, seasons of woe,
the lord of the Shieldings suffered under
his load of sorrow; and so, before long,
the news was known over the whole world.
Sad lays were sung about the beset king,
the vicious raids and ravages of Grendel,
his long and unrelenting feud,
nothing but war.
Lines 147-154: Narrator describes Grendel
attacks on the people of Heorot.
All were endangered; young and old
Were hunted down by that dark death-shadow
Who lurked and swooped in the long nights
On the misty moors; nobody knows
Where these reavers from Hell roam on their errands.
Lines 159-163: The passage describes
the terrifying effect Grendel has on the Danes, with his ability
to come and go unseen in the night to murder them.
These were hard times, heart-breaking
the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counsellors,
the highest in the land, would lend advice,
plotting how best the bold defenders
might resist and beat off sudden attacks.
Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
offerings to idols, swore oaths
that the killer of souls might come to their aid
and save the people. That was their way,
their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts
they remembered hell.
Lines 170-180: The poet admits, with
some distaste, that the medieval Danes engage in pagan practices.
The Almighty Judge
of good deeds and bad, the Lord God,
Head of the Heavens and High King of the World,
was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he
who in time of trouble has to thrust his soul
in the fire's embrace, forfeiting help;
he has nowhere to turn. But blessed is he
who after death can approach the Lord
and find friendship in the Father's embrace.
Lines 180-188: The poet feels sorry for
the pagan ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons, as they didn't have
the chance to turn to a Christian God for comfort.
Men climbed eagerly up the gangplank,
sand churned in the surf, warriors loaded
a cargo of weapons, shining war-gear
in the vessel's hold, then heaved out,
away with a will in their wood-wreathed ship.
Over the waves, with the wind behind her
and foam at her neck, she flew like a bird...
Lines 212-217: Beowulf and company set
sail for Denmark to take on the 'shadow-stalker' terrorizing
Never before has a force under arms
disembarked so openly...
Nor have I seen
a mightier man-at-arms on this earth
than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken,
he is truly noble. This is no mere
hanger-on in a hero's armour.
Lines 244-251: Arms are very important
to the culture of ancient England. Beowulf's noble birth is
established from his war-gear.
Undaunted, sitting astride his horse,
the coast-guard answered, 'Anyone with gumption
and a sharp mind will take the measure
of two things: what's said and what's done.
I believe what you have told me: that you are a troop
loyal to our king.'
Lines 286-291: A soldier replies to Beowulf,
when asked to trust what the stranger says. In medieval Scandinavian
culture to boast about heroic deeds was nearly as important
as the deeds themselves. Beowulf's boasts help to identify
Above their cheek-guards, the brightly forged
Work of goldsmiths, watching over
Those stern-faced men.
Lines 303-303: As Beowulf and the Gears
prepare to sail to the aid of Hrothgar, the boar is the symbol
that adorns the helmets of the warriors to watch over them
and assure them protection in battle.
They marched in step,
hurrying on till the timbered hall
rose before them, radiant with gold.
Nobody on earth knew of another
building like it. Majesty lodged there,
and its light shone over many lands.
Lines 306-311: In the culture of the
medieval Scandanavian warrior, if you have wealth you show
it by decorating your hall in gold.
The man whose name was known for courage,
the Geat leader, resolute in his helmet,
answered in return: 'We are retainers
from Hygelac's band. Beowulf is my name.'
Lines 340-343: Beowulf announces himself
by name, invoking his reputation for his great deeds in the