Sunday, December 7, 2008

"The Queen Speaks"

The Adventures of Beowulf
episode six

"The Queen Speaks"

Then Wealhtheow came out
under a golden crown
to where the good men sat,
nephew and uncle (at that time
there was peace between the two,
each still true to the other).

Unferth the spokesman
sat at Hrothgar's feet--
everyone considered him
brave in spirit though
he had not been kind to
his kin at the sword's play.

Spoke then the queen of the Danes:

"Receive this cup,
my dear lord,
giver of treasure.
Be in joy,
gold friend of men,
and speak to these Geats
with kind words
as men should do.
Be gracious to the Geats
and mindful of the gifts
you have from near and far.
A man said to me
that he would have
this warrior for a son.
Herot, the bright ring hall,
is purged. Give while you can
many rewards and leave
to your kin people and land
when you must go
to learn fate's decree.
I know my nephew Hrothulf
will keep his honor
if you, king of the Danes,
leave this world earlier that he.
I know Hruthulf will remember
what we two wish
and the kindness we showed
when he was a child."

Wealhtheow turned then
to the bench where her sons
were, Hrethric and Hrothmund,
children of warriors,
the youth together.
There the good ones sat,
Beowulf of the Geats
and the two brothers.
To him the cup was carried
and friendship offered in words.
Wound gold was kindly bestowed:
two arm ornaments, shirts
of mail, rings, and the largest
neck ring I have heard
tell of on the earth.

I have not heard
of any greater hoard-treasures
under the sky since
Hama carried away
to his bright fortress
the necklace of the Brosings.
He fled a treacherous quarrel
from the king of the East Goths
with the ornament and its setting,
choosing everlasting gain.

(This is the ring Hygelac
of the Geats, grandson of Swerting,
uncle of Beowulf, would have near
when he guarded the battle-spoil
under his banner. Fate would take him
when he courted trouble--
out of pride--in a feud
with the Frisians. He would wear
those noble stones over
the cup of the waves. He would
fall beneath his shield. His body,
his armor, and the ring also, would
pass into the power of the Franks.
Bad warriors rifled the corpses
after the battle slaughter.
The Geat people remained
in the field of corpses.)

Music filled the hall. Wealhtheow
spoke before the company:
"Enjoy this neck-ring,
beloved Beowulf, young hero,
and use this armor, these
treasures of the people.
Thrive well, be known
for valor, and give kind
instruction to these two boys.
I will remember your deeds.
You have earned forever
the praise of men,
from near and far,
even to the home of the winds
and the walls of the sea.
Be blessed while you live, prince!
I wish you well with the treasures.
Be gentle, joyful one, to my sons.
In this place is each warrior
true to the other, mild
in spirit, an d faithful
to his king. The warriors
are united, the men drink
deep, and they do my biding."

She went to her seat.
There was a choice feast,
men drank wine.
They did not know
that grim fate
would come to many nobles
after evening fell
and powerful Hrothgar
went to his house to rest.

Countless warriors guarded the hall,
as they had often done:
they cleared the floor of benches,
spread out beds and cushions.
One of the beer drinkers,
doomed and fated,
lay on the couch.
They set by their heads
their war gear and bright
wood shields. There on the bench
over each warrior could be seen
a towering helmet, ringed armor,
and a huge wooden spear.
Their custom was that they were
always ready for war, both
in the field and at home, each
ready anytime his king needed him.
Those were good people.

photo 2008 Lindholm Høje: grethe bachmann

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Old English Poetry

The Battle of Brunanburh

Then Aethelstan, king, Thane of eorls,
ring-bestower to men, and his brother also,
the atheling Edmund, lifelong honour
struck in battle with sword's edge
at Brunanburh. Broke the shieldwall,
split shields with swords.
Edward's sons, the issue of princes
from kingly kin, oft on campaign
their fatherland from foes defended,
hoard and home.Hammered Crushed the hated ones,
Scots-folk and ship-men
fated fell. The field flowed with blood,
I have heard said, from sun-rise
in morningtime, as mighty star
glided up overground, God's bright candle,
- the eternal Lord's - till that noble work
sank to its setting. There lay scores of men
destroyed by darts, Danish warrior
shot over shield. So Scots also
wearied of war. West-Saxons went forth
from morn till night the mounted warriors
pursued enemy people,
the fleeing forces were felled from behind
with swords new-sharpened. The Mercians spurned not
hard hand-play with heroes
that escorted accompanied Anlaf over sea's surge,
in ship's shelter sought land,
came fated to fight. Five lay dead
on the killing field, young kings
put to sleep with the sword; so also seven
of Anlaf's eorls, and unnumbered slain
among sea-men and Scots. So was routed
the Northmen's lord, by need forced
to take ship with few troops.
compelled to sea , the king set out
on fallow flood, saved his life.
So also the wise one fled away
to his northern country, Constantine,
hoary battle-man; he need not boast
of that meeting of swords. He was severed from kin,
forfeiting friends on that field,
slain at war, and his son left
on the death-ground, destroyed by his wounds,
young warrior. He need not brag,
the white-haired warrior, about sword-wielding,
the artful one, nor Anlaf either;
With their army smashed they need not sneer
that their battle-work was better
on the battlefield where banners crashed
and spears clashed in that meeting of men,
that weapon-wrestle, when on the death-field
they sported played with Edward's offspring.
The Northmen went off in nail-bound ships,
sad survivors of spears, on Ding's mere,
over deep water seeking Dublin,
Ireland again, ashamed in their hearts.
So both brothers together,
king and atheling, their country sought,
the land of Wessex, in war exulting.
They left behind them sharing the lifeless
the dusk-dressed one, the dark raven,
with hard beak of horn, and the hoar-coated one,
white-tailed eagle, enjoying the carrion,
greedy war-hawk, and that grey beast,
the wolf of the wood. Nor was more slaughter
on this isle ever yet,
so many folk felled, before this
sword battle, as say the books,
the old wise men, since from the east
Angle and Saxon arrived together
over broad briny seeking Britain,
proud warriors who worsted the Welsh,
eager for glory, and gained a land.

photo North Sea: gb