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Beowulf: An Updated Verse Translationby Frederick Rebsamen
Synopses & Reviews
Yes! We have heard of years long vanished how Spear-Danes struck sang victory-songs raised from a wasteland walls of glory. Then Scyld Scefing startled his neighbors measured meadhalls made them his own since down by the sea-swirl sent from nowhere the Danes found him floating with gifts a strange king-child. Scyld grew tall then roamed the waterways rode through the land till every strongman each warleader sailed the whalepaths sought him with gold there knelt to him. That was a king! Time brought to him birth for his people a gift to the Danes who had grieved throne-sorrows cold and kingless--the Keeper of men softened their longing with Scyld's man-child sunlight in their hearts. To this son the Wielder Life-Lord of men loaned strength-wisdom banishing the ache of a barren meadhall. Beaw was nimble his name went traveling sung wide and far in the world's kingdom. So should a prince show his heartstrength by his father's side share gold-treasures forge friend-warriors to fight against darkness in his last winters. With love and action shall a man prevail in memory and song. At the hour shaped for him Scyld took his leave a kingly departure to the King's embrace.
They bore their savior back to the sea his bones unburned as he bade them do child of the mist who chased their mourning loved and led them through the long winters. Ready at seashore stood a ring-prowed ship icy and eager armed for a king. They braced him then once bright with laughter shaper of hall-songs on the ship's middle-board hard by the mast. From hills and valleys rings and bracelets were borne to the shore. No words have sung of a wealthier grave-ship bright with war-weapons ballasted with gold swords andring-mail rich for drifting through the foaming tide far from that land. Their lord was laden for long sailpaths with love and sorrow splendid with gifts for those who had ferried him far through the mist once sent them a sailor strange treasure-child. At last they hung high upon the mast a golden banner then gave him to the sea to the mounding waves. Their mindgrief was great mood was mourning. Men cannot know cannot truthfully say-singers of tales sailors or gleemen--who gathered him in. Then Beaw held them banished war-ravens sailed through the summers strengthening peace like his father before him known far abroad a king to contend with. Time brought a son high-minded Healfdene who held in his turn through long glory-years the life-line of Scyld. Then four strong ones came forth from his queen woke to the world warmed the gift-hall--Heorogar and Hrothgar Halga the good Yrse the fair one Onela's hall-queen
that battle-wise Swede's bed-companion. Hrothgar was beckoned born for a kingdom shaped as a lord loved by his hall-thanes who bore him high as boys became men and men grew mighty. His mind told him to raise a throne-house rarest in Denmark mightiest meadhall in measure and strength that the oldest among them ever had beheld to give freely what God had provided share his wealth there shape borderlands love and lead them in light against darkness. Then, as I heard, help came crowding from hills and glens hewers of timber trimmers and weavers. It towered at last highest of them all--Heorot he named it who with words wielded the world of the Danes. Hrothgar was king kept his promise gave from his gift-throne goldgifts and peace. Gables were crossed capped with horn-beams, waitingfor hate-fire high anger-flames. It was yet too soon for swordswings to clash not yet the day for dark throne-battle a blood-minded son and his bride's father. Then an alien creature cold wanderer could no longer endure from his dark exile bright bench-laughter borne to the rafters each night in that hall. The harp sounded the poet's clear song. He sang what he knew of man's creation the Measurer's work: "He shaped the earth opened the heavens rounded the land locked it in water then set skyward the sun and the moon lights to brighten the broad earthyard beckoned the ground to bear gardens
of limbs and leaves-life He created of every kind that quickens the earth." They lived brightly on the benches of Heorot caught up in laughter till a creature brought them fear in the night an infernal hall-guest. Grendel circled sounds of the harp prowled the marshes moors and ice-streams forests and fens. He found his home with misshapen monsters in misery and greed. The Shaper banished him unshriven away with the kin of Cain killer of his blood. The Measurer fashioned a fitting revenge for the death of Abel drove his slayer far from mankind and far from His grace. Cain sired evil cunning man-killers banished from heartlove born in hatred giants and fiends jealous man-eaters long without penance. God paid them for that. Then Grendel prowled, palled in darkness, the sleep-warm hall to see how the Ring-Danes after beer and feasting bedded down for rest. He found inside slumbering warriors unready for murder. Bereft of remorse from love exiled lost and graceless he growled with envy glared above them towering with rage. From their rest he snared thirty hall-thanes loped howling away gloating withcorpses galloping the moors back to his cavern for a cold banquet. At dawning of day when darkness lifted Grendel's ravage rose with the sun. The waking Danes wailed to the heavens a great mourning-song. Their mighty ruler lord of a death-hall leaned on his grief
A verse translation of the first great narrative poem in the English language that captures the feeling and tone of the original.
About the Author
Frederick Rebsamen was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Arkansas, and his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.
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Fiction and Poetry » Classics » Beowulf