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Béowulf
The original, squashed down to read in about 10 minutes



(England, Northumberland?, c850))



Here is the beginning of English. Maybe the oldest story known in the mixture of Frisian, Nordic and Germanic dialects, which eventually became this language. 'Maybe', because it is far from clear where, when, for who or by whom it was written.

Translated: GH. Abridged: GH. Numbers are approximate positions of the customary chapters.



Béowulf


Hwæt! Wé Gárdena - in géardagum
Hú ­á æþelingas - ellen fremedon.


Listen! Of we Spear-Danes - in past times,
How great men - made great deeds.

Often Scyld, Scef's son, - from enemy hosts
Seized mead-benches; - and terrorised Heruli.
Oh! A good king! - To him an heir was born,
Béowulf! Of renown - in Northern Lands.
Then Scyld departed - at destiny's time,
Into the hands of Lord Frea. - His comrades all,
As he himself had bid, - a hero's vessel made,
To lay their prince - among his riches,
No finer keel, I've heard - ever sat on waves,
To drift off far - to gift the ocean.
Yet no hero knows - who landed that cargo.

1] Béowulf the elder, - beloved king,
To him in turn was born - sons: Heorogar and Hrothgar
And good Halga; - And to Hrothgar
Success in warcraft came, - to be remembered
By a grand mead-hall, - Thus craftsmen fine,
Over all middle-earth, - came, built, and named it:
'Heorot'! Towering high - and horn-gabled!
Yet a dark spirit - listened to its sounds,
Of revelry and harp - and poet's song.
Grendel was the listener - a hellish monster,
Marsh-stalker, - kith of Cain,
And friend of ogres, - friend of elves.
2] And when night came - the listener went,
To see that high house - full of slumbering knights.
And from their rest - seized thirty thanes
As plunder taken home - for a banquet of blood.
And the nother night - he came again, again.
Empty stood proud Heorot - twelve long winters
3] Of Grendel's deeds - fame was spread,
So that far, among the Geats - a strong man heard,
Ordered a wave-crosser - fine fit for a Chief,
And king, and men - bold champions all.
Fifteen together thrust off - from sand and cliffs
Bright arms and armour, - over the water-waves
Flying as the wind, - like birds, until,
They sighted a land - of bright sea-cliffs,
Where the coast guard-man - asked 'What are you?'
Where your lineage? - Where your quest?
4] Comrades of Higlac, - my father was Edgethow,
Among the Scyldings, - we seek a dark foe,
A hidden and hiding - despoiler of men.
Then led them he - to the Court of Great Men,
With 'May the Father - All-ruling protect you!'
5] Trod they stone-paved streets - to a noble hall,
Set they down sea-weary - their shields again the wall.
Strong soldiers came - to ask their reasons,
Saying they had not - seen from a foreign land,
So many men - So brave of face.
Béowulf am I of name - I have an errand to tell.
6] Hrothgar spoke, - Helm of the Scyldings.
'I knew your father Edgethow. - Welcome young Béowulf.
7] Know well that Grendel, - mocks me and mine
Hall Heorot is wasted, - my noble war-bands wane.
Know too that other - battle-men fired with beer
Have vowed vengeance - on Grendel. Only for us,
To find again the hall - stained with bitter gore.
Then bench was brought - and ale and pure sweet mead.
And there was the joy of heroes, - all Danes and Wederas.
8] Unferth son of Edgelaf, - Spoke out to Béowulf,
‘Are you the one of foolish boast - who swam the ocean sound?
Against Breca. And failed. - So ‘gainst Grendel you will.'
Béowulf spoke, ‘some truth - but I did battle there,
With sea-beasts - and there won.'
9] Came then Wealthow - Hrothgar's queen,
Adorned in gold - to give full cups.
10] Then in sleeping-time - a hall-guard posted:
On Grendel ogre-watch. - Yet in the colourless night
The shadow-wanderer - came slinking.
11] Grendel walking, - under clouds,
To the gold-hall of men - the door rushed in,
Fiend's feet - on floor mosaic
Around sleeping company - a life to be stolen.
Grasped he a sleeping warrior - bit into the bone-locks,
From veins drank blood, - swallowed great chunks;
Devoured all - hands and feet.
Then the hall aroused - in ghastly horror,
12] Earls all fighting - the murderous guest
A great wound apparent, - sinews sprang asunder,
Before the clash - of Béowulf
Grendel flees sick unto death - to seek his stinking home
All of him but - a hand and arm left
Under the gaping roof. - The grip of Grendel
13] Then in the morning, - as I heard tell,
Folk-chiefs arrived - from far and near
To behold the wonder. - And the king's own bard
Béowulf's glory proclaimed - under the sky's expanse
Like Sigmund - of old
14] Hrothgar spoke, the Hall - adorned with gold and Grendel's hand
‘Now Béowulf, - like to me a son,
We will keep new kinship - through courage-works.
The monster is gone - save this hand only.
With nails - like steel
The war-creature's - heathenish hand-spurs.'
15] Then within Heorot - order was declaimed,
The stone gold-glittering - woven tapestries on walls,
Many wondrous sights. - And filled up with friends.
To Béowulf; a golden banner - the treasure-sword, and helm;
A helm renowned that which - no mortal tools can harm
And to each man - from the chief of earls,
Bestowed possession, - horses and weapons.
18] To Béowulf from Wealthow - a full cup of wine,
And brought the largest necklet - of which on earth I have heard.
In gold, and rings - given with blessings.
The warriors cheered by drink - drank to heroes,
Cleared off the benches - set down to sleep.
19] Yet an avenger still lived; - Grendel's mother, troll-wife,
Lived in dreadful water - and remembered misery.
She came then to Heorot, - and the Ring-Danes sleeping.
Quickly stole away a knight, - beloved æschere, to her fen
So Béowulf was called, - from sleeping elsewhere.
20] Hrothgar spoke, - ‘My people say
That they saw two such - alien marchers in wasted lands
Far over the marsh waters.' - There must we go.
21] Béowulf spoke, - Do not sorrow, wise man
Better a friend do avenge, - than sorrow too-much.
Horses were bridled, - and foot-soldiers brought.
To follow the tracks - over forest and moor,
To great waters - of serpents.
Béowulf clothed in strong arms - carried no fear for his life.
22] Béowulf the son of Edgethow spoke; - ‘Wise chieftain, if I for you
Should be parted from life, - to join my father;
Be you the hand-bearer - to my young retainers.'
And Béowulf the - man of the Geats
Into the surging-lake - drove down below
For half a long day - to the cave of the mere-wife.
Who snatched at the warrior - with her loathsome claws.
23] Spied among her cache of arms - a firm edged victory-tool,
A giant-forged sword, - he seized the ring-hilt,
Angrily struck, - through her neck
Broke bone - struck through
The ogre-woman fell dead - the warrior rejoiced.
And there saw he - Grendel lying,
Lifeless burst corpse. - Then with a sword blow
He cut its head away. - As those above with Hrothgar
Saw blood rise - on the turgid lake
And lost hope - for Béowulf.
Then that sword began - to heat with battle-gore
A great wonder! - Melted all away!
Straightaway Béowulf - dove up through water,
From his borrowed world - he came then to the land,
They thanking God - to see their friend,
Four had to carry - that dreadful head.
25] To Edgethow: - And the sword's hilt
Only left hot gold - to the old king given
The ancient work of giants; - an heirloom of ancient strife,
27] Béowulf spoke, - ‘We sea-farers
Have come far to find fame - and are not disappointed.'
Hrothgar spoke: ‘Between - our peoples now be peace.'
28] They came then to the flood - the young warriors;
Returning heroes, - to their Wederas,
Laden with horses - and much treasure.
29] Béowulf - for fifty winters
Was a wise king, - fatherland's father
Until one dark night - a dragon was awoke
A man, I know not who - chanced upon a heathen hoard
In a stark stone barrow - stole he some ornamented gold
From one who would - have his reply.
32] The hoarder was dragon - that flies by night,
33] Spewing flames - to burn bright houses.
Then was Béowulf - filled with gloom,
Unusual for him. - The fire-drake had
The strongest fortress of the coast - crushed down with hard flames.
Then that war-king - of the Wederas,
Ordered a shield - not of wood
Made of iron. - For tree-wood
No flame would stay. - Then with a troop
Set out to find - the hateful wyrm.
34] Then he went, - with the first thief
To the cairn under the ground - near the surging of the sea,
Filled inside - with jewels
35] Béowulf declared, - for the last time:
The noble vow-words - and saluted all his men
Bidding them wait; - ‘It is not your adventure.'
The serpent rose, - the lord raised up his hand
And struck with his - ancestral sword,
Bright on bone, - as nobles' sons,
Not ‘fraid of human battle, - ran to hide in woods.
36] Only Wiglaf son of Weohstan, - held his heart and said
‘remember how we took our mead - together. Now our man
Has need of sturdy warriors.' - Running in to aid his lord
Flames came forth in waves - burned shield to the boss;
Then again the war-king - remembered his strength,
Into the serpent's head - hacked with iron sword
As the fierce fire-drake - clamped on Béowulf's neck
And gushed his life-blood. - As Wiglaf smote its belly
37] So his lord attacked - and felled the foe.
The wyrm lay dead - and Béowulf soon to follow
Asking boon to see for last - the sparkling treasure-wealth.
38] ‘I cannot stay here long. - After my fire is died
Order me a mound - at the ocean's cape;
On headland of whales, - to remind my people.
The Fates have chosen - to take up all
Of my kinsmen - to their destiny
Now I must after them.' - Then words no more.
42] So Wiglaf ordered - pyre-wood
And sent the dragon - over the cliff-wall,
For the waves to take - the keeper of baubles
43] With battle-shields they laid - their master on the wood
While smoke arose - and warriors wept
And a Geatish woman alone - wove for Béowulf a song
Then around the mound - rode the battle-brave
To speak of the man - and of his deeds
Of world-kings - the most generous,
Protector of people - most eager for honour.
Wyruldcyning - manna mildust,
Léodum lí­ost - ond lofgeornost






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