Beowulf 1-228: Dawn of Things Ferocious (From Old English)

Dawn of Things Ferocious
Opening of Beowulf (1-228)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
If you want to hear me recite the original in Mercian Old English, head on over here

Yes we have heard the deeds of the Dane heroes,
their tribes' high kings in times gone by
how those noble men made their glory.
There was Shield Sheaving who shattered foes 
and put down hordes: the hall-smashing
scourge of the Earlings. In Ancient Denmark,
a lone foundling,  he lived to rise
from rags under heaven to high honor
till every clan round those outland coasts
over the blue whale-ride obeyed his will,
and gave him gold.  Good king indeed. 
To him a boy  was born later,
a cub in the court,  a comfort sent
to that nation by God who knew how much
living misery for lack of a prince
they had long suffered.  So that Life-Ruling
Sovereign of Glory soon granted that prince
success in this world. He won a name.
So far and wide went the fame of Beow,
the scion of Shield in Scandinavia.
So should a young prince take proper care
to give freely while his father lives
so that in age later loyal companions
will stand by his side, subjects back him
when his enemies march. A man will thrive
through acts of honor in every land.

Then Shield passed on when his hour had come,
Still vigorous, he crossed to the care of the Lord,
and his dear comrades did as he bade them
when he spoke the law as Lord of the Danes.
To the curling sea they carried the body
of their beloved chief who had long ruled them. 
A ring-necked hull  rode there at harbor,
an outbound, king-fit  and ice-clad craft.
In it they laid their beloved king,
their ring-sharer in the ship's hollow
majestic by the mast. Then a mass of wealth
and treasure from afar  was fetched aboard.
I've heard of no ship decked  so magnificently
with battle-trappings,  with blades of war,
with maskhelms and mail.  Amazing riches
were laid on his breast,  bound to travel 
far out with him  into the ocean's sway.
His men decked him  with more treasure
from a nation's wealth  than those warriors did
who first launched him  as a little child
out wandering  the waves alone. 
They raised a great  golden standard
above his head,  and let the blue have him.
He was ceded to the sea.  Sadness took them
mourning their sovereign.  Not a man breathing,
heaven-tried veteran or hall's advisor,
can say for sure  who salvaged that haul.

Then Beo was king  crowned over Denmark,
long a beloved  leader of his people,
famed everywhere  after his father
had quit this earth.  Then his heir was born:
the great Halfdane  who held the realm
as their fierce elder  and fighter prince
all the days of his life.  This liege of the Danes
became father to four children 
who entered this world one after another:
Heorogar, Hrothgar and Halga the Good,
then they say Yrse was queen  by Onela's side,
a warmth in the bed  of the war-chilled Swede.
Wartime fortune  favored Hrothgar.
His sword's success  saw his kinsmen
and friends all flock  to fight under him
until that young cadre of recruits had swelled
into a huge legion. So Hrothgar's mind
turned to hallwork. He had his men
work on a meadhall more massive than all
of humankind had heard of before.
Beneath its stately roof he would distribute all
the gifts that God   had given to him
save public land  and people's lives
So far and wide  through the world, they say,
peoples everywhere got his orders to work 
adorning that Danehall. Soon done quickly
it rose to men's eyes,  ready and finished,
the great hall of all halls. Heorot was the name
he gave it, whose word  was warrant and law.
He held fast to his word with feasts and rings
as he handed out gold.  The hall towered
with wide and grand gables awaiting
a horrid burning. Blood's atrocity
would not be long coming: killer in-laws
unleashing their blades in a barbarous hate.

Meanwhile the weird demon  who walked the dark
nursed a long grievance.  It gnashed his guts
to hear the jangle and boom  of banqueting joy
every day in that hall,  the harp ringing
and the poet's song  resounding there:
He who mastered the tale  of man's beginnings
sang how 
      the Almighty  first made the earth
      a wonder plain  washed with ocean,
      set in triumph  the sun and moon
      as lantern lights  for the landwalkers,
      ornamented  the earth's broad lap
      with leaf and bough,  and made life quicken
      in every thing  that acts and moves.
So the thanes in that hall lived happy times
blessed without worry till that one creature,
a freak of hell, did heinous things.
Grim, godawful Grendel they called him:
marchland-stalker, marshland-ruler
of the fen stronghold. This foul-starred man
had had a miserable home in the monsterlands
cursed by his creator with the kin of Ham,
into the outworld.  For Abel's blood
the Lord of All  exacted full price.
he got no good from that feud. God banished him
far from humans for foul murder.
That cursed seed spawned  all unspeakable things:
kobolds, orc-elves and ogre-zombies
and the giants too who took on God
again and again till they got their reward.

So Grendel lit out after nightfall
for the lofty hall, on the hunt for Danes
now bedded down after banquet and drink,
and there they were: a warrior band
asleep after feasting. They felt no pain,
none of man's misery. In a murderous flash
That grim, greedy ungodly thing
made savagery, seized thirty men
right where they lay and rushed away
proud of his plunder. The puffed demon
shambled homeward with his haul of gore.
Then in the early grey hours of morning
Grendel's carnage  lay clear to men.
In their wassail's wake they wept to the skies,
dirging in dawnlight.  Danelord Hrothgar,
storied sovereign, now sat stricken,
a chief dread-hurt at the death of his men
when they looked at the tracks left there in blood
by the goddamned ghoul.  The grief was too much,
long and loathsome. There was little time. 
For one night later lethal Grendel
massacred more. Remorse he had none
for this terror feud: it was too much fun.

Then it was easy to meet  a man who preferred
to sleep elsewhere  at a safe distance
in the outbuildings.  If they had eyes in their heads
they had hard evidence  of the unholy
hall-stalker's hate.  They hurried far
away from the freak  if they wanted to live.
It was a war against right:  the reign of one ghoul
against everyone,  till that greatest of halls
was left empty.  On went the horror. 
For twelve winters  tortured Hrothgar,
sapped with sorrow,  sank in agony.
Woes rammified.  So word soon spread
through the children of man.  All mortal ears
heard terrible  tales of Grendel
harrowing Hrothgar,  his hateful raids,
the interminable feud  of his terror campaign,
of total war.  He wanted no terms
with any man  who marched for the Dane,
would not pause the gore, paid no bloodfee,
(Not that counsellors had cause to expect
fair reparation  from this marauding fiend.)
This dark deathshade was a danger to men
and he hunted them all, the old and the young,
as he roved and swooped,  ruled mist-wraithed moors
in ceaseless night.  Sane men don't know
where wild hellwits' wanderings take them.

So he waged his long  and lonely war
on all mankind:  endless atrocities,
unnatural wrongs.  As nights darkened
he took over  treasured-decked Heorot
(Though he refused to approach  the fine gift-throne.
He wanted no truck  with treasure at all.)
It was loathsome days  for the lord of Danes,
and it broke his mind.  His best officers,
earnest counsellors,  would often sit
debating how  brave defenders
might even stand against the ghoulish strikes. 
At times they prayed  at pagan shrines,
brought offerings,  begged and pleaded
with the soul-killer  to come and save
a wracked nation.  They knew no more
than this heathen hope.  Hell had their minds
and hearts knotted.  They had no idea
of the real maker,  the Almighty Lord
who judges all,  didn't even know
words to praise Him  who wields glory
and helms heaven.  Unhappy they
who bid the blaze  embrace their souls
in troubled days.  It will do nothing.
They have no help.  Happy are any
whose soul in death  can seek friendship
in the Father's embrace  and find true peace.

So the time's troubles  tortured the brooding
king constantly.  He could not stop
his grief for the Danes.  Too great the ordeal
of his people scourged,  persecuted,
raided and harrowed  by horrors of night.

Till at last a good man  in the land of the Geats,
Hygelac's high thane,  heard about Grendel.
He was the mightiest  of men living
on mortal earth in those elder days,
high-born and brave.  He had them build
a sea-ranger, and said he would go
sail the swanroad to seek that king,
noble Hrothgar  who needed good men.

No Geat elder  even begrudged him
this expedition,  though he was dear to them,
but urged him to go.  There were good omens.
from his own nation  the noble man
picked out fighters:  the fiercest Geats
that he could find.  So, fifteen strong,
the war-band went  to the wave-runner
under that sea-versed chief  where surf met land. 

The time soon came. With the clipper afloat
on cliffside waves,  the war-blithe men
climbed the gangplank as current-turned
sea churned the sand. Sun-touched cargo
of weapons and mail the warriors bore
into the hold of that ship. Then they shoved out to sea
with her exquisite strakes on a quest of men.
She went windblown. A wave-scudder
with foam at the neck, she flew like a bird,
till at the due hour  just a day after
her curving prow had coursed enough
for the sailors to get glad sight of land:
Shining shorecliffs and sheer headlands
with vast sea-capes. So their voyage 
over the sea ended.  Instantly then
the Stormgeats stood and stepped on land.
They moored the ship, shook their mailshirts
with a clinking thrash, gave thanks to God
for how easy their way on the waves had been.

The Original:


Hwæt wé gár-dæná      in ġár-dagum                   
þéod-cyningá      þrymm gifrugnun,
hú þá æðilingas      ellin fræmidun.
Oft sceld scéƀing      sceaðæná þréatum,
monegum mégðum      medu-setlá oftáh,
egisadǽ Iorlí.      Siþþan ǽrist wearþ
féascæft fundæn,      hé þæs fróƀrǽ gibád.
wéx undær wolcnum,      weorþ-myndum þáh,
oþþaet him œ́ghwelc þér      ymb-sittændrá
oƀær hron-rádǽ      héran scoldǽ,
gomban geldan.      Þæt wæs gód cyning
Ðǽm aƀurá wæs      æftær cænnid
ġung in geardum      þonǽ god sændǽ
folcǽ tó fróƀrǽ;      firin-þearƀǽ ongæt,
þæt híæ ǽr drugun      aldur-léasǽ
longǽ hwílǽ.      Him þæs líƀ-frëá
wuldræs waldænd      weruld-árǽ forgæƀ:
Bíowí wæs brœ́mí      – bléd wídǽ sprong –
Sceldæs aƀurá      scedi-londum in.
Swé scæl ġung gumá     gódǽ giwirċan
fromum feh-giftum     on fæder bearmǽ
þæt hinǽ on ældǽ     eft giwunigæn
wil-gisíðas,     þonnǽ wíg cumǽ
líodí gilǽstæn:     loƀ-dédum scæl
in mégðá gihwǽm    monn giþíän.

(Scyldes Feorhgedál)

Him þá Sceld giwát    tó giscæp-hwílǽ,      
felu-hrór fœ́ran    on fréan wérǽ.
Híæ hinǽ þá ætbérun    tó brimæs faruðǽ,
swésǽ gisíðas,    swé hé selƀá bæd,
þændæn wordum wéold    Wini Sceldingá
léoƀ lond-frumá    longǽ ǽhtí.
Þér æt hýðǽ stód    hringid-stefná,
ísig ænd útfús,    æðilingæs fær.
álægdun þá    léoƀnǽ þéodæn,
bégá bryttan     on bearm scipæs
mérnǽ bi mæstǽ.     Þér wæs máðmá felá
of feor-wegum     frætwá gilǽdid, 
ni hérdǽ ic cýmlicor     céol gigerwan
hildí-wépnum     ænd haðu-wédum,
billum ænd byrnum;     him on bearmǽ læg
máðmá mænigu     þá him mid scoldun
on flódæs ǽht     feor giwítan.
nallæs híæ hinǽ lǽssan      lácum tíodan
þéod-gistréonum      þonnǽ þá dédun
þe hinǽ æt frumscæftǽ      forþ onsændun
ǽnnǽ oƀær ýðǽ,      umbr-wesændí
Þá gét híæ him ásettun     segn gyldænnǽ
héh oƀær héaƀud,     létun holm beran,
géƀun on gársecg.     Him wæs ġómor seƀá,
murnændí mód.     Mæn ni cunnun
secgan tó sóðǽ     seli-rédændí
hæliþ undær heƀunum     hwá þǽm hlæstí onféng.

(Of þǽm strenge cwómun æftercyningas)

Þá wæs on burgum  Bío Sceldingá,               
léoƀ líod-cyning,    longǽ þrágǽ
folcum gifrégí    (fæder ellur hwearƀ,
aldur of eardǽ),    oþþæt him eft onwóc
héh Halƀdæní;    héold þændæn liƀdǽ,
gomol ænd gúðréow,    glædǽ Sceldingas.
Þǽm féowur bearn    forþ-girímid
in weruld wócun,    werudá réswan,
Herugár ænd Hróðgár    ænd Hálgá til;
hérdǽ ic þæt Ýrsǽ    wæs bi Onalan cwœ́n,
Haðu-scelƀingæs    hals-gibeddá.

(Heorotes gebytlung)

Þá wæs Hróðgárǽ    heri-spœ́d geƀæn,
wígæs weorð-mynd,    þæt him his wini-mágas
geornǽ hérdun,    oþþæt sío ġuguþ giwéx,
magu-dryht micil. Him on mód bi-arn           
þæt hal-reccid   hátan woldǽ,
medu-ærn márǽ,    mæn giwircan
þonnǽ ældá bearn    ǽfrǽ gifrugnun,
ænd þér on innan    all gidǽlan
ġungum ænd aldum,    swelc him god saldǽ,
búton folc-scærǽ    ænd ferhum gumaná.
þá ic wídǽ gifrægn    werc gibonnan
monegrǽ mégþǽ    ġond þisnǽ middan-geard,
folc-stedi frætwan.    Him on firstǽ gilomp,
édrǽ mid ældum,    þæt hit wearþ ælgearu,
hallærná mǽst;    scóp him Heort noman
sé þe his wordæs giwald    wídǽ hæƀdǽ.
Hé biát ni álég,    bégas dǽldǽ,
sinc æt simlǽ.    Seli hlíƀadǽ,
héh ænd horn-géap,    haðu-wælmá bád,
láðan lígæs;    ni wæs hit læṅgǽ þá gén
þæt se ecg-heti    áþum-swéoran
æftær wæl-níðǽ    wæcnan scoldǽ.

(Cymþ se Gǽst)

Þá se ellorgǽst    earƀoðlícǽ              
þrágǽ giþoladǽ,    sé þe in þíostrum bád,
þæt hé dógrá gihwǽm    dréam gihérdǽ
hlúdnǽ in hallǽ;    þér wæs hearpan swœ́g,
switul song scopæs.    Sægdǽ sé þe cúðǽ
frumscæft firhá    feorran reccan,
cwæþ þæt se ælmæhtġá   eorðan worhtǽ,
wliti-berhtnǽ wong,    swé wæter bibúgiþ,
gisettǽ sigi-hrœ́ðig    sunnan ænd mónan
léoman tó léhtǽ    lond-búændum
and gifrætwadǽ    foldan scéatas
léomum ænd léaƀum,    líƀ éc giscóp
cynná gihwelcum    þárá þe cwicǽ hwerƀaþ.
Swé þá dryht-guman    dréamum liƀdun
éadiglícǽ,    oþþæt án ongon
firinǽ fræmman    fíond on hellǽ.
Wæs se grimmá gǽst    Grændil hátæn,
mérí mærc-stapá,    se þe móras héold,
fæn ænd fæstæn;    fífl-cynnæs eard
won-sélig wer    weardadǽ hwílǽ,
siþþan him sceppænd    forscriƀæn hæƀdǽ
in Camæs cynnǽ.    Þonǽ cwalm giwræc
écí dryhtin,    þæs þe hé Ábel slóg;
ni gifeh hé þǽrǽ fǽhðǽ,    ac hé hinǽ feor forwræc,
metud forǽ þý mánǽ,    mon-cynnǽ from.
Þanon untýdras    allǽ onwócun,
etunas ænd ælƀí    ænd orcnëas,
swelcǽ gígantas,    þá wiþ godǽ wunnun
longǽ þrágǽ;    hé him þæs léan forgald.

(Fyrist Hráfiell)

Giwát ða níosan,    siþþan næht bicwóm,
héän húsæs,     hú hit Hringdæní
æftær béorþegǽ     gibún hæƀdun.
Fond þá þér-innǽ    æðilingá gidryht
swefan æftær simlǽ;    sorgǽ ni cúðun,
wonscæft werá    Wiht unhǽlu,
grim ænd grédig,    gearu sóná wæs,
réc ænd rœ́ðí,    ænd on ræstǽ ginom
þrítig þegná,    þanon eft giwát
húðǽ hrémig    tó hám faran,
mid þǽrǽ wælfyllí    wícá níosan.
þá wæs on úhtan      mid ǽrdægǽ
Grændlæs gúðcræft    gumum underní;
þá wæs æftær wistǽ    wóp up áhæƀæn,
micil morgin-swœ́g.     Mérí þéodæn,
æðiling ǽr-gód     unblíðí sæt.
Þoladǽ þrýð-swíþ.     Þegn-sorgǽ drég
siþþan híæ þæs láðan     lást scéawadun
wærgan gǽstæs.     Wæs þæt giwin tó strong
láþ ænd longsum.     Næs hit læṅgrá first
ac ymb ánǽ næht     eft gifræmidǽ
morþ-bealu márǽ,     ænd ná mearn forǽ,
fǽhðǽ ænd firinǽ:     wæs tó fæst on þǽm.


þá wæs éðfyndí,      þe him ellæs hwér
girúmlícor      ræstǽ sóhtǽ,
bed æftær búrum,      þá him gibécnud wæs,
gisægd sóðlícǽ      swetulan tácnǽ
hall-þegnæs heti:      héold hinǽ siþþan
firr ænd fæstor      se þǽm fíond ætwand.
Swé ríxadǽ      ænd wiþ rehtǽ won
áná wiþ allum      oþþæt ídel stód 
húsá sélist.      Wæs sío hwíl micil:
twelf wintrá tíd      torn giþoladǽ
wini Sceldingá,      wéaná gihwelcnǽ,
sídrá sorgá.     For þǽm giséní wearþ
ældá bearnum,      un-derní cúþ
geddum ġómrǽ,      þætte Grændil won
hwílǽ wiþ Hróþgár,      heti-níðas wæg,
firinǽ ænd fǽhþǽ,      felá missirá(?)
singálǽ sæccǽ.      Sibbǽ ni woldǽ
wiþ monná hwonǽ      mægnæs Dænigá
ferh-bealu firran,      feo(h)ǽ þingian,
ni þér nǽnig witaná      wénan þorftǽ
berhtrǽ bótǽ      tó bonan folmum
ac se æglǽcá      œ́htændí wæs
derc déaþ-scúá,      duguðǽ ænd ġuguðǽ,
semadǽ ænd seridǽ.      Sinnæhtí héold
mistgǽ móras.      Mæn ni cunnun 
hwider hel-rúnan      hwyrftum scríðaþ. 

(Heorot Gehergod) 

Swé felá firiná       fíond moncynnæs
atul ángæṅgá       oft gifræmidǽ,
heardrá hénðá.       Heorot eardadǽ,
sinc-fágǽ sæl       sweartum næhtum.
Ná hé þonǽ gifstól       grétan móstí:
máðm formetadǽ      ni his myni wissǽ.
Þæt wæs wræc micil,       wini sceldingá,
módæs brecþá.       Monig oft gisæt
rící tó rúnǽ,       réd æhtadun ,
hwæt swíþ-ferhþum       sélist wérǽ
wiþ fér-gryrí       tó gifræmmænnǽ.
Hwílum híæ gihétun       æt hærgtraƀum
wíh-weorðungǽ,       wordum bédun
þæt him gǽst-baná       ġucǽ gifræmidǽ
wiþ þéod-þréawum.       Swelc wæs þéaw hirá,
hǽðinrá hyht:       hellǽ gimundun
in módseƀan;       metud híæ ni cúðun,
dédá dœ́mænd.       Ni wistun híæ dryhtin god,
né híæ húru heƀoná helm       herian ni cúðun,
wuldræs waldænd.       Wá biþ þǽm-þe scæl
þurg slíðnǽ níþ       sáwlǽ biscúƀan 
in fýræs fæðm,       fróƀrǽ ni wénan
wihtí giwændan.       Wél biþ þǽm-þe mót
æftær déaþdægǽ       dryhtin sœ́can
ænd tó fædr fæþmum       friðu wilnian.
Swé þá mél-cearǽ       magá Halƀdænæs
singálá séaþ.       Ni mæhtǽ snotr hæliþ
wéan onwændan:       wæs þæt giwin tó swíþ,
láþ ænd longsum,       þe on þá líodí bicwóm,
néd-wracu níþ-grim,       næht-bealwá mǽst.

(Hæleþ we þearƀiaþ)

þæt from hám gifrægn        Hygilácæs þegn,
gód mid Géatum,        Grændlæs dédá.
Sé wæs mon-cynnæs        mæginæs strængist
on þǽm dægǽ        þissæs líƀæs,
æþilí ænd écen.        Héht him ýþ-lidan
gódnǽ gigerwan:        cwæþ, hé gúþ-cyning
oƀær swon-rádǽ        sœ́can woldǽ,
mérnǽ þéodæn,        þá him wæs monná þearƀ.
þonǽ síþ-fæt him        snotrǽ ceorlas
lýt-hwón lógun,        þéh hé him léoƀ wérǽ:
hwettun hygi-rófnǽ        hǽl scéawadun.
hæƀdǽ se gódá        Géatá líodá
cæmpan gicoronǽ,        þárá-þe hé cœ́nustǽ
findan mæhtǽ.        Fífténá sum
sund-wudu sóhtǽ:        secg wísadǽ,
lagu-cræftig mon,        lond-gimercu.


First forþ giwát.        Flotá wæs on ýðum,
bát undær bærgǽ.        Beornas gearwǽ
on stefn stigun.        Stréamas wundun,
sund wiþ sondǽ.        Secgas bérun
on bearm nacan        berhtǽ frætwǽ,
gúð-searu geatulíc.        Guman út scuƀon,
weras on wil-síþ,        wudu bundænnǽ.
Giwát þá oƀær wég-holm,        windǽ gifýsid,
flotá fámig-hals,        fuglǽ gilícust,
oþþæt ymb án-tíd,        óðræs dógræs
wundæn-stefná        giwædæn hæƀdǽ,
þæt þá líðændí        lond giségun,
brim-cliƀu blícan,        bergas stéapǽ,
sídǽ sǽ-nǽssas.        Þá wæs sund lidæn,
eoletæs(?) æt ændí.        Þanon ŭ́p hraðǽ
Wedrá líodí        on wong stigun:
sǽ-wudu sǽldun,        serċan hrisidun,
gúð-giwédu.        Godǽ þoncadun,
þæs-þe him ýð-ládǽ        éðí wurdun

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