I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a while. In fact, the last time I updated this blog was the 7th of July, and indeed, I deserve a special place in the liber monstrorum for such monstrous acts. But alas, life, and writing, and conferences got in the way, and I should hopefully have something to show for my inattentiveness (keep your eyes out for The Medieval Review!).
Anyway, so, last time, Beowulf and the lads had landed in Denmark and our friend the watchman (hwa wæceþ þa weardmenn?) was almost wetting himself at the size of Beowulf and was all like “sorrry, who are ye, like”…
Him se yldesta ondswarode,
werodes wisa, wordhord onleac:
We synt gumcynnes Geata leode
ond Higelaces heorðgeneatas.
Wæs min fæder folcum gecyþed,
æþele ordfruma, Ecgþeow haten.
Gebad wintra worn, ær he on weg hwurfe,
gamol of geardum; hine gearwe geman
witena welhwylc wide geond eorþan.
We þurh holdne hige hlaford þinne,
sunu Healfdenes, secean cwomon,
leodgebyrgean; wes þu us larena god.
Habbað we to þæm mæran micel ærende,
Deniga frean, ne sceal þær dyrne sum
wesan, þæs ic wene. þu wast gif hit is
swa we soþlice secgan hyrdon
þæt mid Scyldingum sceaðona ic nat hwylc,
deogol dædhata, deorcum nihtum
eaweð þurh egsan uncuðne nið,
hynðu ond hrafyl. Ic þæs Hroðgar mæg
þurh rumne sefan ræd gelæran,
hu he frod ond god feond oferswyðeþ,
gyf him edwendan æfre scolde
bealuwa bisigu, bot eft cuman,
ond þa cearwylmas colran wurðaþ;
oððe a syþðan earfoðþrage,
þreanyd þolað, þenden þær wunað
on heahstede husa selest.
Weard maþelode, ðær on wicge sæt,
ombeht unforht: æghwæþres sceal
scearp scyldwiga gescad witan,
worda ond worca, se þe wel þenceð.
Ic þæt gehyre, þæt þis is hold weorod
frean Scyldinga. Gewitaþ forð beran
wæpen ond gewædu; ic eow wisige.
Swylce ic maguþegnas mine hate
wið feonda gehwone flotan eowerne,
niwtyrwydne nacan on sande
arum healdan, oþðæt eft byreð
ofer lagustreamas leofne mannan
wudu wundenhals to Wedermearce,
godfremmendra swylcum gifeþe bið
þæt þone hilderæs hal gedigeð.
Himself, the eldest of the lads and the leader, answered with a silver tongue, “Alrigh’ feeen, we’re some Geatish bais, hearth-companions of Huge-lad Hygelac*. My father had some name for himself also, so he did – Ecgtheow was that noble fella’s name. Oh he sat through many a winter before, aged as he was, off he went on his way** from the courts. Every lad worth his salt throughout this whole land remembers that man, not a bother on him.
We’re here to see the man himself, the son of Healfdane and pillar of the community, and no bullshittin’ us now alright, we’re here on a fierce important errand to the lord of the Danes, and here look, as far as I’m concerned there should be no secret about it. Ad c’mere to me now, you’ll know if this is true or what like, but we’ve been hearing these mad rumours that some sorta yoke***, don’t even ask me what like, is here amongst the Scyldings, some creepy gowl of a lad who goes about in the pitch black of night, whose terror causes mightty havoc, humiliation, and absolute carnage, the likes of which we’ve never heard of before!
And not being up myself now like or anything****, but I can offer some pretty daycent advice about how he, wise and great man that he is, can bate away this enemy, if ever he shall see change, and if relief should come and drown these awful happenings, and his surging fears be cooled (poor craytur). ‘Cause y’know, or else he’ll be left for God knows how long now in terribly hard times so he will, and fierce suffering altogether for as long as that grand old hall sitting up there is about.”
So the watchman, that bould officer sat up on his horse is all like, “Any shield-warrior with half his wits about him should know the difference if someone is all talk or not. And look, I’ll give it to ya, I hear ye are a sound bunch of lads when it comes to the lord of the Scyldings, so go on, off ya go ow with yer weapons and yer gear, and I’ll show you up to the gaff. And look, not only that, but I’ll get some of my own men there to keep a close (and honourable I tell ya!) eye on your ship – newly-tarred and all, bejaysus – on the sand against any dodgy fellas, until its lovely auld curvy prow bears ye back over the sea’s chops, good man yourself now. And may all ye brave lads make it out alive from the battle rush”.
*Hygelac also appears in the Liber Monstrorum, wherein it is said that no horse could carry him from the age of 12 – so basically, he was a big lad, hence the nickname “Huge-lad Hygelac” (the wealth of whose creativity I must also share with Niamh Kehoe, Rachel Burns, and Francis Leneghan). As well as offering some nice in-line alliteration, “Huge-lad” also conveniently encourages us to pronounce the y in “Hygelac” properly.
** I realised after I translated “off he went on his way” that this is also how Heaney translates it. Gwan the bais.
*** Terence Dolan in A Dictionary of Hiberno-English has an interesting entry on “yoke”, meaning “any contrivance or implement” which he states goes back to ME yokke and OE geoc. I also love that one of the examples for its usage that he gives is “Get out of my way, you big yoke! (Cavan)”. It seems possible that the term, while meaning a yoke for cattle in Old and Middle and Present Day English, may have widened its meaning to encompass pretty much anything in Ireland.
**** This is how I have decided to translate “Ic . . . mæg þurh rumne sefan”, “I. . . through gracious intent”.