This week’s Quote of the Fortnight features a quote from Beowulf, the oldest epic poem in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Since J.R.R. Tolkien borrowed many elements of Beowulf for The Hobbit, (of which Peter Jackson’s second installment has recently been released – why do we need three parts for a 300-page book?), I found it appropriate to give Beowulf his due, with some passages from the late Seamus Heaney’s astounding modern translation. Also, because it’s New Years, it’s good to look to the past for some of the best storytelling ever.
This passage describes the funeral of Shield Sheafson, a great Danish king.
“A ring-whorled prow rode in the harbour,
ice-clad, outbound, a craft for a prince.
They stretched their beloved lord in his boat,
laid out by the mast, amidships,
the great ring-giver. Far fetched treasures
were piled upon him, and precious gear.
I have never heard before of a ship so well furbished
with battle tackle, bladed weapons
and coats of mail. The massed treasure
was loaded on top of him: it would travel far
on out into the ocean’s sway.
They decked his body no less bountifully
with offerings than those first ones did
who cast him away when he was a child
and launched him alone over the waves.
And they set a gold standard up
high above his head and let him drift
to wind and tide, bewailing him
and mourning their loss. No man can tell,
no wise man in hall or weathered veteran
knows for certain who salvaged that load.”
Because it’s the New Year, I figured I’d also include another – this of Beowulf and his final battle with a dragon, the title warrior aided by one brave knight –
“Quickly, the dragon came at him, encouraged
As Beowulf fell back; its breath flared,
And he suffered, wrapped around in swirling
Flames — a king, before, but now
A beaten warrior. None of his comrades
Came to him, helped him, his brave and noble
Followers; they ran for their lives, fled
Deep in a wood. And only one of them
Remained, stood there, miserable, remembering,
As a good man must, what kinship should mean.”
Happy New Year, everyone!