Hrothgar’s Sermon


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Hrothgar’s Sermon

The wise-one spake,

son of Healfdene; silent were all:--

"Lo, so may he say who sooth and right

follows 'mid folk, of far times mindful,

a land-warden old, that this earl belongs

to the better breed! So, borne aloft,

thy fame must fly, O friend my Beowulf,

far and wide o'er folksteads many.

Firmly thou shalt all maintain,

mighty strength with mood of wisdom.

Love of mine will I assure thee,

as, awhile ago, I promised;

thou shalt prove a stay in future,

in far-off years, to folk of thine,

to the heroes a help.

So was Heremod not thus

to offspring of Ecgwela, Honor-Scyldings,

nor grew for their grace, but for grisly slaughter,

for doom of death to the Danishmen.

He slew, wrath-swollen, his shoulder-comrades,

companions at board! So he passed alone,

chieftain haughty, from human cheer.

Though him the Maker with might endowed,

delights of power, and uplifted high

above all men, yet blood-fierce his mind,

his breast-hoard, grew, no bracelets gave he

to Danes as was due; he endured all joyless

strain of struggle and stress of woe,

long feud with his folk. Here find thy lesson!

Of virtue advise thee! This verse I have said for thee,

wise from lapsed winters. Wondrous seems

how to sons of men Almighty God

in the strength of His spirit sendeth wisdom,

estate, high station: He swayeth all things.

Whiles He letteth right lustily fare

the heart of the hero of high-born race, --

in seat ancestral assigns him bliss,

his folk's sure fortress in fee to hold,

puts in his power great parts of the earth,

empire so ample, that end of it

this wanter-of-wisdom weeneth none.

So he waxes in wealth, nowise can harm him

illness or age; no evil cares

shadow his spirit; no sword-hate threatens

from ever an enemy: all the world

wends at his will, no worse he knoweth,

till all within him obstinate pride

waxes and wakes while the warden slumbers,

the spirit's sentry; sleep is too fast

which masters his might, and the murderer nears,

stealthily shooting the shafts from his bow!


"UNDER harness his heart then is hit indeed

by sharpest shafts; and no shelter avails

from foul behest of the hellish fiend.

Him seems too little what long he possessed.

Greedy and grim, no golden rings

he gives for his pride; the promised future

forgets he and spurns, with all God has sent him,

Wonder-Wielder, of wealth and fame.

Yet in the end it ever comes

that the frame of the body fragile yields,

fated falls; and there follows another

who joyously the jewels divides,

the royal riches, nor recks of his forebear.

Ban, then, such baleful thoughts, Beowulf dearest,

best of men, and the better part choose,

profit eternal; and temper thy pride,

warrior famous! The flower of thy might

lasts now a while: but erelong it shall be

that sickness or sword thy strength shall minish,

or fang of fire, or flooding billow,

or bite of blade, or brandished spear,

or odious age; or the eyes' clear beam

wax dull and darken: Death even thee

in haste shall o'erwhelm, thou hero of war!

So the Ring-Danes these half-years a hundred I ruled,

wielded 'neath welkin, and warded them bravely

from mighty-ones many o'er middle-earth,

from spear and sword, till it seemed for me

no foe could be found under fold of the sky.

Lo, sudden the shift! To me seated secure

came grief for joy when Grendel began

to harry my home, the hellish foe;

for those ruthless raids, unresting I suffered

heart-sorrow heavy. Heaven be thanked,

Lord Eternal, for life extended

that I on this head all hewn and bloody,

after long evil, with eyes may gaze!

-- Go to the bench now! Be glad at banquet,

warrior worthy! A wealth of treasure

at dawn of day, be dealt between us!"

Translated by Francis B. Gummere
>From The Harvard Classics, Volume 49.

Copyright, 1910 by P.F. Collier & Son.

This text is in the public domain, released July 1993.


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