New Verse Translation
Note: This is a new more experimental version I am trying to work out, & managed to get some lines spat out. The idea is that there are around 50 “straight” versions out there you can find, so there exists a bit of space for a more whimsical rendering of sense that deforms what we understand as the “original”. Some lines are the same as the first version, as they seemed to reach the same sort of abstraction I was looking for.
The basic idea is that what we understand as the poetic text of Beowulf is much too compromised by later English imperializing ideas of what text looks and sounds like as a poem (how do we know the early English understood poetry the same way we do?), and its message of national and individual celebration too imbrued with our culture’s needs to laud power and heroes.
If you see what I’m trying to do here & you have constructive criticism, please leave them in the comments. Many will hate it, and that’s unavoidable…
Eventually, this version will replace the first Beowulf translation here when it is completed & reasonably edited & revised. This is not designed to be an authoritative translation, but one to supplement one’s reading of the original or other translations.
Okay—what have we acquired in elder by-gones
about the Spear-Danes, kings among men:
how the most reputed made mighty of themselves. (ll. 1–3)
Too many times Scyld Scefing scrabbled mead-seats
from hostile heaps — no one was spared —
all the trial-tested terrified — after he was discovered
so needy at first. He wrangled his remedy after,
growing hale below heaven, honing his honor
until every one of the bastards must bide him,
scattered about, on this side of the whale-road or the other,
must render him their duty. That’s a pretty good king. (ll. 4–11)
A child conceived after all that went down,
youth in the yards — God sends them sometimes
to profit the people, kenning their keen discomforts
once known before, wanting a wielder
for so many winters. Thus the Lively Lord,
Glory’s Supreme, granted them worldly succor.
Beow was bruited, his fruits worded widely —
Scyld’s son, throughout the northern tribes. (ll. 12–19)
Why shouldn’t the youth make yare his fortunes,
forward payments in grace right at first, even in his father’s fathoms?
So that brotherly band remain bonded beside him
when the grey-hairs come down, when battles brew,
a tribe trundled in trust. By such dearworthy deeds
one ought to flourish in every sort of people everywhere. (ll. 20–25)
Then Scyld turned himself away at the reckoned hour,
faring still filled by his power, into the covenant of the Lord.
Then they brought him to the briny beach,
retainers beloved — he had said so himself
while words were his to wield, Scyldings’ boon,
land-first, dear and ancient — an age he had guided them. (ll. 26–31)
Harbor-beside stemmed the ringed prow,
icy, bound away, a royal dromond.
Then they nestled their needful prince,
the dispenser of their rings, in the ship’s embracing,
most-renowned near the mast. Treasures galore—
finagled from far-ways, glistenments gathered —
I’ve never ever heard of such a skiff equipped so fit,
with treacherous tools, with clattering coats,
with swords and with shirts. Treasure overtripping
lavished his lap — all of it needing to pass,
floating far away again into the fastness of the flood. (ll. 32–42)
There was nothing less furnished there
than filigreed fortunes, all so rightly due,
a tad more than discovered at first,
sent forth as a sprout, alone on the waves,
a sprightly lad not yet sprung. (ll. 43–46)
Nevertheless they bosomed a golden blazon
high-heaving over his head, hoary seas to hold him,
meting him back to the spear-waves — hearts aflame,
spirits longing. None could begin to tell in truth,
hall-wit or hero-brave —
what sort might ferry in such flotsam. (ll. 47–52)
In strongholds stood Scylding Beow
in troth to his tribe for so very long,
famous among his folk—his father faring on,
a foundling to the hereafter,
from earth’s lap a lord — limbing soon the new,
Halfdane the high, hoarding the joyous Scyldings
all his while, grey-haired and ferocious at war. (ll. 53–58)
From the army-first fell out four more,
counted forth in a chain, awakened in turn:
Heorogar and Hrothgar and good Halga,
plus I heard that his daughter was Onela’s queen
(didn’t catch her name), consort cherished by the Battle-Scylfing. (ll. 59–63)
To be war-speeding was granted to Hrothgar,
the cheers of comrades, so that his kindred
rushed to his will until the winters accrued—
boys to hardies great many. It charged through his mind
to fortify and entimber a lofty house of mead,
the hall to end all halls, a thing all tribes
would pine to inhabit and make mighty —
and there within, all things could be granted,
the young and the old, such as God had endowed,
everything except tracts in common, human livings. (ll. 64–73)
Then I have learned it widely said the work was proclaimed
to many hands in this middle-dwelling
to come adorning that folk-stead. And just like that—
at once multitudes gathered, and it was finished inside and out,
a hall like none ever — he wrought the name himself
Heorot — and laid it in place,
that one who held the reins so broadly in his hands.
He left no vow unmet, dealing out the rings,
wealth at wassail. The towering hall towered there,
high and horn-wide, awaiting the whelming flames,
fearsome flickerings. Not too long now, in days soon by,
the blade-hatred must souse the oath-sworn
into a scathing malice. (ll. 74–85)
Not too long then — an alienated spirit molted in misery,
suffered but a space, who dreamed in the darksome,
daily enduring jangling hall-pleasures not his own —
harp-voice there, clanging song of scop.
One raised his voice, knowing decent things:
humanity’s harvest told down the long-agos.
He claimed that the Almighty molded the earth
into a vast field glistering bright, wound with waters,
set both sun and moon to whirling —
victory and triumph —
lighted lamps for the living on land —
spangled each and every corner of earth
with limbs and leaves — shaping soul itself,
granting scurry to scads of creatures. (ll. 86–98)
And so the men of the posse passed in delight
blissfully — until one so lonely
inflicted them an evil, a fiend from fathoms.
That ferocious soul was known as Grendel,
overleaping border-lines, keeping the moors
as swampy stronghold, the den of dripping things—
unhappy, marshaling his own power many years
since the Shaper had set him in sentence,
the mark of Cain, Eternal Watch avenging a killing
Cain enjoyed his act not a bit, banished into long distances,
by the Measurer in return for rash deeds —
away from kith and kin. From his loins plunged
enormities of every kind: ettins and elves and everwalking dead —
all sorts of giant things struggling against God
for long ages, who always paid them back
with interest. (ll. 99–114)
Then Grendel made forth, seeking after descending darkness
that lofty dwelling, wanting to discover how the Ring-Danes
made it their home after their mead-swilling.
There he found the fellowship so noble, rowting
after the repast, knowing nothing of sorrow by now,
the miserable lot of mankind. Sickened the creature
gruesome and greedy steeled his stomach, savage severe,
snatching up thirty from their sleeping.
From there he soon skittered, exultant in spoil —
a return home, a lair sought, slaughter glutted. (ll. 115–25)
Very dark before dawn, in earliest morning
Grendel’s prowess at hunt was bruited —
a great cry echoed to the top of the banquet hall,
morning clatter grown great. The famous prince,
noble tested true, sat unblithe and unblinking, suffering,
powerfully impotent to stop the mowing of his men.
Afterwards they lingered upon loathsome traces,
the accursed ghast. Too strong the struggle:
hatefully enduring. No longer respite than a night
and Grendel wreaked it all over again —
more in massacre, without mourning it a bit,
feeling neither feud nor felony. He was soaked in them. (ll. 126–37)
All too easy then seeing seekers of roomier rest
away from here, a bed in the outbuildings.
when the marks were clear — everyone could read them —
an obvious sign, the hatred of the hall-stalker.
It was not a bad idea, if one wanted to live,
to keep other company, farther and farther from the hall. (ll. 138–43)
So reigned Grendel, struggling against our right,
alone against all, until the hall’s best stood hollowed.
Much time ground past, a season of twelve winters,
the friend of the Scyldings marinated in his misery —
his every woe, the broadest sorrows. Therefore it became
an open secret to all, the sons of humanity
chanting wretched songs
that Grendel waged war upon Hrothgar,
wearing a malicious hatred, felony and feud
for so many years now — a perpetual strife.
He coveted no accord with any of the Danes,
to turn aside this soul-slaying or settle with payment,
nor need any hall-wardens expect
glistering gifts from the bloody hands of a killer. (ll. 144–58)
Yet this warrior persecuted young and old,
death’s dark shade lurking, entrapping them
in endless nights. He ruled the misty moors —
what human can determine the direction
that hell-bound enigmata glide in their orbits. (ll. 159–63)
So many enormities the enemy of mankind,
loathsome lone-stalker, often perpetuated,
a shaming more severe. He inhabited Heorot,
the dearly studded hall by darkest night
but he might never engather that gift-seat, its riches —
he did not know the Measurer’s embrace. (ll. 164–69)
The wrack was overpowering for the Scyldings’ prop,
wrenching of the heart. They sat like they do,
full of fulminations, stewing upon a course.
What of a bad lot seemed best to do —
spirit though spacious was not enough
to thwart the terror’s ferocity. (ll. 170–74)
At times an olden offering at olden shrines
mouthing the prayers, venerating wooden gods —
perhaps the soul-slayer might give solace
in these days of need. These things were the custom,
their heathenish hope. Hell they remembered
inside themselves. What did they know of the Measurer,
the Deemer of Deeds? What Lord God above?
How could they praise the Helmet of Heaven,
Glory’s Driver? Much misery goes in glowering malice,
shoving down the soul into the baleful folding,
no longer expecting reprieve — not a lick of change!
Better is to bide in the death of days,
seeking the Lord, supplicating his sponsorship
wrapped up in the Father’s arms. (ll. 175–88)
And so Halfdane’s son kept at a roiling boil
over these toilsome times — and the wisest warrior
could not ward away his woes. The hardship was too harsh,
loathsome and long-lasting, pouncing upon his people,
vengeance grown gruesome, greatest of night terrors. (ll. 189–93)
From his homeland, Hygelac’s thane heard everything—
good among the Geats—regarding the deeds of Grendel.
He was the mightiest of mettle among the mortal lot
in that day in this world here,
noble and well-sprouted. He made them mete out
a mere-gliding ship for him. He announced his wishes
to seek out the embattled king beyond the swan’s path,
the merited prince who most needed the help of heroes.
They didn’t say too much, the wise wardens of the people,
about the plan — though he was beloved.
They whetted his spirit and peered at the portents. (ll. 194–204)
This outstanding hero chose his champions —
Geatish all of them — from those he found
keenest for conflict — one of some fifteen men
seeking the surging wood, the warrior at the van,
crafty at waves, he descended to the drop of shore. (ll. 205–9)
Seasons for sailing — ship upon the waves,
boat below the sea-cliffs. The warriors gathered their tackle,
mounting the prow. The currents wound about,
stream ground against the sand. They brought everything
to the ship’s bosom, brightly glistening things,
well-grained war gear. The men shoved out,
eager for their journey, the wood bound tight.
They departed over wavy seas, hurried by wind,
ship’s stem foamy about the neck, so much like a bird,
until that time tomorrow
the whorled prow had covered the distance
and the sailors spied land, sea-cliffs shining,
steep hills, broad foreheads of land —
they had come their way, the voyage was through —
Weather-Geat heroes went down at once,
down to dry land, restraining the sea-wood —
battle-sarks resounding, war-weavings —
they made thanks to God for easy traverse. (ll. 210–28)
The Scylding ward spotted them from the wall,
he who must keep the wave-cliffs,
saw bright bosses borne down the boards,
gear aplenty for a warring force —
the desire broke him, mind-thoughts must know
what these men were. He betook himself
to the shore, astride his charger,
the thegn of Hrothgar, making huge show
of the wooden spear in his fist,
inquiring in carefully chosen words. (ll. 229–36)
“Who might you be, keepers of chain,
enguarded in mail, who have landed here
like so, in steep ship over sea-lanes?
It’s been forever since I was seated at the edges,
keeping sea-watch so that no one hated
could molest Danish lands with ship-force. (ll. 237-43)
“Never more brazenly have shield-grabbers
gained landhold here — you know nothing
of the leave-words of our war-makers,
no covenant from my kinsmen.
I have never spied a guy more goodsome
upon this green earth, than one of yours be,
a man in his mail. This isn’t some back-bencher,
wound up in weapons, unless his singular aspect,
his pretty face do him deceit! (ll. 244-51a)
“Now I must learn your lineage, before you step
forth as spies any further onto Danish lands!
Now, far-dwelling sea-skaters, heed my only purpose:
haste be best in making known whence you have come!” (251b-57)
To him the eldest gave answer, top of the troop,
ungathering the golden hoard of his words:
“We are kindred to Geatish folk
and the hearth-dogs to Hygelac.
My father was well-kenned by many peoples
always first at the front — he was called Ecgtheow.
He lingered a bunch of winters before he kicked off on his way,
elderly in his yards. Well-nigh every wise counselor
remembers him readily, broadly across this earth. (ll. 258-66)
“Loyal spirits within us, we come seeking
your highness, the son of Halfdane,
the sheltering mountain of his people.
Be good to us in your counsel.
We keep a capacious charge
to your mighty lord most famous —
nor must any part of it be keep close, as I trow.
You know if it is true, as we heard told,
that among the Scyldings there is a scar-carver —
I don’t know what sort — a shadowy stabber of deeds
during darksome nights, he displays
a dastardly malice wound fast in terrors,
raw shame and the glut of corpses.
I can learn Hrothgar the remedy of all this,
by way of my ample heart —
how he, old and bold, might out-wrench his foe —
if ever reversal ought to be his,
from the calamity of killers a remedy should come again —
and those whelming waves of woe should cool.
Or else he must endure a close constraint
all his wretched years, so long as that best of houses
should linger there in its lofty perch.” (ll. 267-85)
The warden unwound back, where he sat on horseback,
a loyalman uncowed: “Each sharp-sighted shield-jack
must adjudge the gap between words and works,
he who conceives aright. I hear what you say,
that this troop is loyal to the master of the Scyldings.
Wend on your way bearing weapons and war-weeds.
I myself will direct you. Also I will order my hardies
to hold honorably your floater, your new-tarred prow,
against any enemy, until it carries your cherished crew
back over the watery streams, wood wound about its neck,
unto the Wedermark, whichever of these agents of right
should come back whole from the rush of battle.” (ll. 286-300)
So they up and went. The ship bobbed at rest
bouncing fast at anchor, broad-fathomed boat.
Boarlike shone over the cheek-guards,
geared all golden, glittering hardened by fire.
Masked men clutched the soul’s keeper
war-minded. Those men were in a hurry,
mounting the road together
until they could take in the timbered hall,
splendid, spangled in gold — most famous
among earth-dwellers, of halls beneath the heavens.
Inside waited the lofty king and its beams
brightened over a bevy of lands. (ll. 301-11)
Then the battle-brave pointed out
the bright house of heady men so that
they could head directly towards it.
That certain fighting man turned his mount
away, speaking a word after him:
“The time asks me to depart.
May the All-wielding Father keep you all
with much favor, unharmed on your mission.
I wish to return to my post upon the sea
keeping watch against angry armies.” (ll. 312-9)
Street stone-fretted, the way warded,
gathering the men. War-frocks shimmered,
hard and hand-locked, ringed iron aglitter
sang in its setting, when they came marching
as far as the hall in their terrible battle-shirts.
Sea-weary setting broad shields,
bosses battered by blows, against the keep wall.
They bent to benches, byrnies ringing,
war-clad as men. Spears stood,
tackle of sailors, assembled
an ash forest, grey at the tips —
metal-bound troop worthied in weapons. (ll. 320-331a)
There a proud retainer inquired about these nobles:
“Whence have you carried those fretted shields,
sarks of grey and masked helms,
a clatter of army-shafts? I am Hrothgar’s
messenger and servant. Never have I seen
strangers thus, a collection of men so proud.
I trust you seek Hrothgar in pride, not at all
for the wrack of exile but in majestic heart.” (ll. 331b-39)
Bubbling with courage he answered,
the head of the Wederish troop, speaking after a word
hardened under helm. “We are Hygelac’s
board-kin. Beowulf is my name.
I wish a word with the son of Halfdane,
the famous lord, upon my mission
unto your chief — if he favors us to grant
us leave to approach one so good.” (ll. 340-47)