Great American Novels, Ranked by How Much We Hate Them
CAME now to ocean the ever-courageous
hardy henchmen, their harness bearing,
woven war-sarks. The warden marked,
trusty as ever, the earl’s return.
From the height of the hill no hostile words
reached the guests as he rode to greet them;
but “Welcome!” he called to that Weder clan
as the sheen-mailed spoilers to ship marched on.
Then on the strand, with steeds and treasure
and armor their roomy and ring-dight ship
was heavily laden: high its mast
rose over Hrothgar’s hoarded gems.
A sword to the boat-guard Beowulf gave,
mounted with gold; on the mead-bench since
he was better esteemed, that blade possessing,
heirloom old.—Their ocean-keel boarding,
they drove through the deep, and Daneland left.
A sea-cloth was set, a sail with ropes,
firm to the mast; the flood-timbers moaned;
nor did wind over billows that wave-swimmer blow
across from her course. The craft sped on,
foam-necked it floated forth o’er the waves,
keel firm-bound over briny currents,
till they got them sight of the Geatish cliffs,
home-known headlands. High the boat,
stirred by winds, on the strand updrove.
Helpful at haven the harbor-guard stood,
who long already for loved companions
by the water had waited and watched afar.
He bound to the beach the broad-bosomed ship
with anchor-bands, lest ocean-billows
that trusty timber should tear away.
Then Beowulf bade them bear the treasure,
gold and jewels; no journey far
was it thence to go to the giver of rings,
Hygelac Hrethling: at home he dwelt
by the sea-wall close, himself and clan.
Haughty that house, a hero the king,
high the hall, and Hygd right young,
wise and wary, though winters few
in those fortress walls she had found a home,
Haereth’s daughter. Nor humble her ways,
nor grudged she gifts to the Geatish men,
of precious treasure. Not Thryth’s pride showed she,
folk-queen famed, or that fell deceit.
Was none so daring that durst make bold
(save her lord alone) of the liegemen dear
that lady full in the face to look,
but forged fetters he found his lot,
bonds of death! And brief the respite;
soon as they seized him, his sword-doom was spoken,
and the burnished blade a baleful murder
proclaimed and closed. No queenly way
for woman to practise, though peerless she,
that the weaver-of-peace from warrior dear
by wrath and lying his life should reave!
But Hemming’s kinsman hindered this.—
For over their ale men also told
that of these folk-horrors fewer she wrought,
onslaughts of evil, after she went,
gold-decked bride, to the brave young prince,
atheling haughty, and Offa’s hall
o’er the fallow flood at her father’s bidding
safely sought, where since she prospered,
royal, throned, rich in goods,
fain of the fair life fate had sent her,
and leal in love to the lord of warriors.
He, of all heroes I heard of ever
from sea to sea, of the sons of earth,
most excellent seemed. Hence Offa was praised
for his fighting and feeing by far-off men,
the spear-bold warrior; wisely he ruled
over his empire. Eomer woke to him,
help of heroes, Hemming’s kinsman,
Grandson of Garmund, grim in war.
|The Geats passed by the guard at the shore. He called out a greeting to them as they loaded their treasure aboard the ship. Beowulf gave a jeweled sword to the man who guarded the boat. This gift earned the man much respect in the beer hall. The Geats headed out into the ocean, leaving Denmark behind. They sailed straight on to Geatland and soon were in sight of their homeland. The Geats’ coast guard had been waiting and watching for them. The guard anchored the ship to the shore so that the winds wouldn’t carry it away. Beowulf and his men unloaded the treasure. They were taking it to Hygelac’s home, which was not far from the shore. The house was a grand one, fit for a heroic king. Hygelac lived there with his wife, Hygd, who was young for a queen but thoughtful and generous. She was the opposite of Queen Modthyrth of olden days, who would have any man killed who dared to look at her in the face. That is not how a queen should behave, even if she is beautiful. But, as the legend goes, Modthyrth was not as cruell after she was married off to the great prince Offa. He was one of the mightiest warriors of all.|