5.O flower of warriors, beware of that trap.
Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part,
eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride.
For a brief while your strength is in bloom
but it fades quickly; and soon there will follow
illness or the sword to lay you low,
or a sudden fire or surge of water
or jabbing blade or javelin from the air
or repellent age. Your piercing eye
will dim and darken; and death will arrive,
dear warrior, to sweep you away.
This passage is the culmination of a
long speech, often referred to as “Hrothgar’s sermon,” in which
Hrothgar warns Beowulf of the seductive dangers of success after
Beowulf defeats Grendel’s mother. Hrothgar asserts that power causes
the soul to grow distracted by fortune’s favor and so to lose sight
of future perils. The speech is one of many points in the poem where
Hrothgar expresses the ephemeral quality of human life in beautiful terms. Calling Beowulf the “flower of warriors,” he employs an image that doesn’t evoke Beowulf’s strength and fortitude but instead emphasizes the fragility of his life and the fact that his youth—his “bloom”—will “fad[e] quickly.” This choice of imagery encapsulates the idea, implicit in this passage, that there are two “death[s]” that threaten the warrior. He must be prepared not only for a “jabbing blade or javelin from the air,” which will wound him, but also for “repellent age,” which will eat away at his youthful audacity and force him to think in terms of honor, nobility, and leadership that aren’t dependent on mere physical prowess.