Friday, 17 February 2012

Beowulf prologue

The third of my Beowulf posts: a translation of the first 55-lines, aiming to reproduce more of the sounds of the original, line-by-line, and to give it a fresher, less archaic vibe:
We’ve heard the Germans of years-gone-by,
all their great kings, and splendid stories,
how those athelings earned their fame.
Scyld Scefing was skilled at scattering enemies! 5
He crushed many clans and many mead-settlements,
undid all those earls. Since from the first he was
found to lack funds, he fell back on friendship, and
grew great with welcome, thrived on his own worth,
until everyone who lived in that land, and 10
over the whale-road too all of them knew him,
offered him fealty. He was a good king!

Then came his heir afterward into the world,
a son in his sight, who the one God sent him.
The folk frolicked; after formerly grieving 15
that they’d until then lacked an earl to lead them
for such a long while. Him the Lord gave,
this Wonder-Wielder the whole world’s fame;
Beowulf was renowned (his fame spread wide),
this Scyld’s son through all Scandinavia. 20
So shall good children all go gracefully,
giving fine gifts of gold under his father’s name,
that when he’s older loads of loyal followers
and best bosom-buddies, they’ll all come,
to redeem their oaths; lovely deeds doing, 25
by the might of the many man shall prosper.

Then Scyld expired at his destined hour
he went off full of years, on the way to God.
They bore him away to the briny beach,
those who were dear to him, did what he’d himself said, 30
when he’d had power of speech over the Scyldings;
beloved land-befriender who had ruled for a long time.

There in the harbour stood a ringed ship,
iced-over and outbound, a floating palace.
There they laid-down their much-loved Lord, 35
he, the ring giver, on the beam of his ship,
main-man by the mainmast. And much treasure fetched
from faraway, finely wrought, was brought in;
I’ve never heard of a comelier craft being equipped
with all gear of war and grim battledress, 40
with cleaver and corselet. On his bosom lay
multitudinous marvels, that were meant to move
over the flood with him far to travel.
They didn’t stint the store of sovereign riches,
thane’s great gifts, those that did 45
those that in former times forth had sent him
alone over the waves when still only a wee one.
what’s more they up-lifted a golden sign
high overhead, the home bear him,
offered to the ocean; sad were their spirits, 50
a mourning mood. Men do not ken
how to tell, in truth, no territorial man,
or hero under heaven, where that hull reached harbour.

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