Friday, October 28, 2016

banhus gebraec

Symle ic him on feðan    beforan wolde,
ana on orde,    ond swa to aldre sceall
sæcce fremman,    þenden þis sweord þolað.
Þæt mec ær ond sið    oft gelæste,
syððan ic for dugeðum    Dæghrefne wearð
to handbonan,    Huga cempan.
Nalles he ða frætwe    Frescyninge,
breostweorðunge    bringan moste,
ac in cempan gecrong    cumbles hyrde,
æþeling on elne.    Ne wæs ecg bona,
ac him hildegrap    heortan wylmas,
banhus gebræc.

Always I for him [Hygelac] would be in the front of the band of soldiers, alone in the van, and so [in this manner] through life shall battle do, while this sword lasts, which has served me early and late, since I before the experienced retainers proved to Dayraven as slayer-by-hand, champion of the Franks. Not at all he the trappings to the Frisian King, might be allowed to present breast-adornment, but in battle fell the standard-bearer, prince in valor; nor was edge the slayer, but for him the battle-grip bone-house and heart's surges crushed.

Beowulf, 2497-508

This passage, which contains not one, but two digressions starting back around line 2300, has always been a difficult one for students of the poem, and is sort of doubly difficulty to follow if you are reading the poem in the original. Having gone through it a couple of times over the last two weeks, I have a new appreciate for how intricately (and artfully) these digressions have been interwoven.

One cannot help but see a bit of irony (whether or not it was intended by the poet) in Beowulf's words "þenden þis sweord þolað" given that his sword will fail him at the last, when he is fighting out in the front of the "band of soldiers" without the help of his thanes.

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