Beowulf is the only surviving complete epic poem written in Anglo-Saxon. It may date from the 8th century, though this is highly contentious. The translation used here is that of John R Clark Hall, as amended by C L Wrenn (1950).
- Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum
þēod-cyninga þrym gefrūnon,
hū þā æðelingas ellen fremedon.
- Translation: Lo! We have heard of the glory of the kings of the people of the Spear-Danes in days of yore – how those princes did valorous deeds!
- Ā-lēdon þā lēofne þēoden,
bēaga bryttan on bearm scipes,
mærne be mæste. Þær wæs mādma fela,
of feor-wegum frætwa gelæded:
ne hyrde ic cymlīcor cēol gegyrwan
hilde-wæpnum and heaðo-wædum,
billum and byrnum; him on bearme læg
mādma mænigo, þā him mid scoldon
on flōdes æht feor gewītan.
Nalas hī hine læssan lācum tēodan,
þēod-gestrēonum, þonne þā dydon,
þē hine æt frumsceafte forð onsendon
ænne ofer yðe umbor wesende:
þā gyt hīe him āsetton segen gyldenne
hēah ofer hēafod, lēton holm beran,
gēafon on gār-secg: him wæs geōmor sefa,
murnende mōd. Men ne cunnon
secgan tō soðe sele-rædende,
hæleð under heofenum, hwā þæm hlæste onfēng.
- Translation: They laid then the beloved chieftain, giver of rings, on the ship's bosom, glorious by the mast. There were brought many treasures, ornaments from far-off lands. Never have I heard that a vessel was more fairly fitted-out with war-weapons and battle-raiment, swords and coats of mail. On his bosom lay a host of treasures, which were to travel far with him into the power of the flood. They furnished him with no lesser gifts, and royal treasures, than those had done who, in the beginning, sent him forth over the sea alone, child as he was. They set besides a golden standard high above his head, and let the sea bear him,—gave him to the ocean. Their soul was sad, their spirit sorrowful. Counsellors in hall, mighty men beneath the heavens cannot say truly who received that load.
- Line 34.
- Scyld Scefing's body is committed to the sea.
- In Caines cynne þone cwealm gewræc,
ēce drihten, þæs þe hē Ābel slōg;
ne gefeah hē þære fæhðe, ac hē hine feor forwræc,
metod for þy māne man-cynne fram.
Þanon untydras ealle onwōcon,
eotenas and ylfe and orcnēas,
swylce gīgantas, þā wið gode wunnon
lange þrāge; hē him þæs lēan forgeald.
- On Cain's kindred did the everlasting Lord avenge the murder, for that he had slain Abel; he had no joy of that feud, but the Creator drove him far from mankind for that misdeed. Thence all evil broods were born, ogres and devils and evil spirits — the giants also, who long time fought with God, for which he gave them their reward.
- Line 107
- Sēlre bið æghwæm,
þæt hē his frēond wrece, þonne hē fela murne;
ūre æghwylc sceal ende gebīdan
worolde līfes; wyrce sē þe mōte
dōmes ær dēaðe! þæt bið driht-guman
unlifgendum æfter sēlest.
- Better is it for each one of us that he should avenge his friend, than greatly mourn. Each of us must expect an end of living in this world; let him who may win glory before death: for that is best at last for the departed warrior.
- Line 1385
- Oferhyda ne gym,
mære cempa! Nū is þīnes mægnes blæd
āne hwīle; eft sōna bið,
þæt þec ādl oððe ecg eafoðes getwæfeð,
oððe fyres feng oððe flōdes wylm,
oððe gripe mēces oððe gāres fliht,
oððe atol yldo, oððe ēagena bearhtm
forsiteð and forsworceð; semninga bið,
þæt þec, dryht-guma, dēað oferswyðeð.
- Incline not to arrogance, famous warrior! Now shall the fullness of thy strength last for a while. But soon after it shall be, that malady or sword shall cut thee off from power, or the embrace of fire or welling of a flood, or onset with the knife, or arrow's flight, or hideous old age. Or brightness of eyes shall diminish and grow dim, and at length it shall be that death shall overpower thee, noble chieftain!
- Line 1761
- Heald þū nū, hrūse, nū hæleð ne mōston,
eorla æhte. Hwæt! hit ær on þē
gōde begeāton; gūð-dēað fornam,
feorh-bealo frēcne fyra gehwylcne,
lēoda mīnra, þāra þe þis līf ofgeaf,
gesāwon sele-drēam. Nāh hwā sweord wege
oððe fetige fæted wæge,
drync-fæt dēore: duguð ellor scōc.
Sceal se hearda helm hyrsted golde
fætum befeallen: feormiend swefað,
þā þe beado-grīman bywan sceoldon,
gē swylce sēo here-pād, sīo æt hilde gebād
ofer borda gebræc bite īrena,
brosnað æfter beorne. Ne mæg byrnan hring
æfter wīg-fruman wīde fēran
hæleðum be healfe; næs hearpan wyn,
gomen glēo-bēames, nē gōd hafoc
geond sæl swingeð, nē se swifta mearh
burh-stede bēateð. Bealo-cwealm hafað
fela feorh-cynna feorr onsended!
- Now do thou, O Earth, hold fast what heroes might not,—the possessions of nobles. Lo! Brave men won it at first from thee; death in war, horrid carnage, took away every one of my tribe who yielded up this life; they saw [the last of] festive joy. I have no one to bear the sword, or to burnish the plated flagon, the precious drinking-cup; the noble warriors have departed to another place. Now will the hard helmet, bedight with gold, be deprived of its adornments; they sleep who should burnish the battle-masks. The armour too, which stood the stroke of swords in battle, mid the crash of shields, perishes as does the fighter; nor may the ringed mail fare far and wide with the warrior, side by side with mighty men. There is no joy of harp, no pastime with the gladdening lute; no good hawk sweeps through the hall, nor does the swift steed paw the courtyard. Baleful death has banished hence many of the human race.
- Line 2248
- Ic þāra frætwa frēan ealles þanc
wuldur-cyninge wordum secge,
ēcum dryhtne, þē ic hēr on starie,
þæs þe ic mōste mīnum lēodum
ær swylt-dæge swylc gestrynan.
Nū ic on māðma hord mīne bebohte
frōde feorh-lege, fremmað gē nū
lēoda þearfe; ne mæg ic hēr leng wesan.
Hātað heaðo-mære hlæw gewyrcean,
beorhtne æfter bæle æt brimes nosan;
se scel tō gemyndum mīnum lēodum
hēah hlīfian on Hrones næsse,
þæt hit sæ-līðend syððan hātan
Bīowulfes biorh, þā þe brentingas
ofer flōda genipu feorran drīfað."
- I utter in words my thanks to the Ruler of all, the King of Glory, the everlasting Lord, for the treasures which I here gaze upon, in that I have been allowed to win such things for my people before my day of death! Now that I have given my old life in barter for the hoard of treasure, do ye henceforth supply the people's needs,—I may stay here no longer. Bid the war-veterans raise a splendid barrow after the funeral fire, on a projection by the sea, which shall tower high on Hronesness as a memorial for my people, so that seafarers who urge their tall ships from afar over the spray of ocean shall thereafter call it Beowulf's barrow.
- Line 2795