Imagens das páginas

A short analysis of this epic poem will show, in a very distinct light, the leading features of AngloSaxon secular poetry; and, taken in connection with the fuller analysis of Cædmon's sacred verse, which we shall give later on, will show the justness of our estimate that Anglo-Saxon literature possesses genuine, intrinsic merits.

We must ask the reader to imagine the interior of an Anglo-Saxon Mead-hall * in the winter's evening, when the log fires are blazing on the hearths in the centre aisle, and the dais is occupied by the King and his cwén and the gleeman of noble rank; when the long tables are lined with warriors who drink their mead, and are eager to hear the exciting tale that the scop is about to recite to the notes of the harp. As the minstrel rises from his stool, the din of laughter and talking is hushed, and every eye is turned to the dais, as the gleeman, striking a chord on his glee-beam, begins his recital:

“Hark! we have learnt a tale of other years,
Of kings and warrior Danes, a wondrous tale,
How æthelings bore them in the brunt of war."

The tale then begins with the reign of Hróthgár who was King of the Danes in the North of England, at the supposed era of the narrative; and the poet

* Vide Note D.

sings of that monarch's kingly ancestors, of their heroic deeds, of his palace at Hart, and, finally, of a Mead-hall which Hróthgár had built, unsurpassed in size and beauty, by any that had ever been reared on English soil. The fame of this Hall is sounded far and wide. Men come from afar to see it and to witness the munificence of the King, who, with lavish hand, is known to deal out bracelet and ring and gold from the sacred “gift-stool.” Here, as each night comes round, King and thanes are wont to meet, and


uprose, Loud ringing through those bowers, the harp's glad

And oft the bard, whose memory's treasured store
Was of the days and generations past,
Waked the sweet song."

Year after year passes by, and naught occurs to disturb their happiness. The prowess of the Danish thanes guards their land from conquest, their palace and their Hall from plunder, and it seems as if their happiness is destined to be unending. But at length, their joy is turned to sadness. A terrible fiend appears, who wreaks on this happy band his dire and savage vengeance. This evil and mysterious enemy is the Grendel, one of a progeny of misshapen giants who had long warred against both

God and man. This fiend, it seems, roamed the marshes in the lonely night, and held, as his domain, the fen-land, rocky fastness and dark morass. His stature was enormous; his strength far more than human; his flesh invulnerable to all weapons of earthly mould; and on his fingers were “handspurs," more like to steel than human nails.

This fiend hears, day after day, from his dark abode, the joyous revelry of the Danes. He frowns in anger, and resolves that they shall be his prey. Erelong, under the earth-covering of Night, he stalks over the moors till he comes to Hrothgár's Meadhall. There being none to oppose his advance, he enters the building unheeded, and, as he treads its chequered floor, he sees, by the light of the smouldering fires, that company of æthelings asleep on their benches. Grim and greedy, he soon is ready ; rugged and ruthless, he seizes in their sleep thirty of the noblest thanes, and, before ever a warning can be given, he is gone with their slaughtered bodies, back to his cavern home.

In the morning, a cry is raised that thirty thanes have been slaughtered, and the warriors sit in sadness when they behold, along the paths leading to the Grendel's den, the blood-traces of the accursed foe. Scarcely is there one of that noble band but has lost some one of his kin.

After the space of one night the Grendel comes again. The band of æthelings who are on duty guarding that best of houses first feel the force of his murderous hand-grip. Then, a second time, he enters Hertha in stealth, and a second time accomplishes his mission of blood.

Night after night does this grim eoten visit the Mead-hall, and each time some fresh gap is made in the Danish band, and no force avails against his murderous assaults. So Grendel rules, and as often as the darkness comes, he wars against Hrothgár,alone against all ;—till at length the festive Hall stands empty, since none dares to battle with the unearthly foe and meet a certain death.

Twelve winters' tide was his rage endured, and it became known far and near, in sad songs, that Grendel waged unholy war against Hrothgár, and that no money-compromise could appease his savage rage. In perpetual night he held the misty moors, and Hertha, he occupied with its rich stalls; but the "gift-stool," alone, he might not so much as touch.

In spirit broken, Hrothgár sat many a time in his palace; many a time he sat on the sea-shore wrapped in saddest thought.

During these twelve long years, the “sad songs relating to the Grendel's depredations had been sung

in every ton and hall and round-tower of England, till at length, they had reached the ears of Higelác, king of the Weder-Geáts, or Angles.

Here Beówulf lived, a thane of Higelác's court, and strongest of the sons of men. No sooner had the dire tidings reached him, than he vows to be avenged upon the Grendel. He bids his men make ready a ring-prowed ship, and determines to go “o'er the seabird's path to seek the monarch, Hrothgár, in his hour of need. He chooses thrice five bold warriors as his companions, men dauntless in fight, and who know every landmark on the beaten coast. Soon the ship is ready; her deep hold is filled with arms; they leave the shore ; and erelong, by the sea-girt cliffs, “e'en as a bird,” the boat cuts through the waves that foam around her prow. Before the second sun had set, these warriors reach the coast of Hrothgar's realm, and as they near the land they don their glittering mail. The warden of the coast had already espied their ship, and as soon as they had landed, and he had learned the object of their coming, leads them an inland walk of two miles to Hróthgár's palace, where they are forthwith ushered into the presence of the King. Then Beowulf speaks in the self-confident, self-laudatory tones of a true Homeric hero:

* Vide Note E,

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