Tag Archives: Frederick Rebsamen

from Beowulf

Beowulf the King. Lynn Ward. 1939.
Beowulf the King. Lynn Ward. 1939.


from Beowulf

translated by Frederick Rebsamen


 Mark carefully

this lesson of anguish—old in winters

I warn you by this.          It is wondrous to see

how almighty God          in his endless wisdom

grants unto man          a mind to rule with

kingdom and meadhall          to keep until death.

At times the Measurer          maker of us all

brings moments of pleasure          to those proud man-thoughts

gives to that war king          worldly power-goods

hall and homeland          to hold for his own

renders him ruler          of regions of the earth

a broad kingdom—he cannot forsee

in his own unwisdom          an end to such wealth.

He dwells in happiness          no hindrance bothers him

no illness or age          or evil reckoning

darkens his mind          no deep serpent thoughts

edge-hate in his heart—but all thisloan-world

bends to his will          welcomes him with gold

till high thron-ethoughts          throng into his mind

gather in his head.          Then the guardian sleeps

the soul’s warden—it slumbers too long

while a silent slayer          slips close to him

shoots from his bow          baleful arrows.

Deep into his heart          hard under shield-guard

strikes the arrowhead—no armor withstands

that quiet marksman          cold mind-killer.

What he long has held          too little contents him

greed grapples him          he gives no longer

gold-patterened rings          reckons no ending

of borrowed treasure-years          bright earth-fortune

granted by God          the great Measurer.

The last of splendor          slips into darkness

the loaned king-body          cracks upon the pyre

swirls away in smoke—soon another one

steps to the gift-throne          shares his goldhoard

turns that treachery          to trust and reward.

Guard against life-bale          beloved Beowulf

best of warriors          win for your soul

eternal counsel—care not for pride

great shield-champion!          The glory of your strength

lasts for a while          but not long after

sickness or spear-point          will sever you from life

or the fire’s embrace          or the flood’s welling

or the file-hard sword          or the flight of a spear

or bane-bearing age—the brightness of your eye

will dim and darken.          Destiny is waiting

and death will take you          down into the earth.


This is one of my favorite passages of Beowulf, in which the Danish king Hrothgar joyfully meets Beowulf after Beowulf’s victory over the troll-wife. But rather than delivering the effusive praise one might expect, Hrothgar warns Beowulf with ‘bountiful words’ against the entrapment of pride. I highly recommend Rebsamen’s vigorous translation of this anonymous Anglo-Saxon poem. ‘Each one among us shall mark the end of this worldly life. Let him who may earn deeds of glory before death takes him—after life-days honor-fame is best.’