Books and Literature Posted by peter ramus, 09 May 2007 11:38 pm
By peter ramus
Beowulf, still as yet the great Geat all these fifty years since Grendel, at last has at the dragon.
Locked in the narrow choices of a paragon, the fellow must go out, Beowulf, take on the beast that breaks and burns his people, put up against the incomprehensibly mighty foe what measure of strength and will to overcome is left him.
It is the man’s method to give full measure in this regard, paragon he is, however residual the powerful powers of one who’d mastered Grendel and his mom so long ago. Engage the worm? Contest it? Oh, yes, mustn’t he, being Beowulf yet?
The snake fang falls at him, settling his life’s issue there in combat. Oh, and the snake, yes, the snake too, great monstrous dragon of a thing it is in fact itself destroyed, last conflicting goal of Beowulf achieved, determination of the thing imposed by the paragon himself in passing.
Sure, a dragon in trade for Beowulf is no happy trade for grieving Geats. Aw, …the beast is done, but so’s the best. There’s sorrow in it, though he died as he must, demonstrating himself to be Beowulf to the end.
The challenge is consummated, it has its result: Beowulf is dead, and what’s to balance that sad finality?
Oh, the dragon’s extinct — a great good that — coming along with the hero’s death. There is that great good, true, and the horde of treasure held by the dragon underneath, exposed now, to be had at by grateful Geats, down where the worm’s whole swollen lair of the very golden stuff of it is made theirs by the act of their fallen fellow Beowulf. There is that as well in balance for the hero’s death, isn’t there?
And, yes, Wiglaf, young thane, assists Beowulf just then, doesn’t he, brave lad he is? Little help the rest of them are, he himself stands steadfast beside his man Beowulf, his conduct truly pledged and executed. By Wiglaf’s own brave meddling the dragon is distracted in its dreadful bite of Beowulf, giving time to wounded Beowulf to muster with his last full might and deliver with his last eventful act what proves the extinguishing blow to end the geat bad thing forever.
And Wiglaf blessed by Beowulf in passing with Beowulf’s own helm and mail and such, right symbols of succession earned by the true thane Wiglaf, and good for him. There is that as well, isn’t there, in trade for the passing of incomparable Beowulf, eh? Not recompense, no, but something, someone to fill somewhat the role that marvel of a man had filled for Geats for all those many years since Grendel.
And don’t the Geats go out and make a great mound out on the headland by the sea where implications of a revered greatness will forever greet those traveling there? They do, those Geats, they make a lasting sign of their regard, the story goes, and there is that, too.
A good quarter of the text of Beowulf is taken up with the great grief of the Geats at Beowulf’s ending. There’s the moaning and the making of the mounded hump of earth out there on the headland by the sea, all those best gestures guessed at by Geats for encompassing what’s truly gone when the greatly missed is done. Oh, there’s the poem, yes, a nice touch, a fitting, lasting, thing. But that’s for those who never knew him, a timeless yardstick made of exploits to measure him against the greatest men, the poem is, brought to an honest finish by the lengthy keening of the ones who were there, who were on hand, who saw and understood what’s now forever lacking in the world.
EXCURSUS: What Words We Have Left For Beowulf
Seamus Heaney, whose every word is considerable in my longstanding estimate, speaks Beowulf in his own well-claimed English, having at, with sure substitutions, the poem made quite some time ago in that other tongue entirely, Anglo-Saxon, roughgrunted stuff of a language it is compared to English in my confirmed view of the matter.
In his recorded spoken wording of it Heaney pronounces a fine-voiced Beowulf, though he chances to elide the ancillary story of the subordination of Unferth from his talk, but it’s there in what he’s written down, the pages of which follow, it must be noted, the Anglo-Saxon as given by Wren and Bolton in their Beowulf, with the Finnesburg Fragment (which added scrap from Finnesburg I trust is supported by sweet argument for being there included).
Unferth in the text of it the fractious one among them in that group supporting Beowulf. Beowulf, paragon, embodier of all chiefest features of the greatest sort of Geat, must bring unruly Unfurth back around, subordinate the errant fellow to the group’s established goal by the commanding suasions owned by the sure leader. He is a paragon of that too, of that rare great thing, leading.
He does it well, so well, Beowulf, that Unferth gives up to Beowulf, in Beowulf’s needful hour of preparation for his advance against the extreme mom of Grendel, to the grand contentious man himself does willing Unferth give up the famous rare and ancient-named sword Hrunting, signalling by such gift the sealing of the self-subordination that is his given leader’s due.
Seamus Heaney’s aural record referenced above does not recall the tale of Unfurth, reformed one under the firm hand of Beowulf in Heaney’s printed text of it the fellow Unferth is. Does Heaney rather speak the Finnesburg Fragment there in that recording, mouthing instead the controversial addition to the text it may well be for all I know of the matter?
I leave the resolution of that question to the happy discovery of the better listener.
Responses to “The Sorrowful Mysteries”