Beowulf (Prologue)

Edited by Jack Lynch

A brief passage, lines 1–25, from the opening of Beowulf. I’ve made no effort to establish a text, depending on a public-domain textus receptus; the interlinear glosses are meant only as a crib, not a real translation. I’ve gone with a very literal rendering whenever possible.

I’ve drawn on a number of translations to patch this one together; I’m particularly indebted to J. M. Kemble’s old-fashioned but literal translation and Benjamin Slade’s edition at

Hwæt! We Gardena       in geardagum,
Listen! We of the Spear-Danes     in days of yore

þeodcyninga,     þrym gefrunon,
Of those folk-kings      the glory have heard,

hu ða æþelingas     ellen fremedon.
How those noblemen     brave-things did.

Oft Scyld Scefing     sceaþena þreatum,
Often Scyld, son of Scef,     from enemy hosts

monegum mægþum,     meodosetla ofteah, [5]
from many people            mead-benches took,

egsode eorlas.     Syððan ærest wearð
terrorized warriors.     After first he was

feasceaft funden,     he þæs frofre gebad,
helpless found,            he knew the recompense for that,

weox under wolcnum,     weorðmyndum þah,
grew under the sky,            in honors thrived,

oðþæt him æghwylc     þara ymbsittendra [10]
until to him each              of the neighboring tribes

ofer hronrade     hyran scolde,
over the whale-road     had to submit,

gomban gyldan.     Þæt wæs god cyning!
tribute yield.            That was a good king!

Ðæm eafera wæs     æfter cenned,
To him an heir was        then born

geong in geardum,     þone god sende
young in the yards,          him God sent

folce to frofre;     fyrenðearfe ongeat [15]
the folk to comfort;     distress he had seen

þe hie ær drugon     aldorlease
that they before suffered      leaderless

lange hwile.     Him þæs liffrea,
a long while.          Them for that the Life-Lord,

wuldres wealdend,     woroldare forgeaf;
of-glory ruler,              honor-on-earth granted;

Beowulf wæs breme     (blæd wide sprang),
Beowulf was famed          (renown wide spread),

Scyldes eafera     Scedelandum in. [20]
Scyld’s heir            in northern lands.

Swa sceal geong guma     gode gewyrcean,
So should a young man          by good-deeds deserve,

fromum feohgiftum     on fæder bearme,
by fine treasure-gifts          while in his father’s keeping,

þæt hine on ylde     eft gewunigen
that him in old-age        again shall stand by

wilgesiþas,       þonne wig cume,
willing companions     when war comes,

leode gelæsten;          lofdædum sceal [25]
Among his people everywhere     one prosper.