Beowulf: Chapter 3

When the watchman on the wall, the Shieldings’ lookout
Whose job it was to guard the sea-cliffs,
Saw shields glittering on the gangplank
And battle-equipment being unloaded
He had to find out who and what
The arrivals were. So he rode to the shore,
This horseman of Hrothgar’s, and challenged them
In formal terms, flourishing his spear:
“What kind of men are you who arrive
Rigged out for combat in coats of mail,
Sailing here over the sea lanes
In your steep-hulled boat? I have been stationed
As lookout on this coast for a long time.
My job is to watch the waves for raiders,
And danger to the Danish shore.
Never before has a force under arms
Disembarked so openly—not bothering to ask
If the sentries allowed them safe passage
Or the clan had consented. Nor have I seen
A mightier man-at-arms on this earth
Than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken,
He is truly noble. This is no mere
Hanger-on in a hero’s armour.
So now, before you fare inland
As interlopers, I have to be informed
About who you are and where you hail from.
Outsiders from across the water,
I say it again: the sooner you tell
Where you came from and why, the better.”
The leader of the troop unlocked his word-hoard;
The distinguished one delivered this answer:
“We belong by birth to the Geat people
And owe allegiance to Lord Hygelac.
In my day, my father was a famous man,
A noble warrior name Ecgtheow.
He outlasted many a long winter
And went on his way. All over the world
Wise men in council continue to remember him.
We come in good faith to find your lord
And nation’s shield, the son of Halfdane.
Give us the right to advise and direction.
We have arrived here on a great errand
To the lord of the Danes, and I believe therefore
There should be nothing hidden or withheld between us.
So tell us if what we have heard is true
About this threat, whatever it is,
This danger abroad in the dark nights,
This corpse-maker mongering death
In the Shieldings’ country. I come to proffer
My wholehearted help and counsel.
I can show the wise Hrothgar a way
To defeat his enemy and find respite—
If any respite is to reach him, ever.
I can calm the turmoil and terror in his mind.
Otherwise, he must endure woes
And live with grief for as long as his hall
Stands at the horizon, on its high ground.”
Undaunted, sitting astride his horse,
The coast-guard answered, “Anyone with gumption
And a sharp mind will take the measure
Of two things: what’s said and what’s done.
I believe what you have told me: that you are a troop
Loyal to our king. So come ahead
With your arms and your gear, and I will guide you.
What’s more, I’ll order my own comrades
On their word of honor to watch your boat
Down there on the strand—keep her safe
In her fresh tar, until the time comes
For her curved prow to preen on the waves
And bear this hero back to Geatland.
May one so valiant and venturesome
Come unharmed through the clash of battle.”
So they went on their way. The ship rode the water,
Broad-beamed, bound by its hawser
And anchored fast. Boar-shapes flashed
Above their cheek-guards, the brightly forged
Work of goldsmiths, watching over
Those stern-faced men. They marched in step,
Hurrying on till the timbered hall
Rose before them, radiant with gold.
Nobody on earth knew of another
Building like it. Majesty lodged there,
And its light shone over many lands.
So their gallant escort guided them
To that dazzling stronghold and indicated
The shortest way to it; then the noble warrior
Wheeled on his horse and spoke these words:
“It is time for me to go. May the Almighty
Father keep you and in His kindness
Watch over your exploits. I’m away to the sea,
Back on alert against enemy raiders.”
It was a paved track, a path that kept them
In marching order. Their mail-shirts glinted,
Hard and hand-linked; the high-gloss iron
Of their armour rang. So they duly arrived
In their grim war-graith and gear at the hall,
And, weary from the sea, stacked wide shields
Of the toughest hardwood against the wall,
Then collapsed on the benches; battle-dress
And weapons clashed. They collected their spears
In a seafarer’s stook, a stand of grayish
Tapering ash. And the troops themselves
Were as good as their weapons.
Then a proud warrior
Questioned the men concerning their origins:
“Where do you come from, carrying these
Decorated shields and shirts of mail,
These cheek-hinged helmets and javelins?
I am Hrothgar’s herald and officer.
I have never seen so impressive or large
An assembly of strangers. Stoutness of heart,
Bravery not banishment, must have brought you to Hrothgar.”