Beowulf Quoted: Part II

Here are a few more of my favorite quotes from Beowulf.  This first I like because of the last line. The man of God should give no thought to his own life.

“Then in a fury, he [Beowulf] flung his sword away.
The keen, inlaid, worm-loop-patterned steel
was hurled to the ground: he would have to rely 
on the might of his arm. So must a man do 
who intends to gain enduring glory
in a combat. Life doesn’t cost him a thought.

“…He who wields power 
over time and tide: He is the true Lord.”

Here Hrothgar speaks after Beowulf has defeated both Grendel and his mother. I liked this quote because God and dripping blood show up together. That doesn’t happen much in modern Christian fiction.
“….So I praise God
in His heavenly glory that I lived to behold
this head dripping blood and that after such harrowing
I can look upon it in triumph at last.

This scene reminds me of two Biblical scenes: Jonathan departing from David (I Samuel 20) and Paul departing from Ephesus in Acts 20:37-38. Why do men not form friendships like this much anymore?
“And so the good and grey-haired Dane,
that high-born king, kissed Beowulf
and embraced his neck, then broke down
in sudden tears. Two forebodings
disturbed him in his wisdom, but one was stronger: 
nevermore would they meet each other
face to face.  And such was his affection
that he could not help being overcome:
his fondness for the man was so deep-founded,
it warmed his heart and wound the heartstrings
tight in his breast.”

Beowulf Quoted: Part I

This is a repost of some of my favorite quotes from Beowulf. 

I have read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf every winter for the past four years. Each time I read it I enjoy it more.  Beowulf belongs to the season when the wind is pounding, the temperatures hover around 25 degrees, and the snow whips into your face like ice spears.  I know some Beowulf readers swear by Chickering’s translation. I have his on my shelf and will read him next year. However, this year is was Heaney’s translation again.   Here are some of my favorite quotes from the poem.

“….Behavior that is admired
is the path to power among people everywhere.”
“…Oh, cursed is he
who in time of trouble has to thrust his soul
in the fire’s embrace, forfeiting help;
He has nowhere to turn. But blessed is he
who after death can approach the Lord
and find friendship in the Father’s embrace.”

“When Hrothgar arrived at the hall, he spoke,
standing on the steps, under the steep eaves,
gazing at the roofwork and Grendel’s talon:
‘First and foremost, let the Almighty Father
be thanked for this sight. I suffered a long
harrowing by Grendel. But the Heavenly Shepherd
can work His wonders always and everywhere.'”

Beowulf speaks to Hrothgar after Grendel’s mother has attacked and killed one Hrothgar’s men.
“Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better
to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.
For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone
that will be his best and only bulwark.
So arise, my lord, and let us immediately
set forth on the trail of this troll-dam.
I guarantee you: she will not get away,
not to dens under ground nor upland groves
nor the ocean floor. She’ll have nowhere to flee to
Endure your troubles today. Bear up
and be the man I expect you to be.”


There are several books I read yearly. The topics range from marriage and childrearing to education and the Lord’s Supper. There are not many fiction books on this list. However, I have read Beowulf at least twice a year for the past three years. I never tire of it. I give it to my friends. I read it to my boys. We memorize portions of it.

It is hard to say why I love Beowulf so much. There are more complex and important stories, such as a Dickens’ novels or Shakespeare. I am currently working through Crime and Punishment, which is a truly stunning novel. I was reading it while my wife was bringing our most recent child into the world (Don’t worry. I only read while she was resting.) and had to keep reminding myself where I was and what I was doing. Still for me Beowulf resonates with who I want to be and who I want my sons to be. Beowulf is a savior, a deliverer, a hero. He slays the great monsters and ultimately gives his life for his people. He weaves speeches of grand, but not pompous, words. He does not fear death, but he is not a fool who risks for no reason. He fights for someone, the good king Hrothgar and finally for his people. He resists the temptations that come with being a wealthy king. I am not sure that I have read a more masculine book in my life. There are swords and torn arms and heads on the tops of spears. There is beer and feasting and song. There is dread and terror, followed by gladness, followed by more dread and terror. Beowulf gets in your bones. You read it and the atmosphere sticks with you. And the best part of all is that it is poetry.

There are several good versions out there. There is a kid’s prose version by Serrailer that is worth reading to get an introduction to the text. I have two poetic versions. Both of them are excellent. The one I like best is by Seamus Heaney. On one side of the page he has the Old English translation. On the other side he has a modern translation. He is Nobel prize winning poet and this work is superb. The other poetic version I own is by Rebsamen. This is more accessible than Heaney’s version, but you cannot go wrong with either one. Beowulf can be hard to read initially. We are not used to poetry like this. But after a couple of reads it becomes much easier. Persevere and Beowulf will reward you.