Rising Prairie

sententiarum collectio

Beowulf: Living and Glory

As a forty-some year old man, reading Beowulf for the first time, I was caught by the humanity that rang and resonated through time and adventure. None of my observations would withstand critical scrutiny, but I’ll share here the lines that rang throughout my soul.

Beowulf, the hero of centuries, was taken for granted and dismissed by his compatriots. Though he was of noble lineage and nobler character, and though he was trained in the king’s own courtyard, his pedigree wasn’t sufficient for his peers. His great valour was misunderstood, perhaps intentionally misconstrued, by his masters and his lessers. He went on to rescue them, repeatedly, yet their perspective never changed beyond a few celebratory moments. They viewed themselves as worthy of rescue, but they found little worth in their rescuer. Nevertheless he remained loyal to them, at his own peril and great loss.

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:
“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.”

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, by Seamus Heaney (2000), at 1383, emphasis added.

Beowulf: Finally Abandoned

As a forty-some year old man, reading Beowulf for the first time, I was caught by the humanity that rang and resonated through time and adventure. None of my observations would withstand critical scrutiny, but I’ll share here the lines that rang throughout my soul.

Beowulf, the hero of centuries, was taken for granted and dismissed by his compatriots. Though he was of noble lineage and nobler character, and though he was trained in the king’s own courtyard, his pedigree wasn’t sufficient for his peers. His great valour was misunderstood, perhaps intentionally misconstrued, by his masters and his lessers. He went on to rescue them, repeatedly, yet their perspective never changed beyond a few celebratory moments. They viewed themselves as worthy of rescue, but they found little worth in their rescuer. Nevertheless he remained loyal to them, at his own peril and great loss.

Sad at heart, addressing his companions,
Wiglaf spoke wise and fluent words:
“I remember that time when mead was flowing,
how we pledged loyalty to our lord in the hall,
promised our ring-giver we would be worth our price,
make good the gift of the war-gear,
those swords and helmets, as and when
his need required it. He picked us out
from the army deliberately, honoured us and judged us
fit for this action, made me these lavish gifts—
and all because he considered us the best
of his arms-bearing thanes. And now, although
he wanted this challenge to be one he'd face
by himself alone—the shepherd of our land,
a man unequalled in the quest for glory
and a name for daring-now the day has come
when this lord we serve needs sound men
to give him their support. Let us go to him,
help our leader through the hot flame
and dread of the fire. As God is my witness,
I would rather my body were robed in the same
burning blaze as my gold-giver's body
than go back home bearing arms.
That is unthinkable, unless we have first
slain the foe and defended the life
of the prince of the Weather-Geats. I well know
the things he has done for us deserve better.
Should he alone be left exposed
to fall in battle? We must bond together,
shield and helmet, mail-shirt and sword."

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, by Seamus Heaney (2000), at 2631, emphasis added.

Beowulf: Valour Misunderstood

As a forty-some year old man, reading Beowulf for the first time, I was caught by the humanity that rang and resonated through time and adventure. None of my observations would withstand critical scrutiny, but I’ll share here the lines that rang throughout my soul.

Beowulf, the hero of centuries, was taken for granted and dismissed by his compatriots. Though he was of noble lineage and nobler character, and though he was trained in the king’s own courtyard, his pedigree wasn’t sufficient for his peers. His great valour was misunderstood, perhaps intentionally misconstrued, by his masters and his lessers. He went on to rescue them, repeatedly, yet their perspective never changed beyond a few celebratory moments. They viewed themselves as worthy of rescue, but they found little worth in their rescuer. Nevertheless he remained loyal to them, at his own peril and great loss.

Thus Beowulf bore himself with valour;
he was formidable in battle yet behaved with honour
and took no advantage; never cut down
a comrade who was drunk, kept his temper
and, warrior that he was, watched and controlled
his God-sent strength and his outstanding
natural powers. He had been poorly regarded
for a long time, was taken by the Geats
for less than he was worth: and their lord too
had never much esteemed him in the mead-hall.
They firmly believed that he lacked force,
that the prince was a weakling; but presently
every affront to his deserving was reversed.

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, by Seamus Heaney (2000), at 2176, emphasis added.

All These Images

"Try your tongue, if you cannot use your mind.
The people scorn you, laughing at your folly,
For all men know, as you might easily find,
That almighty God is up in heaven so high,
And all these images, it's plain to the eyes,
Are nothing, and give you nothing, and cannot try
For more - worthless lumps of stone, where they lie"

- The Second Nun's Tale (379), Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (tr. Burton Raffel)

Kings made their tombs…

Kings made tombs more splendid than houses of the living, and counted old names in the rolls of their descent dearer than the names of sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry; in secret chambers withered men compounded strong elixirs, or in high cold towers asked questions of the stars. And the last king of the line of Anárion had no heir.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

History Has Stopped

“The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering… all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting – three hundred million people all with the same face.

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered.

“And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand:
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

– William Butler Yeats, The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats

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