Modern Version stanzas 21-24; Anglo-Saxon lines 72-99

The lines divide as follows: stanza 1 MV = lines 1-6a AS; 2 = 6b-8a; 3 = 8b-12a; 4 = 12b-16; 5 = 17; 6 = 18-25a; 7 = 25b-26; 8 = 27-30; 9 = 31-33a; 10/11 = 33b-38; 12 = 39-43; 13 = 44-47; 14 = 48-52; 15 = 53-55a; 16 = 55b-57; 17 = 58-62a; [centre] 18 = 62b-64a; 19 = 64b-67; 20 = 68-71; 21 = 72-80a; 22 = 80b-85; 23 = 86-93; 24 = 94-99; 25 = 100-105; 26 = 106-107; 27 = 108; 28 = 109-116; 29 = 117-122a; 30 = 122b-124/5. Click on numbers for transportation.

(g): General overview of stanza. (e): Excerpts and echoes from many sources. (s): Specific points that attracted attention during interpretation. (a): Ambiguities, puns, homonyms, multiple meanings, reinforcements, sliding syntax, mainly in the MV.


for þon þæt is eorla gewham | æftercweþendra
lof lifgendra | lastworda betst
þæt he gewyrce | ær he onweg scyle
fremman on foldan | wið feonda niþ             (75)
deorum dædum | deofle togeanes
þæt hine ælda bearn | æfter hergen
and his lof siþþan | lifge mid englum
awa to ealdre | ecan lifes blæð
dream mid dugeþum |


So any noble spirit will aspire to earn
an everlasting epitaph of praise
for good deeds done on earth, bold blows
dealt at the Devil and against fell foe
before his passing, that posterity
delights enjoyed for ever by the brave
among the angels may prolong


Interest in this section, in my view, initially centres on the implied force of eorla and dugeþum. The rather ponderous construction of lines 74-80a also seeks attention. It seems latinate to me, hence the contorted inversions of the MV. There also appears to be some redundancy of content, hence 50 AS words are compressed into 46 in the MV, which is repetitive elsewhere in other ways.


1. Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. 2. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. 3. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power. Ecclesiasticus 44, AV.

8. Your adversary the devil. 1 Peter 5, AV..

76: Deyr fé/deyja frændr/deyr sjálfr it sama/en orðstírr/deyr aldregi/hveim er sér góðan getr. 77: Deyr fé/deyja frændr/deyr sjálfr it sama/ek veit einn/at aldri deyr/dómr um dauðan hvern. Hávamál. David A.H.Evans ed, Viking Society for Northern Research, UCL 1986. 76: Kine die and kin die/you too will die; but/the name never dies/of him who wins fame. 77: Kine die and kin die/all men must die. I/know what never dies:/how dead men are deemed. CHW trans.

ure æghwylc sceal ende gebidan worolde lifes wyrce se þe mote domes ær deaþe þæt bið drihtguman unlifgendum æfter selest. Beowulf ll 1386-1389. 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. Seamus Heaney trans. 1999.

Would I had met my dearest foe in heaven. Hamlet; I, ii, 182. 1600. See interesting note on "dear" in Hamlet, The Arden Shakespeare, Methuen 1982, p 191.

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/And by opposing end them. Hamlet; III, i, 59. 1600.

This fell sergeant, death,/is strict in his arrest. Hamlet; V, ii, 350. 1600. See note in Hamlet, The Arden Shakespeare, Methuen 1982, p 571.

Something ere the end,/Some work of noble note, may yet be done. Tennyson, Ulysses, 1833.


forþon: See SSAS.

þæt is eorla gewham etc: eorla: noble spirit. "Spirit" may be unlicensed, but "noble" seems justified; since eorl surely becomes "earl", "jarl"; and, quite probably, descends from eril or herul (3rd - 6th century?). Recent (Jan, 2001) intense debate at Historieforum has centred on the heruli. The term perhaps first designated an ethnic tribe, later coming to denote a mobile caste or cult of warriors, skilled in runes, ready to fight to the death and thereby win riches (incidentally) and glory (preferably), either via earthly renown, or in Valhalla. Housman wrote an epitaph for them, and their calling. Their mercenary services were hotly sought by insecure potentates; and their cult might conceivably have evolved from, or been influenced by, the 2nd-4th century recruitment of tribesmen from Scandinavia by the Imperial Roman army. It has been suggested that the idea of Valhalla derived from gladiatorial battles at the Collosseum in Rome. Concepts of nobility differ. Any missionary seeking to shift the herul concept had his work cut out. The literature on the heruls is vast; a good starting point might be Bertil Häggman's article (in English) in Migracijske teme 15 (1999), Zagreb. There is also a well-planned, comprehensive website at: Note: November, 2014; this site is no longer available at this address.

lof lifgendra lastworda betst:

þæt he gewyrce: Does Tennyson echo this with "work" in the line from Ulysses, above? Presumably it's unlikely he knew The Seafarer in 1833.

ær he onweg scyle: cf Sw innan han skall iväg; archaic "ere" is nearer ær than Swedish innan, "before", but otherwise the Swedish idiom is the same as the Anglo-Saxon.

fremman on foldan: See here or here for more on this phrase.

feonda: foe; "enemy", not "fiend"; cf Sw fiende, "enemy"; Ger Feind, "enemy". An example of how the Modern English sense has shifted further from the original.

niþ: fell. For níþ Bessinger gives "force, enmity, strife; battle, war; affliction, grief"; and for niþ (unaccented) "abyss(?)". Gordon glosses niþ "hatred, malice", which seem more accurate. In her note to l.75 she gives "wickedness", which seems less so. The word essentially implies a hostility which is distinctly low, underhand; an enmity which is usually foul and vile, ie fell; cf niðan "from below" (Bessinger). Compare Sw niding "base villain" (nedrig bov, Hellquist). True, Beowulf's sword smites the dragon níþe genýded "impelled by hate": but although the hero is not base, the emotion here is ugly. Bosworth-Toller give "envy, hatred, enmity, rancor (sic), spite, ill-will, jealousy", collectively nearer the mark than Bessinger's list, which seems to miss the nuance. "Rancour" may perhaps be the best single-word rendering of niþ.



deofle togeanes:

þæt hine ælda bearn:

æfter hergen:

ond his lof siþþan:

lifge mid englum:

awa to ealdre:

ecan lifes blæd:

dream mid dugeþum: See Bird, Ship, Sun, Sea for dream, here rendered "delights", attempting to convey a sense of visionary ecstasy induced by music; duguþum, the "brave", the "doughty", the "worthy"; cf Sw verb duga, adjective duktig; Ger taugen.


fell: a complex word, with at least four lexical meanings.


                  dagas sind gewitene       (80)
ealle onmedlan | eorthan rices
nearon nu cyningas | ne caseras
ne goldgiefan | swylce iu wæron
þonne hi mæst mid him | þa gefremedon
and on dryhlicestum | dome lifdon       (85)


The days of glory have decayed
the earth has spilled its splendour
there are no captains now, no kings
gold givers such as once there were
the lords who lived to purchase fame
and utmost laud among their peers



Death lays his icy hand on Kings,/Sceptre and crown/Must tumble down, James Shirley, 1596-1666, The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses, iii.

Change and decay in all around I see. Henry F.Lyte, 1793-1847, Hymn: Abide with me.

Nothing can bring back the hour/Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower. William Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality, 1807.

The splendour falls on castle walls. Alfred Tennyson, The Princess.

God of our fathers, known of old,/Lord of our far-flung battle-line/The Captains and the Kings depart. Rudyard Kipling, Recessional, 1897.



ealle onmedlan eorthan rices:

cyningas ne caseras: caseras here initially appeared to me introduced purely for the alliteration, justifying the MV's Kipling allusion; reflection on the significance of eorla above, however, suggests that there may after all be a subliminal association with the Kaisers of old Rome.

ne goldgiefan swylce iu wæron:

þonne hi mæst: the superlative rendered by "utmost".

mid him þa: "among them": his peers, hierarchical equals and associates.

gefremedon: cf Sw främja, to promote, to further, to push beyond normal borders. "Purchase" lastly chosen very late (17/12/2000); persuaded by sense of "chase" (echoing "such as"), "pur-" pre-echoing "peer", and the poet's preoccupation with gold, since fame (or, here, "status") can be bought; and the word can also be defined: "to acquire at the expense of some sacrifice, exertion, danger", and "an effective hold or position for leverage". Cassell Concise English Dictionary.

on dryhlicestum dome: "laud" now suggests some emptiness of praise, besides punning with "lord".



Captains: ambiguously portmanteaus military/nautical connotations, as well as the underlying meaning "chieftains".


gedroren is þeos duguð eal | dreamas sind gewitene
wuniað þa wacran | ond þas woruld healdaþ
brucað þurh bisgo | blæd is gehnæged
eorþan indryhto | ealdað and searað
swa nu monna gehwylc | geond middangeard       (90)
yldo on him fareð | onsyn blacað
gomelfeax gnornað | wat his iuwine
æþelinga bearn | eorþan forgiefene


Virtue is fallen, visions are faded
the weak are left to hold this world
worn low. The flower of the field is old
the leaf is withered and the laurel sere
Throughout this middle isthmus man
meets age hoar-headed, bleak of face
by former friends forsaken, grieving over
scions of lineage long since gone



15. For man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. Psalm 103, AV.

6. All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. Isaiah 40, AV.

24. All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away. 1 Peter, 5, AV..

Brightness falls from the air/Queens have died young and fair/I am sick, I must die. Thomas Nashe, In Time of Plague, 1593?

Valiantnes was honoured in Rome above all other vertues; which they called Virtus, by the name of vertue selfe, as including in that generall name, all other speciall vertues besides. North's Plutarch, quoted in Coriolanus, ed. Philip Brockbank, Arden 1976, p.40.

28. Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. Joel 2, AV.

I have lived long enough; my way of life/Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf/And ... troops of friends/I must not look to have. William Shakespeare: Macbeth 5.3. 22.

Wither'd is the garland of the war,/The soldier's pole is fall'n ... And there is nothing left remarkable. William Shakespeare, Anthony and Cleopatra, 4.13. 64.

Once more, O ye laurels, and once more/Ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere/I come to pluck ... and ... /Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year. John Milton, Lycidas, 1637.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream/Bears all its sons away;/They fly forgotten as a dream/Dies at the opening day. Isaac Watts, 1674-1748; Psalms, xc.

Man/Placed on this isthmus of a middle state. Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, 2.1, 1732-4

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say. Thomas Gray, Elegy in a Country Churchyard, 1751.

Voici l'herbe qu'on fauche et les lauriers qu'on coupe/Nous n'irons plus aux bois, les lauriers sont coupés. Théodore de Banville, 1823-1891, Les Cariatides, 1842?

Leaves of Grass. Walt Whitman, poems published 1848-1860.

The menace of the years. W.E.Henley, Invictus, 1875.

Where have all the flowers gone? Pete Seeger, 1940?


gedroren is þeos duguð: duguð the "doughty", the "worthy"; cf Sw verb duga, adjective duktig; Ger taugen.

dreamas sind gewitene:

wuniað þa wacran:

ond þas woruld healdaþ:

brucað þurh bisgo: cf Sw bruka, Ger brauchen, "use", with a strong implication of "wear out".

blæd is gehnæged: cf Sw blad, "leaf"; English "blade", of sword or grass.

eorþan indryhto:

ealdað and searað:

swa nu monna gehwylc:

geond middangeard:

yldo on him fareð: on [an] here again suggests "approach", "advances towards him", ie "meets him", in a menacing manner.

onsyn blacað:

gomelfeax gnornað:

wat his iuwine:

æþelinga bearn:

eorþan forgiefene:



ne mæg him þonne se flæschoma | þonne him þæt feorg losað
ne swete forswelgan | ne sar gefelan                   (95)
ne hond onhreran | ne mid hyge þencan
þeah þe græf wille | golde stregan
broþor his geborenum | byrgan be deadum
maþmum mislicum | þæt hine mid nille


Life ebbs, the flesh feels less
and fails to savour sweet or sour
is frail of hand, feeble of mind
Though men may bury treasured pelf
beside their brother's born remains
and sow his grave with golden goods
he goes where gold is worthless


The substitution of "Life ebbs" for "Casting the Bodies Vest aside" may strike some as perhaps the worst of the crimes perpetrated throughout this textual mashing. I feel obliged to produce an apologia for its intrusion, and have anyway myself been puzzled why the phrase presents itself so strongly. The idea that man's life goes out with the tide is found in Shakespeare (Henry V) and Dickens (David Copperfield), but this did not alone seem sufficient justification. I have finally come to believe that the word homa itself contains the solution. Wessén, in Våra Ord, addresses three meanings of the Swedish word hamn.


Hostess: 'a parted ev'n just between twelve and one, ev'n at the turning o' th' tide. W.Shakespeare, Henry V, II, 3.

But felt through all this fleshly dress/Bright shoots of everlastingness. Henry Vaughan, Silex Scintillans, 1650.

Casting the Bodies Vest aside,/My Soul into the boughs does glide: Andrew Marvell, The Garden, VII, 1681.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;/Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;/Change and decay in all around I see:/O Thou who changest not, abide with me! Henry F.Lyte (1793-1847)

"People," said Mr Peggotty the fisherman, "can't die along the coast except when the tide is pretty nigh out. They can't be born unless it's pretty nigh in --- not properly born till flood. He's agoing out with the tide --- he's agoing out with the tide. It's ebb at half-arter three, slack-water half-an-hour. If he lives till it turns he'll hold his own till past the flood, and go out with the next tide." Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1849-50.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears/Looms but the horror of the shade, W.E.Henley, Invictus, 1875.


ne mæg him þonne se flæschoma: flæsc, "flesh"; homa, primarily, in my view, "clothing" (Vaughan's "this fleshly dress"); but Dr Breeden's "the spirit leaves its flesh-home" is interesting. Homa's modern Swedish descendant is hamn, for which Wessén gives 1) "form, guise, clothing, hide (ie skin), sheath" related to Ger Hemd, "shirt"; and compares Sw lekamen "body" formed from lik, modern "corpse", and hamn, same sense of "clothing"; 2) a dialect word related to English "ham", of the backside kind, and here it is of interest that Sw fläsk, cognate of course with English "flesh", is most commonly used of pig meat, but also signifies "fat" and connotes other fleshly pleasures; 3) the common word for "harbour", Ger Hafen, Eng "haven"; all meanings going back to a basic sense of "that which encloses, or embraces". The body is the spirit-harbour; the spirit is a boat. The use of "ebb" in the MV therefore implies, perhaps somewhat distantly, that the ship of life, like the water it rides on, is leaving its fleshly harbour; and hopes to find another.

þonne him þæt feorg losað:

ne swete forswelgan:

ne sar gefelan:

ne hond onhreran:

ne mid hyge þencan:

þeah þe græf wille:

golde stregan:

broþor his geborenum:

byrgan be deadum:

maþmum mislicum:

þæt hine mid nille:


The flesh feels less: 1) its sensations diminish; 2) it senses its own wasting.



annotation introduction

Modern Version stanzas 1-7; Anglo-Saxon lines 1-26

MV stanzas 8-14; AS lines 27-52:   MV stanzas 15-20; AS lines 53-71

MV stanzas 20-24; AS lines 72-99:   MV stanzas 25-30; AS lines 100-125

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