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Béowulf – Crossing the sea
English
Old English
Manuscript

Fyrst forð gewát. Flota wæs on ýðum,
Fyrst forð gewát. Flota wæs on ýðum,
Time passed away. On the tide floated
bát under beorge. Beornas gearwe
bát under beorge. Beornas gearwe
under bank their boat. In her bows mounted
on stefn stigon; stréamas wundon,
on stefn stigon; stréamas wundon,
brave man blithely. Breakers turning
sund wið sande; secgas bǽron
sund wið sande; secgas bǽron
spurned the shingle. Splendid armour
on bearm nacan beorhte frætwe,
on bearm nacan beorhte frætwe,
they bore aboard, in her bosom piling
gúðsearo geatolic; guman út scufon,
gúðsearo geatolic; guman út scufon,
well-forged weapons, then away thrust her
weras on wilsíð, wudu bundenne.
weras on wilsíð, wudu bundenne.
to voyage gladly valiant-timbered.
Gewát þa ofer wǽgholm, winde gefýsed,
Gewát þa ofer wǽgholm, winde gefýsed,
She went then over wave-tops, wind pursued her,
flota fámigheals fugle gelícost,
flota fámigheals fugle gelícost,
fleet, foam-throated like a flying bird;
oþþæt ymb antíd óðres dógores
oþþæt ymb antíd óðres dógores
and her curving prow on its course waded,
wundenstefna gewaden hæfde
wundenstefna gewaden hæfde
till in due season on the day after
þæt þa líðende land gesáwon,
þæt þa líðende land gesáwon,
those seafarers saw before them
brimclifu blícan, beorgas stéape,
brimclifu blícan, beorgas stéape,
shore-cliffs shimmering and sheer mountains,
síde sǽnæssas; þá wæs sund liden,
síde sǽnæssas; þá wæs sund liden,
wide capes by the waves: to water’s end
eoletes æt ende. Þanon úp hraðe
eoletes æt ende. Þanon úp hraðe
the ship had journeyed. Then ashore swiftly
Wedera léode on wang stigon,
Wedera léode on wang stigon,
they leaped to land, lord of Gothland,
sǽwudu sǽldon (syrcan hrysedon,
sǽwudu sǽldon (syrcan hrysedon,
bound fast their boat. Their byrnies rattled,
gúðgewǽdo), gode þancedon
gúðgewǽdo), gode þancedon
grim gear of war. God thanked they then
þæs þe him ýðláde éaðe wurdon.
þæs þe him ýðláde éaðe wurdon.
that their sea-passage safe had proven.

Commentary
Béowulf is the longest and best-known Anglo-Saxon heroic poem. It has come to us in a single manuscript kept at the British Library, the Cotton Vitellius. The poem has 3182 lines in alliterative verse and was composed between the 7th and the 10th century for a Christian audience on the basis of the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Béowulf balances two periods in the life of the hero whose name it was called after: its youth exploits, when at the court of the Danish king Hrothgar he slew Grendel, a man-eating giant devastating Hrothgar’s domains, and his mother afterwards; then his last fight as an elderly king of the Geats against a dragon that threatens his people. J. R. R. Tolkien had a prominent role in Béowulf’s study and critics as he published a seminal article entitled Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, which was republished with other essays of his in the collection The Monsters and the Critics and other Essays. Conversely, Béowulf was a important source of inspiration for Tolkien: some narrative elements of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings originate in it.

Tolkien used this fragment as an example in his essay On translating Beowulf, also published in The Monsters and the Critics and other Essays. Here he analyses the prosody, meter and diction extensively and provides a translation in a modern form alliterative verse, that we reproduce here.

The text’s transcription emulates the Insular script, a style of the Latin alphabet of Irish origin, used in most Old English manuscripts. We made use of Peter S. Baker’s typeface Beowulf1.

References
Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London: HarperCollins, 2006. 256 p. ISBN 0-261-10263-X.
Savage, Anne (ed.). Beowulf in Hypertext. 🌍 McMasterUniversity, Hamilton (Ontario).

The works of John Ronald Reuel and Christopher Tolkien are under the copyright of their authors and/or rights holders, including their publishers and the Tolkien Estate.
Quotations from other authors, editors and translators mentioned in the bibliography are under the copyright of their publishers, except for those whose copyright term has ended.
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