The Finnburg Episode

Then song and music mingled sounds

in the presence of Healfdene’s head-of-armies    

and harping was heard with the hero-lay

as Hrothgar’s singer the hall-joy woke

along the mead-seats, making his song

of that sudden raid on the sons of Finn.    

Healfdene’s hero, Hnaef the Scylding,

was fated to fall in the Frisian slaughter.    

Hildeburh needed not hold in value

her enemies’ honor!   Innocent both

were the loved ones she lost at the linden-play,

bairn and brother, they bowed to fate,

stricken by spears; ‘twas a sorrowful woman!

None doubted why the daughter of Hoc

bewailed her doom when dawning came,

and under the sky she saw them lying,

kinsmen murdered, where most she had kenned

of the sweets of the world! By war were swept, too,

Finn’s own liegemen, and few were left;

in the parleying-place   he could ply no longer

weapon, nor war could he wage on Hengest,

and rescue his remnant by right of arms

from the prince’s thane. A pact he offered:

another dwelling the Danes should have,

hall and high-seat, and half the power

should fall to them in Frisian land;

and at the fee-gifts, Folcwald’s son

day by day the Danes should honor,

the folk of Hengest favor with rings,

even as truly, with treasure and jewels,

with fretted gold, as his Frisian kin

he meant to honor in ale-hall there.

Pact of peace they plighted further

on both sides firmly. Finn to Hengest

with oath, upon honor, openly promised

that woful remnant, with wise-men’s aid,

nobly to govern, so none of the guests

by word or work should warp the treaty,    

or with malice of mind bemoan themselves

as forced to follow their fee-giver’s slayer,

lordless men, as their lot ordained.

Should Frisian, moreover, with foeman’s taunt,

that murderous hatred to mind recall,

then edge of the sword must seal his doom.

Oaths were given, and ancient gold

heaped from hoard. — The hardy Scylding,

battle-thane best,   on his balefire lay.

All on the pyre were plain to see

the gory sark, the gilded swine-crest,

boar of hard iron, and athelings many

slain by the sword: at the slaughter they fell.

It was Hildeburh’s hest, at Hnaef’s own pyre

the bairn of her body on brands to lay,

his bones to burn, on the balefire placed,

at his uncle’s side. In sorrowful dirges

bewept them the woman: great wailing ascended.

Then wound up to welkin the wildest of death-fires,

roared o’er the hillock:   heads all were melted,

gashes burst, and blood gushed out

from bites   of the body. Balefire devoured,

greediest spirit, those spared not by war

out of either folk: their flower was gone.

THEN hastened those heroes their home to see,

friendless, to find the Frisian land,

houses and high burg. Hengest still

through the death-dyed winter dwelt with Finn,

holding pact, yet of home he minded,

though powerless his ring-decked prow to drive

over the waters, now waves rolled fierce

lashed by the winds, or winter locked them

in icy fetters. Then fared another

year to men’s dwellings, as yet they do,

the sunbright skies, that their season ever

duly await. Far off winter was driven;

fair lay earth’s breast; and fain was the rover,

the guest, to depart, though more gladly he pondered

on wreaking his vengeance than roaming the deep,

and how to hasten the hot encounter

where sons of the Frisians were sure to be.

So he escaped not the common doom,

when Hun with “Lafing,” the light-of-battle,

best of blades, his bosom pierced:

its edge was famed with the Frisian earls.

On fierce-heart Finn there fell likewise,

on himself at home, the horrid sword-death;

for Guthlaf and Oslaf of grim attack

had sorrowing told, from sea-ways landed,

mourning their woes.   Finn’s wavering spirit

bode not in breast. The burg was reddened

with blood of foemen, and Finn was slain,

king amid clansmen; the queen was taken.

To their ship the Scylding warriors bore

all the chattels the chieftain owned,

whatever they found in Finn’s domain

of gems and jewels. The gentle wife

o’er paths of the deep to the Danes they bore,

led to her land. The lay was finished,

the gleeman’s song.

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