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Registered: ‎11-22-2006
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Howard Hanson's "Lament for Beowulf" ...

I've been listening, here at the end of our journey with our action-grip hero, to Howard Hanson's elegiac choral piece, "Lament for Beowulf," in which he set the final lines of the poem (the actual funeral of the hero) to music.  It can be got through B & N, or found on i-Tunes.  The album on which you'd find it also contains Hanson's Symphony # 3 and his "Elegy for Serge Koussevitsky."  Hanson, a lesser known contemporary of Aaron Copland, looked to European models for his inspiration.  He lived most of his life in Rochester, NY, where he taught at the Eastman School.  In case you get this off i-Tunes and don't have access to the words, here they are:


Text of “The Lament for Beowulf,” by Howard Hanson (1925), translation by William Morris and A. J. Wyatt (1898)

For him then they geared the folk of the Geats,

a pile on the earth all unweak – like that was,

with war helms behung, and with boards of the battle,

and bright byrnies, e’en after the boon that he bade.

Laid down then amid most their King mighty, famous,

the warriors lamenting the lief lord of them.

Began on the burg of bale-fires the biggest

the Warriors to waken;

Haee!  Yo!  Haee!  Yo!  Ha!

The wood reek went up swart over the smoky glow,

sound of the flame, bewound with the weeping.


The wind blending stilled,

until it at last the bone house had broken

hot at the heart,

all unglad of mind with mood care they mourned their

liege-lord’s quelling.

Likewise a sad lay the wife of a fore time

for Beowulf the king, with her hair all up bounden

sang sorrow careful;

said oft and over

that harm days for herself she dreaded, shaming and bondage

the slaughter falls many, much fear of the warrior,

Ah! Heav’n swallowed the reek.


Wrought there and fashioned the folk of the Weders

a howe on the lithe, that high was and broad,

unto the wave farers wide to be seen;

then it they betimber’d in time of ten days,

the battle strong’s beacons, the brands’ very leavings

they bewrought with a wall in the worthiest of ways,

that men of all wisdom might find how to work.


Into burg then did they the rings and bright sun-gems,

and all such adornments as in the hoard there

the war minded men had taken e’en now;

the earl’s treasures let they the earth to beholding,

gold in the grit, wherein yet it liveth,

as useless to men as e’er it erst was.


Then round the howe rode the deer of the battle

the bairns of the athelings, twelve were they in all.

Their care would they mourn, and bemoan them their King,

the word-lay would they utter and over the man speak;

they accounted his earlship and mighty deeds done,

and doughtily deemed them; as due as it is

that each one his friend-lord with words should belaud,

and love in his heart, when as forth shall he

away from the body be fleeting at last.  Ah!


In such wise they grieved, the folk of the Geats,

for the fall of their lord, e’en they his hearth fellows;

quoth they that he was a world King forsooth,

the mildest of all men, unto men kindest,

to his folk the most gentlest, most yearning of fame.



Just for comparison, as my classical background has bred within me a fondness for comparing translations, I have included the various versions of the bold face lines above. They occur in no particular order:


"And the Geatish woman, wavy-haired, sang a sorrowful song about Beowulf, said again and again that she sorely feared for herself invasion of armies, many slaughters, terror of troops, humliation, and captivity.  Heaven swallowed the smoke." (E. Talbot Donaldson -- prose translation)


"In the same fashion a Geatish woman,

her hair bound up, [wove] a grief-song,

the lament [for Beowulf.] Over and over

[she said] that she feared [the attacks of raiders],

many slaughters, the terror of troops,

shame and captivity.  Heaven swallowed the smoke." (Howard Chickering, Jr. -- the parts in [] are reconstructions -- the ms. is badly corrupt)


"A Geat woman too sang out in grief;

with hair bound up, she unburdened herself

of her worst fears, a wild litany

of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded,

enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,

slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke." (Seamus Heaney)


"And an aged woman with upbound locks

lamented for Beowulf, wailing in woe.

Over and over she uttered her dread

of sorrow to come, of bloodshed and slaughter,

terror of battle, and bondage, and shame.

The smoke of the bale-fire rose to the sky." (Charles Kennedy)


"[W]hile with hair bound tight

and heaving breast

a woman of the Geats

wailed her heart out,

crazed with terror,

crying bitterly

that she dreaded days

of doom and disaster,

invading armies,

violence of troops,

slaughter, exile,

slavery. Heaven

swallowed the smoke." (Dick Ringler)


These are the translations I have.  You can look at a few dozen translations of selected passages from Beowulf if you go to the website  The link is here:

And if you want to hear the poem read well in Anglo-Saxon, check out the website at Wheaton College:

And here is another website with valuable information and links about Anglo-Saxon culture:

Dignity, always dignity.