I tell you this tale as I mull and marvel
how the Almighty metes to mankind
the blessings of reason, rule, and realm.
He arranges it all. For a time He allows
the mind of a man to linger in love
with earthly honors. He offers him homeland
to hold and enjoy, a fort full of fighters,
men to command and might in the world,
wide kingdoms won to his will.
In his folly, the fool imagines no ending.
He dwells in delight without thought of his lot.
Illness, old age, anguish, or envy:
none of these gnaw by night at his mind.
Nowhere are swords brandished in anger;
for him the whole world wends as he wishes.
He knows nothing worse till his portion of pride
waxes within him. His soul is asleep;
his gate, unguarded. He slumbers too soundly,
sunk in small cares. The slayer creeps close
and shoots a shaft from the baneful bow.
The bitter arrow bites through his armor,
piercing the heart he neglected to guard
from crooked counsel and evil impulse.
Too little seems all he has long possessed.

Suspicious and stingy, withholding his hoard
of gold-plated gifts, he forgets or ignores
what fate awaits him, for the world’s Wielder
surely has granted his share of glory.
But the end-rune is already written:
the loaned life-home collapses in ruin;
some other usurps and openly offers
the hoarded wealth, heedless of worry.

Beloved Beowulf, best of defenders,
guard against anger and gain for yourself
perpetual profit. Put aside pride,
worthiest warrior. Now for awhile
your force flowers, yet soon it shall fail.
Sickness or age will strip you of strength,
or the fangs of flame, or flood-surges,
the sword’s bite or the spear’s flight,
or fearful frailty as bright eyes fade,
dimming to darkness. Afterward death
will sweep you away, strongest of war-chiefs.

from Beowulf
translated by Alan Sullivan and Timothy Murphy

Articles by Timothy Murphy and Tim Murphy

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