He lives in plenty:
illness and age in no way grieve him,
neither does dread care darken his heart,
nor does enmity bare sword-hate,
for the whole world turns to his will
--he knows nothing worse--
Until his portion of pride
increases and swells within him;
then the watcher sleeps,
the soul's guardian;
that sleep is too sound,
bound in its own cares,
and the slayer most near
whose bow shoots treacherously. . .
he cannot protect himself. . .
angry-hearted he covets. . .
and then he forgets and
regards not his destiny
because of what God,
wielder of heaven,
has given him . . .
In the end it happens in turn
that the loaned body weakens,
falls doomed; another takes
the earl's ancient treasure,
one who recklessly gives precious
gifts does not fearfully guard them
This passage, recited
by King Hrothgar in the epic of Beowulf, gives insight into an important
element of the Anglo-Saxon period. A parallel can be drawn between Hrothgar's
mentioning of "the earl's ancient treasure" and the guardian
of the rings treasure in "The Last Survivor's Speech" in the
second part of Beowulf. When Beowulf becomes King, he must fight
a dragon who is attacking the kingdom to protect this"ancient treasure."
The treasure has been left behind by a race of warriors, who all died in
battle, except for one--known as the Last Survivor. This "Last Survivor"
carries the treasure into a barrow and utters "The Last Survivor's
Speech," which is very similar to the famous Ubi Sunt Passage
from "The Wanderer."
Ubi Sunt Passage
"The Last Survivor's
the horse gone?
Where the young warrior?
Where is the giver of treasure?
What has become of the feasting seats?
Where are the joys of the hall?
Alas,the bright cup!
Alas, the mailed warrior!
Alas, the prince's glory!
How that time has gone,
vanished beneath night's cover,
just as if it never had been!
War-death has taken
of my people, evil, dreadful and deadly,
each of those who has given up this life,
the hall-joys of men. I have none
who wears swords or cleans
the plated cup, rich drinking vessel.
The company of retainers has gone elsewhere.
The hard helmet must be stripped of its
fair-wrought gold, of its plating.
The polishers are asleep who should make
the war-mask shine. And even so the coat
of mail, which with-stood the bite of swords
after the crashing of the shields, decays like
its warriors. There is no harp-delight, no mirth
of the singing wood, no good hawk flies
through the hall, no swift horse stamps in the
castle court. Baleful death has sent away
many races of men.
||The speakers in both
passages are the only survivors of their battles. They are both completely
alone, and left wandering the Earth with nothing. Although brave warriors
are always surrounded by comrades, they have to realize that there will
be a time in their lives when they will be completely alone. When this
time comes, they must be ready to face their true selves and cannot hide
behind insignificant material wealth.
This is what King Hrothgar is warning Beowulf against when he tells him
not to allow his pride to increase and swell. Beowulf is a good person
but could be changed by allowing his pride to overcome him.
All people must eventually face death, and this they must do alone. By
realizing this, one can see that Beowulf has parallels with the warrior
in the Old English poem, "The Wanderer," and the shepherd of
the rings in "The Last Survivor's Speech." All three characters
are faced with solitude when they are left to die alone. Beowulf indirectly
alludes to this loneliness when he says that God "has guided the man
without friends . . ." (Norton 48) and he is talking about himself.