Archive E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

The Blessing of Knowing God in Troublous Times: A Reminder from Beowulf

The anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet of Beowulf reminds us that it is good to know the true God, especially when circumstances are decidedly not good–even if that means passing through death first.

When he’s forgotten heaven, man still remembers hell; and it’s Hard Time Killing Floor Blues all around.

These were hard times, heartbreaking

for the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counselors,

the highest in the land, would lend advice,

plotting how best the bold defenders

might resist and beat off sudden attacks.

Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed

offerings to idols, swore oaths

that the killer of souls might come to their aid

and save the people. That was their way,

their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts

they remembered hell. The Almighty Judge

of good deeds and bad, the Lord God,

Head of the Heavens and High King of the  World,

was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he

who in time of trouble has to thrust his soul

in the fire’s embrace, forfeiting help;

he  has nowhere to turn. But blessed is he

who after death can approach the Lord

and find friendship in the Father’s embrace. (170-88, tr. Seamus Heaney)

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.