Bro! Tell me we still know how to speak of kings! In the old days,
everyone knew what men were: brave, bold, glory-bound. Only
stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song, hoarded for hungry times.
Their first father was a foundling: Scyld Scefing.
He spent his youth fists up, browbeating every barstool-brother,
bonfiring his enemies. That man began in the waves, a baby in a basket,
but he bootstrapped his way into a kingdom, trading loneliness
for luxury. Whether they thought kneeling necessary or no,
everyone from head to tail of the whale-road bent down:
There’s a king, there’s his crown!
That was a good king.
Later, God sent Scyld a son, a wolf cub,
further proof of manhood. Being God, He knew
how the Spear-Danes had suffered, the misery
they’d mangled through, leaderless, long years of loss,
so the Life-lord, that Almighty Big Boss, birthed them
an Earth-shaker. Beow’s name kissed legions of lips
by the time he was half-grown, but his own father
was still breathing. We all know a boy can’t daddy
until his daddy’s dead. A smart son gives
gifts to his father’s friends in peacetime.
When war woos him, as war will,
he’ll need those troops to follow the leader.
Privilege is the way men prime power,
the world over.
Scyld was iron until the end. When he died,
his warriors executed his final orders.
They swaddled their king of rings and did just
as the Dane had demanded, back when mind
and meter could merge in his mouth.
They bore him to the harbor, and into the bosom
of a ship, that father they’d followed, that man
they’d adored. She was anchored and eager
to embark, an ice maiden built to bear
the weight of a prince. They laid him
by the mast, packed tight in his treasure-trove,
bright swords, war-weeds, his lap holding a hoard
of flood-tithes, each fare-coin placed by a loyal man.
He who pays the piper calls the tune.
His shroud shone, ringed in runes, sun-stitched.
I’ve never heard of any ship so heavy, nor corpse
so rich. Scyld came into the world unfavored;
his men weighted him as well as the strangers had,
who’d once warped him to the waves’ weft.
Even ghosts must be fitted to fight.
The war-band flew a golden flag over their main man;
the salt sea saluted him, so too the storms,
and Scyld’s soldiers got drunk instead of crying.
They mourned the way men do. No man knows,
not me, not you, who hauled Scyld’s hoard to shore,
but the poor are plentiful, and somebody got lucky.
Finally, Beow rolled into righteous rule,
daddying for decades after his own daddy died.
At last, though, it was his turn for erasure:
his son, the Halfdane, ran roughshod, smothering
his father’s story with his own. He rose in the realm
and became a famous warlord, fighting ferociously
dawn to dusk, fathering his own horde of four,
heirs marching into the world in this order: Heorogar,
Hrothgar, Halga, and I heard he hand-clasped his daughter
(her name’s a blur) to Onela. Tender, she rendered that battle-Swede
happy in fucking, where before he’d only been happy in fighting.