Sunday, May 20th, 2007
Thus made their mourning the men of Geatland,
for their hero’s passing his hearth-companions:
quoth that of all the kings of earth,
of men he was mildest and most beloved,
to his kin the kindest, keenest for praise.
Swa begnornodon Geata leode
hlafordes hryre, heorðgeneatas,
cwædon þæt he wære wyruldcyninga
manna mildust ond monðwærust,
leodum liðost ond lofgeornost.
Beowulf ends with a bitter sweet taste. We’ve been through monsters; we’ve watched the Geats rise and sense that they will fall, change, suffer. There’s something about ends here, transitions, a sensibility about passage through time and space. We doubt our abilities and are anxious about having to face the world without the aide of the elves. It could be argued that we capture the proportions of time through story in this way and objectify the feel of transitions. Existentially, change itself “passes” because we mark it as a point. We don’t really experience extended periods of change. We celebrate moments, such as the death of a great leader, and then wake up to a new day and move into life as usual. Alternatively, we often measure periods of change by the moments that close them. A couple looks forward, for example, to the birth of their child.
There is a mental or cognitive topography to this mediation. One style of ethic may prioritize change, another may see to the clocking of moments in between as a way of managing or mediating well being. We can map the seasons as a way of measuring ourselves. Winter is a time of sleep or death or pause, Spring is an awakening, signaling the approach of a new Beowulf or Aragorn, who will rise and lead us to safety. Persistent anxiety disrupts the mental topography of the seasons. Constancy is ahistorical. “This never ends” means “this never began.”