At The National Beer Hall
By chance or by god's providence I picked up Constance Hieatt's translation of the old English poem, Beowolf. I opened the book and randomly placed my finger on this clause:
"Then Hrothgar was granted success in battle and glory in war, so that his friends and kinsmen obeyed him willingly, and his band of warriors grew large. It came into his mind to order a great mead-hall to be built, larger than the children of men had ever heard of; within it he would give out all that God gave him (except the public land and the lives of men) to young and old. He ordered work to adorn the building from nations far and wide throughout this earth. The time soon came when the greatest of halls was quite ready, and the ruler gave it the name of Heorot. he did not forget to give out rings and treasures at the feast. The hall towered, high and wide-gabled; it awaited the hostile flames of hateful fire," related the poet.
Hrothgar's great hall will be destroyed because of an old feud with the Heathobards, the Danes' enemies, with whom Horthgar tried to make peace by giving his daughter to Ingeld, the son of their slain king. But old memories die hard: "It is very seldom that the deadly spear rests for long after a king has fallen, however admirable the bride may be," quoth the poet. After a few beers in the national beer hall, Ingeld is provoked by a Danish soldier; a fight breaks out, blood is shed, total war eventually ensues.
"On both sides the oaths of lords are broken and Ingeld seethes with deadly hate; his love for his wife shall be cooled by the waves of sorrow."
Notwithstanding the mention of god, one might conclude that a beer hall divided may not stand. If I were a pious man I might congregate with my clan in a gilded and antlered hall and there heft a few horns of ale and let loose with a string of oaths just to prove my piety - may Grendel the grisly monster be damned! At least until I pass out and am devoured by the beast - I could care less in my deepest sleep. Alas for society, however, for besotted slumber oft precedes the fall of decadent governments:
"When night fell," recounts the poet, " Grendel went to inspect the great house; he came to see the Danes had settled down after drinking beer. There he found the band of warriors sleeping after the feast, unconscious of sorrow and the misery of mankind. The evil creature was alert at once; the cruel and savage monster took thirty thanes in their beds. Exulting in his booty, he went back to seek out his home with his fill of slaughter."
Gruesome Grendel came back for refills until Beowulf, a Swedish foreigner, saved the Danes from themselves - no doubt the Danish lords, unlike their wise old king, had failed to hand down god's gifts equitably.
I am loth to recall how many painful years have expired since I swore off the ale, for good or at least until I see the bright lights at the end of the highway - Leaving Las Vegas is my favorite movie. Beer halls were my churches until the spirits got me down and I was beset with an extra dry sense of humour. Sober that I am, I sleep more lightly now, and I occasionally have uncensored dreams, much too explicit for a Freudian analyst to bother with, and a few Jungian dreams as well. of monsters hitherto unseen by humankind. But most of my dreams are verbal. JustlLast night I had an oracular dream:
"Make a clean-breasted approach to things!" a deep voice commanded. I abruptly awoke, twinged with guilty conscience. As I had my coffee, I realized I had been doing much too much lying to please the civilized world. Hence I swore like a barbarian that I would make a clean breast of things. And I wished the President Bush and his court would follow suit, for they are drunk with power and falling down on the job.