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Before leaving, Beowulf returns to Herot to visit the king one last time. His speech shows us clearly that he's taken Hrothgar's sermon to heart. His modesty and generosity are as impressive as his self-confidence was earlier. He offers to return with "a thousand armed Geats" if Denmark is ever again threatened by enemies or if the king ever needs his help. Hrothgar's farewell speech is the most emotional passage in the poem. His ability to express what he's really feeling gives the poem as a whole an added dimension. Through Hrothgar's character the poet is informing us that the people in Anglo-Saxon society are not merely barbarians-going to war, feasting, plotting against one another-but also possess the capacity to care about what their comrades are feeling.
Hrothgar predicts that when Higlac dies Beowulf will surely become the king of the Geats. He kisses Beowulf good-bye and bursts into tears, realizing (he's an old man, after all) that it's possible he'll never see the young warrior again. "His love," the poet tells us, "was too warm to be hidden."
Then, as now, people had a hard time expressing their feelings, and some readers think that the poet himself believes that Hrothgar's tears are a sign of weakness. "Winter had followed winter," the poet tells us, "and age had stolen his strength." Do you think the ability to express feelings is a sign of strength or of weakness?
Loaded down with treasures, the Geats march proudly down to the shore. The same soldier who met them when they arrived in Denmark (Verse 3) comments to them that their countrymen will be glad to see them when they return.
Notice the energy and spirit of the language the poet uses to describe the voyage. It's almost as if the words themselves were propelling the boat over the waves. "Driven/By the wind," he writes, "the ship rammed high on the shore" (1912-13). The Geats are characterized as an aggressive and forceful tribe, and it's no accident that the poet uses words like driven and rammed to describe their homecoming.
As the Geats carry their treasures to Higlac's hall, the poet interrupts the narrative with another digression. This one concerns Higd, Higlac's wife and the daughter of Hareth. Higd is "young but wise and knowing beyond her years," a generous queen who happily distributed her husband's wealth among his followers. In contrast, her daughter Thrith is arrogant and destructive, so vicious "that her father's followers/Averted their eyes as she passed" (1932-33). More than once a man was executed for staring at her. After Thrith marries Offa, a member of the Hemming tribe, her personality changes radically. Her husband's followers praise her for "her generous heart" and for the "adoring love" she displays for her husband. (Some readers compare Thrith to Katherine in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Others describe her as a female version of Hermod.) The digression ends with words of praise for Offa.
The poet makes us wonder about the relevance of all this to the main narrative. Of course, since Beowulf and his men are about to meet with Higlac, it's only natural that the poet should want to fill us in about the king's family. Perhaps he wants us to compare Offa and Higlac, whom we'll meet for the first time in the next verse. Remember this digression as you read further, and try to see how it connects to the main story.