BEOWULF: A New Verse Rendering
Jonathan B. Himes is Professor of English at John Brown University.
Based on his characteristic tone of immediacy, supported by more modern colloquial diction and a host of comma splices, and especially due to his penchant for working in religious references that may resonate with Christian readers in high school or college English classes, Douglas Wilson’s paraphrase imposes an “American” stamp on the poem that does for Beowulf what Eugene Peterson’s The Message does for the Bible—render in plain, but vigorous, current English an approximate sense of the original. In doing so, Wilson delivers an uplifting, energetic epic poem of his own, one that nevertheless reminds readers that “the wages of heroism is death.”1
Wilson’s Introduction, at only around four pages, offers little in the way of presenting the epic poem’s storyline for readers new to Beowulf, nor does it explain Wilson’s decision to provide a new version of the poem—other than saying it has been among his top ten favorites since high school (1)—or his basic interpretive position that by nature the Old English original is a work of Christian apologetics; these heuristics await the reader in his two concluding essays at the end of the book. But in the brief Introduction, Wilson manages to convey effectively the basic properties of Anglo-Saxon versification—four syllables of major duration (stress) per line, three of which syllables normally alliterate across half-lines—and how his poetic paraphrase mimics that original alliterative texture. He also explains his practice of not visually splitting verses with blank space between each half to indicate a caesura, as many editions of the poem do, preferring instead to let the alliterative rhythm be the reader’s guide. Finally, he prepares readers for the preponderance of unusual compound words—such as whale road, bone-house, world’s candle—as kennings, or “compressed metaphors,” used in the original. Other than that, Wilson explains that he has given descriptive titles to the fitts, or sections of the poem numbered by the scribe, so as to suggest a chiastic structure that reinforces the epic’s main themes, a subject dealt with in the second of the essays at the end, “Chiastic Structure in Beowulf.” There is also a helpful and well-drawn map and genealogical diagram in the front matter.
If the reader turns to Wilson’s first essay, “Beowulf: The UnChrist,” she will find a lucid explanation of how the original poet, just a few generations after Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity, aimed to compose an “evangelistic” text that would point the audience to the stark limits of the old heroic code of their heritage (113-117). Pointing out that the titular hero Beowulf is not in fact a Christ-figure (thus the “UnChrist” of his essay’s title), but a sympathetic pagan who is morally superior to his peers in a system of vengeance that was noble, yet doomed, Wilson cogently argues that the poem presents the gospel afresh—or rather, paves the way to it—to a Viking-age audience in danger of backsliding. Perhaps Wilson’s “new verse rendering” performs a similar function for today’s generation brought up on movies, video games, and other media fraught with violent heroism.
Reading Wilson’s Introduction, I was struck at once with a tone that was strongly reminiscent of my favorite humorists of recent years, namely Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods, Anchor, 2006) or A. J. Jacobs (The Year of Living Biblically, Simon & Schuster, 2008), or perhaps better known to Christian readers who are likely to be reading Wilson, Jonathan Acuff (Stuff Christians Like, Zondervan, 2010). It was surprising to find this voice—belonging to a pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and fellow of New Saint Andrews College—in the opening pages to a new version of the venerable medieval poem. Despite having authored an Old English primer of sorts,2 Wilson claims a sparse knowledge of the Beowulf poet’s native tongue:
So there I am, just sitting there. So a suitable humility for someone of my limited means in Old English means that publishing a proper translation of Beowulf is out. I never want to get a phone call from Seamus Heaney inquiring into just who exactly it is I think I am. Who wants to be that guy? (1)
Later, Wilson adds that he “made the g in Geat (Beowulf’s tribe) alliterate with a hard g, and not with the way they likely would have said it back then. So if you read this poem aloud, you will need to say Geet and not Ye-aht. So sue me” (4).
This comic tone comes through occasionally in his rendering, though his main poeticizing strategy is achieved, as Wilson explains, by taking five translations, including, he says, his favorites, namely those by Howell Chickering (Anchor, 1977) and Seamus Heaney (Norton, 2001), but also that of Burton Raffel (Mentor, 1963) and two lesser-known ones by Ruth P. M. Lehmann (UT Press, 1988), and John Lesslie Hall (D. C. Heath, 1892),3 and then paraphrasing to get the sense of the original and an approximation of the alliterative Old English verse style. Wilson’s imitation of this Germanic verse technique is heavier on obvious alliterations than Heaney’s translation, as demonstrated below, and his verses are more prosaic and much more repetitive than the Old English original or Heaney’s,4 but they are also more visually evocative because of that (might I even say, cinematic?), more obviously musical to the ear than Raffel’s—which does not attempt regular patterns of alliteration—more gritty, and more contemporary in the voicing.
Even the cover of the book is suggestive of its leanings. The title, BEOWULF, in all caps, appears to be the same font used on the front cover of Heaney’s translation, only the letters here have faded foreshortening with ink (blood) spatter, as if to indicate Wilson’s attempt to take a cue from Heaney—hopefully not doing violence to his translation, while borrowing a plethora of the Nobel prize-winner’s main content words—but do him one better in terms of sheer muscle. Above the title, Grendel’s gnarly arm, rendered in grisly broad strokes, hangs on hooks, and the claws wear a generous coat of black gloss, giving the book a Goth look, while on the other end the wrenched socket of the shoulder reveals its sinewy innards on the back cover. This all seems calculated to appeal to a generation of readers accustomed to vampire fiction and neo-punk music or Swedish heavy metal.
Wilson’s debt to Heaney is clear throughout the book, as he keeps a close eye on Heaney’s modern idiom, but then performs what one might call “reverse Heaney-isms”: he avoids most of the occasional Irish intrusions—stook, graith, bawn, brehon—and instead Wilson sprinkles in generous samples of Old English words—wyrd, scop, middle-earth—and even his own back-coinage to create a “new” Old English word, earthwaru (“earth dweller,” 10), a word he derives from helwaru (“hell-dweller”).5 Where Heaney uses brehon (l. 1457, Irish for “judge”) to describe Unferth, Wilson uses spokesman (l. 1458). Heaney uses stook (l. 329), the Irish word for flax that is gathered and bundled in a teepee shape in the drying process, to render the image of weapons left by the Geats before entering Hrothgar’s court. The word Wilson uses is spinney (derived from Middle-English), meaning a small grove, copse, or thorny place. Heaney’s choice seems more visually satisfying, but in other lines Wilson seems to do better: he relates the ruckus in Heorot during the battle with Grendel as “the ultimate beer brawl,” which, as a phrase unto itself, sounds ridiculous for an early medieval poem, but in context works: “the Danes heard the din, and the daring could listen / To the ultimate beer brawl, that battle careened / From wall to wall—wonderfully the hall stood” (32). It is a satisfying choice. In the original Old English, that phrase is ambiguous, a hapax legomenon: ealu-scerwen “ale showers” (l. 770), which conjures images of foamy mead-horns getting tossed to the rafters. However this tumult might be rendered, it is a visual scene that falls a bit more flat with Heaney’s phrase “hall session” (l. 767). At any rate, this line of Wilson’s is emblematic of the “American” stamp that he imposes on the poem, combining humor and religious tone with true grit.
But then again, Wilson is not averse to borrowing a line or phrase directly from Heaney’s translation when he likes it: compare Heaney’s “a cub in the yard, a comfort sent” (l. 13) to Wilson’s “A cub for the courtyard, a comfort from God” (l. 13). In line 850, he borrows wound-slurry, which Wilson tells us in a footnote is Heaney’s “magnificent kenning.” What would have helped the reader even more to appreciate why this poetic compound was worth borrowing is that it contains another Heaney-ism of injected Irish: slurry is a term in Northern Ireland for pig excrement that is sprayed across fields as fertilizer from sprinklers attached to tractors, a potent visual and olfactory roadside sensation, as any traveler there can attest. Describing Grendel’s bloody demise within his mere this way punctuates the gruesomeness of it and at the same time his anguish: “Swirls of hot wound-slurry, surging in turmoil, / Oozing out envy and utter disaster” (l. 850).
Wilson gives Beowulf a generous dose of “muscular Christianity” with his tone:6 “Shield Sheafson was one, scourge of all tribes, / Took a maul to the mead-benches, mangled his enemies. / He rose and in rising, he wrecked all his foes. … Gold came, and glory … a good king that was!” (l. 4-6, 11). I applaud his allusions to Germanic tradition (“banner of northernness,” line 19) and the use of Anglo-Saxon words, either untranslated or with close modern cognates (see lines 85-113, for example) to give readers the flavor of the ancient world of the North. What does not make quite as much sense is his use of Titan in line 114 (and again in line 1700), a word belonging to Greco-Roman myth.
In the first of his two essays at the conclusion, “Beowulf: The UnChrist,” Wilson argues that the Old English poem’s purpose was “evangelistic” and even “apologetic” (113, 117). This he bolsters with an eighth-century dating for the poem’s composition, a few generations after Anglo-Saxon conversion (115-117). Wilson quotes Martin Camargo in stating that the purpose of the prominent paganism throughout the epic is to make readers confront their own lingering sins with abhorrence (118). He also argues, interestingly, that the paganism of the Danes and Geats is a peculiar brand invented by the poet, just as Beowulf himself is a literary invention, and that it is a type of paganism that resembles Old Testament beliefs since “they are well-versed in the ancient parts of the Old Testament” and “they follow the Old Law (ealde riht)” (118-119). Wilson makes a good point, but one need not think their paganism was the poet’s unique invention. In fact, the poet is much more artfully ambiguous about it than that: only the narrator makes overt reference to the Old Testament, not the characters themselves. Even Hrothgar’s “sermon” is prefaced by the narrator’s reflections on the biblical flood which is not spoken aloud by Hrothgar, though he stares at runes on the giants’ sword hilt which relate such lore.
In fashioning his Danes as sympathetic pagans in dire need of the gospel, “the poet is taking his cue from the apostle Paul” who (according to Wilson) called even the best citizen in Corinthian society—“the yachtsman, advisor to kings and presidents, philosopher, harpsichord player, and war hero”—that is, those of the aristocracy, a “natural man” who did not know God and thus stood condemned (114). I do not know that the Beowulf poet literally took his cue from St. Paul, but Wilson certainly does.7 He even makes Beowulf quote Paul after defeating Grendel: “I have fought the good fight, and faced down this devil” (l. 961, my italics). Occasionally, he works in a phrase like “High King of Heaven” (l. 183) that sounds lifted from a hymn, in this case the 1912 English translation of an ancient Irish hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” lending a tone that certainly fits Wilson’s evangelistic focus. Likewise, Wilson calls Grendel a “lost soul,” which he certainly is, but “Lost and alone, that lost soul kept coming” (721) seems to belabor the point about his spiritual status.
He further demonizes Grendel with a curious turn of phrase that will make many readers recoil in sheer horror: while rending and eating the Danes, Grendel “seized a slumbering warrior, / His first prey, and fiercely he fisted the carcass, / Bit him down to the bone, his blood he drank greedily” (l. 41-43, my italics). This verb form, fisted or fisting, although certainly Anglo-Saxon in its roots, is a common term today for invasive exploration or assault of bodily orifices, according to sources such as Urban Dictionary and The Free Dictionary.8 Even the Oxford English Dictionary lists such a definition with literary examples added in 1993 and 2003, but only offers examples of this verb in the sense of fisticuffs in a few quotes from 1600-1800 and a couple from the early twentieth century. In other words, the verb form of fist is more common today in its “coarse” sense than in the merely pugilistic. Perhaps to make this hell-spawn creature even more loathsome, Wilson borrows an especially transgressive term, suggesting that Grendel is not only cannibalistic but sadistic as well in deriving pleasure and arousal from his murderous feasting.
Or could Wilson, who in other ways is so savvy with today’s word market, be ignorant of this connotation of fisting? His prevalent use of fist, in lines 264, 611, 723, 742, 1584, for example, and even a positive use of the past participle form again after the defeat of Grendel—“That Bright-Danes’ best prince from Beowulf heard / The first hope, firm hope, and with fisted resolve” (l. 610-611)—or again in line 2504, might argue that Wilson used it as a generically violent turn of phrase, that the vulgar sense was simply unintended. Perhaps he uses variants of “fist” merely to underscore a muscular, aggressive worldview.
This example points to a larger issue with Wilson’s inconsistent use of language in his Beowulf rendering. I find my page-markings and marginalia to go back and forth in praising his cadence or the felicitous placement of words and then groaning when he grows far too repetitious, too churchy, or too cliché. To drive home his thesis that Beowulf was primarily an evangelistic work composed shortly after conversion, Wilson overuses the word “deliverance,” at times repeated awkwardly within a few lines, especially in “A plan I propose, with purposed deliverance. … Get free of that fiend, or follow deliverance” (l. 281, 285); but also in lines 699, 701, 707, and 1555. For an instance of his updated lingo that resorts to cliché, he describes Sigemund the dragonslayer: “famed as a fighter, his ferocity unmatched, / A baron of battle, the best in the business” (901). This almost sounds like Paul Bettany playing Chaucer-as-herald, presiding over the jousting lists in the style of a world wrestling emcee in the Heath Ledger movie Knight’s Tale.
Another of Wilson’s irksome tendencies when trying imitate the Old English alliterative verse meter is simply to make monotonous lists of words that alliterate together, often words that are merely (or nearly) redundant: “[Heremod] met death, deserted, deserving no better. … With despair, disappointment, and death for his nobles. … From haughtiness, hubris, and hollow arrogance” (l. 906, 908, 911).
There are a few outright mistakes: Wilson calls Beowulf “Our Shielding” during the fight with Grendel’s mother (l. 1565) as if he descends from Scyld or the Danish Scyldings. In line 2929, Ohthere should read Ongentheow or “Ohthere’s father” (as in Heaney). Then a few lines down (2934) Wilson misspells the same name as “Ohtere.” In some verses referring to the hauberks or mail-coats worn by the warriors, Wilson provides the word “breastplate” (l. 2675, 2988, 3143), which might make sense for either ancient Rome or for late medieval suits of armor, or even decorative Renaissance gear, but not for Germanic tribesmen as envisioned by the Viking-age poet.
Curiously, Wilson interprets the contest with Breca (recalled by Unferth in attempts to shame our hero) as a rowing competition, rather than a swimming competition. Many commentators favor this due to the implausibility of Beowulf swimming so far or so long at sea, or due to the words sund and reon which scholarly consensus for decades had rendered respectively “sea” and “rowing,” but which R. D. Fulk has recently shown almost certainly refer to swimming in both cases, the former word in the sense of “natation” or floating, and the latter metaphorically referring to the motion of the hands in water.9 At any rate, Raffel, Heaney, and every translator I have consulted—with the possible exception of Tolkien, who uses both “swimming” and “rowed”—translate it as a swimming match.10 After all, Beowulf is superhuman and no stranger to such natatorial feats: he swam under the mere to Grendel’s lair for half a day; and he swam back home to Geatland with 30 mail-coats from the raid on Frisia.
Another doubtful passage is Wilson’s account of the Swedish battle as recalled by Beowulf on the bluff before his dragon fight, as he pensively broods on former strife between his Geats and the neighboring Swedish tribe, the Scylfings. Wilson makes it sound as if Beowulf was physically present at Ravenswood to witness the defeat of Ongentheow by Hygelac’s forces, lines 2486-2488: “With morning as herald, I heard the head of the killer struck. / And the clansman was conquered with a clean stroke. / When Ongentheow eagerly sought Eofor in battle.” In Wilson, Beowulf himself heard the fatal blow, but the usual sense is “I have heard that” it happened. With passive voice and fragmented grammar, it is difficult to tell who is killing whom, and the following lines (2490-2493) give the impression that Beowulf himself delivered the blow. Wilson blurs this Swedish battle together confusingly with the account of Beowulf fighting for Hygelac later in an ill-fated raid on Frisian soil, after Beowulf had received lands and treasures. It matters simply because in the Old English epic, these are distinct events in an unending cycle of vengeance that Beowulf recalls, one in which his lord Hygelac triumphed (the Swedish battle) but in which Beowulf did not take part, and a later one in which Hygelac faced bitter defeat (the raid in Frisia) but in which Beowulf participated faithfully. Greater clarity here would have helped Wilson’s thesis that the hero of this epic, though basically beyond reproach, is part of a doomed system that helps the reader anticipate the need for a true Savior.
Wilson’s versifying leans heavily on comma splices, a practice which, although quite the vogue now in popular fiction or in humorist circles such as Wilson seems to be aiming for,11 still strikes me as off-putting or simply confusing: “I tell you the truth, you true son of Ecglaf, / The grim deeds of Grendel would not have gotten this far, / That malicious monster, your master distressing, / Wrecking havoc in Heorot, if your heart for battle / Were as bold as your boasts, that beast would be dead” (591-595; my italics show where sentence boundaries overlap ungrammatically). Other examples abound: lines 731-735, lines 1270-1271, line 1735, and so on. To be fair, there are comparatively speaking very few punctuation marks used in Old English manuscripts like the Beowulf codex, and the pervasive use of apposition (phrases that keep renaming or describing the subject or object) and lack of subordinate clause structure can make the original poem seem like a series of run-on sentences or jumbled phrases. It could be argued that Wilson’s verse rendering preserves this flavor; however, it would be a preservation of the feeling a graduate student derives from eking out the verses line by line in a graduate Beowulf seminar, not the feel of Old English heroic verse as understood by those who have immersed themselves in this corpus of literature.
Wilson’s emphasis on the scribe’s fitts (numbered sections) as part of the actual poem, providing chiastic structure, is worth consideration. The headings that Wilson gives each fitt and the ways some reflect each other as one approaches the center of the poem is quite interesting. Although it depends strongly on how the details in each fitt might be summed up, some of the parallels noted by Wilson are compelling, especially those surrounding the pursuit of Grendel’s mother at the poem’s center:
In this section (23), Beowulf actually kills Grendel’s mother in her cave, just as in the corresponding fitt she had killed Aeschere in Heorot. The two events should be seen as a stark contrast, but in some respects they are still comparable. The central point of this poem is emphasized by all this, however: in this society homes and halls are for killing in. (124-125)
Since no one has made much to-do about the fitts, Wilson sees it as an opportunity and quips that nothing like this has been seen “since the days of Wald the Woingas. (Since I saw his name in Widsith, I knew I just had to work it in somehow)” (131).
Given Wilson’s ubiquitous humor in his Introduction and in his two essays that conclude the book, I expected his verse rendering of Beowulf to be somewhat farcical, irreverent, ironic, or far more “modern” in its outlook and in its register. But Wilson surprised me: in spite of many lines that update the vocabulary, taking it further than Heaney’s translation—to the streets as it were, or to viewers of Stephen Colbert—he actually maintains the flavor of the original in nearly equal measure; or perhaps it is more fair to say that Wilson delivers his verse with a straight face and quite often he gets across the ennobling, heroic spirit of the original. Consider these lines spoken by the Danish coastguard as the Geats approach:
Never before, never so brazenly, have knights or invaders
Carried shields to this coast with questions unasked.
Have our kinsmen consented to your coming this way?
And a mightier man, massive and strong
I never have known. He is no mere retainer,
Dressed in such dread and deadly fell armor. (l. 247-252)
Or these by Hrothgar about Grendel’s attacks:
What havoc, what humiliation, what hell he has brought us.
My ranks have been ravaged, my realm has been weakened,
Fate has not favored us, fighting is futile,
Swept by a strength that is stronger than all of us. (l. 476-479)
In particular, these lines feature effective assonance and consonance falling on just the right words:12 “Sea-monsters strange that sounded the depths, / And cold and cruel kraken on the crags basking” (l. 1429-1430). He even at times uses archaic word order, like putting the verb in final position: “Better be humble / As the best of brave men, the better part take” (l. 1760b, 1761); or as in “We seafaring sailors would now say our desire, / To return from this trip and treasure bring to Hygelac” (l. 1820-1821). This inversion of the usual word order lends an air of dignity and keeps his otherwise American colloquialisms from overtaking the poem as too flippant.
Overall, despite his professed lack of expertise in translating Anglo-Saxon, I was impressed with Wilson’s versification, which in spite of some missteps, does successfully render the Old English poem in modern U. S. parlance, more so than other poetic versions I have encountered, while maintaining the gravitas and grandeur of the original. He manages to do this while investing the poem with a tone of apologia, or reinvigorating such a focus (as he claims for the original). College professors considering the adoption of this text for a medieval literature course with Beowulf on the syllabus should be advised of the inaccuracies noted here; likewise, any home- or private-schoolteachers to whom Wilson’s Rudiments of Anglo-Saxon is expressly aimed ought to be aware that this version of the poem, despite its more accessible tone, is not exactly kid-friendly (witness the gruesome cover art) with its fisting and gore, not to mention that the book has no visual cues like “paragraph” breaks between episodes like Heaney’s does, and not quite enough footnotes, to aid with understanding the “digressions” like the Swedish Wars, which get confusing as noted above. In fairness, the thematic and unique titles for each fitt do take up some of this slack. Idiosyncrasies notwithstanding, Douglas Wilson’s “new verse rendering” of Beowulf points to the gritty, yet admirable aspects of early medieval heroism, while inviting readers to consider the tragic limits of that worldview, juxtaposed as it is with hints of the gospel that would resonate with recent converts, whether Anglo-Saxon or modern American.
Cite this article
- A phrase from J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous essay “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” Proceedings of the British Academy 22 (1936), 245-95.
- Douglas Wilson, Rudiments of Anglo-Saxon: An Introductory Guide to Old English for Christian and Home Schools (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, nd). I can only find this resource on the publisher’s website, http://canonpress.com/rudiments-of-anglo-saxon/.
- Wilson gives his sources in a footnote without explanation for his choices. Were they simply what he had on the shelf, or what his library happened to have in the stacks? Ruth Lehmann’s translation has a handy summary of the poem and tries to imitate the Anglo-Saxon alliterative meter. Perhaps this influenced his choice. I am not sure about the merits of J. Lesslie Hall’s translation, but perhaps Wilson wanted an old-school translation (replete with thees and thous) for comparison.
- Examples of repetitiveness: “Send him in, send him in, summon him quickly” (l. 386); “Come in, come in, and come in your armor” (l. 396); “The ocean was open, open, inviting” (l. 538); “Told him to guard the gear, the gear from his battles” (l. 675).
- Stook “rounded gatherings of cut grain”; graith “war gear”; bawn “fortified barn”; brehon “judge”; wyrd “fate”; scop “singer, poet.”
- Wikipedia provides this definition: “Muscular Christianity is a Christian commitment to piety and physical health. … The movement came into vogue during the Victorian era and stressed the need for energetic Christian evangelism in combination with an ideal of vigorous masculinity.”
- Humorists like Wilson can shrug off such interpretive issues by saying they were only joking, that their discursive shtick is to play loose, which makes it difficult to weigh the merits of their ideas when they seem to be making a serious point.
- In Urban Dictionary, “to insert ones [sic] fist into another individual’s [sic] vagina or anus” (www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=fist, 8/24/2016). The Free Dictionary (by Farlex) provides a third definition in their entry: “Vulgar[:] To insert the hand into the rectum or vagina of (someone) as a means of sexual stimulation” (http://www.thefreedictionary. com/fist, 8/24/2016). See also F. Lagard Smith, Sodom’s Second Coming (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993).
- For those who favor a rowing match, see Karl P. Wentersdorf, “Beowulf’s Adventure with Breca,” Studies in Philology 72 (1975): 140-166; also, James W. Earl, “Beowulf’s Rowing-Match,” Neophilogus 63 (1979): 285-290. Many commentators went with rowing in their wake, as R. D. Fulk explains but then overturns, answering every possible objection on precise philological grounds in his article “Afloat in Semantic Space: Old English sund and the Nature of Beowulf’s Exploit with Breca,” Journal of English & Germanic Philology 104 (2005): 456-472.
- In his prose translation (Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary Together with Sellic Spell, ed. Christopher Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), J. R. R. Tolkien has Unferth and Beowulf both using “swim” and “rowed” in reference to the contest, and in both speeches the metaphorical sense of “rowed” as swimming is certainly possible, though it is just ambiguous enough to suggest that the contestants rowed to deep waters where mighty waves plunged them in for swimming as well (27-29). In his Commentary, Tolkien does not address this distinction, but refers to the feats with Breca as simply a “swimming match” (212-213).
- And, in fact, as Wilson employs in his own satirical novel, Evangellyfish (Canon Press, 2012).
- That is to say, just right for the poetry that Wilson is making, though not an accurate imitation of Old English alliterative meter. Assonance is a kind of internal rhyme, in which the same vowel sound occurs in a series of words; short a, in the case of l. 30. Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds within words, in this case s and hard c. The last word in these lines, basking, combines all these sounds as a satisfying culmination.