Bunyan Meets Beowulf

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John Bunyan, was an Englishman and Puritan preacher who is most remembered for penning a complex allegory on the Christian walk entitled, The Pilgrim’s Progress. His tale is second in sales only to the King James Bible and, for the past three centuries, has never been out of print

It is this day–August 31, 2020–the 332nd anniversary of Bunyan’s death–that we commemorate his life and literary contributions with an homage to his magnum opus.

The excerpt below is a re-rendering of Bunyan’s tale of Christian’s sword fight with Apollyon–retold in rhyme.

 

  1. In this valley of Humiliation,
    poor Christian, he was put hard to the test;
    for he had gone on only a short way
    before he espied an unwelcome guest—
  2. a foul fiend afoot in the field to greet
    him: his name was Apollyon, king of Hell;
    Then did Christian begin to be afraid,
    and to cast in his mind whether to sell
  3. his soul, or if instead, to stand his ground.
    But Christian had no armor for his back,
    and therefore thought that to turn away he
    might give him advantage in the attack,
  4. with ease to pierce him with his flaming darts;
    therefore Christian resolved to stand his ground:
    He went on and there Apollyon met him;
    the monster was a hideous hell hound,
  5. draped with scales like a fish (which were his pride);
    he had bear’s feet and he had wyvern wings;
    and out of his belly came fire and smoke;
    and his wide mouth was as a wasp that stings.
  6. He moved toward Christian, he beheld him with
    a hideous, haughty expression,
    “Whence came you, and whither are you now bound?”
    He hissed at Christian with snide aggression.
  7. “I am come from the city Destruction,
    which is a place of evil and of hate;
    I am going to the city Zion
    to seek admittance through the Wicket-gate.”
  8. “I perceive thou art one of my subjects;
    for the city of Destruction is mine,
    and I am both the prince and god of it.
    How is it thou escaped from thy divine?
  9. Were it not that I hope thou mayest do
    me more service, I would now strike thee dead.”
    “I was indeed born in your dominions,
    but your service was severe,” Christian said.
  10. “Your wages such as a man could not live;
    for the wages of sin is death, therefore,
    I sought out to rectify myself as
    other considerate persons of yore.”
  11. “There is no prince that will thus lightly lose
    his slaves, neither will I as yet lose thee;
    but since thou denounce thy wages, go back!
    And I shall grant thee all thy wants for free.”
  12. “But I have pledged myself to another,
    even my soul, to the King of all kings;
    how can I, in fairness, go back with thee,
    even shouldst thou promise to me all things?”
  13. “Thou hast done in this according to the
    proverb, Thou hath changed a bad for a worse;
    it is customary for those who have
    professed to be his servants to reverse
  14. themselves after a while to give him the
    slip and return themselves again to me.
    If thou do so too, then all shall be well,”
    sly Apollyon whispered most cunningly.
  15. “I have given him my faith,” Christian said,
    “Sworn allegiance to the King of the Gate;
    how then can I go back from this promise,
    and not be hanged for being apostate?”
  16. “Thou didst the same by me, and yet I am
    willing to pass by all, if thou return.”
    “What I promised thee was in my non-age:
    the banner I march ‘neath as I sojourn,
  17. is able to absolve me—to pardon
    what I did with thee in my compliance;
    and O thou, Destroyer, to speak the truth, He
    is good and I enjoy the reliance
  18. I have upon his service, his wages,
    his servants, his government, and his land;
    I choose my King, so leave off to persuade
    me farther: I submit to his right hand!”
  19. “Consider then, when thou art in cool blood,
    what thou art like to meet with in thy way;
    thou knowest that, for the most part, his men
    come to ill fate at the end of the day,
  20. because they are transgressors against me.
    How many of them have been put to shame!
    Besides, thou countest his service better;
    whereas this king of yours has never came
  21. from the place where he is to deliver
    any that served him, out of hands, depraved.
    But as for me, how many times, as all
    the world very well knows, has my hand saved
  22. thee, either by power or fraud, those that
    have pledged their hearts and put their faith in me?
    Time and time again, I have rescued men;
    and so shall I also deliver thee.”
  23. “The King’s forbearing at present is to
    deliver them; to prove their devotion,
    whether they will cleave to him to the end:
    as to these ‘ills’—that may be your notion,
  24. but the ill end thou sayest they come to,
    is, to them, a concession and a crown.
    For, for present deliv’rance, they do not
    much expect it; their spirits remain lown
  25. in the face of death as they await their
    glory; and they shall have it on that day;
    when their Prince of Peace comes down in glory—
    a sight that shall wipe all men’s tears away.”
  26. Apollyon answered, “Thou hast already
    in thy service to him been false-hearted;
    how dost thou think to receive reward, when
    a fool and his wages are soon parted?”
  27. Christian said, “Wherein, O Apollyon have
    I been unfaithful to my king, alas!”
    “Thou didst faint at first setting out when thou
    was’t almost drowned in Despond’s deep morass.
  28. Thou didst attempt wrong ways to be rid of
    thy burden for you failed to count the cost;
    you did not wait for your Prince, and thou didst
    sinfully sleep ‘till thy choice things were lost.
  29. Thou was’t desiring to go back at the
    sight of lions, fearing they might molest;
    and when thou talkest of thy journey, and
    what thou has seen and heard—I might have guessed—
  30. thou art within, guilty of vainglory
    in what thou does’t and what thou dost say.”
    “All this is true, and much more which thou hast
    left out; but the just Prince, to whom I pray,
  31. is ready to forgive for ‘twas in thy
    land that by these failings I was possessed;
    and under your spell when I sucked them in,
    groaned beneath them, and though I’ve been hard pressed;
  32. I have obtained the pardon of my Prince.”
    Then Apollyon broke out in wrath, raging,
    “I am an adversary to this Prince;
    and will win this war, at present, waging.”
  33. “Apollyon, take caution what you say, for
    I am now upon the king’s thoroughfare—
    the way of holiness; therefore, take heed
    to yourself, and for what you do, beware.”
  34. Then Apollyon straddled quite over the
    whole breadth of the way; and said, “Christian, I
    am void of fear in this paltry matter.
    Gird up thy soul—prepare thyself to die;
  35. for I swear by my infernal den, that
    thou shalt not pass; here I will spill thy soul.”
    And with that he shot a fiery dart at
    Christian’s heart in hopes it would reach its goal.
  36. But Christian had a shield in his hand, with
    which he caught it and averted the threat.
    Then did Christian draw, for he saw ‘twas time
    to bestir him; but Apollyon beset
  37. him on all sides, throwing darts thick as hail
    and Christian rallied to avoid attack;
    but was wounded in his head, hand, and foot,
    and this made Christian give a little back:
  38. Apollyon, then, followed his work amain,
    Christian took courage, hoping to prevail;
    mustered a war cry from his bowels as the
    breath of the blade blew hot against his mail.
  39. Sore combat ensued above half a day,
    even ‘til Christian was almost quite spent;
    for the pilgrim, by reason of bruises,
    must needs grow weaker from all the torment.
  40. Then Apollyon espying occasion,
    roared, gath’ring in close to the renegade,
    wrestling with him, gave him a dreadful fall;
    knocked him down and intercepted his blade.
  41. Apollyon said, “I am sure of thee now;
    with that, he had almost pressed him to death.
    Christian despaired of life, but Yehovah
    heard his voice and before his final breath,
  42. while Apollyon was fetching his last blow,
    thereby to make a full end of this man,
    Christian rapidly reached out for his sword
    and caught it, by sovereign grace, in his hand,
  43. saying, “Rejoice not against me, O mine
    enemy; when I fall, I shall arise;
    and with that, he gave him a deadly thrust,
    taking his adversary by surprise,
  44. Christian perceiving that, made him again,
    saying, “Victors? Nay, but in all these things
    his saints are much more than mere conquerors.”
    And with that, Apollyon spread forth his wings,
  45. sped away, and Christian saw him no more.
    In this combat, no man can even dream,
    unless he had seen and heard, as I did,
    when Apollyon let out that ghastly scream.
  46. He spake like a dragon; as for the man—
    what sighs and groans burst forth from Christian’s throat.
    I never saw him all the while give so
    much as one pleasant look, ‘til he had smote
  47. Apollyon with his two-edged sword; and then,
    indeed, he did smile, and looked toward the sky!
    It was the dreadfullest sight that ever
    I saw or shall see ‘til the day I die.
  48. When the battle was over, Christian said,
    “I will here give thanks to him for wringing
    me out of the mouth of the vile lion,”
    and thus, Christian went on his way singing:
  49. “Beelzebub, the captain of this fiend,
    designed my ruin; therefore, to this end;
    sent him harnessed out; and he, with all rage
    of hell, did fiercely upon me descend.
  50. But blessed Michael aided me, and I,
    by dint of sword, did quickly make him fly;
    therefore, to him, let me give lasting praise,
    thank and bless him and his name—glorify!”

 

Excerpt taken from The Weary Wayfarer: The Pilgrim’s Progress Retold in Rhyme by, Vicki Joy Anderson. Available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon.

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