Beowulf

Part VII

Sections: XXXII-XXXV

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.


Contents


XXXII:Lines:2221-2311:The Dragon Wakes

He who had sorely injured the dragon,

Had no intent to steal from the hoard.

In dire distress that thief, of unknown

Parents, that guest who’d gained entry,

Haunted by a crime, swiftly detected,

Fled hostile blows, in need of shelter.

There, a dread terror gripped the guest,

There, the sinner stood in deadly peril.

He’d sought gold. In the earthen vault,

There was many an ancient treasure,

For some great man in former times,

Had chosen to hide that vast hoard,

The dear heirlooms of a noble race.

Death took them all, in days gone by,

Till the only warrior left of that people,

The last of his line, mourning his friends,

Hoped to delay and cherish the treasure

A little while longer. Already the barrow

Overlooked the shore, on the headland

Above the waves, made certain by craft.

There, of the earls’ treasure, he placed

A hoard of rings, a hand-wrought heap

Of plated gold, then spoke these words:

‘Now, Earth, hold these lordly treasures

That men could not. Good men once

Tore all this from you. War has taken

My dear people. One by one, they fell,

To its fearful frenzy, and left me this.

They saw joy in the halls: now is none

To wield the sword, polish the flagon,

The precious cup: the heroes are gone.

The hard helm, with its hasps of gold,

Its finery must fade; the armourers sleep,

With the war-masks they would burnish,

And the battle-shirt that endured the bite

Of the iron blade, when shields shattered,

Decays with the dead. Nor will ring-mail

Wander widely on warriors’ shoulders,

Among the heroes. No joy from the harp,

Its quivering frame; no fierce-flying hawk

To soar in the hall; no fleet-footed horses

To trample the yard. Baleful death sent forth

Out of this life, a vast host of my kinsmen.’

Thus saddened in mind, sighing with grief,

The last of all, he wandered sorrowing

Day and night, till the tide of death

Reached his heart. Then a naked dragon,

A twilight-scourer, the burning malice

Who seeks out barrows, flying by night,

Wreathed in fire, found hoard-joy, stone

Standing open. Men on this earth fear

Him greatly. He seeks evil underground,

There winter-wise he guards heathen gold,

To no end. For three centuries this scourge

Kept vigil in earth over the strongly-built

Hoard-hall, until the thief, in his pride,

Roused him. He had run to his liege lord,

With that golden cup, begged for truce,

Sought peace. So the wretch’s boon

Was granted: the hoard was robbed,

The ring-hoard taken: his lord gazed

For the first time on its ancient artistry.

When the worm woke, conflict followed.

The hard-hearted one slunk over the stone,

Found the prints where his foe had stepped,

In stealth, far too near the dragon’s head:

So a man, not yet doomed by fate, graced

By the Lord, may well escape ill and woe.

The guard of the hoard had sought for him,

Scouring the ground, desiring that man

Who had harmed him sorely while he slept.

Hot and wrathful, he went circling all round

The mound outside – there was no man there,

But he took delight in thoughts of conflict,

And battle-work – then in again he’d creep

To seek the cup, only to find once more

Signs that someone had found his treasure,

Stolen his gold. The guard of the hoard

Fumed with impatience, till evening came.

Then the barrow-keeper vented his rage,

He desired to avenge the loss of his dear

Treasure with fire. The day was done,

To the worm’s delight. Unable to wait

Behind that wall, he set out with bale-fire,

Infused with flame. The terror began

With the folk of that land, but soon

With their Ring-Giver it sorely ended.

XXXIII:Lines:2312-2390:Beowulf’s Kingship

Then the creature began to spew flame,

And burn bright houses, to men’s horror;

Fires glowed. Nor did those evil flights

Through the heavens, leave any alive.

The worm’s power was widely seen,

Near and far, how that night-malice,

How that scourge of the dark, hated

And humbled the Geats. Then back

To his hoard he shot, before sunrise,

To his hidden hall. The land blazed,

The folk suffered, in fire and flame.

He trusted the walls of his barrow,

His war-craft, but he was deceived.

Swiftly, Beowulf heard of the threat,

That his home, that finest of houses,

The Geats’ throne-hall had perished.

Such was grief to him, mind-sorrow.

He felt he must have deeply angered

The Lord, the Eternal Ruler, broken

The law of old. Gloomy thoughts

Welled within him, unlike himself.

The fire-drake had burnt the fortress

To the ground, the folk’s stronghold,

By the shore. For that the war-king,

Lord of the Wederas, sought revenge.

That first of earls ordered a defence,

A warrior’s shield made, all of iron,

Wondrously wrought, knowing that

Lime-wood was no help, no timber

Proof against flame. Great and good,

The noble hero had reached the end

Of life in this world, and the dragon

Too, for all his long hold on the hoard.

Yet the Ring-Lord scorned to attack

The wide-flying worm with an army.

For himself he had no fear of the fight,

Scant regard for the dragon’s fire, nor

Its courage or power, for he’d endured

Many a near-run battle, many another

Hostile clash, since, ever the victor,

He had cleansed Hrothgar’s great hall

And overwhelmed Grendel’s tribe,

That hateful race. Not least was that

Hand-to-hand struggle, when Hygelac,

The King of the Geats, Hrethel’s heir,

Friend of the Folk, fell in Friesland,

In the heat of battle, beaten down

By blood-soaked blades. Beowulf

Returned on his own, from the sea,

Bearing thirty men’s battle-gear

In his arms, as he crossed the ocean.

The Hetware had no reason to cheer

The fight on that field, who carried

Their lime-wood shields against him.

Few returned to their homes again.

Ecgtheow’s son crossed the waters,

Sad and alone, to reach his people.

Hygd offered him hoard and kingdom,

Rings and ring-throne, not trusting

In her son’s power to hold the land,

Against all others, and Hygelac dead.

Yet in their misery, they could not

Persuade the noble Beowulf to act

In any way as lord over Heardred,

Nor did he wish to hold kingship.

Yet graciously and with honour,

He gave the prince friendly counsel,

Until he was ready to rule the folk,

As king of the Weder-Geats. Exiles

Arrived then, from over the sea,

The sons of Ohthere; they’d rebelled

Against Onela, the finest of sea-kings,

Helm of the Scylfings, famous leader,

He who dispensed treasure in Sweden.

That spelt doom for Hygelac’s son,

For helping them he had mortal wound,

A swing of the sword for hospitality,

While Onela, son of Ongentheow,

After Heardred’s death, went home,

Leaving Beowulf to hold the throne,

Rule the Geats. He was a good king.

XXXIV:Lines:2391-2459:The Lament

In after days, he achieved revenge

For his prince’s death; to Eadgils

Son of Ohthere, he stood friend,

Sending help over the wide sea,

Warriors and weapons; fought

A cold campaign; killed Onela.

Thus this son of Ecgtheow survived

Every battle, each deadly conflict,

Doing brave deeds, until that day,

When he was forced to face the dragon.

Filled with anger, as one of twelve,

The Lord of the Geats sought the worm.

By now he knew the source of the feud,

This hatred for man; for to his hand

From the thief, came the precious cup;

He was the thirteenth in that company,

The one who had caused this strife,

Their sad captive, whom they forced

To show the way, lead them to the place,

Against his will, to the earth-hall he knew,

The underground barrow by the sea-surge,

The wave-wash; that was filled inside

With gems and gold-work, its vile guard

Eager for battle, keeper of gold, of old

Under the earth. It would not be easy

For any man to strike a bargain there.

The battle-hardened king, Gold-Friend

To the Geats, sat down, on the cliff-top,

And wished his companions good luck.

His heart was sad. The fate loomed, all

Too near, an old king, restless yet ready,

About to depart, life from limb, must meet,

To go seeking his soul’s reward; not long,

Would his spirit be twined with the flesh.

Thus Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

‘I survived many a battle when young,

In times of war, I remember them all.

I was seven winters old when Hrethel,

Lord of the Hoard, Friend of the Folk,

Took me from father, to have and hold.

Was kinsman to me, feast and wealth.

I was no less in standing, no less a man

To him in that house, than his own sons,

Herebeald, Haethcyn, and my Hygelac.

An unfitting death-bed the eldest found,

When Haethcyn, his brother and friend,

Loosed an arrow from horn-tipped bow,

Missed the mark, and shot his kinsman;

Brother killed brother, with bloody bolt.

The deed irreparable; a grievous wrong,

Wearying the heart; and yet never a way

To find requital for that parting from life.

Such is the tragedy when some old man

Sees his young son swing on the gallows,

Food for the ravens; his age and wisdom

Provide him nothing, nor bring comfort.

Ever reminded, on waking each morning,

His son is elsewhere, he lacks all interest

In living on, or awaiting some other, born

Heir to his all, when the son he once had,

Driven by his deeds, has found out death.

He gazes, grieving, at where his son lived,

Ruined hallways, wind-blown wastelands,

Bereft of joy. The horsemen are sleeping,

The heroes are hidden, under the ground,

No harps sound, no joy in the courtyards,

As once there was. He sings the lament.

XXXV:Lines:2460-2601:The Fight

Then takes to his bed, the last of his line.

The fields and the homestead seem all too

Empty. And thus, with Herebeald’s death,

The King, Helm of the Wederas, suffered;

Heart’s sorrow welling. And no payment,

Not a whit, could he exact from the slayer,

Nor show, though he held him in hatred,

His lack of love, by hostility against him.

Filled with sorrow, that fell on him sorely,

He turned from joy, choosing God’s light,

A man of great wealth, he left to his heirs,

Land and stronghold, and departed this life.

Then, over the wide water, Swede and Geat

Wrought their quarrel, suffering and strife;

Hard-fighting then, after Hrethel was slain,

When Ongentheow’s heirs waged warfare,

In fury. They had no wish for friendship,

Over the sea, but around Hreasnabeorn,

The Ruined Hill, they carried out raids,

With dread malice, campaigned savagely,

Fire and feud, avenged by my own kin;

There, one of the kings paid with his life,

A harsh exchange; it was Haethcyn, then,

Lords of the Geats, who fell in that battle.

Yet Hygelac’s swordsmen took vengeance

At dawn, with bright blades against slayer.

There Ongentheow was attacked by Eofor,

His war-helm cloven, the aged Scylfing,

Fell, battle-pale; though his hand recalled

Many a feud, it foiled not the death-blow.

I repaid Hygelac the treasures he gave me;

In war, with the sword, I earned what was

Granted me: he gave me land, gave me joy

Of this earth, a country. He had no need

For some lesser warrior, eager for warfare,

From among the Gifthas, or Spear-Danes,

Or some Swede that his wealth might buy.

First in the ranks, I would always demand

To march before him, and so shall I always

Seek to in battle, while this sword endures

Which has ever served me, early and late,

Since I slew Daeghrefn, before the army,

The Hugas’ champion, in mortal combat.

Noble and brave was that standard-bearer,

But he brought no precious adornments

To his Frisian king, no breastplate of mine;

He fell with his company; not by the blade,

By my battle-grip; I broke the bone-house

Of his heart-beat. Now shall blade’s edge,

Hand and hard-sword fight for the hoard.’

Then Beowulf spoke the words of a vow,

For the final time. ‘I risked many a conflict

When I was young. Now old, as folk-ward,

I yet wish to seek vengeance, earn renown,

If that evil-doer leaves his vault to seek me.’

Then saluted each man, dear companions,

Those bold helm-bearers, for one last time.

Saying to them: ‘I would bear no sword,

If I could, no weapon against the worm,

That foul creature, if I knew how else to

Grapple for glory, as I did with Grendel.

But here is the heat of the furious flame,

Harsh and venomous, so I bear with me,

Mail-shirt and shield. From barrow-ward

I’ll fall back not a foot. What at the wall

Must come to pass, is as Fate determines,

And the Maker wishes. I’m man enough

To waste words no more on this war-fly.

Bide here on the barrow, men in armour,

Warriors in war-gear, and see which of us

Better endures his wounds in the warfare,

Which of the two. This is not your fight,

Nor in any man’s power, but mine alone.’

He knew he must measure his strength

With the creature, so prove his worth.

‘I shall gain the gold by my bravery,

Or the battle will carry off your lord,

Some deadly wound dealt by this terror.’

The brave warrior rose with his shield,

Harsh under helm, wearing his mail-shirt,

Went under the walls of stone, trusting

In his strength alone; no coward’s way.

Then he who had lived through many

Great conflicts, many a clash of giants,

Many a combat, saw, by the wall there,

Fast by the stone-arch, a stream surge,

Burst from the barrow, a brook’s flow,

But hot with dread fire. No way to near

The hoard unburned, or endure the deep

For any while, with the dragon’s flames.

Then the lord of the Weder-Geats gave

A cry from the heart, in his frustration.

The staunch man roared. His voice rang,

High and battle-clear, under hoar stone.

Hatred roused. The hoard-guard heard

That human voice. No time remained

To sue for peace. First the creature’s

Flame breathed from beneath the stone,

Hot battle-fumes, and the earth rumbled.

Beneath the barrow, he swung his shield,

The lord of the Geats, at the grim guest.

Then that ring-coiled one’s heart began

To seek out strife; as the good war-king,

Drew his sword, that ancient heirloom,

Its edges flawed. Each of the combatants

Stood in awe of the other. Strong in spirit

The Friend of His People, with tall shield,

While the serpent coiled, moving swiftly.

He waited in his war-gear; while burning,

Slithering, the dragon looped and writhed,

Hastening its end. The great leader’s shield

Defended life and limb far less time than he

Hoped, wielding it when, for the first time,

Fate denied glory in battle. The Geats’ lord

Raised his hand and struck the ghastly skin,

With his ancient blade, so the bright edge bit,

But weakly, on bone, biting less fiercely

Than the king of the nation, had need of,

In his distress. After that swing of the sword,

The barrow-ward writhed in its great wrath,

Spewing wild-fire, widespread battle-flame.

The Gold-Friend of the Geats claimed not

The victory; his war-blade, that fine steel,

Naked in conflict, failed as it should not.

For the famed son of Ecgtheow, it was no

Easy thing to give up this world, hard now,

Unwillingly, to inhabit a home elsewhere.

As must every man let go his lease on life.

Before long the fierce foes met once again,

The hoard-ward took heart. Breath swelled

Its breast once more. He, who once ruled,

Suffering intensely, was furled in flame.

No band of hand-picked men, nobles all,

The valiant in battle, gathered round him.

To save their lives they slunk to the forest.

Yet sorrow welled in the heart of one there,

For kinship is all, in a man of right thought.