Beowulf

Part VIII

Sections: XXXVI-XXXVIII

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


XXXVI:Lines:2602-2693:Beowulf Wounded

There was one Wiglaf, son of Weohstan,

A noble shield-man of the Scylfings.

A kinsman of Aelfhere. Seeing his lord

Scorched by heat under his war-mask,

He recalled honour done him before,

The fine holdings of the Waegmundings,

Each his by right, his father had owned.

He could not hold back, his hand seized

The lime-wood shield. He drew sword,

An ancient blade, Eanmund’s legacy,

Son of Ohthere. Weohstan, the exile,

Slew him, with sword-edge, in battle,

Brought, to the man’s kin, bright helm,

Ring-mail, giants’ blade; while Onela

Returned him his kinsman’s weapons,

Eanmund’s war-gear, desired no feud,

Though Eanmund was his brother’s son.

Weohstan held them for many a season,

Blade and ring-mail, till it was his son’s

Time to do noble deeds like his father’s.

Then he gave him war-gear, amongst

The Geats, a vast heap, and left this life,

Wise on his way. Then for the first time

Came onset of war, the young champion

There with his lord, to meet the challenge.

His courage stood firm, nor did the blade

Fail in the fight. This the worm found,

Now that they came together in conflict.

This Wiglaf – his heart being saddened –

Spoke many a fitting word to his friends:

‘I remember a time when we drank mead,

Making a promise there in the mead-hall,

To our lord, to the Ring-Giver, that we

Would repay him his gift of war-gear,

If ever the time of need came upon him,

With sword and helm. He singled us out

From the army himself, for this venture,

Thought us worthy, and gave these gifts,

Because he thought us spearmen of note,

Brave helm-bearers, though our leader,

The Ward of the Folk, wished to perform

This act alone for us, being the warrior

Who has most won glory, carried through

The bravest of deeds. Now the day comes

When our leader has need of the strength

Of fine fighting-men. Let us go to the aid

Of our battle-king, through the hot flame,

And the fire-dread. As God is my witness

I’d rather my body was shrouded in fire

Along with my Gold-Giver’s: it cannot

Be right for us to bear shields back home,

And not fell the foe, or defend the life,

Of the King of the Wederas. And I know,

Given his deeds of old, that of all us Geats

He alone does not deserve to suffer pain,

Or fall in combat. He and I shall share

Sword and helm, ring-mail and war-coat.’

Then, wading through the battle-fumes,

He went to his lord’s aid; saying simply:

‘Dear Beowulf, go on, carry this through,

As, when young, you claimed you would,

While you lived, saying you would never

Let glory fade. Defend yourself bravely,

Strong in mind, and with all your might,

Act boldly now, and I shall stand by you.’

After these words, the wrathful worm came,

The cruel dread guest, for a second time,

With a flood of fire, to seek his enemies,

The humans it hated. A wave of flames

Charred his shield to the boss, chain-mail

Scarcely protected the young spearman,

Yet he charged bravely, behind the shield

Of his kinsman, after his own was burnt.

Then the war-king gathered his strength,

And struck a mighty blow with his blade,

Drove it with all his power, to lodge there

In the serpent’s skull. Beowulf’s sword,

Naegling, ancient and steel-grey, shattered.

Its edge had failed. Nor was it given him,

To be aided in battle, by a blade of iron.

So strong was his arm, or so I have heard:

However hardened and blooded the sword,

He wielded in battle, his blow destroyed it.

Then the fire-drake, the scourge of the folk,

Full of enmity, hot and battle-mad, attacked

For a third time, as the hero gave ground,

Gripping Beowulf’s neck in its sharp fangs.

He was drenched in blood, a wave of gore.

XXXVII:Lines:2694-2751:The Request

Then I hear that, seeing the king’s need,

Wiglaf, at his side, proved bold, strong,

And skilful, and showed his true quality.

He avoided the fangs, though his hand

Was burned, and using his strength well,

The warrior in war-gear, struck lower,

So that his rich sword, inlaid with gold,

Sank into the dragon, and the flames

Grew weaker. Then Beowulf the king

Gathered his wits, and drew the dagger,

Bitter, battle-sharp, he wore at his side;

The Helm of the Wederas cut the worm

Deeply. For each of them was, as a man

Should be, a thane in need; together they

Felled the foe, courage quenched its life,

But that was the king’s last glorious deed,

In this world. The wound the earth-drake

Had dealt him, now sweltered and swelled,

Beowulf soon knew that baleful venom,

That poison within, welled in his breast.

Full of sober thoughts, that noble man

Sat himself down in a place by the wall,

Saw the giants’ work, the barrow-mound,

Held fast by stone arches, on pillars, inside.

Then the best of thanes laved the wound,

With his own hands, cleansed the blood

From his lord and friend, his great leader,

Wearied by conflict, unloosing his helm.

Beowulf spoke then, scorning his injury,

The battle-black wound – knowing now

That he had done with his length of days,

Joy on this earth was gone, all was over,

His span of time, and that death was near –

‘Now I would wish to have given my son

My war-gear, had I been granted an heir,

To live after me. I have ruled the people

For fifty winters. No neighbouring king,

Not one, dared to face me with an army,

Threatening terror. I awaited my destiny

On earth, ruled my own kingdom well,

Sought out no quarrels, swore no oaths

In unjust causes. Though doomed now

By mortal injury, I can rejoice at it all,

Since the Ruler of Mankind has no need

To reproach me with the murder of kin,

When life leaves me. Now go swiftly,

Dear Wiglaf, now the worm lies there,

Dormant, sorely wounded, deprived

Of its treasure; be in haste, so that I

Glimpse the gold hoard, ancient riches,

Gleaming cut gems, so I more readily

With wealth around me, might leave

This life and the land I’ve long ruled.’

XXXVIII:Lines:2752-2820:Last Words

Then, so I heard, the son of Weohstan,

After listening to the battle-torn one,

His wounded lord, at that command,

Swiftly went down, in his battle-gear,

His ring-mail, under the barrow’s roof.

Once he had passed the seat, victorious,

The brave warrior saw a heap of gems,

In the worm’s den, that flier by twilight’s,

He saw gold glittering over the ground,

Wonders on walls, stands of goblets,

Made by men of old, bereft of ornament,

Dull with neglect, with piles of helmets,

Old and rusted, with a host of arm-rings,

Cunningly clasped – how readily treasure,

Gold in the ground, may escape from

Any man’s hold, however well hidden –

Also a standard, all of gold, hanging there,

High over the hoard, a most marvellous

Hand-wrought masterwork, shedding light,

So he could see that wealth on the ground,

Examine the treasures. There was no sign

Of the worm. The blade had finished him.

Then the warrior, alone, as I have heard,

Plundered the hoard, all the giants’-work,

Filled his arms with the flagons and plate,

As he wished, and took the standard too,

The bright banner, for the old king’s blade

– With its edge of iron – had already ended

The one-time guardian of the treasure-vault,

The dragon that waged terror by fire; welled

Forth, of a midnight; till in violence he died.

Wiglaf was in haste, now, keen to return,

Spurred on by riches, anxiety weighed on

The brave warrior: would he find him alive,

The King of the Wederas, all strength lost,

In the place where he had left him earlier?

Bearing the treasure to his great chieftain,

He found his lord bleeding, his life ending.

He began to lave him with water once more,

Until a word’s blade-tip broke through the

Breast-hoard, as the old man saw gold.

‘To the Master of All, to the King of Glory,

To the Eternal Lord, I give words of thanks,

For all the treasures that I see before me,

And that I was able to gain such wealth

For the folk, before death could take me.

I have paid with my life for this hoard,

Now you must look to the nation’s needs;

I can hold on no longer. Tell those men

Famous in war, to build me a bright mound

On a cape by the sea’s edge, after the fire.

It will tower high, on the whales’ headland,

And serve there to remind my people of me,

So that those on the sea will call it by name,

Beowulf’s Barrow, as they steer their ships

Through ocean mist, when they voyage afar.’

Then the valiant warrior took from his neck

The golden torque, and gave it to the thane,

Telling the young spearman, to use it well,

And the shirt of mail, and his gilded helm.

‘You are the last of us, last of all our race,

The Waegmundings. Fate has swept away

All my kin, sent the earls in their strength,

To their destined end; I must follow them.’

That was the old king’s final word, of all

Those in his breast, before the funeral fire,

The pyre’s hot seething. Though his soul,

Yet went seeking the true, steadfast power.