Beowulf

Part IX

Sections: XXXIX-XLIII

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


XXXIX:Lines:2821-2891:The Rebuke

Then it went hard with the young man,

Seeing the one he loved most dearly

Lying there, at life’s end, in suffering.

The dreaded earth-drake, the dragon,

His killer, also lay there bereft of life,

Baleful, beaten-down. The worm coiled

In wickedness, no longer had mastery

Of the ring-hoard. The hard, hammered,

Battle-notched, iron blade finished him.

That wide-flying one, stilled by wounds,

Fell to earth, beside the treasure-hoard.

No longer would he weave through the air,

In the depth of night, displaying himself,

Proud of his riches; he had fallen to earth,

Through that battle-warrior’s handiwork.

Indeed there were few men in this world,

So I have heard, with the strength to win,

However daring they were in their deeds,

Against that scourge’s venomous breath,

Or had the courage to touch the hoard,

If they found its guardian alive, on watch

In its barrow. Beowulf’s share of treasure

Was bought with death. Each had reached

The end of his lease of life. Before long,

Those who had shirked the fight, cowards

And oath-breakers, left the wood; ten men

Who had failed to make use of their spears

In the hour of their lord’s greatest need,

Now, ashamed, bearing armour and shield,

Made their way to where the old man lay.

They gazed at Wiglaf, sitting there, weary,

The warrior there at his master’s shoulder,

Trying to rouse him with water, to no avail.

There was no way on earth, he could save

His leader’s life, though that was his wish,

Or deflect the Almighty’s will in the least.

The judgement of God must rule the deeds

Of every man living, as it does to this day.

Then every man who had lacked courage,

Had a ready rebuke from that young thane.

Thus Wiglaf, the son of Weohstan, spoke,

Sore-hearted, viewing them without love:

‘He who speaks the truth, must say indeed,

That your liege-lord, who gave you treasure,

And that very war-gear you stand in there –

When to those in the hall, on the ale-benches

He would give helmets, and shirts of mail,

The best he could find, whether far or near,

A prince to his thanes – must confess indeed

He has, sadly, thrown those weapons away.

When fighting befell the king, his comrades

Were nothing to boast of. Yet God who gives

Victory, allowed his own blade to avenge him,

When courage was needed, in this last battle.

I could do little to protect my kinsman, yet I

Found a measure of strength for the fight.

As I struck with my sword at that deadly

Creature, it grew ever weaker, fire surged

Less strongly out of its jaws. Yet too few

Rallied around our king, in his distress.

Now the delights of receiving treasure,

All the gifts of fine blades, are ended

For you and your kin. And every man

Of your clan must lose his land-rights,

Once princes afar learn of your flight,

You, dead to all glory. Death is better,

For every man, than a life full of shame.’

XL:Lines:2892-2946:War Anticipated

Then he ordered the outcome of the fight

To be reported, up on the cliff-edge, there

Where the shield-bearers, the warrior band,

Had sat all morning long, sad in spirits,

Wondering which of the two would happen,

The return of the man they loved, or the end

Of his days. He who rode to the headland

Held back little, as he told them his news:

‘Now the Wish-Granter of the Wederas,

The Lord of the Geats, lies on his deathbed,

Brought to his rest, by the dragon’s deed,

Beside him that bane of his life, slashed

With knife wounds. Beowulf could not

Wound that dreadful creature in any way

With his sword. Wiglaf, Weohstan’s son,

Sits by his side, the living watching over

The dead, weary in mind, keeping a vigil

Over the loved and loathed. Now expect

War, when the fall of the king is widely,

Freely, known to the Franks and Frisians,

A hard battle was fought with the Hugas,

When Hygelac fared with a fleet towards

Frisian land, where the Hetware attacked,

And despite his courage, the mailed king

Had to bow down to their greater strength.

He fell with his followers; that lord brought

His companions no spoils. And his favour

The Merovingian king ever after withheld.

Nor look for peace or pact with the Swede,

Not a whit: at Ravenswood, Ongentheow,

Took the life of Haethcyn, Hrethel’s son,

When in their arrogance the Geatish people,

Sought out the War-Scylfings, and in a trice,

Ohthere’s wise old father, old but fearsome,

Took a hand, returned the onslaught in kind;

Killed the wise sea-king and saved his wife,

A wizened old woman, bereft of her gold,

The mother of Onela, and Ohthere himself.

Then he drove them, leaderless, his foes,

Till they barely escaped into Ravenswood;

Then surrounded that wound-weary rump,

Threatening woe to them, all the night long.

Said he would show them the sword-edge,

At dawn, dangle them on the gallows-tree,

As food for the birds. But, at daybreak, help

Came to raise their sad spirits, they heard

Hygelac’s horn and trumpet, his battle-call,

As the good man arrived, forging his way

Through, with a host of veteran warriors.’

XLI:Lines:2947-3057:The Warning

‘The swathes of blood, the rush to slaughter

Of Swede and Geat were everywhere seen;

How those folk woke a feud between them.

Then the wise old king, with his kinsmen,

Ongentheow, retreated to seek a stronghold,

On higher ground. He had heard of Hygelac,

His battle-skills, of a proud man’s war-craft.

He dared not trust his own powers of defence,

To save the hoard from the men from the sea,

The women and children from those warriors.

An old man he fell back behind an earth-wall.

Hygelac pursued the Swedish folk, his banners

Poured through them, overrunning their refuge,

As Hrethelings pushed forward into the camp.

Then the grey-haired Ongentheow was circled

By sword-blades, and the king was compelled

To submit to Eofor’s justice alone; in anger,

Eofor’s brother, Wulf, son of Wonred, struck

With his weapon, and blood ran in streams

From the old man’s hair, though the Scylfing,

Old as he was, showed no fear, and repaid

That war-stroke with a more deadly reply;

An aged king of his nation, turning at bay.

Then Wulf, that brave son of Wonred,

Failed to lay a hand on the old fellow;

Rather Ongentheow sheared the helm

From his head; blood-wet he bowed;

And fell on the field. Yet his fate held;

Though badly wounded, he yet recovered.

Then Eofor, Hygelac’s steadfast thane,

When his brother was downed, flung

His broad-sword, an ancient ogre’s blade,

At the king’s solid helm, over his shield.

The people’s shepherd bowed his head,

The king of his nation dropped to the earth.

Then many a man ran to bind Wulf’s wound,

And raise him, now they had room to move,

And had mastery of that place of slaughter.

Then the one warrior plundered the other,

Stripping Ongentheow of his iron mail-coat,

His hard-edged hilted sword, and his helm,

Carrying the old man’s armour to Hygelac,

Who accepted the spoils, and pledged fairly,

To share the rewards, and promptly did so:

The Lord of the Geats, Hrethel’s heir, paid

Eofor and Wulf for that war, granting both

Wealth and treasure, a hundred thousand

In land and linked rings – no one, no man

In middle-earth, scorns the spoils of action –

And then he gave Eofor his only daughter,

To honour his house, pledging friendship.

That is the source of the hostility, hatred,

Feuding, slaughter, for which, to our woe,

The Swedes are bound to seek vengeance,

When they learn that our Beowulf is dead,

Who, when heroes fell, brave shield-men,

Defended the land and hoard from its foes.

He cared for the folk, and furthermore did

Noble deeds. Haste seems best to me, now;

We should look on the king of our people,

And bear the giver of rings to the final fire.

No little amount of gold must melt, along

With that great heart, for there is countless

Wealth in the hoard, and bitterly purchased,

And this heap of rings paid for with his life:

This the flames shall take, the fire enfold.

No man will wear one of these, in memory,

No fine woman fasten one round her neck,

But sad of heart, and stripped of gold, tread

Oft and again in alien land, now the leader

Of men has laid aside laughter, life and joy.

Many a dawn-cold spear must be grasped,

Hefted on high; it will not be the harp that

Wakens the warriors, but the black raven

To feast on the fallen, full of his tidings,

Crying to the eagle, how well he has fed,

When he, with the wolf, worries the dead.’

Such was the harsh news that brave man

Brought to them: little was astray in those

Words of ill-omen. The whole troop arose,

And went down under the eagle’s headland,

Their tears welling, to gaze at its wonders.

He who gave rings to them in former days,

They found on the sand, his soul departed,

A ruler at rest. There a good man had made

An ending; there Beowulf, their battle-king,

Lord of the Wederas, lay wondrous in death.

But first they gazed at the stranger creature,

Lying opposite, that loathsome worm dead

There on the ground, a grim gruesome guest,

Was the fire-drake, burnt by its own flames.

He was fifty feet long; how joyously, he ruled

The air in the dark of night, then dived down

To seek his den. Now, fast in death, he enjoyed

The end of all his deep windings underground.

Beside him stood the goblets and beakers,

The plate, and precious swords, rust-eaten,

As if from a thousand winters underground.

That legacy hidden there by the men of old,

Lay under the most powerful of curses –

That no man at all might enter the ring-hall,

Unless God himself – mankind’s Keeper –

True King of Victories, wished to unlock

That hoard to him, and saw fit to do so.

XLII:Lines:3058-3136:The Golden Bier

Thus it was seen that no gain was bought

By the one who had wrongly hidden riches

Under the wall. Its guardian killed a man

Among men, who in fury took vengeance,

To settle a conflict. But none can know

Where a brave man is fated to end his life,

And no longer make one among his kin,

Or dwell in the mead-hall. And so it was

With Beowulf, when that barrow-guard

Sought a treacherous quarrel; nor did he

Guess that would bring about his death.

The great princes who buried the hoard,

Forcefully declared that a man would be

Guilty of wrong who removed a portion,

Shamed for his sin, exiled from all sacred

Places, held fast there in the bonds of hell.

Yet Beowulf, that gracious lord, had never

At any time shown himself greedy for gold.

Then Wiglaf, the son of Weohstan, spoke:

Often many men must endure suffering,

Through the will of one, as we must do.

No counsel of ours could convince him,

Our beloved prince, Ward of the Kingdom,

Not to go seeking out the gold’s guardian,

But to let him lie, where he long had been,

Deep in his den, till the world’s ending.

He held to high destiny. The hoard, bared,

Was grimly gained. Too harsh the doom

That drove him on. I have looked inside,

I have seen all the treasures of that hall,

Once the way was clear, for no sweet

Welcome awaited me when I went down

Under the earth-wall. I swiftly seized

A heap of the hoard-wealth in my hands,

A weighty burden, and brought it here

For my king to see. He was still alive then,

Awake and aware, and stern in his grief.

He spoke of many things, told me to greet

You all; bid you build, to recall his deeds,

A tall barrow, in the place of his burning,

Grand and glorious, for he was a warrior,

Honoured of men, throughout wide earth,

While he still enjoyed this rich kingdom.

Let us go quickly, to see and seek again,

That wonder of treasure under the wall;

I’ll be your guide; close enough to reveal,

Rings and gold bars. Let a bier be readied,

For when we emerge, prepare it swiftly,

To bear our lord, this man we have loved,

To where he’ll lie long in the Ruler’s care.’

Then Weohstan’s son, bravest of warriors,

Commanded the army, and many another

Lord of the folk, to fetch wood from afar,

For a good man’s pyre. ‘Now must the fire,

Dark flame rising, devour our prince of war,

He who often withstood the shower of iron,

When a hail of arrows, shot from the bow,

Over the shield-wall, shafts holding true,

Fledged with feathers, followed the barb.’

And moreover, that wise son of Weohstan,

Called seven of the king’s thanes together,

Choosing the best of them, and descended,

First among eight, under that cursed roof.

The warrior bearing a brand from the fire,

Went leading the way. No casting of lots

Was needed to share out the hoard, for all

Lay undefended, scattered about the hall,

Open to the eye; there was little complaint

About hurrying to lift the precious things,

And carry them out. The dragon went too,

The worm, over the cliff-wall into the wave,

The enfolding flood sank the ring-keeper.

The richly-wound gold, in countless forms,

Loaded the wagon that carried their prince,

Grey-haired leader, to the whale’s headland.

XLIII:Lines:3137-3182:The Funeral

Then the Geat people prepared a pyre,

Piled high on the ground, unstintingly;

Hung it with helmets, and battle-shields,

And shining mail, as he had commanded.

The sorrowful warriors laid the great king,

The lord they had loved, there in the midst.

Then they kindled the tallest of bale-fires,

There on the height. Clouds of smoke rose,

Dark over burning; the roar of the flames

Merged with their weeping – wind died –

Hot at heart, the bone-house was broken,

In deep despair they moaned with grief,

For the death of their lord. Then one woman,

With close-bound hair, wove the death-dirge,

Sang, in her sorrow, the fate she envisioned,

Her mortal dread of the pain that waited,

A reign of terror and unending slaughter,

Rape and slavery. Heaven swallowed

The smoke. Then the Wederas built,

High on the headland, a massive barrow,

To be seen, from far off, by sea-voyagers,

They took ten days to heap up that beacon,

Encircling what the fire left with a wall,

In the worthiest way the wise can devise.

They buried rings and gems in the barrow,

All of those trappings that enemy warriors

Had been wont to pillage from the hoard.

They gave to earth the heroes’ treasure,

Gold under gravel, where it lies still,

And as useless, now, to mankind as ever.

Then round the barrow rode the brave men,

The sons of chieftains, twelve warriors in all,

Bemoaning their sorrows, mourning their king,

Chanting the dirge, and praising the man.

They extolled his exploits, a hero’s efforts,

Gloried in his greatness. Such things are good,

That men honour in words a lord and friend,

Cherish him in spirit, when the time comes

That he must be let from the house of his flesh.

So the Geats mourned, his hearth companions,

The death of their lord who fell in the fight.

They said he was, among kings of this world,

The most gracious of men, the most generous,

The kindest to kin, the most keen to win honour.