On Wiglaf’s Rushing Back [ll.2783-2793] (Old English)

Abstract
Translation
Recordings
Loyal Wiglaf
As Beowulf Lay Bleeding
Closing

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Abstract

Wiglaf remains nameless, as he rushes back to show Beowulf the gold from the hoard.

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Translation

“The messenger was in haste, eager in the journey back
By precious things he was urged on; anxiety oppressed him,
whether he would meet bold in spirit and alive
in that place the prince of the Weders,
deprived of strength, where he had earlier left him.
He then with the treasure the renowned prince,
his lord bleeding, found,
his life at an end; he then again began the
sprinkling of water, until the beginning of words
broke through his heart. The warrior king spoke,
old in sorrow – looked at the gold:”
(Beowulf ll.2783-2793)

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Recordings

Old English:

Modern English:

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Loyal Wiglaf

There’s a lot about loyalty in this passage. Wiglaf’s rushing back with gold in tow to show Beowulf, as per his final request, really highlights it.

In fact, that’s really all we’re treated to here, which is quite remarkable given all of the information we’ve been given in previous passages of the same length. When Wiglaf is in the hoard, the treasure is described and listed, when he and Beowulf are fighting the dragon, almost every lines shows us their manoeuvre or the dragon’s. But here, we just have Wiglaf rushing to show Beowulf the treasure.

It’s quite a distinct split from what’s come before. But it’s also a great way to signal that the big shift from being primarily about Beowulf to being about his death and the future of the Geats is finally about to come.

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As Beowulf Lay Bleeding

One word in particular stands out, though. When Wiglaf returns to Beowulf we’re immediately told that he’s found bleeding (“driorigne” l.2789). To note this with this word in particular is strange, since it suggests that before he left for the hoard Beowulf’s wound had somehow stopped bleeding, been stopped bleeding, or Wiglaf expected it to stop before he got back.

Regardless of what the case may be with the wound itself, that we’re given this detail really drives home the fact that this is it for Beowulf. Just as he is found bleeding his very life away, so too will the words that he next speaks be his last, as he releases the last of those two – effectively closing the word hoard.

Curiously, I imagine that his body will continue to bleed beyond his actual time of death, which, though maybe not apparent to a listening audience, acknowledges an idea that words are themselves a kind of adornment for life, something that can be woven and worn over something more plain like a brooch binding the collar of a simple cloak.

At the same time, Beowulf doesn’t mention anything about grand words that he’s spoken in the past when he tells Wiglaf that he has joy in his wound, but rather the hero says this because he has done nothing to incriminate himself. Perhaps then, even a listening audience would notice the warp and woof of the scop’s words as he sang the song of Beowulf.

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Closing

Next week, Old English will return, but the return of Latin is still uncertain.

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