Wiglaf Rises, Beowulf Poisoned, Dragon Dies: Book XXXVI – Book XXXVIII

Beowulf and Wiglaf, each a hero, after the fierce fight against the dragon.

Wiglaf and Beowulf at the end of the fierce fight with the dragon. Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_beowulf_wiglaf_and_beowulf.jpg.

XXXVI

Wiglaf was his name, son of Weohstan,
a beloved warrior, man of the Scylfings,
kinsman of Aelfhere. He saw his liege lord
under the battle mask hot and suffering.
Then he remembered that bounty which he had earlier given,
how he lived in the rich dwelling place of the Waegmundings,
a place granted to each by common right, as his father had enjoyed.

Then Wiglaf could not restrain himself, He grasped and raised his shield,
a yellow shield, the ancient sword he drew,
that which was, according to men, Eanmunde’s heirloom,
the sword of the son of Ohthere. It was brought back from battle,
while Weohstan was in friendless exile, he was that man’s slayer
with the sword’s edge, and to his kinsmen he bore
a shining helm, ringed mail shirt,
and that ancient sword of giant’s craft. Onela had given it to him,
his kinsman’s war garments,
the ready war garb, no feud was there to speak of,
though he his brother’s son had killed.
He kept the adornments for many half-years,
sword and mail-shirt, until his son could
perform the same heroic deeds as his late father.
Then he also gave the Geats one of the countless number
of war garbs when he departed from life,
old and on his way forth. This was the first time
for that young warrior to advance himself
in the onslaught of battle for his noble lord.
His spirit was not melted by what he saw, nor did
his kinsman’s heirloom fail in the conflict. This the serpent discovered
after the two Geats had come together.

Wiglaf spoke, many true words were
said by the companion (though at heart he was sad):

“I that time remember, when we drank his mead,
when we pledged ourselves to our lord
in the beer hall, he who to us these rings gave,
promised that we the war-equipment would repay
if such need to him befell, fight for him with
helms and hard swords. For that reason he chose us
from all the army, handpicked us for this expedition by his own will,
considered us worthy for glory, and to me this
treasure gave, because he judged us good spear-fighters,
valiant warriors in helmets. Though the
lord intended to do this courageous deed alone,
the herder of our people, because he
among men a glorious deed would accomplish,
we must do our own deeds audaciously.

          “Now is the day come
that our liege lord needs strength,
good warriors. Let us go to,
let us help the leader in battle while it is possible,
fight with him against the fierce terror of fire. God knows
that it is much dearer to me that my body
be with my gold-giving lord while fire should enfold him.
Nor does it seem to me fitting that we shields
bear back to home unless we first may
kill the foe, by life defend
the Weder’s prince. I know well
that it is not merited by past deeds, that he alone must
suffer affliction without the Geatish host,
fall at the battle. Nonetheless, both of us shall sword and helm,
mail coat and battle garment, share together.”

Advanced he then through that deadly smoke, in helmet
he bore to the lord his help, a few words he spoke:

“Dear Beowulf, perform all well,
just as you in youth long ago said
that you would not allow while you are alive
your glory to decline. You shall now in deed be famous,
resolute prince, use all strength
to defend your life; I shall help you.”

After that word the serpent came, scaly and angry,
the terrible malicious alien from another time
glowing in surging fire attacked his enemy,
hateful of men.

          Flame in a wave advanced,
burned the yellow shield up to the boss; mail coat could not
provide help for the young spear-warrior,
but the man of youth under his kinsman’s shield
valiantly went on when his own was
burned by the dragon’s many tongues.

          Then the war king again set
his mind on glory, struck with great strength
with the war sword, so that it in the dragon’s head stuck
and impelled hostility; Naegling broke,
failed at battle the sword of Beowulf, ancient
and grey-coloured. To him it was not granted by
fate that his sword’s edge may be a help at battle.
It was in his too-strong hand, he who did so with
every sword, as I have heard, the stroke overtaxed
it, whenever he to battle bore any weapon wondrously
hard. Such was not for him at all the better.

Then the ravager of a people for a third time,
the terrible fire dragon intent on a hostile deed,
rushed on that renowned one when for him the opportunity
permitted, hot and battle fierce. All of his neck was
clasped by sharp tusks; he was made to become bloody
with heart’s blood, gore in waves surged out.

XXXVII

Then, as I have heard, the soldier by his side showed
known courage for his liege lord,
strength and boldness, as was inborn.
He worked not upon the head, but the hand of that daring
man was burned when he helped his kin, when he struck
a little lower at the strife-stranger with a blade full
of cunning, when he stabbed with the decorated sword, gleaming and
gold-adorned, stuck it in the beast’s stomach so that afterwards the
fire began to abate. Then, once more, the king
himself wielded his wit, brandished a hip-blade, bitter
and battle-sharp, that he wore on his byrnie;
the protector of the Weders cleaved the dragon down its middle.

The fiend had fallen — courage punished his life —
and those two both had killed it,
brother nobles. So should every man be,
loyal thanes ready for the need! Yet for that king it was
the final hour of victory for his own deeds,
his works in the world. Then that wound began,
the one the earth-drake had earlier dealt him,
to sear and swell; soon he discovered that
poison welled forth from within the wickedness that
marred his chest. At this sight the prince went
to him that was by the wall, wise at heart.
Beowulf sat on the stone, looked upon the work of giants,
how the stone arches were secured with columns,
beheld what the cave-dwelling held within.

Then Wiglaf with blood-stained hand,
the now-famed lord, a man unmatched for good,
washed his dear lord with water,
battle-worn, and unclasped his helm.

Beowulf spoke — he spoke through the pain,
the ache, of his miserably vexatious wound. Well he knew
that he had fulfilled the days of his life,
of earthen joy; that all of his life-time had
fled — that death was immeasurably near:

“Now I to the son of mine would give
war garments, if it had been so granted
by fate that I any heir had,
flesh of my flesh.

          “I this people have ruled
for fifty winters; never was there a king of the people,
any of the neighbouring folks,
who would dare attack with war-friends,
threaten terror. I in my homeland awaited
destiny, it guarded me well,
I did not seek contrived hostility, nor swore I many
oaths in unrighteousness. In all of this
infirmity of a mortal wound I have joy;
because the Lord of men has no cause to accuse me
of murderous killing of kinsmen, when my
life passes from my body.

          “Now go you quickly
to see the hoard under the grey stone,
dear Wiglaf, now the serpent lay dead,
sleeping in death sorely wounded, deprived of treasure.
Be now in haste that I ancient riches,
the store of gold may see, clearly look at
the bright finely-worked jewels, so that I may the more
peacefully after witnessing this wealth of treasure leave my
life and lordship, that which I have long held.”

XXXVIII

I have heard that then the son of Weohstan quickly obeyed
the spoken word of his lord while he was in wounds and
war weariness, bearing his mail-coat,
the broad ring-shirt, under the barrow’s roof.
He, the triumphant in victory, when he beyond the seat
went, the young brave thane, saw many precious jewels,
glittering gold lay on the ground,
wondrous objects on the wall, and in that dragon’s lair,
daybreak-flier of old, cups stood,
vessels of men of old, now lacking a burnisher,
deprived of adornment. There were many a helmet,
old and rusty, a multitude of arm-rings
skilfully twisted. Treasure easily may,
gold in ground, overpower each one of
mankind, though one may hide it.
Also hanging he saw a standard all of gold
high over the hoard, greatest of marvels made by hand,
woven by skill of craft; from there light
shone out, so that he might see the surface of the floor,
could look at every part of those ornate objects. None of that sight there
was for the serpent, when the blade carried him off.

Thus left guard-less, as I have heard, the hoard in the barrow, ancient
work of giants, was ransacked by one man: he loaded
his lap with drinking vessels and dishes of his own
choosing, the standard he also took, brightest of banners.
The one now stuck with sword and split — soft to the iron blade’s bite, that
of the aged lord — that was the treasure’s guardian for
a long time, though it only ever brought forth terrifying fire
from the hoard, fiercely willing to spread death in
the middle of the night, until it a violent death died.

The messenger was in haste, eager in the journey back
By precious things he was urged on, anxiety oppressed him,
whether he would meet Beowulf bold in spirit and alive
in that place, the prince of the Weders,
or one deprived of strength, where he had earlier left him.
He then found the renowned prince,
found his lord bleeding,
his life at an end. Wiglaf then again began the
sprinkling of water, until the beginning of words
broke through Beowulf’s heart.

          The warrior king spoke,
old in sorrow — looked at the gold:

“I for all of these precious things thank the Lord,
spoke these words the king of glory,
eternal lord, that I here look in on,
for the fact that I have been permitted to gain
such for my people before my day of death.
Now that I the treasure hoard have bought
with my old life, still attend to the
need of my people, for I may not be here longer.
Command the famed in battle to build a splendid barrow
after the pyre at the promontory over the sea.
It is to be a memorial to my people,
towering high on Whale’s Ness,
so that seafarers may later call it
Beowulf’s Barrow, those who in ships
over the sea mists come sailing from afar.”

Beowulf did off the golden ring about his neck,
the brave-hearted prince, gave it to the thane,
the young spear warrior, his gold adorned helmet,
ring and mail shirt, commanded him to use them well:

“You are the last remaining of our kin,
the last of the Waegmundings; fate has swept away all
of my line as per the decree of destiny,
warriors in valour. I after them now shall go.”

That was the old one’s last word,
the last of his thoughts of the heart before he chose the pyre,
the hot final battle flame. From Beowulf’s breast went
his soul to seek the judgment of the righteous.

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!

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One thought on “Wiglaf Rises, Beowulf Poisoned, Dragon Dies: Book XXXVI – Book XXXVIII

  1. Pingback: Beowulf Boasts, the Dragon Roasts: Book XXXIV – Book XXXV | A Blogger's Beowulf

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