Beowulf’s Funeral: Book XLII

A ship decked with treasure and set up as a Viking funeral pyre, like the one for Beowulf.

The artist Siemiradzki’s take on a Viking Funeral. Beowulf’s pyre probably looked similar. Image from https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funerale_vichingo#/media/File:Funeral_of_ruthenian_noble_by_Siemiradzki.jpg.

XLII

Then it was seen that the journey for
that which was hidden in the earth swell
was for nought. Its guard earlier slew
that one of joy, though that one worked the feud,
and worked it wrathfully. It is a wonder
where any great man famed for courage will meet the end
of these loaned days, when he may no longer
dwell with his kinsmen in the mead hall.
So it was with Beowulf, when he the barrow’s
guardian sought, a cunning enmity. None can know
through what means his own parting from this world will be.

Just so the renowned princes solemnly declared
a curse upon that which they placed there until doomsday,
that the man would be guilty in sins,
confined in idol’s shrines, held fast in hell-bonds,
tormented in evil, whoever plundered that place,
unless he had earlier perceived
the gold-giving lord’s favour.

Wiglaf spoke, Weohstan’s son:

“Oft it happens that one warrior’s wish makes
the many endure misery, just so it has happened with us.
We could not persuade that dear prince,
this guardian of the people would not accept any counsel
to not attack the gold guardian then,
to let it lay where he long was,
to let it remain in that dwelling place until the world’s end,
to keep his exalted destiny. The hoard is
bitterly won; it was fate that impelled
that king of a people to that hard place.

“I was in that place and looked over all that was there;
through that building of precious objects I had to clear a
path. Not at all in a friendly way was I granted passage
in the place under the mound. I in haste grasped
much in my hands of a mighty burden
of the hoarded treasures, out to here I carried it
to my king. He was alive yet,
wise and aware; a great many things
the old one said in grief, and ordered me to greet you,
ordered that you should build after the friendly lord’s
deeds a lofty barrow there in the place of the pyre,
mighty and renowned, just as he among men was,
worthiest warrior widely throughout the earth,
while he could enjoy the wealth of a stronghold.

“Let us now hasten to another time,
to see and seek out the pile of finely worked jewels,
the wonder under the wall. I shall guide you,
that you shall look upon abundant
rings and broad gold near at hand. Then ready the bier,
swiftly prepare it where we come out,
and then ferry our lord,
beloved of men, to where he shall long
in the Ruler’s protection remain.”

Commanded then the son of Weohstan, gave
the fighters orders, bold in battle, like a warrior among many,
as one who owns a hall, that they might
bring wood for the pyre from afar, for the good man,
that leader of a people:

          “Now shall fire consume all
— he shall grow dark by the flames — the ruler of warriors,
he who often endured the shower of iron
when the arrow storm was sent from the bow
over the shield wall, the shafts fulfilling their duty,
arrowheads aided by hasting feather fletching.”

Indeed the wise son of Weohstan
summoned a band of the king’s thanes,
seven together, those who were best,
he went with seven others, warriors,
under the evil roof. One bore in hand
a flaming torch, the one who went at the front.
There was no drawing of lots for the plundering of
that hoard, when the men saw that all parts of
the hall remained without a guardian,
for he lay wasting away; few of them grieved
as they hastily carried out those
dear treasures. They also pushed the dragon,
the serpent they slid over the sea cliff, let the waves
take him. The sea enfolded that guardian of precious
things. Then was wound gold loaded onto wagons,
everything in countless numbers before the prince was borne,
the old warrior brought to Whales’ Ness.

For him the Geatish people then made ready
the splendid pyre in the earth,
hung round with helmets, with battle shields,
with gleaming mail coats, as he had requested.
Then they laid the renowned prince in the midst of
lamenting warriors, that dear lord.
The fighters then proceeded to kindle
that great funeral fire; wood smoke rose up
black over the blaze, the flame roared, mingling
with weeping — the swirling wind subsided — until
that blade had broken the body, proven hot to the
heart. Sad at the source, it threw about sorrowful
heat, and lamented grievously, killing the liege lord.

Also a Geatish woman’s song of mourning
[ . . . ] with hair bound up
for that sorrowful song; they said repeatedly
that they dreaded sorely an invasion,
an abundance of slaughter, terror for the company of men,
humiliation and captivity. Heaven swallowed the smoke.

Then built the Geatish people
a burial mound on the headland, it was high and broad,
for seafarers it was widely visible,
and in ten days they built
the monument for the one bold in battle. They built
also a wall around the remnants of the fire, as
the wise men had most worthily devised it.

They placed Beowulf in the barrow with rings and jewels,
all such adornments as were before in the
hoard of the hostile minded one that men had taken.
The warriors left the wealth to be kept by the earth,
gold in the ground, where it yet exists
as useless to men as it previously had been.
Then around the barrow of the brave in battle they rode,
the sons of noblemen, twelve warriors,
they would lament with their sorrow and mourn their king,
uttering dirges and speaking about the man;

They praised him for his heroism and his courageous
deeds, which were judged highly, just as it was fitting
that the men laud their friend and lord prince with
such words, love of their hearts, when he
shall lead out his soul from his body.

Thus lamented the Geatish people
for the fall of their lord, their hearth companion.
They said that of earthly kings he was
the mildest among men and most gracious, the
kindest to people and most eager for fame.

Thank you very much for reading my translation of Beowulf! Feel free to email me at nsczach@gmail.com if you have any constructive feedback to share.

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The History of a Feud and the Future of Wiglaf’s Geats: Book XXXIX – Book XLI

A Viking Age battle involving, no doubt, a king like Beowulf and a feud.

Thorir Hund dressed in a reindeer-hide tunic kills King Olaf at the Battle of Stiklestad. Painting by Peter Nicolai Arbo. Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stiklestad#/media/File:Arbo-Olav_den_helliges_fall_i_slaget_p%C3%A5_Stiklestad.jpg

XXXIX

That which had happened was painfully felt
by the young man when he on the ground saw
that dearest one pitiably suffering
at his life’s end. The slayer also lay so,
the terrible earth dragon was bereaved of life,
overwhelmed by ruin. In the hoard of rings no
longer could the coiled serpent be on guard,
once the sword edge carried it off,
felt the hard, battle-sharp remnant of hammers, just so
the wide-flier was stilled by its wounds and
lay where it had fallen near the treasure house. Never
after did it move about through the air by flight
in the middle of the night, glorying in its rich possessions,
never could it make more appearances,
since it had fallen to earth at the war leader’s deed of the hand.

Indeed few mighty men on earth
have so succeeded, as I have heard,
though every deed they did was daring,
few of them would make a rush against the breath of the
fierce ravager or could disturb a hall of rings by hand,
if he discovered the ward awakened and
dwelling in the barrow. Beowulf had paid
for his share of the noble treasures with his death;
each had reached the end of
their loaned lives.

          It was not long then
before the laggards in battle left the wood,
ten cowardly traitors together,
those that dared not fight by the spear when
their liege lord was in greatest need;
but they were ashamed when they came bearing shields,
dressed in clean war garments, to where their lord lay.
They gazed on Wiglaf.

          The thane sat exhausted,
the warrior on foot near his lord’s shoulder.
He still tried to revive him with water — thought not at all did that speed him.
He might not on earth make that chieftain keep his life,
though he wished well to,
nor could he at all change the decree of the Ruler;
God’s decree would rule over the deeds
of each man, as it does yet.
Then from that young warrior a grim answer
was easy to obtain for those who earlier had lost their courage.

Wiglaf spoke, Weohstan’s son,
the man sad at heart — he saw those gathered as not dear:

“Lo! It may be said, by he who will speak truth,
that the liege lord, he who gave you that treasure,
that military gear, that you there stand in,
when he at ale-bench oft gave
to sitters in the hall helms and byrnies,
the prince over his retainers, the strongest that he could
find either far or near, all that he may
as well have furiously tossed away, that war gear
that he from battle won.
Not at all did that folk-king have cause to boast
of comrades in arms. Yet god allowed him, the
victorious ruler, so that he himself could drive forward
with his sword alone, when he had need for courage.”

“I could offer but little of life protection
to him in the fray, and yet I felt my limits
lessen when I strove to help our lord.
It was ever weakening, when I landed sword blows
on the mortal enemy, the fire from his head then
grew sluggish. As he became desperate, too few rallied
around the prince, at the time of the beast’s final
thrashing. Now shall the sword-gifting and treasure
sharing, all the native-land joy of our people,
our hope, be subdued. Each of us will have
our land-right become idle
among our people, afterwards princes from afar
will come seeking, driving us all to flee,
an inglorious deed. Death is better
to every warrior than a life of dishonour!”

XL

Wiglaf then bade that the battle work be
reported to those encamped on the cliff-edge, where the
noble warrior host had sat sorrow-hearted all through that morning,
the shield bearers, entertaining both possibilities:
that it was the end of the dear man’s days,
that the prized prince would return again.

          The messenger
kept little silent in his story, so that naught was left
unsaid, and so he spoke truth to them all:

“Now is the Weder’s gracious giver,
the lord of the Geats, fast in his deathbed,
gone to the grave by the dragon’s deed:
Beside him, in like state, lay the
mortal enemy, dead from dagger wounds; for his sword
could not work any wound whatever on
that fierce foe. Wiglaf sits
by Beowulf’s side, the son of Weohstan,
a warrior watching over the unliving other,
holding vigil over the Geats’ chief,
he sits by the beloved and the reviled.

          “Now our people may
expect war-time, once the king’s fall
becomes widely and openly known
among Franks and Frisians. The fury of the Franks
was hard rattled, after Hygelac sailed from afar
in a war fleet to Frisian lands, there
Hetware harried him on the field, zealously came out
against him with overpowering might so that the
corseleted warrior was made to give way,
he fell among foot soldiers; not at all did that
lord give treasures to his troop. Ever since then
the Merovingian have shown us no mercy.

“Nor do I expect the Swedes to hold us as kin
or remain peaceful; for it was widely known
that Ongeontheow slew Haethcyn,
son of Hrethel, in the strife at Ravenswood,
when for arrogance the Geats first
sought to strike the Scylfings.
Old and terrible, Ohthere’s wise father
gave the return assault,
destroyed the sea king, kept his bride,
deprived his aged wife of gold,
the mother of Onela and Ohthere.
then he followed the mortal foe,
until they showed themselves
in great leaderless hardship in the Ravenswood.

“Beset he then with an immense host the remnant
wearied by war wounds; all the night
long he twisted their tender spirits with vile boasts,
he said that he would destroy them with the
sword’s edge come morning, that he would hang them
on gallows-trees to feed the birds. Yet joy again
existed in their sorrowful hearts just as day dawned,
for then came Hygelac with his horn and its call,
a sound they recognized, knew that it meant a troop
of great allies had arrived in their final moment.”

XLI

“The gory track Geats and Swedes left there,
from the widely seen onslaught,
was easy to follow back to the erupting feud.
Then he knew the good men among his comrades,
the old sorrowful man sought to secure his soldiers,
Ongeontheow the chief turned to higher ground.
For he had learned first hand of Hygelac’s battlecraft,
his splendid war strength and he trusted not to resistance,
the hope that he might rout those seafarers,
those sea-borne warriors, resist that horde,
protect his son and wife. After that the aged one’s
banners went behind the earthen wall. Then the
persecution of the Swedish people was commanded,
Hygelac’s sign rushed forward into the peaceful plain.

“Afterward the Hrethlings thronged around that fortified enclosure.
There by the sword’s edge Ongeontheow,
the grey-haired lord, was left to suffer at
Eofor’s command alone. Angrily against him
Wulf son of Wonred reached with a weapon,
so that his sword swing struck, sending blood
forth from under his hair. Yet he was
not frightened, the old Scylfing,
he paid him back double for that blow,
turning a far worse death strike against that one,
After the king had turned thither.

“Yet the bold son of Wonred could not
land a blow against that aged man,
for he had sheared the helm from his head,
so that Wulf had to bow his bloodied head,
fell to the ground. But fate called not yet to him,
and he recovered himself, though he fully felt his wound.
Eofor, that hardy thane of Hygelac, then hoisted
his broad blade, as his brother lay there,
an antique edge of giant design, his stroke caught the giant’s helm,
cut through Ongeontheow’s shield wall; then bowed that king,
the people’s protector, he was struck through to his soul.

“There were many then, those who bandaged Wulf,
swiftly raised him up, since it had been cleared,
since they ruled that bloodied field.
At the same time, winning warriors stripped those who lost,
from Ongeontheow went his iron mail,
his hard sword hilt and his helmet also.
These old ornaments were brought to Hygelac.
He accepted these treasures and himself fairly stated
among the people that reward would be had, and so he did.
He paid them for their battle-rush, the Geat lord,
Hrethel’s son, when they arrived home,
Eofor and Wulf were overloaded with gifts;
he gave them lands and linked rings
of great value in gold — no man on earth
need reproach him for that reward — after they
forged their glorious deed;
and to Eofor he also gave his only daughter,
a tender home-shaper, his loyalty to lock.

“That is the root of our feud and foe-ship,
this very deadly hostility, which, as I truly believe,
means that we shall be sought by the Swedes,
after they hear of how our lord is now lifeless,
the one who in earlier days defended
our people and treasures against our enemies,
after our warriors fell, a prelude to the Scylfings,
worked ever for the people’s benefit and went further
than any other to be like a true lord. Now haste is best,
that we our king go to see,
he who gave us rings, and then go with him
to the funeral pyre.

          “None shall match
what will melt amidst his glory, for there shall be the
treasure’s hoarded gold untold, bought at so grim a cost;
and now at his departure those rings bought
with his own life: the fire shall consume them,
all swallowed in the searing heat, no man shall
wear that treasure to remember, nor may
any woman wear those costly rings as shining adornment,
but they shall be sad-hearted, bereaved of gold,
for oft, not once alone, shall they tread foreign lands,
the leader’s laughter now having been silenced,
sport and mirth ceased.

          “The future will see hands habituated to hoisting
morning-cold spears, heaved by hand, not at all shall
the harp’s sweep stir warriors, but wan on the wing
the raven flying over the doomed will speak,
tell the eagle how he vomited and ate,
when he and the wolf tore and tasted the dead.”

Such was the sentence of that speaker’s
dire speech; he did not deceive in
what he told and read of fate. The troop all arose,
went without joy beneath Eagle Cliff,
faces tear-torn, the terrible scene to see.

They found him on the sand where his soul left his body,
emptily guarding his couch, he who had given rings
in days past. That was the final day
of that good man’s journey, indeed that great-king,
lord of the Weders, died a wondrous death.

Yet before that they saw a stranger creature,
opposite him there on the strand was the serpent, there
the loathed one lay: it was the dweller of the drake’s
den, the sombrely splattered horror, glowing like an
ember for its flames. It was full fifty feet long,
laying there; just days ago it knew
the joy of night-flight, keeping a searching eye out for
its den down below; it was held there in death,
never again would it know its earth den.

Beside it stood beakers and cups,
plates laid about and dear swords,
rusty, eaten through, as only those who live
in the embrace of earth for a thousand winters
can be. Yet that huge cache,
the hold of gold of men of old, was spell-bound,
so that no man might enter
that ring-hall, save god itself,
Ruler of Triumph, give its approval
— for god is humanity’s handler — to open that hoard,
even then only for such a man as the Ruler thought fit.

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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.

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Beowulf Boasts, the Dragon Roasts: Book XXXIV – Book XXXV

Beowulf is protected from dragon fire by his shield while treasure awaits.

An illustration of Beowulf fighting the dragon that appears at the end of the epic poem. Illustration in the children’s book Stories of Beowulf (H. E. Marshall). Published in New York in 1908 by E. P. Dutton & Company. Image found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beowulf_and_the_dragon.jpg.

XXXIV

Though the fall of the prince made Beowulf mindful,
worried for retribution as days dragged on, he turned to Eadgils,
a man destitute of friends. That people,
those of the sons of Ohthere, Eadgils helped
with warriors and weapons. The feud was settled after a chill cold,
a cruel campaign, when he bound old king Onela in death.

Thus Beowulf survived strife from all quarters,
savage battles and slaughter, that son of Ecgtheow,
brave doer of good deeds, until that day.
The day on which Beowulf was fated to war with the dragon.
Then it was that the scaled one, maddened with rage, knew the twelve;
the dragon recognized the Geatish lord.

Beowulf soon discovered the reason why that fiend arose,
brought adversity to his people. Into his lap fell the famed cup,
wrought of gold and set with stones, fresh from the finder’s hand.
That man made their party’s number thirteen,
he who had created this dire fate,
a captive of sorrowful heart. The thief agreed to serve
as guide for Beowulf and his men through the dragon’s place.
Against his will he went to the earthen hall which he alone knew.
The barrow beneath the earth, out by the sea billows,
where wave strove with wave, within, it was full of treasures,
both wrought and wound. But the horrible warden,
that eager ancient warrior, was bent on guarding his gold-treasures,
both as old as stones beneath the earth. It would not be easy
for Beowulf to bargain with that dragon for his people’s lives!

Sat then the veteran king upon the clifftop.
He wished his hearth companions luck,
the gold friend of the Geats. His mind was sorrowful,
he was restless and ready for death, fate had come immeasurably near,
he knew that soon he would fully face old age,
that it would soon seek his soul’s hoard, tear his life
from his body. Not long from then would that lord’s
flesh unravel from his spirit.

Beowulf spoke, the son of Ecgtheow:

“Countless were the skirmishes that I survived in youth,
numerous times of war. I can recall them all.
I was seven winters old when I fostered with our treasure lord,
the lord and friend of our people, at my father’s command.
The good king Hrethel kept me and cherished me,
he gave me treasure goods and solemn office, mindful of our kinship.
Indeed, while living in the stronghold as a boy I was not counted
less worthy than his own sons,
Herebeald and Hæthcyn, and my dear Hygelac.
The eldest son, by a deed of his brother,
was impiously spread on his deathbed,
Hæthcyn had hoisted his horn-tipped bow toward the boy,
and loosed the arrow that shattered his life.
He had aimed for a misted mark and shot his own kin,
bloodied his fatal dart with the life of his own brother.
That was a strife beyond recompense, transgression against sin itself,
a steeping of the heart in sadness. What else should be done but
to leave the offence the eldest carried out unavenged?”

“Then was the whole household like a sorrowful old man
who must live on, though his young son hangs on the gallows.
Such a man then makes a dirge, distressed singing,
while his son hangs at the mocking mercy of ravens,
birds gloating over their feast, and he can do nothing
to help his son, no water from his well of experience and age
will allow him to haul the boy down and lavish new life onto his lank body.
Reluctantly he is reminded each morning of
his son’s death. He does not care to wait
for another heir in his hall, since the
first has been found fettered, devoured, by death’s dire decree.
He looks on with tear-filled soul into his lost son’s chambers,
all hall joy now desolation, the resting place of winds,
a place bereft of all joy. The riders sleep.
The fighters lay in darkness. No harp sounds are there.
There are no men in the yard. Nothing is as it once was.”

XXXV

“Then Hrethel was in bed, chanting a dirge,
alone even with himself. To him it all seemed too huge,
the fields’ roll, the halls’ stretch. Thus the Geat’s protector,
his heart suffused with sorrow for Herebeald,
set out for that far country. He never knew how he might
wreak his feud on the slayer;
in no way could he hate that warrior
for his dolorous deed, though he was not loved.
Then Hrethel, amidst that sorrow, that which sorely concerned him,
gave up on the enjoyment of life, chose God’s light.
He left all he had on earth to his sons, as any prosperous man does,
lands and towns, when he left off this life.”

“After that, there was war and enmity between Swedes and Geats,
over the wide waters could be heard their cries of sorrow,
the noise of wall-hard warfare, after Hrethel perished.
From across that water came Ongeontheow’s sons,
warlike, they would not free those
they held in lamentation, they would not relent.
Near the hill of Hreosnburgh they often launched voracious
murderous attacks. My own close-kin avenged this,
feud and war-fire, as it was known,
though one of them bought it with his life,
at a hard price; Hæthcyn, Geatish lord,
was taken in the war’s assailing.
Then in the morning I heard that his kin
avenged him by the blade, laid its edge to end the slayer’s life,
where Eofor’s attack fell upon Ongeontheow.
His war-helm was split, the Swedish warlord
fell, mortally wounded, for Eofor’s hand held memory
enough of the feuding, Ongeontheow could not hold off the fatal blow.”

“The treasures that Hygelac granted me
were payment for my role in that war, all of which fortune allowed me,
I won it for him by flashing sword. For that he gave me land,
a place to be from, the joy of home. Thus, for Hygelac there was
no need, no reason to be required to seek someone from the Gifthas,
or the Spear-Danes, or the Swedes for worse war-makers, my worth was well-known.
Always would I go on foot before him,
first in the line, and so shall I do ‘til age takes me,
so shall I conduct war, as long as this sword survives,
that which has and will endure.
For this is the sword I held when I, for nobility’s sake,
became the hand-slayer of Day Raven the Frank.
No treasure at all did that warrior
bring back to the Frisian king.
No breastplate could he have carried,
for in the field he fell as standard bearer,
princely in courage. He was not slain by the sword,
but instead a hostile grip halted the surge of his heart,
broke his bone-house. Now shall the sword’s edge,
hand and hard blade, be heaved against the sentinel of the hoard.”

Beowulf spoke further after a pause, made a formal boast
for the final time.

          “In youth I
risked much in combat, yet I will once more.
Though I am now an old king of the people, I shall pursue this feud,
gain glory, if only the fiend to men
will come out from his earth-hall to face me!”

Addressed he then each warrior,
speaking true to each helm-wearer, for the last time,
every gathered dear companion:

          ‘I would not bear a sword,
bring the weapon to the wyrm, if I knew how
I might otherwise grapple gallantly against
that foe, as I once with Grendel did.
But there will be hot war-fires I expect,
stinking breath and venom. Thus I have on
both shield and byrnie. And I will not give
a foot’s length when I meet the barrow’s guard, but between us two
what is to happen later on the sea-wall, that is as fate.
The Measurer of Men is indeed to decide. I am firm of heart,
so that I may desist from boasting over this war-flyer.
Wait you all on the barrow, my armed men,
warriors ready in war-gear, while we see which
of we two can endure the wounds
after our deadly onslaught. This is not your fight,
nor any other man’s, but mine alone.
I must share my might with the foe,
indeed, I must share my courage. By that courage shall
I win the gold, or, in this battle, gain the peril of a violent death,
if the latter, may your lord be swept away!”

Arose then behind the shield that renowned warrior,
hard under helm, bore his battle shirt
beneath the stony cliffs. He trusted in the slaughter
one man alone was capable of. That was no cowardly course of action!

Then by the wall the one who had survived
with good manly virtue a great many battles,
the crash of colliding shields and spears, survived when bands on foot clashed,
saw standing a stone arch, a stream came out from there,
burst from the barrow, and soon exploded into
a raging flume of hot deadly fire. Beowulf could not be near
the hoard for any length of time without being burned up,
he could not survive in the depths of the dragon’s flame.
Standing there, watching, he allowed it from his breast, released his rage,
the lord of the Weder-Geats sent the word out,
fierce-hearted he shouted, his voice came in
clean as the clang of battle as it reverberated under the grey stone.
Hatred was aroused, the hoard guardian recognized
man speech. Then there was no more time
to ask for friendship. First came the breath
of the fierce assailant from out of the stones,
a hot vapour of battle. The earth resounded with the creature’s calling.

The warrior below the barrow, the lord of the Geats,
swung the rim of his shield against the dreadful stranger,
then the coiled creature’s heart ignited,
it became eager to seek battle. The good war-king
had already drawn his his sword, the ancient heirloom,
sharp of edges, each was in horror at the intent
to harm and rain destruction evident in the other’s eyes.

Yet, Beowulf stood firmly against the towering shield,
the lord of a dear people, when the serpent coiled himself
quickly together. Beowulf waited in arms.

Then the serpent went gliding along, still coiled and burning,
hastening toward his fate. The shield protected
Beowulf’s being and body for a lesser time
than that renowned prince required for his purpose,
that was the first time that day
that he learned he would have to prevail, though fate had not decreed
triumph for him. The lord of the Geats
swung up his hand, the one terrible in its varied colours was struck by
the mighty heirloom, yet its long-tested edge failed,
it gleamed dry, stopped by the beast’s bones, bit less strongly
just when the king of a people had need of it,
when it could have cut him free from his afflictions.

          Then was the barrow
guard, after that battle stroke, thrust into a fierceness of spirit –
it threw its deadly fire, wildly leapt
those battle lights. Of glorious victory the
gold-giving friend of the Geats could not boast then,
the war sword failed him while unsheathed in battle, as it should
not have, it became known as iron formerly excellent. That was no easy
journey, when the renowned kin of Ecgtheow
knew he must give up that ground,
that he should, against his wish, inhabit a dwelling place
elsewhere, but so shall each man
leave off his loaned days. Then not long was it
before the fierce warriors met each other again.

The hoard guard himself took heart — his breast began to heave
from strain — he lunged forth once again. Harsh straits were suffered,
the fires enveloped Beowulf, he who once had ruled the people.
Not any of the band of comrades were with him then.

Those sons of nobility stood around stupefied. Merely draped in martial virtues,
they fled into the woods at the sight below,
eager to save their own lives. In only one mind among them
surged sorrow. After all, kinship may never
for anything be turned away from if a man thinks rightly.

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Beowulf Becomes King and Faces a Dragon-Sized Crisis: Book XXXI – Book XXXIII

The thief steals the cup from the treasure hoard of the dragon in Beowulf in translation on A Blogger's Beowulf.

The thief behind the Geats’ dragon crisis sneaking up to the dragon and reaching for the fateful treasure cup. Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_Beowulf_slave_stealing_golden_cup.jpg

XXXI

“These to you, oh noble king, I will bring
and point out the delicate points of each. After all,
all my grace still relies on you. I have few
kin — indeed there are none but you!”

Beowulf then commanded that the boar helm, head-topper for battle,
a war-steeped hat, the ancient mail shirt, and the precious war sword
be brought forth, saying thus after all this garb was brought out:

“Hrothgar gave me this battle-keened gear,
oh wise lord. And along with them he commanded me
to first tell of these treasures’ journey.
He said that they had been Heorogar’s, the king,
lord of the Scyldings, for a long while.
Yet Heorogar did not bequeath them to his son,
the one called Heremod, though he was loyal,
a true wanderer through his father’s heart. Enjoy each of them well!”

I heard that next four ornate horses were brought in,
quickly, each of them as beautiful as the last,
bay and brilliant. Beowulf gave unto his lord such gifts
in horses and treasures. And so shall all kinsmen do;
they should not scheme and lay out nets laced with malice for others
through deceitful craft, should not arrange death
for hand-companions. Hygelac proved a grand uncle
to Beowulf, a nephew who held fast to the bond,
and each was mindful of the other’s joy.

I heard that then Beowulf gave the gorget to Hygd,
Wealhtheow’s well-wrought wonder treasure, that which
the queen had given him, daughter of the prince, three horses as well,
each supple and with ornamented saddles.
The gorget shone like the sun upon Hygd’s breast.

So, boldly onward went the son of Ecgtheow,
a man known for war, known, too, for good deeds,
living according to justice, never slaying
any hearth companion while drinking, never was he rough minded.
Indeed, he was the strongest of the children of men.
So much so that he gained a great stronghold, which god granted him,
and he carried himself as a warrior ought. All of which was cause for surprise,
long had he been lowly, regarded as little good among sons of the Geats,
nor had he done any deeds of great renown or anything
to be recalled by the Weder lord while men were on the mead bench.
Yet he set out on the way of strength, though they believed him slack,
an ill-formed prince. But Beowulf’s persistence led to a reversal,
now every little deed of his further enriched his newfound fame.

After those gifts were given the protector of the earls,
the battle-famed king, ordered Hrethel’s heirloom be brought in.
It was a wondrous, gold-chased thing, there was no other
amid the whole Geat treasure hold to best that sword.
This Hygelac laid upon Beowulf’s lap,
and to him he gave seven thousand hides of land,
a hall and a throne. Both already owned land
by right of kin, though Hygelac of greater
hereditary right had more — lands were ample among
those of high rank — to him the best of the
earth was bequeathed.
After that came many days
full of the fury of battle. Hygelac fell,
Heardred’s protection proved useless,
it collapsed under the phalanx that brought his death
when they, the victorious people of the Heatho-Scylfings,
attacked with seasoned swordsmen.
That brought about fatal strife for his nephew Hereric.
Yet, after that strife, those lands turned to Beowulf’s hand.

He ruled the Geats well for fifty winters,
indeed Beowulf became a wise king,
an aged lord of the realm — until one began to trouble them:
in the dark of night a prowling dragon appeared.

The wyrm held a treasure in his high hall,
all beneath a steep stone roof, led to by a narrow footpath
unknown to men. There into the abyss stumbled
someone or other … who seized by hand from that heathen hoard …
a gleaming treasure that he afterward …
though the dragon slept he had outwitted
it with a thief’s wiles. Soon the people thereabouts,
those under the shield of the local lord, discovered
that the thief’s act unlocked the serpent’s rage.

XXXII

Though not at all with evil intent did the thief break into the dragon’s hoard,
it was not for his own greedy desire; he had been sorely oppressed.

For three nights that slave turned thief
had fled the blows of a prince of men,
he delved into the dragon’s den by need, then entering in
as a man ridden with guilt. Shortly he discovered
that … the man stood terror struck,
which the miserable …
… made … that fed his own fear, treasure piece
… there were many such pieces,
all ancient heirlooms, in that earthen house.
For there in earlier times some man or other,
had left a huge legacy of noble kin,
had thoughtfully buried the treasures there,
those precious pieces of their story. He and all his kin
had since been carried off by death in former times.
But the last one left of that noble people, he who was the eldest,
a barrow guard grieving for lost friends, buried them, knowing indeed
that he would little enjoy those grand and
beautiful treasures apart from all his kin.

          The barrow stood ready
in open ground near the sea-waves.
It was newly made at the headland, made secure with the art of secrecy.
Within there the keeper of the ancient earls’ ringed treasure
carried that share of worthy wrought and crafted goods,
the hoard of plated gold; these few words he spoke:

“Hold you now, oh earth, that which men and women cannot,
enjoy these warriors’ possessions! Indeed it was
obtained from you at the first, dug up
by worthy men. But death in battle bore those delvers away.
Now that terrible mortal harm has carried off each and every one of my people.
They have left this life where they knew and looked back longingly
at the joy had in the hall. I now have no-one to bear the sword
or bring the plated cup, that precious drinking vessel.
That group of tried warriors has since passed elsewhere.
Their hard helmets with gold adornment shall be bereft of their gold plate;
the burnishers sleep the sleep of death, those who should polish the battle mask.
So too the battle garbs, that had endured in battle
through the clash of shields and cut of swords,
they now decay upon the warriors’ husks. Nor may the mail-coats of rings
go with the war-leader on his long journey,
they may not be kept at their masters’ bloodied sides. No harp joy,
no delight of musical instruments, nor any good hawk
flies through the hall, nor any swift mare
stops in the flowered courtyard. Destructive death
has sent forth all others of my race, as it has with countless others.”

Just so, sad at heart, this final one followed his kin.
He expressed his sorrow, he moved about joyless,
for unlit days and for fevered nights, until death’s surging
reached his heart.

          The old ravager by night
later found that delightful hoard left open,
the burning one who seeks out barrows,
the slick, malicious dragon, flew into it by night,
enveloped in flame.

          The dwellers on the land thereabouts
greatly feared that drake. It delved deep
searching the earth for the depths of that hoard, which it guarded
through countless winters, kept watch over heathen gold,
useless treasure. That ravager of the people occupied the earth
hidden in the barricaded treasure house for three hundred years.

But then a man enraged that fire wyrm, stoked the fury of its heart.
To his lord the thief bore a gold-plated cup,
that man also offered a plea for peace with his lord —
a plea the lord heard as certainly as he saw the cup’s glint.
He had that hoard ransacked, the piles of rings and trinkets was diminished,
that wretched man’s request was granted. His lord leered at
the ancient work of long dead men for the first time.

When the dragon awoke to all this, strife stirred with him.
The drake moved quickly over the stones of his home, fierce-hearted.
He found the enemy’s track, the scent of he who had used stealth
and skill to creep close to his head, where the golden cup
had rested. Thus may he who is unfated to die easily survive
misery and exile, so it goes for the one who keeps
the Ruler’s favour. But the guardian of that hoard
searched eagerly along the ground, its fervent wish was to find
the one who had dealt so grievously with his cup as he slept.
Hot and fierce-hearted he often went all around
the outside of that barrow – yet not any man was there
in that deserted place. All the same, the dragon shook and postured
as if at war, as if he were in the midst of deeds of battle. At times he
took turns about the barrow, seeking that precious vessel. Immediately he
found that a man had tampered with his gold,
had his hands upon that rich treasure. The hoard guardian
waited with difficulty until evening came,
he was enraged and impatient, at last he decided
he would payback the precious drinking vessel
with hateful flames. As the day went by
the serpent seethed with desire; no longer could it
wait within the walls. Amidst its flames the wyrm burst forth,
ready with fire. That was but the beginning the terror the people
of that land suffered, and, just so,
it spelled a swift end to their quickly grieving treasure-giver.

XXXIII

Then the stranger among those lands started to spew forth flames,
it burned down all the bright dwellings thereabouts, the glow of fire
turned men stone-still in terror. That hateful sky-flier
left nothing there alive.
The serpent’s onslaught was widely seen,
its cruelly hostile malice was clear to all from near and far.
That war-like ravager of the Geatish people
hated and humiliated them. Afterward it hastened to its hoard,
escaped to the secret splendid hall before the sun summoned daytime.
But with that night of ruin the dragon had encircled the people of the land,
ringed them about in burning fire and bewildering fear. While it was emboldened in
the safety of its barrow, its fighting power, its walls. But by that hope he was deceived.

Then was Beowulf told of that terror,
in a voice trembling with speed and truth, he heard that his own home,
the best of buildings, had been melted in a surge of fire,
the gift seat of the Geats. That good man
was sorrowful at heart, sunken into great grief when he heard that news.
In that moment his thoughts turned to his past,
he wondered if he had acted contrary to the old laws of the Ruler,
the Eternal Lord, severely offended them; within his breast welled up
dark thoughts, as was not customary for him.

The fire dragon had destroyed all the people’s strongholds,
scourged all the land out to the coast, scorched all their earthen work walls
with its flames. For that flying beast the lord of the fray,
prince of the Weders, planned vengeance.
He commanded that a protector of warriors be made,
all of iron, quenched and tempered, so said the lord of earls,
he sought a wondrous war-board from his smiths. Beowulf knew well
that the forest wood warriors so often carried would be no help to him,
that the linden shield would crumble against flames. Beowulf also knew
that he must soon come to the end of his transitory days, the prince of excellence,
his loan of life would soon be due, and so, too, would the dragon’s,
though the wyrm had guarded that hoarded wealth long.

Further, Beowulf, the prince of rings,
was too proud to attack the far-flier with a band of men,
an overpowering army. Nor did he fear further attack from the drake,
he thought but little of the dragon’s strength and courage, since he
had already risked harsh circumstances, survived countless combats,
endured the crash of battle, since he had done so for Hrothgar.
Beowulf had indeed been blessed with victory, cleansed the Dane’s hall,
in combat he crushed to death the hateful kindred
of Grendel.

          Not the least of his deeds happened later,
the hand-to-hand encounter where one man slew Hygelac,
after the Geatish king was caught in the battle onslaught,
the lord and friend of the people fell in Friesland.
Hygelac, Hrethel’s son, had died in the blade brew,
struck by the sword. From there Beowulf
put his strength to use, swimming thence.
In his arm he held the battle gear of thirty men
with which he went to sea.
None of the Hetwares had reason to be exultant
in that battle on foot, with Beowulf against them on the front
bearing a shield. Few would later
return home from their meeting with that warrior.

Thanks to long practice he swam over the sea,
the son of Ecgtheow, a reclusive water treader heading
back to his people. There Hygd urged him to take
the treasure and the throne, rings and the power seat.
She trusted not her son. She doubted that he could hold
the royal seat against foreign foes, for Hygelac was dead.
Yet for nothing could that people find a means
to get Beowulf to accept such power, nothing whatever swayed him,
so long as Heardred was lord,
until the kingdom itself would choose.

Nonetheless, in that time Beowulf proved to be a well
of friendly counsel among the people, freely and with grace,
until he became mature in power, a ruler of the Weder-Geats.
But then miserable men sought for Heardred from over the sea,
Ohthere’s son. Those men had rebelled against the protector
of the Scylfings, the best among sea kings,
he who had dealt out treasure in the Swedish kingdom,
the greatly famed ruler. For Heardred that marked the end.
For his hospitality he gained a terrible wound,
the sting of a swung sword, that unfortunate son of Hygelac.
Afterwards Ongentheow’s son left,
headed for home, after Heardred was slain,
leaving the ruler’s seat for Beowulf to fill,
he was then called to rule the Geats. That was a good king!

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Beowulf Tells Hygelac the Real (?) Story of Daneland and Grendel: Book XXVIII – Book XXX

A heavenly hall free from Grendel, home to Hygelac and Beowulf.

Emil Doepler’s vision of Valhalla, definitely an ideal of what Hygelac’s court of Geatish warriors could be like. Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valkyrie#/media/File:Walhall_by_Emil_Doepler.jpg

XXVIII

Went Beowulf then, along with his retinue,
down the beachhead, treading over the sandy seashore,
over the broad beach. The world candle shone overhead,
the sun strove from the south. They had endured,
bravely gone, to where stood that hall of lords,
the place where Ongentheow’s killer ruled,
went to where they had heard that the young king
was doling out rings. Hygelac was quickly told
of Beowulf’s journey there, in that word it was said
that Beowulf was in the burgh, that his lifelong
shield companion had come, that the stalwart
warrior walked within the hall, hale and hearty.
Space was cleared, as the king commanded,
those who had traveled far by foot came in.
Beowulf sat there among his own, a survivor of battle amidst veterans,
kin with kin, once the lord there
had graciously greeted him with singing tones
and great words. Bearing the mead jug
around the hall was Hygd, Haereth’s daughter,
loved by the people, filling the offered cups
with plenty. Hygelac then began
to ask fair questions of the man
in that high hall. He burst with curiosity,
sought to know how all the sea-going Geat’s journey went:

“How fared you on your journey, dear Beowulf,
when you suddenly strove to travel far
over the salt sea to seek strife,
battle, at Heorot? And were you a help
to the widely known best of men,
to that famed prince? I have had sorrow
sitting upon my heart since you left, I did not trust in your
journey, dear man. Long had I told you,
do not go to meet this monster at the hall,
let the South Danes work war against Grendel
themselves. Thus I say thanks to god,
that I am able to see you hale and whole here.”

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“That is all widely known, lord Hygelac,
that journey’s fame has spread to many among mankind,
how Grendel and I grappled
at the very place where he was used to
terrorizing the Victory-Shieldings with terrible sorrow,
where we battled for life with bare limb. There I avenged all,
so that no kin of Grendel’s would have need
to boast to any over earth when the crash of dawn came,
no matter how long any of his dark brood may last,
all that treacherous and trembling bunch. But when at first
I arrived at that ring hall I greeted Hrothgar.
Soon he trusted to my reputation, the son of Halfdane,
after he came to know the wish of my heart,
then he presented me with a seat between his own sons.
The company was wrapt in joy — never have I ever seen
such celebration over mead as was among those in that hall
in all my life. All the while that renowned queen,
a pledge of peace for her people, went all about the hall,
urging on the youths there. Often, on her rounds, she gave
circlets to the drinkers, until, at the last, she took her seat.

Also, but only at times, before that body of retainers,
Hrothgar’s daughter bore the ale cup to the men in turn.
From those sitting in the hall I learned
that this maiden’s name is Freawearu, she who there gave
those warriors studded and precious vessels. She is promised,
young and gold-adorned, to the gracious son of Froda.
The friend of the Scyldings has settled on this,
the protector of the kingdom, and he considers it wise policy
that his daughter will settle several deadly feuds,
that she will ease their many conflicts. But too often,
when so short a time has passed after a man’s fall,
it is rare for the deadly spear to rest, even though the bride be good.
It may be displeasing to the prince of the Heathobards
and to the thanes of the people of the prince Ingeld
when he with his new bride strides onto the hall floor
while the Danish wedding attendants are nobly entertained.
One will point to the shining of an old heirloom on them,
a time-hardened, ring-patterned treasure of the Heathobards,
recognized from the time when they were able to wield such weapons,
a time that ended when they came to destruction at the shield-play
that scarred their lives and laid low their dear companions.

XXIX

That pointing one will then speak, while beer-drinking, about that precious object,
the elder spear-warrior: He remembers all of that treasure’s history
and those that faced death at spear-point. His mind settles on the grim fates of the fallen,
then, sad of mind, he will test a young warrior’s
spirit with an assault on his heart-thought,
he will arouse the evil of war, and he will say these words:

‘Might you, my comrade, recognize that sword
which your father bore to the field,
wearing his battle mask on his last expedition,
that precious sword, lost on the campaign where the Danes slew him,
when they seized the Heathobards and made where they lay a place of slaughter,
when all our warriors were felled by the valiant Scyldings?
Now here the sons of those slayers go about
on the hall floor, exalting in the adornments of someone else.
They boast of murder, and bear about treasures
that you by right should possess.’

“Just so he urges and reminds each of that time
with bitter words, until the time comes
that one of the lady’s men sleeps in bloodstained furs,
is found sliced by a sword for his father’s deeds,
to avenge those who forfeited their lives. From there that slayer
will escape alive, for he knows the land well.
Then the oath swearing of men will be shattered
on both sides, and afterwards in Ingeld
will well up a deadly hate
and surging sorrow will cool his love for his wife.
Therefore, I consider the Heathobards of no loyalty,
their part of the peace to be made by marriage is not without deceit,
the fastness of their friendship is false.

          “I shall now speak
further about Grendel, so that you may know the matter well,
bestower of treasures, and so that you may learn of what happened after
the hand to hand struggle between warriors. After heaven’s gem
had glided out beyond the earth’s rim the enraged creature came,
that dreadful one sought us out for its evening hostilities,
while we stood guard, still unharmed, in the hall.
There battle proved fatal for Hondscio.
He had been fated to die by the deadly evil, he was the first laid low,
that girded warrior. Grendel swallowed him up,
took his whole body into his mouth and snapped
through mail and bone and sinew until that renowned thane was gone.

“Not eager to leave empty-handed,
that slayer with bloodied teeth, intent upon evil,
pressed on to get further into the hall.
But then he came against my great strength,
as he grabbed me with a readied hand. A grotesque glove hung,
broad and strange, secured with a cunning clasp,
from his hip, it was a thing concocted through ingenuity,
a work of devil’s craft made from dragon’s skin.
He wished to shove blameless me
into that sack, press me in among the many,
that fierce perpetrator of vile deeds. But it would not be so.
Not after I stood upright, completely enraged.

XXX

It would be too long to tell how I repaid that rapacious evil
for each of his crimes, each treachery of that ravager of a people.
Let it simply be known, my lord, that there I brought honour
to our people through my deeds. Yet he managed to squirm away,
he escaped to live a little while longer, to draw the dregs of mirth from his life,
though his lifeblood trailed behind him and he left his right hand with me at Heorot
as he ran from the hall, an abject creature. I can only guess that he,
sad at heart, bereft of strength, sank to the bottom of his mere that night.

“Golden ornaments were awarded to me then
by the friend of the Scyldings for that mortal conflict,
countless treasures, once the morning had come
and we had sat down to feast.
There was song and sonorous entertainment there,
an elder Scylding recounted tales of things learned long ago,
one brave in battle was in harp joy,
he struck the delightful wood while retelling
tales both true and tragic, the great-hearted king
correctly shared strange stories,
and an old warrior bound by age performed
a lament for his youth, the loss of strength in battle.
Within him his heart surged when
he recalled many things from the seasons of his past.
So we took pleasure in that place
all the day long until another night came upon men.

Late within that dark Grendel’s mother appeared,
ready for revenge for the injury she suffered;
she made a journey full of grief. Death had carried off her son,
death egged on by grim-faced Geats. Yet that monstrous woman
would avenge her son, schemed to boldly steal a hall dweller for her loss.
There on the floor was Æschere for the taking,
the wise old counselor departed from this life at her touch.
But, when the morning came, none could
burn up the dead of the Danish people by fire,
nor could that dear man be lain upon a pyre —
she had borne the body in her fiend’s embrace to her home beneath her mountain stream.
That was Hrothgar’s most grievous of those sorrows
that had long befallen him, that leader of a people.
Then that prince implored me while troubled in mind
to perform another heroic deed in the tumult
of the darkened waters, to venture my life:
in short, to perform a glorious deed. And for it he promised me proper reward.

I found in those surging waters, as it is well-known,
the grim and terrible guardian of the deep.
There we two were locked in hand-to-hand combat.
But soon the water seethed with blood, and I had cut off
the head of Grendel’s mother in her battle hall
with a mighty sword edge. With difficulty
I carried my life from that place, but it was not yet fated
for me to die, and so the protector of warriors gave me
a multitude of treasures, that most generous son of Halfdane.
Just so, that king of his people acted in accord with custom,
never had I any want for reward while with him,
he gave me great gains, granted me beautiful treasures,
the true son of Halfdane, and ever were they of my choosing.”

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Grendel and Grendel’s Mother Don’t Survive Beowulf’s Final Cut: Book XXIII – Book XXIV

Beowulf and his band of Geats carrying Grendel's head.

Beowulf and the Geats haul Grendel’s head back to Heorot. J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack.
Image found at: http://bit.ly/2frmbiU

XXIII

He saw then, in the sea-hag’s armoury, a sword blessed by victory,
a sword of giants’ craft from elder days, a sword strong of edge,
ready for a warrior’s glory; that was the best of weapons.
But it was more than any other man
would have strength to bear into the dance of battle,
superb and splendid, the handiwork of giants.
Beowulf seized that belted hilt, the Scylding warrior,
he was fierce and fatally grim, and when he drew that ring-patterned sword
Grendel’s mother had no hope of further life. He angrily struck her,
such that the sword caught slickly at the base of her neck,
slipped in to shatter her vertebra; indeed the sword passed through
her entire, doomed body. That she-monster crumpled to the floor,
the sword sweating blood, the man rejoicing in his work.
A light then shone, brightened the hall from within,
made it as bright as the great candle
set in the heavens. He looked about the hall;
turned toward the far wall, with weapon raised,
its hilt hard up against ambush, Hygelac’s thane,
emboldened and resolute. That edge had proven
all but useless to that fighter, and he sought to use it
to avenge all of Grendel’s awful attacks,
each of the monster’s missions against the West-Danes,
the many more than one occasion when he alone
slunk into Heorot to slay Hrothgar’s hearth-companions
who were all asleep, devoured clawed clutches of Danes
while all slept as if dead,
and made off with as many others,
a loathsome booty. Beowulf paid him his reward,
the fierce fighter, for there he saw laid out
the wounded body of Grendel,
now life-less, his grim energy drained through the injury
he bore from the fight in Heorot. His body was wide open
since he endured that death blow.
One hard sword-stroke severed his head from his body.

Soon those wise men saw,
those who were with Hrothgar watching the water,
that the surging waves were stirred up,
that the water was red with blood. The old ones,
the grey-haired, gathered to speak clearly together
of how that prince down in the deep would not return,
how he who went seeking to be victorious would not
come back to their glorious king; thus they decided
that the she-wolf of the lake had destroyed him.

Then came the ninth hour of the day. To a man
the brave Scyldings left the lake, and with them went
that generous gold-friend. But the strangers stayed to wait,
though sick at heart, and stared at those waters;
they wished and yet could not believe that they would see
their lord and friend in the flesh once more.

          Meanwhile,
back in the cave the sword began, after the blood of battle
spattered the war-icicle, to soften and wane. It was a wondrous sight,
all the blade melting away much like ice
when the Father looses the frost bonds,
unties the waters from their cold-cords, he who has power
over the sowing and the harvest; such is truly the Measurer’s might.
Nothing more did he take from that place, the lord of Weder-Geats,
any valuable things, though he there many did see,
only the head and the hilt both,
the shining treasure; the blade before it melted
was a fire-hardened, damascened edge, but the beast’s blood was too hot,
that alien spirit’s poison, the one which died there.
From there Beowulf was safe and swimming, he who in earlier strife
had called down defeat in his wrath, he climbed through the waters.
The churning waters had been purified,
likewise was the land thereabouts, when that alien spirit
left off her living days and lost her loaned life.
Then came the seafarer to the safety of land,
swimming stout-heartedly, joyous with his sea-spoils,
the amazing burden that he had with him then.
They all flocked to him, thanked god,
that mighty heap of thanes, took delight in their chief,
that they were able to see him safe again.
Then they were busied with the swift unbinding
of helm and byrnie. The lake’s surface stilled,
the sky was again visible within, though dappled in blood.

The troop of them then went forth on the footpath,
rejoicing in the wooded countryside, passing along the trail,
down familiar ways. Those royally brave men
carried the head from the cliffs around the lake,
struggling with it all together,
the very bold. Four of them
balanced the beast’s head on their spear-points
as they carried Grendel’s remains to the gold-hall.
Finally they could see the hall from the hill’s cusp,
the war-like fourteen turned from the road
and the Geats passed into the valley. The lord of battle
was at their heart as they strode through the mead hall’s yard.
Then that weathered warrior strode in,
the man bold in deeds had grown authoritative,
a war-fierce man, he greeted Hrothgar.
By the hair was Grendel’s head then borne
into the middle of the floor, where the warriors drank,
the terror dropped amidst the men and their queen;
a wondrous spectacle in the sight of men.

XXIV

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“Hear me now, son of Halfdane,
lord of the Scyldings, we who have been to the sea-lake
have brought back booty, a mark of fame, for all here to look upon.
I escaped that choppy conflict,
the war beneath the waters, ventured through
the risky deed; the fight was nearly taken from me,
but God was my shield.
In that struggle I could not bring Hrunting
to bear, though it is a noble weapon;
but the Lord of men allowed
that I might see hanging on the cave wall
a shining magnificent sword of elder-craft — often
will the wise aid the friendless — that I seized and brandished as my own.
Then I slew the she-wolf in that fight, as the hall began to glow around me,
a strangely fortified house. Than that battle blade
burned, the damascened sword, as the creature’s blood struck it,
hottest of battle bloods. I took the hilt out
from the fiend’s remains, the wicked deed avenged,
the death by violence of Danes, as was befitting.
Thence I swear this to you, that you may now
sleep without sorrow in Heorot hall with all your company,
and that each thane of your people,
old nobles and youths alike, they all now have no need to fear,
and nor do you, lord of the Scyldings, for your own portion,
the lives of your folk, as you did before.”

Then was the golden hilt given into the hand
of the old battle-chief, an ancient work of giants
for the aged ruler. It became the possession
of the Danish prince after those devils perished,
the craft of a skilled smith. When the hostile-hearted,
the enemies of God, gave up this world,
guilty of murder, he and his mother gave up that treasure as well.
Thus the hilt came into the power of the worldly king
judged to be the best between the two seas,
a treasure freely given to the Danes.

Hrothgar spoke, as he was shown the hilt,
that old treasure. On it was written the origins
of a great struggle, after the flood had slain many,
sloshed through in torrents, a struggle with giant-kind.
Peril was brought to all. That was a people
estranged from the eternal Lord; from the Almighty
came the final retribution of rising waters.
Thus was the pommel work written upon in gold
with runes properly inscribed,
inset and in-carved, by the one who worked that sword,
what had been the best of blades, first among weapons,
with wire-wound hilt and edge damascened like snakes. Then
the wise one spoke, the son of Halfdane — the hall hushed:

“Indeed, it may be said, by he who upholds
right and truth for his people, for all humanity,
even by the old realm lord, that this man
is born to greatness! Your success is wide-flung
over the sea-ways, my friend Beowulf,
your fame is spread over every people. All you do
is done with steadfastness, strength, and wisdom of heart.
To you I give my lasting honour, as we two had earlier agreed. You shall be
to your people an everlasting pillar and a help to warriors’ hands.

          “Heremod was not so
to the sons of Ecgwelan, the Ar-Scyldings;
he did not grow into joy, but to slaughter,
a death dealer to the Danish people.
With enraged heart he killed table companions
and shoulder comrades alike, until he was truly alone,
he of renown, of power, was away from human joy,
though mighty God had given him all,
raised him in strength, put him ahead of
all other men in all things. Yet in his heart he harboured
secret and cruel bloodthirsty thoughts; never gave he
any rings to the Danes who strove for fame. He lived joylessly,
such that his struggles made him suffer misery,
his life was a long-lasting affliction to his people. By this be taught,
see what is manly virtue! That is why I, wise from many winters,
tell you this tale.”

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