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!

A right-thinking Beowulf?

Recap
Synopsis
The Original Old English
My Translation
A Quick Interpretation
Closing

St. George slaying a dragon solo unlike mister might Beowulf.

An illumination showing a pleasantly distracted looking St. George slaying a cat-pawed dragon. No “right thinking” partner required? Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zanino_di_Pietro_-_Saint_George_Killing_the_Dragon_-_Walters_W322215R_-_Open_Obverse.jpg.


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Recap

Last week, Beowulf’s sword failed him and his shield proved weaker than expected.


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Synopsis

Beowulf battles the dragon, but needs to give it some space.


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The Original Old English

“þa wæs beorges weard
æfter heaðuswenge on hreoum mode,
wearp wælfyre; wide sprungon
hildeleoman. Hreðsigora ne gealp
goldwine Geata; guðbill geswac,
nacod æt niðe, swa hyt no sceolde,
iren ærgod. Ne wæs þæt eðe sið,
þæt se mæra maga Ecgðeowes
grundwong þone ofgyfan wolde;
sceolde ofer willan wic eardian
elles hwergen, swa sceal æghwylc mon
alætan lændagas. Næs ða long to ðon
þæt ða aglæcean hy eft gemetton.
Hyrte hyne hordweard (hreðer æðme weoll)
niwan stefne; nearo ðrowode,
fyre befongen, se ðe ær folce weold.
Nealles him on heape handgesteallan,
æðelinga bearn, ymbe gestodon
hildecystum, ac hy on holt bugon,
ealdre burgan. Hiora in anum weoll
sefa wið sorgum; sibb æfre ne mæg
wiht onwendan þam ðe wel þenceð.”
(Beowulf ll.2580b-2601)


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My Translation

“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, became known as iron formerly excellent. That was no easy
journey, when the renowned kin of Ecgtheow
knew he should give up that ground,
that he should, against his wish, inhabit a dwelling place
elsewhere, 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.
The sons of nobility stood around merely draped in martial virtues
they fled into the woods at the sight below,
eager to save their own lives. Of them, in only one mind
surged sorrow. Kinship may never
for anything be turned away from if a man thinks rightly.”
(Beowulf ll.2580b-2601)


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A Quick Interpretation

The fabric of Beowulf the poem is shot through with the idea of boasts and actions being bigger than mere words. Throughout the story we see Beowulf match this process of action. Boast, act, report.

But this is where we get some sure signals that the story is ending.

Beowulf can’t follow through on his boast from earlier. On lines 2524-2525 he had said “And I will not give/a foot’s length when I meet the barrow’s guard” (“Nelle ic beorges weard/forfleon fotes trem”). And now he is giving that ground. Beowulf can no longer do as he says, his actions now speak more quietly than he has need of them to.

Those he had handpicked as the best of the young Geats are also leaving him in his hour of greatest need.

Except for one.

One Geat up on that hill looks down and sees his lord in need and wants to help out. More than that, though, he is “a man [who] thinks rightly” (“þam ðe wel þenceð” (l.2601)).

Maybe that’s what Beowulf needs right now: right thinking.

After all, although his actions failed to meet his boast, that was due to his overestimating his abilities and the tools he had with him. But there is more to it than that, I think. Any incongruence between acts and words in the morality of Beowulf suggests a sourness of character. Liars say what they’ll do and then don’t do it, and they orchestrate that kind of outcome because they’re thinking of deceiving (others or themselves).

Beowulf falls prey to a bit of this with his failed follow through. Not that he was intending to go back on his boast, though the stories could have branded him as such because of that failure to follow through. So it makes sense that one with right thinking will swoop in for Beowulf’s rescue.

Was Beowulf thinking properly when he came up with his flame-resistant shield and when he said he had to fight the dragon alone? Or were these things the product of a mind convinced that the body it was attached to could still pull off such grand deeds?

Feel free to share your theories in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, we turn away from the dragon to see what the Geats on the clifftop are up to.

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The best laid shield plans of Beowulf and dragons

Recap
Synopsis
The Original Old English
My Translation
A Quick Interpretation
Closing

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.


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Recap

Last week, Beowulf called out the dragon and heard it call back.


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Synopsis

Beowulf attacks the dragon, and the unexpected happens.


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The Original Old English

“Biorn under beorge bordrand onswaf
wið ðam gryregieste, Geata dryhten;
ða wæs hringbogan heorte gefysed
sæcce to seceanne. Sweord ær gebræd
god guðcyning, gomele lafe,
ecgum unslaw; æghwæðrum wæs
bealohycgendra broga fram oðrum.
Stiðmod gestod wið steapne rond
winia bealdor, ða se wyrm gebeah
snude tosomne; he on searwum bad.
Gewat ða byrnende gebogen scriðan,
to gescipe scyndan. Scyld wel gebearg
life ond lice læssan hwile
mærum þeodne þonne his myne sohte,
ðær he þy fyrste, forman dogore
wealdan moste swa him wyrd ne gescraf
hreð æt hilde. Hond up abræd
Geata dryhten, gryrefahne sloh
incgelafe, þæt sio ecg gewac
brun on bane, bat unswiðor
þonne his ðiodcyning þearfe hæfde,
bysigum gebæded.”
(Beowulf ll.2559-2580a)


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My Translation

“The warrior below the barrow, the lord of the Geats,
swung the rim of his shield against the dreadful stranger,
then was the coiled creature with heart ignited
eager to seek battle. The good war-king
bad 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.
He 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 well 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.”
(Beowulf ll.2559-2580a)


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A Quick Interpretation

Well, all of Beowulf’s psyching up seems to have been for naught. He jumps in to slash the dragon, and his sword has no effect.

Worse than that, though, Beowulf’s grand plan fails him. His heavy iron shield is either heating up too much in the dragon’s fire or actually melting.

These two events are a dire turn for the poem’s hero, but are they really all that surprising? I don’t even mean because of the meta information that we have as readers. Looking at this fight with the logic of the poem in mind, it seems that it follows one of the poem’s major patterns.

Beowulf wears gear and uses weapons when he’s fighting in wars. But in two of the three one-on-one fights we hear about before this dragon fight, Beowulf triumphs when he goes in empty handed.

I mean, Grendel and Day Raven are killed thanks to Beowulf’s killer grip.

Grendel’s mother is an exception, and I’m not sure what to do with that, exactly.

I suppose her case could be dismissed since her underwater hall is kind of an inversion of the Old English Anglo-Saxon normal to begin with. A hall, to them, is a human space, but the Grendels’ hall is occupied by monsters. An Anglo-Saxon hall, generally ruled by a man, is ruled by a woman. A hall is usually warm and dry and safe, but the Grendels have their hall in a cold, damp, and dangerous cave.

So in the context of the Grendel’s hall, Beowulf’s armour deflecting Grendel’s mother’s knife makes sense. Beowulf’s using the giant’s sword to ultimately kill Grendel’s mother makes sense.

But the dragon’s lair is not the inversion of a hall. It’s just a stony area near an ancient barrow by the sea. And a barrow is definitely not a hall in any sense. So bringing gear to this fight may have been deemed necessary, but it’s not surprising that his shield doesn’t work the way he hoped it would, or that his sword fails him. This is a monster fight in an ordinary place.

It’s almost as if Beowulf, this exceptional human being, took the sensible average advice of his counselors, or his people, completely forgetting that he is not average. Such advice doesn’t quite apply to him.

Of course, Beowulf would’ve been burned alive without his shield.

But I really think that a younger Beowulf would’ve just rushed in and torn the dragon’s lower jaw off, disabling its fire breath and leaving it to bleed out as he did with Grendel. The elder Beowulf, though, seems to have lost belief in his own physical power and prowess, hence his failed reliance on these specially made or imbued, but otherwise absolutely normal, pieces of gear.

Do you think that Beowulf’s confidence has flagged in his old age and he’s just going through the motions? Or do you think that Beowulf just thinks that dragon is beyond his power so some extra gear is needed?

Feel free to share your theories in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, the dragon launches its counterattack!

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like. And, if you want to keep up with my translations, please do follow this blog!

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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What Beowulf has for the dragon: taunts and worries

Recap
Synopsis
The Original Old English
My Translation
A Quick Interpretation
Closing

The kind of dragon perfectly at home in Beowulf as if by fate.

An Anglo-Saxon dragon, complete with treasure hoard. Image from http://brer-powerofbabel.blogspot.ca/2011_09_01_archive.html


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Recap

Last week, Beowulf recounted how Hygelac rewarded him for his role in the war with the Swedes. And I wondered about Beowulf’s timeline.


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Synopsis

Beowulf now boasts to boost his spirits.


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The Original Old English

“Beowulf maðelode, beotwordum spræc
niehstan siðe: ‘Ic geneðde fela
guða on geogoðe; gyt ic wylle,
frod folces weard, fæhðe secan,
mærðu fremman, gif mec se mansceaða
of eorðsele ut geseceð.’
Gegrette ða gumena gehwylcne,
hwate helmberend, hindeman siðe,
swæse gesiðas: ‘Nolde ic sweord beran,
wæpen to wyrme, gif ic wiste hu
wið ðam aglæcean elles meahte
gylpe wiðgripan, swa ic gio wið Grendle dyde.
Ac ic ðær heaðufyres hates wene,
oreðes ond attres; forðon ic me on hafu
bord ond byrnan. Nelle ic beorges weard
forfleon fotes trem, ac unc furður sceal
weorðan æt wealle, swa unc wyrd geteoð,
metod manna gehwæs. Ic eom on mode from
þæt ic wið þone guðflogan gylp ofersitte.
Gebide ge on beorge byrnum werede,
secgas on searwum, hwæðer sel mæge
æfter wælræse wunde gedygan
uncer twega. Nis þæt eower sið
ne gemet mannes, nefne min anes,
þæt he wið aglæcean eofoðo dæle,
eorlscype efne. Ic mid elne sceall
gold gegangan, oððe guð nimeð,
feorhbealu frecne, frean eowerne!'”
(Beowulf ll.2510-2537)


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My Translation

“Beowulf spoke 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
to share my might with the foe,
indeed, to 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 to swept away!’”
(Beowulf ll.2510-2537)


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A Quick Interpretation

I can see Beowulf screaming down to the barrow as he wraps up his boast, and I can see him maybe bashing his shield and sword together as he speaks to the Geats (and the thief!) he has with him, imploring them to stay put.

What’s most surprising and gripping about this passage, though, is Beowulf’s apparent foreknowledge of what is to happen. He doesn’t get specific but his saying “but between us two/what is to happen later on the sea-wall, that is as fate” (“ac unc furður sceal/weorðan æt wealle, swa unc wyrd geteoð” (ll.2525-2526)) strikes me as a bit of insight into his own end.

And honestly, that sentiment seems to colour this whole passage.

Beowulf definitely knows how dangerous this fight will be. And he seems to bar the others from joining him because he wants to expose only himself to what will surely be a fatal encounter. I mean, he also wants to get all the glory (hello there, fatal flaw), but I definitely get the impression there are a few drops of compassion for his fellow Geats in the mix, too.

How much of his future do you think Beowulf is aware of? Is he just predicting that he’ll end up fighting the dragon on an outcropping close to the nearby sea? Or is there more insight there?

Feel free to share your theories in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf sets out to meet the dragon.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like. And, if you want to keep up with my translations, please do follow this blog!

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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Beowulf takes a seat to think this dragon thing through

Recap
Synopsis
The Original Old English
My Translation
A Quick Interpretation
Closing

The kind of dragon perfectly at home in Beowulf.

An Anglo-Saxon dragon, complete with treasure hoard. Image from http://brer-powerofbabel.blogspot.ca/2011_09_01_archive.html.


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Recap

In my last post, the poet shared how Beowulf rallied together 11 young Geatish warriors, took the dragon hoard thief as a guide, and started out to reckon with the dragon.


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Synopsis

After coming to a clifftop overlooking the dragon’s barrow, Beowulf sits down and reflects on where he is in life.


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The Original Old English

“Gesæt ða on næsse niðheard cyning,
þenden hælo abead heorðgeneatum,
goldwine Geata. Him wæs geomor sefa,
wæfre ond wælfus, wyrd ungemete neah,
se ðone gomelan gretan sceolde,
secean sawle hord, sundur gedælan
lif wið lice, no þon lange wæs
feorh æþelinges flæsce bewunden.”
(Beowulf ll.2417-2424)


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My Translation

“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 ll.2417-2424)


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A Quick Interpretation

The poet is snapping out of something here. The contrast between this passage’s opening line and the last line of the previous passage suggests that as Beowulf sits something shifts in him.

As a refresher, the final line of the previous passage was:

“It would not be easy/for Beowulf to bargain with that dragon for his people’s lives!” (“Næs þæt yðe ceap/to gegangenne gumena ænigum!” (ll.2415-2416))

This statement is a classic example of Anglo-Saxon understatement (or a “litote” for those keen on literary terms). In it we can see the poet openly winking to the audience as the puppets pulled by the lines he lays down dance on without the power to change their fates.
And then you get the simple statement:

“Sat then the veteran king upon the clifftop.” (“Gesæt ða on næsse niðheard cyning” (l.2417))

When was the last time Beowulf sat down? He may have been sitting when he was sharing his exploits and treasures with Hygelac, but I’ve always imagined him standing (or maybe kneeling?) in some sort of audience hall a la Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time.

Ganondorf kneeling before the king of Hyrule, maybe Beowulf did the same?

Ganondorf kneeling before the king of Hyrule. Perhaps as Beowulf did? Though probably without the evil eyes. Image from https://strategywiki.org/wiki/File:OoT_Spying_on_Ganondorf.jpg

Of course, Beowulf’s intentions aren’t as wicked as Ganondorf’s (though Beowulf would be right at home in a world overseen by goddesses and golden triangles).

But even then, going back to his time with the Danes, when he sits for the parties that Hrothgar throws there’s never any line like “Beowulf sat”. With the change it signals, and the sort of coming in to roost of the poem’s metaphorical chickens throughout the remainder of the poem this line is kind of like the “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) moment of the poem for me. It shows Beowulf’s more limited, average human side.

Up until now, Beowulf has been a poem of youthful exploits, adventures in foreign lands, and victory in battle. But now the titular character is an old man and he is fully aware of this.

Though, there have no doubt been some off-page exploits that Beowulf is less than proud of. And he’s probably spent more time quaffing mead and eating pork than keeping up with his swimming regimen.

Yet this is how the poem starts its ending. It’s like the sequel to the blockbuster that no one really wanted starring all the original actors whose characters have been rewritten to fit the physical and mental changes the actors have all undergone in the decades since the original bit of movie magic.

“Sat then the veteran king upon the clifftop.”

But this is Beowulf. As much as his mind starts to turn to how close fate is coming to him, how little of his lease on life he still has left, there’s a dragon out there. And even if, as we’ll see next week, he needs to draw inspiration from his own life, Beowulf will fight it.

What do you imagine Beowulf doing after he sits in this passage? Does he stare out at the landscape below them? Or does he look into the eyes of his Geatish kin and wonder about their safety?

Feel free to share your theories in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf tries to inspire his gathered Geats (and himself?) with his life story.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like. And, if you want to keep up with my translations, please do follow this blog!

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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How Beowulf recruited a thief who knew much of the dragon

First up, I must apologize for how late this week’s entry is. I’ve managed to post every Thursday for quite a while now, and intend to keep posting these translations on Thursdays. This week, though, work got in the way. So, I just want to say thanks for your understanding, and for reading.

Here’s the post!


Recap
Synopsis
The Original Old English
My Translation
A Quick Interpretation
Closing

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

The thief has snuck up to the dragon and reaches for the fateful treasure cup. Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_Beowulf_slave_stealing_golden_cup.jpg


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Recap

Last week, the poet completed his explanation of how Beowulf became king of the Geats.


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Synopsis

Beowulf gathers together a group of twelve to face the dragon. And he happens to get a thirteenth member when the thief who woke the dragon presents the cup to Beowulf.


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The Original Old English

“Swa he niða gehwane genesen hæfde,
sliðra geslyhta, sunu Ecgðiowes,
ellenweorca, oð ðone anne dæg
þe he wið þam wyrme gewegan sceolde.
Gewat þa XIIa sum torne gebolgen
dryhten Geata dracan sceawian.
Hæfde þa gefrunen hwanan sio fæhð aras,
bealonið biorna; him to bearme cwom
maðþumfæt mære þurh ðæs meldan hond.
Se wæs on ðam ðreate þreotteoða secg,
se ðæs orleges or onstealde,
hæft hygegiomor, sceolde hean ðonon
wong wisian. He ofer willan giong
to ðæs ðe he eorðsele anne wisse,
hlæw under hrusan holmwylme neh,
yðgewinne; se wæs innan full
wrætta ond wira. Weard unhiore,
gearo guðfreca, goldmaðmas heold,
eald under eorðan. Næs þæt yðe ceap
to gegangenne gumena ænigum!”
(Beowulf ll.2397-2416)


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My Translation

“Thus Beowulf survived strife from all quarters,
savage battles and slaughter, that son of Ecgtheow,
brave doer of good deeds, until that day.
That 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. He 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. 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!”
(Beowulf ll.2397-2416)


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A Quick Interpretation

How did Beowulf plan to find the dragon before the thief came to him?

Maybe he was just going to go around with his twelve Geats until the dragon swooped down on them.

Or maybe they would’ve gone on a stake out. Sat behind some rocks until the dragon showed up.

As convenient as this meeting is, I think it’s a little shot of realism in this poem.

If you think back to the celebration of Beowulf’s victory over Grendel, you might remember the story of Sigemund the Dragon Slayer. Those events are related as a story even within the world of this story. I would go so far as to argue that the poet’s saying the story was from some far off land is just a fancy way to say “I made this up”.

Anyway, in that story, Sigemund just knew where to go to find the dragon. Why? Because he’s a dragon slayer, I guess. He just has that extra sense built in.

But Beowulf, as something written by an Anglo-Saxon (a person from “Angland” perhaps), has much more immediacy. And the poet must have known that any new, grand story of monsters and mighty heroes needed to have an element of realism to it. So, who could know the way to a treasure hoard that a dragon happens to be guarding? A thief, of course. And so, there’s a thief that joins Beowulf’s party. A thief who is really a guide.

Though maybe Beowulf should strategize to maximize the thief’s “Backstab” ability when fighting the dragon.

Dungeons & Dragons jokes aside, I think that the introduction of the thief as a character of any stature is a way to add complexity to a story that was pretty common. It’s a new twist on the old story of dragon slayers.

What do you think of the inclusion of the thief in Beowulf’s dragon hunting party? What do you think caused the thief to come to Beowulf with the cup? Guilt? The death of his own lord? A desire for glory?

Let me know in the comments!


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Closing

Next week, Beowulf sits down on a cliff and tells his group memories of his youth.

And, if you enjoyed this post, please give it a like.

Also, if you want to keep up with my translations, please do follow this blog!

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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