Beowulf: Gummere Chapter 29

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XXIX

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“So held this king,     to the customs old,

that I wanted for nought,     in the wage I gained,

the meed of my might;     he made me gifts,

Healfdene’s heir,     for my own disposal.

Now to thee my prince,     I proffer them all,

gladly give them.     Thy grace alone,

can find me favor.     Few indeed,

have I of kinsmen,     save Hygelac thee!”

Then he bade them bear him,     the boar-head standard,

the battle-helm high,     and breastplate gray,

the splendid sword;     then spake in form:

“Me this war-gear,     the wise old prince,

Hrothgar gave,     and his promise he added,

that its story be straightway,     said to thee.

A while it was held,     by Heorogar king,

for long time lord,     of the land of Scyldings;

yet not to his son,     the sovran left it,

to daring Heoroweard,     dear as he was to him,

his harness of battle.     Well hold thou it all!”

And I heard that soon passed,     o’er the path of this treasure,

all apple-fallow,     four good steeds,

each like the others,     arms and horses,

he gave to the king.     So should kinsmen be,

not weave one another,     the net of wiles,

or with deep-hid treachery,     death contrive,

for neighbor and comrade.     His nephew was ever,

by hardy Hygelac,     held full dear,

and each kept watch,     o’er the other’s weal.

I heard too the necklace,     to Hygd he presented,

wonder-wrought treasure,     which Wealhtheow gave him,

sovran’s daughter:      three steeds he added,

slender and saddle-gay.     Since such gift,

the gem gleamed bright,     on the breast of the queen.

Thus showed his strain,     the son of Ecgtheow,

as a man remarked,     for mighty deeds,

and acts of honor.     At ale he slew not,

comrade or kin;     nor cruel his mood,

though of sons of earth,     his strength was greatest,

a glorious gift,     that God had sent,

the splendid leader.     Long was he spurned,

and worthless by Geatish,     warriors held;

him at mead,     the master-of-clans,

failed full oft,     to favor at all.

Slack and shiftless,     the strong men deemed him,

profitless prince;     but payment came,

to the warrior honored,     for all his woes.

Then the bulwark-of-earls,[1]     bade bring within,

hardy chieftain,     Hrethel’s heirloom,

garnished with gold:      no Geat ever knew,

in shape of a sword,     a statelier prize.

The brand he laid,     in Beowulf’s lap;

and of hides assigned him,     seven thousand,[2]

with house and high-seat.     They held in common,

land alike,     by their line of birth,

inheritance home,      but higher the king,

because of his rule,     o’er the realm itself.

Now further it fell,     with the flight of years,

with harryings horrid,     that Hygelac perished,[3]

and Heardred too,     by hewing of swords,

under the shield-wall,     slaughtered lay,

when him at the van,     of his victor-folk,

sought hardy heroes,     Heatho-Scilfings,

in arms o’erwhelming,     Hereric’s nephew.

Then Beowulf came,     as king this broad,

realm to wield;     and he ruled it well,

fifty winters,[4]     a wise old prince,

warding his land,     until One began,

in the dark of night,     a Dragon to rage.

In the grave on the hill,     a hoard it guarded,

in the stone-barrow steep.     A strait path reached it,

unknown to mortals.     Some man however,

came by chance,     that cave within,

to the heathen hoard.[5]     In hand he took,

a golden goblet,     nor gave he it back,

stole with it away,     while the watcher slept,

by thievish wiles:      for the warden’s wrath,

prince and people,     must pay betimes!

[1] Hygelac.

[2] This is generally assumed to mean hides, though the text simply says “seven thousand.” A hide in England meant about 120 acres, though “the size of the acre varied.”

[3] On the historical raid into Frankish territory between 512 and 520 A.D. The subsequent course of events, as gathered from hints of this epic, is partly told in Scandinavian legend.

[4] The chronology of this epic, as scholars have worked it out, would make Beowulf well over ninety years of age when he fights the dragon. But the fifty years of his reign need not be taken as historical fact.

[5] The text is here hopelessly illegible, and only the general drift of the meaning can be rescued. For one thing, we have the old myth of a dragon who guards hidden treasure. But with this runs the story of some noble, last of his race, who hides all his wealth within this barrow and there chants his farewell to life’s glories. After his death the dragon takes possession of the hoard and watches over it. A condemned or banished man, desperate, hides in the barrow, discovers the treasure, and while the dragon sleeps, makes off with a golden beaker or the like, and carries it for propitiation to his master. The dragon discovers the loss and exacts fearful penalty from the people round about.

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