Beowulf: Gummere Chapter 31

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THEN the evil fiend,     its fire belched out,

and bright homes burned.     The blaze stood high,

all landsfolk frighting.     No living thing,

would that loathly one,     leave as aloft it flew.

Wide was the dragon’s,     warring seen,

its fiendish fury,     far and near,

as the grim destroyer,     those Geatish people,

hated and hounded.     To hidden lair,

to its hoard it hastened,     at hint of dawn.

Folk of the land,     it had lapped in flame,

with evil and brand.     In its barrow it trusted,

its battling and bulwarks:      that boast was vain!

To Beowulf then,     the evil was told,

quickly and truly,      the king’s own home,

of buildings the best,     in brand-waves melted,

that gift-throne of Geats.     To the good old man,

sad in heart,     it was heaviest sorrow.

The sage assumed,     that his sovran God,

he had angered,     breaking ancient law,

and embittered the Lord.     His breast within,

with black thoughts welled,     as his wont was never.

The folk’s own fastness,     that fiery dragon,

with flame had destroyed,     and the stronghold all,

washed by waves;     but the warlike king,

prince of the Weders,     plotted vengeance.

Warriors’-bulwark,     he bade them work,

all of iron,     the earl’s commander,

a war-shield wondrous:      well he knew,

that forest-wood,     against fire were worthless,

linden could aid not.     Atheling brave,

he was fated to finish,     this fleeting life,[1]

his days on earth,     and the dragon with him,

though long it had watched,     o’er wealth of the hoard!

Shame he reckoned it,     sharer-of-rings,

to follow the flyer-afar,     with a host,

a broad-flung band;     nor the battle feared he,

nor deemed he dreadful,     the dragon’s warring,

its vigor and valor:      ventures desperate,

he had passed a-plenty,     and perils of war,

contest-crash since,     conqueror proud.

Hrothgar’s hall,     he had wholly purged,

and in grapple had killed,     the kin of Grendel,

loathsome breed!     Not least was that,

of hand-to-hand fights,     where Hygelac fell,

when the ruler of Geats,     in rush of battle,

lord of his folk,     in the Frisian land,

son of Hrethel,     by sword-draughts died,

by brands down-beaten.     Thence Beowulf fled,

through strength of himself,     and his swimming power,

though alone and his arms,     were laden with thirty,

coats of mail,     when he came to the sea!

Nor yet might Hetwaras,[2]     haughtily boast,

their craft of contest,     who carried against him,

shields to the fight:      but few escaped,

from strife with the hero,     to seek their homes!

Then swam over ocean,     Ecgtheow’s son,

lonely and sorrowful,     seeking his land,

where Hygd made him offer,     of hoard and realm,

rings and royal-seat,     reckoning naught,

the strength of her son,     to save their kingdom,

from hostile hordes,     after Hygelac’s death.

No sooner for this,     could the stricken ones,

in any wise move,     that atheling’s mind,

over young Heardred’s,     head as lord,

and ruler of all,     the realm to be:

yet the hero upheld him,     with helpful words,

aided in honor,     till older grown,

he wielded the Weder-Geats.     Wandering exiles,

sought him o’er seas,     the sons of Ohtere,

who had spurned the sway,     of the Scylfings’-helmet,

the bravest and best,     that broke the rings,

in Swedish land,     of the sea-kings’ line,

haughty hero.[3]     Hence Heardred’s end.

For shelter he gave them,     sword-death came,

the blade’s fell blow,     to bairn of Hygelac;

but the son of Ongentheow,     sought again,

house and home,     when Heardred fell,

leaving Beowulf,     lord of Geats,

and gift-seat’s master.     A good king he!

[1] Literally “loan-days,” days loaned to man.

[2] Chattuarii, a tribe that dwelt along the Rhine, and took part in repelling the raid of (Hygelac) Chocilaicus.

[3] Onela, son of Ongentheow, who pursues his two nephews Eanmund and Eadgils to Heardred’s court, where they have taken refuge after their unsuccessful rebellion. In the fighting Heardred is killed.

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