Beowulf: Gummere Chapter 33

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XXXIII

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“THEN he goes to his chamber,     a grief-song chants,

alone for his lost.     Too large all seems,

homestead and house.     So the helmet-of-Weders,

hid in his heart,     for Herebeald,

waves of woe.     No way could he take,

to avenge on the slayer,     slaughter so foul;

nor even could he harass,     that hero at all,

with loathing deed,     though he loved him not.

And so for the sorrow,     his soul endured,

men’s gladness he gave up,     and God’s light chose.

Lands and cities,     he left his sons,

(as the wealthy do),     when he went from earth.

There was strife and struggle,     ’twixt Swede and Geat,

o’er the width of waters;     war arose,

hard battle-horror,     when Hrethel died,

and Ongentheow’s,     offspring grew,

strife-keen bold,     nor brooked overseas,

pact of peace,     but pushed their hosts,

to harass in hatred,     by Hreosnabeorh.

Men of my folk,     for that feud had vengeance,

for woeful war,     (it is widely known),

though one of them bought it,     with blood of his heart,

a bargain hard:      for Haethcyn proved,

fatal that fray,     for the first-of-Geats.

At morn I heard,     was the murderer killed,

by kinsman for kinsman,[1]     with clash of sword,

when Ongentheow met,     Eofor there.

Wide split the war-helm:      wan he fell,

hoary Scylfing;     the hand that smote him,

of feud was mindful,     nor flinched from the death-blow,

“For all that he[2] gave me,     my gleaming sword,

repaid him at war,     such power I wielded,

for lordly treasure:      with land he entrusted me,

homestead and house.     He had no need,

from Swedish realm,     or from Spear-Dane folk,

or from men of the Gifths,     to get him help,

some warrior worse,     for wage to buy!

Ever I fought,     in the front of all,

sole to the fore;     and so shall I fight,

while I bide in life,     and this blade shall last,

that early and late,     hath loyal proved,

since for my doughtiness,     Daeghrefn fell,

slain by my hand,     the Hugas’ champion.

Nor fared he thence,     to the Frisian king,

with the booty back,     and breast-adornments;

but, slain in struggle,     that standard-bearer,

fell atheling brave.     Not with blade was he slain,

but his bones were broken,     by brawny grip,

his heart-waves stilled.     The sword-edge now,

hard blade and my hand,     for the hoard shall strive.”

Beowulf spake,     and a battle-vow made,

his last of all:      “I have lived through many,

wars in my youth;     now once again,

old folk-defender,     feud will I seek,

do doughty deeds,     if the dark destroyer,

forth from his cavern,     come to fight me!”

Then hailed he the helmeted,     heroes all,

for the last time greeting,     his liegemen dear,

comrades of war:      “I should carry no weapon,

no sword to the serpent,     if sure I knew,

how with such enemy,     else my vows,

I could gain as I did,     in Grendel’s day.

But fire in this fight,     I must fear me now,

and poisonous breath;     so I bring with me,

breastplate and board.[3]     From the barrow’s keeper,

no footbreadth flee I.     One fight shall end,

our war by the wall,     as Wyrd allots,

all mankind’s master.     My mood is bold,

but forbears to boast,     o’er this battling-flyer.

Now abide by the barrow,     ye breastplate-mailed,

ye heroes in harness,     which of us twain,

better from battle-rush,     bear his wounds.

Wait ye the finish.     The fight is not yours,

nor meet for any,     but me alone,

to measure might,     with this monster here,

and play the hero.     Hardily I,

shall win that wealth,     or war shall seize,

cruel killing,     your king and lord!”

Up stood then with shield,     the sturdy champion,

stayed by the strength,     of his single manhood,

and hardy beneath helmet,     his harness bore,

under cleft of the cliffs:      no coward’s path!

Soon spied by the wall,     that warrior chief,

survivor of many,     a victory-field,

where foemen fought,     with furious clashings,

an arch of stone;     and within a stream,

that broke from the barrow.     The brooklet’s wave,

was hot with fire.     The hoard that way,

he never could hope,     unharmed to near,

or endure those deeps,[4]     for the dragon’s flame.

Then let from his breast,     for he burst with rage,

the Weder-Geat prince,     a word outgo;

stormed the stark-heart;     stern went ringing,

and clear his cry,     beneath the cliff-rocks gray.

The hoard-guard heard,     a human voice;

his rage was enkindled.     No respite now,

for pact of peace!     The poison-breath,

of that foul worm first,     came forth from the cave,

hot reek-of-fight:      the rocks resounded.

Stout by the stone-way,     his shield he raised,

lord of the Geats,     against the loathed-one;

while with courage keen,     that coiled foe,

came seeking strife.     The sturdy king,

had drawn his sword,     not dull of edge,

heirloom old;     and each of the two,

felt fear of his foe,     though fierce their mood.

Stoutly stood,     with his shield high-raised,

the warrior king,     as the worm now coiled,

together amain:      the mailed-one waited.

Now spire by spire,     fast sped and glided,

that blazing serpent.     The shield protected,

soul and body,     a shorter while,

for the hero-king,     than his heart desired,

could his will have wielded,     the welcome respite,

but once in his life!     But Wyrd denied it,

and victory’s honors.     His arm he lifted,

lord of the Geats,     the grim foe smote,

with atheling’s heirloom.     Its edge was turned,

brown blade on the bone,     and bit more feebly,

than its noble master,     had need of then,

in his evil stress.     Then the barrow’s keeper,

waxed full wild,     for that weighty blow,

cast deadly flames;     wide drove and far,

those vicious fires.     No victor’s glory,

the Geats’ lord boasted;     his brand had failed,

naked in battle,     as never it should,

excellent iron!     It was no easy path,

that Ecgtheow’s honored,     heir must tread,

over the plain,     to the place of the foe;

for against his will,     he must win a home,

elsewhere far,     as must all men leaving,

this lapsing life!     Not long it was,

ere those champions,     grimly closed again.

The hoard-guard was heartened;     high heaved his breast,

once more; and by peril,     was pressed again,

enfolded in flames,     the folk-commander!

Nor yet about him,     his band of comrades,

sons of athelings,     armed stood,

with warlike front:      to the woods they bent them,

their lives to save.     But the soul of one,

with care was cumbered.     Kinship true,

can never be marred,     in a noble mind!

[1] Eofor for Wulf. — The immediate provocation for Eofor in killing “the hoary Scylfing,” Ongentheow, is that the latter has just struck Wulf down, but the king, Haethcyn, is also avenged by the blow. See the detailed description below.

[2] Hygelac.

[3] Shield.

[4] The hollow passage.

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