Beowulf: Gummere Chapter 34

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XXXIV

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WIGLAF his name was,     Weohstan’s son,

linden-thane loved,     the lord of Scylfings,

Aelfhere’s kinsman.     His king he now saw,

with heat under helmet,     hard oppressed.

He minded the prizes,     his prince had given him,

wealthy seat,     of the Waegmunding line,

and folk-rights that,     his father owned.

Not long he lingered,     The linden yellow,

his shield he seized;     the old sword he drew:

as heirloom of Eanmund,     earth-dwellers knew it,

who was slain by the sword-edge,     son of Ohtere,

friendless exile,     before in fray,

killed by Weohstan,     who won for his kin,

brown-bright helmet,     breastplate ringed,

old sword of Eotens,     Onela’s gift,

weeds of war,     of the warrior-thane,

battle-gear brave:      though a brother’s child,

had been felled,     the feud was unfelt by Onela.[1]

For winters this war-gear,     Weohstan kept,

breastplate and board,     till his bairn had grown,

earlship to earn,     as the old sire did:

then he gave him mid Geats,     the gear of battle,

portion huge,     when he passed from life,

fared aged forth.     For the first time now,

with his leader-lord,     the liegeman young,

was bidden to share,     the shock of battle.

Neither softened his soul,     nor the sire’s bequest,

weakened in war.[2]     So the worm found out,

when once in fight,     the foes had met!

Wiglaf spake,     and his words were sage;

sad in spirit,     he said to his comrades:

“I remember the time,     when mead we took,

what promise we made,     to this prince of ours,

in the banquet-hall,     to our breaker-of-rings,

for gear of combat,     to give him requital,

for hard-sword and helmet,     if hap should bring,

stress of this sort!     Himself who chose us,

from all his army,     to aid him now,

urged us to glory,     and gave these treasures,

because he counted us,     keen with the spear,

and hardy beneath helm,     though this hero-work,

our leader hoped,     unhelped and alone,

to finish for us,     folk-defender,

who hath got him glory,     greater than all men,

for daring deeds!     Now the day is come,

that our noble master,     has need of the might,

of warriors stout,     Let us stride along,

the hero to help,     while the heat is about him,

glowing and grim!     For God is my witness,

I am far more pleased,     the fire should seize,

along with my lord,     these limbs of mine![3]

Unsuiting it seems,     our shields to bear,

homeward hence,     save here we essay,

to fell the foe,     and defend the life,

of the Weders’ lord.     I wot ’twere shame,

on the law of our land,     if alone the king,

out of Geatish warriors,     woe endured,

and sank in the struggle!     My sword and helmet,

breastplate and board,     for us both shall serve!”

Through slaughter-reek strode he,     to succor his chieftain,

his battle-helm bore,     and brief words spake:

“Beowulf dearest,     do all bravely,

as in youthful days,     of yore thou vowedst,

that while life should last,     thou wouldst let no wise,

thy glory droop!     Now great in deeds,

atheling steadfast,     with all thy strength,

shield thy life!     I will stand to help thee,”

At the words the worm,     came once again,

murderous monster,     mad with rage,

with fire-billows flaming,     its foes to seek,

the hated men.     In heat-waves burned,

that board[4] to the boss,     and the breastplate failed,

to shelter at all,     the spear-thane young.

Yet quickly under,     his kinsman’s shield,

went eager the earl,     since his own was now,

all burned by the blaze.     The bold king again,

had mind of his glory:      with might his glaive,

was driven into,     the dragon’s head,

blow nerved by hate.     But Naegling[5] was shivered,

broken in battle,     was Beowulf’s sword,

old and gray,     it was granted him not,

that ever the edge,     of iron at all,

could help him at strife:      too strong was his hand,

so the tale is told,     and he tried too far,

with strength of stroke,     all swords he wielded,

though sturdy their steel:      they steaded him nought.

Then for the third time,     thought on its feud,

that folk-destroyer,     fire-dread dragon,

and rushed on the hero,     where room allowed,

battle-grim, burning;     its bitter teeth,

closed on his neck,     and covered him,

with waves of blood,     from his breast that welled.

[1] That is, although Eanmund was brother’s son to Onela, the slaying of the former by Weohstan is not felt as cause of feud, and is rewarded by gift of the slain man’s weapons.

[2] Both Wiglaf and the sword did their duty. — The following is one of the classic passages for illustrating the comitatus as the most conspicuous Germanic institution, and its underlying sense of duty, based partly on the idea of loyalty and partly on the practical basis of benefits received and repaid.

[3] Sc. “than to bide safely here,” — a common figure of incomplete comparison.

[4] Wiglaf’s wooden shield.

[5] Gering would translate “kinsman of the nail,” as both are made of iron.

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