Beowulf: Gummere Chapter 40

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XL

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A PERILOUS path,     it proved he[1] trod,

who heinously hid,     that hall within,

wealth under wall!     Its watcher had killed,

one of a few,[2]     and the feud was avenged,

in woeful fashion.     Wondrous seems it,

what manner a man,     of might and valor,

oft ends his life,     when the earl no longer,

in mead-hall may live,     with loving friends.

So Beowulf when,     that barrow’s warden,

he sought and the struggle;     himself knew not,

in what wise he should wend,     from the world at last.

For[3] princes potent,     who placed the gold,

with a curse to doomsday,     covered it deep,

so that marked with sin,     the man should be,

hedged with horrors,     in hell-bonds fast,

racked with plagues,     who should rob their hoard.

Yet no greed for gold,     but the grace of heaven,

ever the king,     had kept in view.[4]

Wiglaf spake,     the son of Weohstan:

“At the mandate of one,     oft warriors many,

sorrow must suffer;     and so must we.

The people’s-shepherd,     showed not aught,

of care for our counsel,     king beloved!

That guardian of gold,     he should grapple not,

urged we but let him lie,     where he long had been,

in his earth-hall waiting,     the end of the world,

the promise of heaven.     This hoard is ours,

but grievously gotten;     too grim the fate,

which thither carried,     our king and lord.

I was within there,     and all I viewed,

the chambered treasure,     when chance allowed me,

(and my path was made,     in no pleasant wise),

under the earth-wall.     Eager I seized,

such heap from the hoard,     as hands could bear,

and hurriedly carried it,,     hither back,

to my liege and lord.     Alive was he still,

still wielding his wits.     The wise old man,

spake much in his sorrow,     and sent you greetings,

and bade that ye build,     when he breathed no more,

on the place of his evilfire,     a barrow high,

memorial mighty.     Of men was he,

worthiest warrior,     wide earth o’er,

the while he had joy,     of his jewels and burg.

Let us set out in haste now,     the second time,

to see and search,     this store of treasure,

these wall-hid wonders,     the way I show you,

where, gathered near,     ye may gaze your fill,

at broad-gold and rings.     Let the bier soon made,

be all in order,     when out we come,

our king and captain,     to carry thither,

man beloved,     where long he shall bide,

safe in the shelter,     of sovran God.”

Then the bairn of Weohstan,     bade command,

hardy chief,     to heroes many,

that owned their homesteads,     hither to bring,

firewood from far,     o’er the folk they ruled,

for the famed-one’s funeral.     ”Fire shall devour,

and wan flames feed,     on the fearless warrior,

who oft stood stout,     in the iron-shower,

when sped from the string,     a storm of arrows,

shot o’er the shield-wall:      the shaft held firm,

featly feathered,     followed the barb.”

And now the sage,     young son of Weohstan,

seven chose,     of the chieftain’s thanes,

the best he found,     that band within,

and went with these warriors,     one of eight,

under hostile roof.     In hand one bore,

a lighted torch,     and led the way.

No lots they cast,     for keeping the hoard,

when once the warriors,     saw it in hall,

altogether without,     a guardian,

lying there lost.     And little they mourned,

when they had hastily,     hauled it out,

dear-bought treasure!     The dragon they cast,

the worm o’er the wall,     for the wave to take,

and surges swallowed,     that shepherd of gems.

Then the woven gold,     on a wain was laden,

countless quite!     And the king was borne,

hoary hero,     to Hrones-Ness.

[1] Probably the fugitive is meant who discovered the hoard. Ten Brink and Gering assume that the dragon is meant. “Hid” may well mean here “took while in hiding.”

[2] That is “one and a few others.” But Beowulf seems to be indicated.

[3] Ten Brink points out the strongly heathen character of this part of the epic. Beowulf’s end came, so the old tradition ran, from his unwitting interference with spell-bound treasure.

[4] A hard saying, variously interpreted. In any case, it is the somewhat clumsy effort of the Christian poet to tone down the heathenism of
his material by an edifying observation.

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