Beowulf: Hall Chapter 34

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XXXIV. BEOWULF SEEKS THE DRAGON.–BEOWULF’S REMINISCENCES.

He planned requital,       for the folk-leader’s ruin,
In days thereafter,       to Eadgils the wretched,
Becoming an enemy.       Ohthere’s son then,
Went with a war-troop,       o’er the wide-stretching currents,
With warriors and weapons:       with woe-journeys cold he, — 5.
After avenged him,       the king’s life he took.

{Beowulf has been preserved through many perils.}

So he came off uninjured,       from all of his battles,
Perilous fights,       offspring of Ecgtheow,
From his deeds of daring,       till that day most momentous, — 2440.
When he fate-driven fared,       to fight with the dragon. — 10.

{With eleven comrades, he seeks the dragon.}

With eleven companions,       the prince of the Geatmen,
Went lowering with fury,       to look at the fire-drake:
Inquiring he’d found how,       the feud had arisen,
Hate to his heroes;       the highly-famed gem-vessel,
Was brought to his keeping,       through the hand of th’ informer. — 15.

{A guide leads the way, but.}

That in the throng,       was thirteenth of heroes,
That caused the beginning,       of conflict so bitter,
Captive and wretched,       must sad-mooded thenceward,

{very reluctantly.}

Point out the place:       he passed then unwillingly, — 2450.
To the spot where he knew,       of the notable cavern, — 20.
The cave under earth,       not far from the ocean,
The anger of eddies,       which inward was full of,
Jewels and wires:       a warden uncanny,
Warrior weaponed,       wardered the treasure,
Old under earth;       no easy possession, — 25.
For any of earth-folk,       access to get to.
Then the battle-brave atheling,       sat on the naze-edge,
While the gold-friend of Geatmen,       gracious saluted,
His fireside-companions:       woe was his spirit, — 2460.
Death-boding, wav’ring;       Weird very near him, — 30.
Who must seize the old hero,       his soul-treasure look for,
Dragging aloof,       his life from his body:
Not flesh-hidden long,       was the folk-leader’s spirit.
Beowulf spake,       Ecgtheow’s son:

{Beowulf’s retrospect.}

“I survived in my youth-days,       many a conflict, — 35.
Hours of onset:       that all I remember.
I was seven-winters old,       when the jewel-prince took me,
High-lord of heroes,       at the hands of my father,
Hrethel the hero-king,       had me in keeping, — 2470.

{Hrethel took me when I was seven.}

Gave me treasure and feasting,       our kinship remembered; — 40.
Not ever was I,       any less dear to him,

{He treated me as a son.}

Knight in the boroughs,       than the bairns of his household,
Herebald and Hæthcyn,       and Higelac mine.
To the eldest unjustly,       by acts of a kinsman,
Was murder-bed strewn,       since him Hæthcyn from horn-bow, — 45.

{One of the brothers accidentally kills another.}

His sheltering chieftain,       shot with an arrow,
Erred in his aim and,       injured his kinsman,
One brother the other,       with blood-sprinkled spear:

{No fee could compound for such a calamity.}

‘Twas a feeless fight,       finished in malice, — 2480.
Sad to his spirit;       the folk-prince however, — 50.
Had to part from existence,       with vengeance untaken.

{[A parallel case is supposed.]}

So to hoar-headed hero,       ’tis heavily crushing,[1.]
To live to see his son,       as he rideth,
Young on the gallows:       then measures he chanteth,
A song of sorrow,       when his son is hanging, — 55.
For the raven’s delight,       and aged and hoary,
He is unable to offer,       any assistance.
Every morning,       his offspring’s departure,
Is constant recalled:       he cares not to wait for, — 2490.
The birth of an heir,       in his borough-enclosures, — 60.
Since that one through death-pain,       the deeds hath experienced.
He heart-grieved beholds,       in the house of his son the,
Wine-building wasted,       the wind-lodging places,
Reaved of their roaring;       the riders are sleeping,
The knights in the grave;       there’s no sound of the harp-wood, — 65.
Joy in the yards,       as of yore were familiar.

— NOTES —

[1.] ‘Gomelum ceorle’ (2445).–H. takes these words as referring to Hrethel; but the translator here departs from his editor by understanding the poet to refer to a hypothetical old man, introduced as an illustration of a father’s sorrow. Hrethrel had certainly never seen a son of his ride on the gallows to feed the crows. The passage beginning ‘swá bið géomorlic’ seems to be an effort to reach a full simile, ‘as … so.’ ‘As it is mournful for an old man, etc. … so the defence of the Weders (2463) bore heart-sorrow, etc.’ The verses 2451 to 2463-1/2 would be parenthetical, the poet’s feelings being so strong as to interrupt the simile. The punctuation of the fourth edition would be better–a comma after ‘galgan’ (2447). The translation may be indicated as follows: (Just) as it is sad for an old man to see his son ride young on the gallows when he himself is uttering mournful measures, a sorrowful song, while his son hangs for a comfort to the raven, and he, old and infirm, cannot render him any kelp–(he is constantly reminded, etc., 2451-2463)–so the defence of the Weders, etc.

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