Beowulf: Hall Chapter 38

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XXXVIII. WIGLAF PLUNDERS THE DRAGON’S DEN.–BEOWULF’S DEATH.

{Wiglaf fulfils his lord’s behest.}

Then heard I that Wihstan’s son,       very quickly,
These words being uttered,       heeded his liegelord,
Wounded and war-sick,       went in his armor,
His well-woven ring-mail,       ‘neath the roof of the barrow. — 2780.
Then the trusty retainer,       treasure-gems many, — 5.

{The dragon’s den.}

Victorious saw,       when the seat he came near to,
Gold-treasure sparkling,       spread on the bottom,
Wonder on the wall,       and the worm-creature’s cavern,
The ancient dawn-flier’s,       vessels a-standing,
Cups of the ancients,       of cleansers bereavèd, — 10.
Robbed of their ornaments:       there were helmets in numbers,
Old and rust-eaten,       arm-bracelets many,
Artfully woven.       Wealth can easily,
Gold on the sea-bottom,       turn into vanity,[1.] — 2790.
Each one of earthmen,       arm him who pleaseth! — 15.
And he saw there lying,       an all-golden banner,
High o’er the hoard,       of hand-wonders greatest,
Linkèd with lacets:       a light from it sparkled,
That the floor of the cavern,       he was able to look on,

{The dragon is not there.}

To examine the jewels.       Sight of the dragon, — 20.
Not any was offered,       but edge offcarried him.

{Wiglaf bears the hoard away.}

Then I heard that the hero,       the hoard-treasure plundered,
The giant-work ancient,       reaved in the cavern,
Bare on his bosom,       the beakers and platters, — 2800.
As himself would fain have it,       and took off the standard, — 25.
The brightest of beacons;[2.]       the bill had erst injured,
(Its edge was of iron),       the old-ruler’s weapon,
Him who long had watched,       as ward of the jewels,
Who fire-terror carried,       hot for the treasure,
Rolling in battle,       in middlemost darkness, — 30.
Till murdered he perished.       The messenger hastened,
Not loth to return,       hurried by jewels:
Curiosity urged him if,       excellent-mooded,
Alive he should find,       the lord of the Weders, — .
Mortally wounded,       at the place where he left him. — 35.
‘Mid the jewels he found then,       the famous old chieftain,
His liegelord belovèd,       at his life’s-end gory:
He thereupon ‘gan,       to lave him with water,
Till the point of his word,       piercèd his breast-hoard.
Beowulf spake,       (the gold-gems he noticed), — 40.

{Beowulf is rejoiced to see the jewels.}

The old one in sorrow:       “For the jewels I look on,
Thanks do I utter,       for all to the Ruler,
Wielder of Worship,       with words of devotion,
The Lord everlasting,       that He let me such treasures, — 2810.
Gain for my people,       ere death overtook me. — 45.
Since I’ve bartered the agèd,       life to me granted,
For treasure of jewels,       attend ye henceforward,

{He desires to be held in memory by his people.}

The wants of the war-thanes;       I can wait here no longer.
The battle-famed bid ye,       to build them a grave-hill,
Bright when I’m burned,       at the brim-current’s limit; — 50.
As a memory-mark,       to the men I have governed,
Aloft it shall tower,       on Whale’s-Ness uprising,
That earls of the ocean,       hereafter may call it,
Beowulf’s barrow,       those who barks ever-dashing, — 2820.
From a distance shall drive,       o’er the darkness of waters.” — 55.

{The hero’s last gift.}

The bold-mooded troop-lord,       took from his neck then,
The ring that was golden,       gave to his liegeman,
The youthful war-hero,       his gold-flashing helmet,
His collar and war-mail,       bade him well to enjoy them:

{and last words.}

“Thou art latest left,       of the line of our kindred, — 60.
Of Wægmunding people:       Weird hath offcarried,
All of my kinsmen,       to the Creator’s glory,
Earls in their vigor:       I shall after them fare.”
‘Twas the aged liegelord’s,       last-spoken word in, — 2830.
His musings of spirit,       ere he mounted the fire, — 65.
The battle-waves burning:       from his bosom departed,
His soul to seek,       the sainted ones’ glory.

— NOTES —

[1.] The word ‘oferhígian’ (2767) being vague and little understood, two quite distinct translations of this passage have arisen. One takes ‘oferhígian’ as meaning ‘to exceed,’ and, inserting ‘hord’ after ‘gehwone,’ renders: The treasure may easily, the gold in the ground, exceed in value every hoard of man, hide it who will. The other takes ‘oferhígian’ as meaning ‘to render arrogant,’ and, giving the sentence a moralizing tone, renders substantially as in the body of this work. (Cf. 2813 et seq.)
[2.] The passage beginning here is very much disputed. ‘The bill of the old lord’ is by some regarded as Beowulf’s sword; by others, as that of the ancient possessor of the hoard. ‘Ær gescód’ (2778), translated in this work as verb and adverb, is by some regarded as a compound participial adj. = sheathed in brass.

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