by Anonymous

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XXXIV - Beowulf Seeks the Dragon - Beowulf's Reminiscences

A picture for the book Beowulf

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
        5 With warriors and weapons: with woe-journeys cold he
          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
       10 When he fate-driven fared to fight with the dragon.

{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
       15 Was brought to his keeping through the hand of th' informer.

{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
       20 To the spot where he knew of the notable cavern,
          The cave under earth, not far from the ocean,
          The anger of eddies, which inward was full of
          Jewels and wires: a warden uncanny,
[82]      Warrior weaponed, wardered the treasure,
       25 Old under earth; no easy possession
          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,
       30 Death-boding, wav'ring; Weird very near him,
          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.}

       35 "I survived in my youth-days many a conflict,
          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,

{Hrethel took me when I was seven.}

       40 Gave me treasure and feasting, our kinship remembered;
          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
       45 Was murder-bed strewn, since him Hæthcyn from horn-bow

{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,
       50 Sad to his spirit; the folk-prince however
          Had to part from existence with vengeance untaken.

{[A parallel case is supposed.]}

          So to hoar-headed hero 'tis heavily crushing[1]
[83]      To live to see his son as he rideth
          Young on the gallows: then measures he chanteth,
       55 A song of sorrow, when his son is hanging
          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
       60 The birth of an heir in his borough-enclosures,
          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,
       65 The knights in the grave; there's no sound of the harp-wood,
          Joy in the yards, as of yore were familiar.

    [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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