by Anonymous

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XXXV - Reminiscences (continued) - Beowulf's Last Battle

"He seeks then his chamber, singeth a woe-song
          One for the other; all too extensive
          Seemed homesteads and plains. So the helm of the Weders

{Hrethel grieves for Herebald.}

          Mindful of Herebald heart-sorrow carried,
        5 Stirred with emotion, nowise was able
          To wreak his ruin on the ruthless destroyer:
          He was unable to follow the warrior with hatred,
          With deeds that were direful, though dear he not held him.
[84]      Then pressed by the pang this pain occasioned him,
       10 He gave up glee, God-light elected;
          He left to his sons, as the man that is rich does,
          His land and fortress, when from life he departed.

{Strife between Swedes and Geats.}

          Then was crime and hostility 'twixt Swedes and Geatmen,
          O'er wide-stretching water warring was mutual,
       15 Burdensome hatred, when Hrethel had perished,
          And Ongentheow's offspring were active and valiant,
          Wished not to hold to peace oversea, but
          Round Hreosna-beorh often accomplished
          Cruelest massacre. This my kinsman avengèd,
       20 The feud and fury, as 'tis found on inquiry,
          Though one of them paid it with forfeit of life-joys,

{Hæthcyn's fall at Ravenswood.}

          With price that was hard: the struggle became then
          Fatal to Hæthcyn, lord of the Geatmen.
          Then I heard that at morning one brother the other
       25 With edges of irons egged on to murder,
          Where Ongentheow maketh onset on Eofor:
          The helmet crashed, the hoary-haired Scylfing
          Sword-smitten fell, his hand then remembered
          Feud-hate sufficient, refused not the death-blow.

{I requited him for the jewels he gave me.}

       30 The gems that he gave me, with jewel-bright sword I
          'Quited in contest, as occasion was offered:
          Land he allowed me, life-joy at homestead,
          Manor to live on. Little he needed
          From Gepids or Danes or in Sweden to look for
       35 Trooper less true, with treasure to buy him;
          'Mong foot-soldiers ever in front I would hie me,
          Alone in the vanguard, and evermore gladly
          Warfare shall wage, while this weapon endureth
          That late and early often did serve me

{Beowulf refers to his having slain Dæghrefn.}

       40 When I proved before heroes the slayer of Dæghrefn,
          Knight of the Hugmen: he by no means was suffered
          To the king of the Frisians to carry the jewels,
          The breast-decoration; but the banner-possessor
          Bowed in the battle, brave-mooded atheling.
[85]   45 No weapon was slayer, but war-grapple broke then
          The surge of his spirit, his body destroying.
          Now shall weapon's edge make war for the treasure,
          And hand and firm-sword." Beowulf spake then,
          Boast-words uttered--the latest occasion:

{He boasts of his youthful prowess, and declares himself still fearless.}

       50 "I braved in my youth-days battles unnumbered;
          Still am I willing the struggle to look for,
          Fame-deeds perform, folk-warden prudent,
          If the hateful despoiler forth from his cavern
          Seeketh me out!" Each of the heroes,
       55 Helm-bearers sturdy, he thereupon greeted

{His last salutations.}

          Belovèd co-liegemen--his last salutation:
          "No brand would I bear, no blade for the dragon,
          Wist I a way my word-boast to 'complish[1]
          Else with the monster, as with Grendel I did it;
       60 But fire in the battle hot I expect there,
          Furious flame-burning: so I fixed on my body
          Target and war-mail. The ward of the barrow[2]
          I'll not flee from a foot-length, the foeman uncanny.
          At the wall 'twill befall us as Fate decreeth,

{Let Fate decide between us.}

       65 Each one's Creator. I am eager in spirit,
          With the wingèd war-hero to away with all boasting.
          Bide on the barrow with burnies protected,

{Wait ye here till the battle is over.}

          Earls in armor, which of _us_ two may better
          Bear his disaster, when the battle is over.
       70 'Tis no matter of yours, and man cannot do it,
          But me and me only, to measure his strength with
          The monster of malice, might-deeds to 'complish.
          I with prowess shall gain the gold, or the battle,
[86]      Direful death-woe will drag off your ruler!"
       75 The mighty champion rose by his shield then,
          Brave under helmet, in battle-mail went he
          'Neath steep-rising stone-cliffs, the strength he relied on
          Of one man alone: no work for a coward.
          Then he saw by the wall who a great many battles
       80 Had lived through, most worthy, when foot-troops collided,

{The place of strife is described.}

          Stone-arches standing, stout-hearted champion,
          Saw a brook from the barrow bubbling out thenceward:
          The flood of the fountain was fuming with war-flame:
          Not nigh to the hoard, for season the briefest
       85 Could he brave, without burning, the abyss that was yawning,
          The drake was so fiery. The prince of the Weders
          Caused then that words came from his bosom,
          So fierce was his fury; the firm-hearted shouted:
          His battle-clear voice came in resounding
       90 'Neath the gray-colored stone. Stirred was his hatred,

{Beowulf calls out under the stone arches.}

          The hoard-ward distinguished the speech of a man;
          Time was no longer to look out for friendship.
          The breath of the monster issued forth first,
          Vapory war-sweat, out of the stone-cave:

{The terrible encounter.}

       95 The earth re-echoed. The earl 'neath the barrow
          Lifted his shield, lord of the Geatmen,
          Tow'rd the terrible stranger: the ring-twisted creature's
          Heart was then ready to seek for a struggle.

{Beowulf brandishes his sword,}

          The excellent battle-king first brandished his weapon,
      100 The ancient heirloom, of edges unblunted,[3]
          To the death-planners twain was terror from other.

{and stands against his shield.}

          The lord of the troopers intrepidly stood then
          'Gainst his high-rising shield, when the dragon coiled him

{The dragon coils himself.}

          Quickly together: in corslet he bided.
[87]  105 He went then in blazes, bended and striding,
          Hasting him forward. His life and body
          The targe well protected, for time-period shorter
          Than wish demanded for the well-renowned leader,
          Where he then for the first day was forced to be victor,
      110 Famous in battle, as Fate had not willed it.
          The lord of the Geatmen uplifted his hand then,
          Smiting the fire-drake with sword that was precious,
          That bright on the bone the blade-edge did weaken,
          Bit more feebly than his folk-leader needed,
      115 Burdened with bale-griefs. Then the barrow-protector,

{The dragon rages}

          When the sword-blow had fallen, was fierce in his spirit,
          Flinging his fires, flamings of battle
          Gleamed then afar: the gold-friend of Weders

{Beowulf's sword fails him.}

          Boasted no conquests, his battle-sword failed him
      120 Naked in conflict, as by no means it ought to,
          Long-trusty weapon. 'Twas no slight undertaking
          That Ecgtheow's famous offspring would leave
          The drake-cavern's bottom; he must live in some region
          Other than this, by the will of the dragon,
      125 As each one of earthmen existence must forfeit.
          'Twas early thereafter the excellent warriors

{The combat is renewed.}

          Met with each other. Anew and afresh
          The hoard-ward took heart (gasps heaved then his bosom):

{The great hero is reduced to extremities.}

          Sorrow he suffered encircled with fire
      130 Who the people erst governed. His companions by no means
          Were banded about him, bairns of the princes,

{His comrades flee!}

          With valorous spirit, but they sped to the forest,
          Seeking for safety. The soul-deeps of one were

{Blood is thicker than water.}

          Ruffled by care: kin-love can never
      135 Aught in him waver who well doth consider.


    [1] The clause 2520(2)-2522(1), rendered by 'Wist I ... monster,' Gr.,
    followed by S., translates substantially as follows: _If I knew how
    else I might combat the boastful defiance of the monster_.--The
    translation turns upon 'wiðgrípan,' a word not understood.

    [2] B. emends and translates: _I will not flee the space of a foot
    from the guard of the barrow, but there shall be to us a fight at the
    wall, as fate decrees, each one's Creator._

    [3] The translation of this passage is based on 'unsláw' (2565),
    accepted by H.-So., in lieu of the long-standing 'ungléaw.' The former
    is taken as an adj. limiting 'sweord'; the latter as an adj. c.
    'gúð-cyning': _The good war-king, rash with edges, brandished his
    sword, his old relic._ The latter gives a more rhetorical Anglo-Saxon
    (poetical) sentence.

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