The Oldest English Epic/Chapter 1/Beowulf 38

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XXXVIII

I have heard that swiftly the son of Weohstan
at wish and word of his wounded king,—
war-sick warrior,—woven mail-coat,
2755battle-sark, bore ’neath the barrow’s roof.[1]
Then the clansman keen, of conquest proud,
passing the seat,[2] saw store of jewels
and glistening gold the ground along;
by the wall were marvels, and many a vessel
2760in the den of the dragon, the dawn-flier old:
unburnished bowls of bygone men
reft of richness; rusty helms
of the olden age; and arm-rings many
wondrously woven.—Such wealth of gold,
2765booty from barrow, can burden with pride
each human wight: let him hide it who will!—
His glance too fell on a gold-wove banner
high o’er the hoard, of handiwork noblest,
brilliantly broidered; so bright its gleam,
2770all the earth-floor he easily saw
and viewed all these vessels. No vestige now
was seen of the serpent: the sword had ta’en him.
Then, I heard, the hill of its hoard was reft,
old work of giants, by one alone;
2775he burdened his bosom with beakers and plate
at his own good will, and the ensign took,
brightest of beacons.—The blade of his lord
—its edge was iron[3]—had injured deep
one that guarded the golden hoard
2780many a year and its murder-fire
spread hot round the barrow in horror-billows
at midnight hour, till it met its doom.
Hasted the herald, the hoard so spurred him
his track to retrace; he was troubled by doubt,
2785high-souled hero, if haply he’d find
alive, where he left him, the lord of Weders,
weakening fast by the wall of the cave.
So he carried the load. His lord and king
he found all bleeding, famous chief,
2790at the lapse of life. The liegeman again
plashed him with water, till point of word
broke through the breast-hoard. Beowulf spake,
sage and sad, as he stared at the gold:—
“For the gold and treasure, to God my thanks,
2795to the Wielder-of-Wonders, with words I say,
for what I behold, to Heaven’s Lord,
for the grace that I give such gifts to my folk
or ever the day of my death be run!
Now I’ve bartered here for booty of treasure
2800the last of my life, so look ye well
to the needs of my land! No longer I tarry.
A barrow bid ye the battle-famed raise
for my ashes. ’Twill shine by the shore of the flood,
to folk of mine memorial fair
2805on Hronës Headland high uplifted,
that ocean-wanderers oft may hail
Beowulf’s Barrow, as back from far[4]
they drive their keels o’er the darkling wave.”
From his neck he unclasped the collar of gold,
2810valorous king, to his vassal gave it
with bright-gold helmet, breastplate, and ring,
to the youthful thane: bade him use them in joy.
“Thou art end and remnant of all our race,
the Wægmunding name. For Wyrd hath swept them,
2815all my line, to the land of doom,
earls in their glory: I after them go.”
This word was the last which the wise old man
harbored in heart ere hot death-waves
of balefire he chose. From his bosom fled

2820his soul to seek the saints’ reward.[5]
  1. It is a common feature of Anglo-Saxon poetical style that the movements of prominent persons are described in this way. So v. 405, “Beowulf spake,—on him the breastplate glittered,” etc. Hence, instead of the word “to go,” the poet takes phrases like “bore his armor,” “bore sword and shield.” In translations such as “went protected by his armor” (Gering), the stylistic feature is lost.
  2. Where Beowulf lay.
  3. The formula doubtless had come down from days when, as Tacitus says, metals were rare among the Germans and iron had to be imported. The whole passage is a variant of vv. 2771 (b) f. Wiglaf took all this treasure without fear of interruption, for the warden of it was killed.
  4. Besides the Germanic Yngwar, who was buried by the sea, there are famous classical cases. Achilles had his tomb “high on a jutting headland over wide Hellespont, that it might be seen from far off the sea by men that now are and by those that shall be hereafter.” So the Odyssey, in Butcher and Lang’s translation of the last book. In Book XI, Elpenor asks for such a tomb. According to Vergil, Æn. VI, 232, Misenus was buried by Æneas on a huge mound on a cliff by the sea.
  5. A Christian term,—“the splendid state of the redeemed, of the martyrs,”—heaven.