Beowulf: Chapter 17

Then the gold hilt was handed over
To the old lord, a relic from long ago
For the venerable ruler. That rare smith work
Was passed on to the prince of the Danes
When those devils perished; once death removed
That murdering, guilt-steeped, God-cursed fiend,
Eliminating his unholy life
And his mother’s as well, it was willed that the king
Who of all the lavish gift-lords of the north
Was the best regarded between the two seas.
Hrothgar spoke; he examined the hilt,
That relic of old times. It was engraved all over
And showed how war first came into the world
And the flood destroyed the tribe of giants.
They suffered a terrible severance from the Lord;
The Almighty made the waters rise,
Drowned them in the deluge for retribution.
In pure gold inlay on the sword-guards
There were rune markings correctly incised,
Stating and recording for whom the sword
Had been first made and ornamented
With its scrollwork hilt. Then everyone hushed
As the son of Halfdane spoke his wisdom.
“A protector of his people, pledged to uphold
Truth and justice and to respect tradition,
Is entitled to affirm that this man
Was born to distinction. Beowulf, my friend,
Your fame has gone far and wide,
You are known everywhere. In all things you are even-tempered,
Prudent and resolute. So I stand firm by the promise of friendship
We exchanged before. Forever you will be
Your people’s mainstay and your own warriors’
Helping hand.
Heremod was different,
The way he behaved to Ecgwala’s sons.
His rise in the world brought little joy
To the Danish people, only death and destruction.
He vented his rage on people he caroused with,
Killed his own comrades, a pariah king
Who cut himself off from his own kind,
Even though God Almighty had made him
Eminent and powerful and marked him from the start
For a happy life. But a change happened,
He grew bloodthirsty, gave no more rings
To honor the Danes. He suffered in the end
For having plagued his people for so long:
His life lost happiness.
So learn from this
And understand true values. I who tell you
Have wintered into wisdom.
It is a great wonder
How Almighty God in his magnificence
Favors our race with rank and scope
And the gift of wisdom; His sway is wide.
Sometimes He allows the mind of a man
Of distinguished birth to follow its bent,
Grants him fulfillment and felicity on earth
And forts to command in his own country.
He permits him to lord it in many lands
Until the man in his unthinkingness
Forgets that it will ever end for him.
He indulges his desires; illness and old age
Mean nothing to him; his mind is untroubled
By envy or malice or thought of enemies
With their hate-honed swords. The whole world
Conforms to his will, he is kept from the worst
Until an element of overweening
Enters him and takes hold
While the soul’s guard, its sentry, drowses,
Grown too distracted. A killer stalks him,
An archer who draws a deadly bow.
And then the man is hit in the heart,
The arrow flies beneath his defenses,
The devious promptings of the demon start.
His old possessions seem paltry to him now.
He covets and resents; dishonors custom
And bestows no gold; and because of good things
That the Heavenly powers gave him in the past
He ignores the shape of things to come.
Then finally the end arrives
When the body he was lent collapses and falls
Prey to its death; ancestral possessions
And the goods he hoarded and inherited by another
Who lets them go with a liberal hand.
“O flower of warriors, beware of that trap.
Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part,
Eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride.
For a brief while your strength is in bloom
But it fades quickly; and soon there will follow
Illness or the sword to lay you low,
Or a sudden fire or surge of water
Or jabbing blade or javelin from the air
Or repellent age. Your piercing eye
Will dim and darken; and death will arrive,
Dear warrior, to sweep you away.
“Just so I ruled the ring-Danes’ country
For fifty years, defended them in wartime
With spear and sword against constant assaults
By many tribes: I came to believe
My enemies had faded from the face of the earth.
Still, what happened was a hard reversal
From bliss to grief. Grendel struck
After lying in wait. He laid waste the land
And from that moment my mind was in dread
Of his depredations. So I praise God
In His heavenly glory that I lived to behold
This head dripping blood and after such harrowing
I can look upon it in triumph at last.
Take your place, then, with pride and pleasure
And move to the feast. Tomorrow morning
Our treasure will be shared and showered upon you.”