Beowulf: Chapter 26

Next thing, they say, the noble son of Weohstan
Saw the king in danger at his side
And displayed his inborn bravery and strength.
He left the head alone, but his fighting hand
Was burned when he came to his kinsman’s aid.
He lunged at the enemy lower down
So that his decorated sword sank into its belly
And the flames grew weaker.
Once again the king
Gathered his strength and drew a stabbing knife
He carried on his belt, sharpened for battle.
He stuck it deep into the dragon’s flank.
Beowulf dealt it a deadly wound.
They had killed the enemy, courage quelled his life;
That pair of kinsmen, partners in nobility,
Had destroyed the foe. So every man should act,
Be at hand when needed; but now, for the king,
This would be the last of his many labors
And triumphs in the world.
Then the wound
Dealt by the ground-burner earlier began
To scald and swell; Beowulf discovered
Deadly poison suppurating inside him,
Surges of nausea, and so, in his wisdom,
The prince realized his state and struggled
Towards a seat on the rampart. He steadied his gazed
On those gigantic stones, saw how the earthwork
Was braced with arches built over columns.
And now that thane unequalled for goodness
With his own hands washed his lord’s wounds,
Swabbed the weary prince with water,
Bathed him clean, unbuckled his helmet.
Beowulf spoke: in spite of his wounds,
Mortal wounds, he still spoke
For he well knew his days in the world
Had been lived out to the end: his allotted time
Was drawing to a close, death was very near.
“Now is the time when I would have wanted
To bestow this armor on my own son,
Had it been my fortune to have fathered an heir
And live on in his flesh. For fifty years
I ruled this nation. No king
Of any neighboring clan would dare
Face me with troops, none had the power
To intimidate me. I took what came,
Cared for and stood by things in my keeping,
Never fomented quarrels, never
Swore to a lie. All this consoles me,
Doomed as I am and sickening for death;
Because of my right way, the Ruler of Mankind
Need never blame me when the breath leaves my body
For murder of kinsmen. Go now quickly,
Dearest Wiglaf, under the gray stone
Where the dragon is laid out, lost to his treasure;
Hurry to feast your eyes on the hoard.
Away you go: I want to examine
That ancient gold, gaze my fill
On those garnered jewels; my going will be easier
For having seen the treasure, a less troubled letting-go
Of the life and lordship I have long maintained.”
And so, I have heard, the son of Weohstan
Quickly obeyed the command of his languishing
War-weary lord; he went in his chain-mail
Under the rock-piled roof of the barrow,
Exulting in his triumph, and saw beyond the seat
A treasure-trove of astonishing richness,
Wall-hangings that were a wonder to behold,
Glittering gold spread across the ground,
The old dawn-scorching serpent’s den
Packed with goblets and vessels of the past,
Tarnished and corroding. Rusty helmets
All eaten away. Armbands everywhere,
Artfully wrought. How easily treasure
Buried in the ground, gold hidden
However skillfully, can escape from any man!
And he saw too a standard, entirely of gold,
Hanging high over the hoard,
A masterpiece of filigree; it glowed with light
So he could make out the ground at his feet
And inspect the valuables. Of the dragon there was no
Remaining sign: the sword had dispatched him.
Then, the story goes, a certain man
Plundered the hoard in the immemorial howe,
Filled his arms with flagons and plates,
Anything he wanted; and took the standard also,
Most brilliant of banners.
Already the blade
Of the old king’s sharp killing-sword
Had done its worst: the one who had for long
Minded the hoard, hovering over gold,
Unleashing fire, surging forth
Midnight after midnight, had been mown down.