Beowulf: Chapter 27

Wiglaf went quickly, keen to get back,
Excited by the treasure. Anxiety weighed
On his brave heart–he was hoping he would find
The leader of the Geats alive where he had left him
Helpless, earlier, on the open ground.
So he came to the place, carrying the treasure,
And found his lord bleeding profusely,
His life at an end: again he began
To swab his body. The beginnings of an utterance
Broke out from the king’s breast-cage.
The old lord gazed sadly at the gold.
“To the everlasting Lord of All,
To the King of Glory, I give thanks
That I beheld this treasure here in front of me,
That I have been allowed to leave my people
So well endowed on the day I die.
Now that I have bartered my last breath
To own this fortune, it is up to you
To look after their needs. I can hold out no longer.
Order my troop to construct a barrow
On a headland on the coast, after my pyre has cooled.
It will loom in the horizon at Hronesness
And be a reminder among my people–
So that in coming times crews under sail
Will call it Beowulf’s barrow, as they steer
Ships across the wide and shrouded waters.”
Then the king in his great-heartedness unclasped
The collar of gold from his neck and gave it
To the young thane, telling him to use
It and the war shirt and the gilded helmet well.
“You are the last of us, the only one left
Of the Waegmundings. Fate swept us away,
Sent my whole brave high-born clan
To their final doom. Now I must follow them.”
That was the warrior’s last word.
He had no more to confide. The furious heat
Of the pyre would assail him. His soul fled from his breast
To its destined place among the steadfast ones.
It was hard then on the young hero,
Having to watch the one he held so dear
There on the ground, going through
His death agony. The dragon from underearth,
His nightmarish destroyer, lay destroyed as well,
Utterly without life. No longer would his snake folds
Ply themselves to safeguard hidden gold.
Hard-edged blades, hammered out
And keenly filed, had finished him
So that the sky-roamer lay there rigid,
Brought low beside the treasure-lodge.
Never again would he glitter and glide
And show himself off in midnight air,
Exulting in his riches: he fell to earth
Through the battle-strength in Beowulf’s arm.
There were few, indeed, as far as I have heard,
Big and brave as they may have been,
Few who would have held out if they had had to face
The outpourings of that poison-breather
Or gone foraging on the ring-hall floor
And found the deep barrow-dweller
On guard and awake.
The treasure had been won,
Bought and paid for by Beowulf’s death.
Both had reached the end of the road
Through the life they had been lent.
Before long
The battle-dodgers abandoned the wood,
The ones who had let down their lord earlier,
The tail-turners, ten of them together.
When he needed them the most, they had made off.
Now they were ashamed and came behind shields,
In their battle-outfits, to where the old man lay.
They watched Wiglaf, sitting worn out,
A comrade shoulder to shoulder with his lord,
Trying in vain to bring him round with water.
Much as he wanted to, there was no way
He could preserve his lord’s life on earth
Or alter in the least the Almighty’s will.
What God judged right would rule what happened
To every man, as it does to this day.
Then a stern rebuke was bound to come
From the young warrior to the ones who had been cowards.
Wiglaf, son of Weohstan, spoke
Disdainfully and in disappointment:
“Anyone ready to admit the truth
Will surely realize the lord of men
Who showered you with gifts and gave you the armor
You are standing in–when he would distribute
Helmets and mail-shirts to men on the mead-benches,
A prince treating his thanes in hall
To the best he could find, far or near–
Was throwing weapons uselessly away.
It would be a sad waste when the war broke out.
Beowulf had little cause to brag
About his armed guard; yet God who ordains
Who wins or loses allowed him to strike
With his own blade when bravery was needed.
There was little I could do to protect his life
In the heat of the fray, yet I found new strength
Welling up when I went to help him.
Then my sword connected and the deadly assaults
Of our foe grew weaker, the fire coursed
Less strongly from his head. But when the worst happened
Too few rallied around the prince.