Beowulf: Chapter 28

“So it is goodbye now to all you know and love
On your home-ground, the open-handedness,
The giving of war-swords. Every one of you
With freeholds of land, our whole nation,
Will be dispossessed, once princes from beyond
Get tidings of how you turned and fled
And disgraced yourselves. A warrior will sooner
Die than live a life of shame.”
Then he ordered the outcome of the fight to be reported
To those camped on the ridge, that crowd of retainers
Who had sat all morning, sad at heart,
Shield-bearers wondering about
The man they loved: would this day be his last
Or would he return. He told the truth
And did not balk, the rider who bore
News to the cliff-top. He addressed them all:
“Now the people’s pride and love,
The lord of the Geats, is laid on his deathbed,
Brought down by the dragon’s attack.
Beside him lies the bane of his life,
Dead from knife-wounds. There was no way
Beowulf could manage to get the better
Of the monster with his sword. Wiglaf sits
At Beowulf’s side, the son of Weohstan,
The living warrior watching by the dead,
Keeping weary vigil, holding a wake
For the loved and the loathed.
Now war is looming
Over our nation, soon it will be known
To Franks and Frisians, far and wide,
That the king is gone. Hostility has been great
Among the Franks since Hygelac sailed forth
At the head of a war-fleet into Friesland:
There the Hetware harried and attacked
And overwhelmed him with great odds.
The leader in his war-gear was laid low,
Fell amongst followers; that lord did not favor
His company with spoils. The Merovingian king
Has been an enemy to us ever since.
“Nor do I expect peace of pact-keeping
Of any sort from the Swedes. Remember:
At Ravenswood, Ongentheow
Slaughtered Haethcyn, Hrethel’s son,
When the Geat people in their arrogance
First attacked the fierce Shylfings.
The return blow was quickly struck
By Ohthere’s father. Old and terrible,
He felled the sea-king and saved is own
Aged wife, the mother of Onela
And of Ohthere, bereft of her gold rings.
Then he kept hard on the heels of the foe
And drove them, leaderless, lucky to get away,
In a desperate route to Ravenswood.
His army surrounded the weary remnant
Where they nursed their wounds; all through the night
He howled threats at those huddled survivors,
Promises to axe their bodies open
When dawn broke, dangle them from gallows
To feed the birds. But at first light
When their spirits were lowest, relief arrived.
They heard the sound of Hygelac’s horn,
His trumpet calling as he came to find them ,
The hero in pursuit, at hand with troops.
“The bloody swathe that Swedes and Geats
Cut through each other was everywhere.
No one could miss their murderous feuding.
Then the old man made his move,
Pulled back, barred his people in:
Ongentheow withdrew to higher ground.
Hygelac’s pride and prowess as a fighter
Were known to the earl; he had no confidence
That he could hold out against that horde of seamen,
Defend wife and the ones he loved
From the shock of the attack. He retreated for shelter
Behind the earth wall. Then Hygelac swooped
On the Swedes at bay, his banners swarmed
Into their refuge, the Geat forces
Drove forward to destroy the camp.
There in his gray hairs, Ongentheow
Was cornered, ringed around with swords.
And it came to pass that the king’s fate
Was in Eofor’s hands, and in his alone.
Wulf, son of Wonred, went for him in anger,
Split him open so that blood came spurting
From under his hair. The old hero
Still did not flinch, but parried fast,
Hit back with a harder stroke:
The king turned and took him on.
Then Wonred’s son, the brave Wulf,
Could land no blow against the aged lord.
Ongentheow divided his helmet
So that he buckled and bowed his bloodied head
And dropped to the ground. But his doom held off.
Though he was cut deep, he recovered again.
“With his brother down, the undaunted Eofor,
Hygelac’s thane, hefted his sword
And smashed murderously at the massive helmet
Past the lifted shield. And the king collapsed,
The shepherd of people was sheared of life.