Beowulf: Chapter 29

“Many then hurried to help Wulf,
Bandaged and lifted him, now that they were left
Masters of the blood-soaked battleground.
One warrior stripped the other,
Looted Ongentheow’s iron mail-coat,
His hard sword-hilt, his helmet too,
And carried the graith to King Hygelac;
He accepted the prize, promised fairly
That reward would come, and kept his word.
For their bravery in action, when they arrived home
Eofor and Wulf were overloaded
By Hrethel’s son, Hygelac the Geat,
With gifts of land and linked rings
That were worth a fortune. They had won glory,
So there was no gainsaying his generosity.
And he gave Eofor his only daughter
To bide at home with him, an honor and a bond.
“So this bad blood between us and the Swedes,
This vicious feud, I am convinced,
Is bound to revive; they will cross our borders
And attack in force once they find out
That Beowulf is dead. In days gone by
When our warriors fell and we were undefended
He kept our coffers and our kingdoms safe.
He worked for the people, but as well as that
He behaved like a hero.
We must hurry now
To take a last look at the king
And launch him, lord and lavisher of rings,
On the funeral road. His royal pyre
Will melt no small amount of gold:
Heaped there in the hoard, it was bought at heavy cost,
And that pile of rings he paid for at the end
With his own life will go up in flames,
Be furled in fire: treasure no follower
Will wear in his memory, nor lovely woman
Link and attach as a torque around her neck–
But often, repeatedly, in the path of exile
They shall walk bereft, bowed under woe,
Now that their leader’s laugh is silenced,
High spirits quenched. Many a spear
Dawn-cold to the touch will be taken down
And waved on high; the swept harp
Won’t waken warriors, but the raven winging
Darkly over the doomed will have news,
Tidings of the eagle of how he hoked and ate,
How the wolf and he made short work of the dead.”
Such was the drift of the dire report
That gallant man delivered. He got little wrong
In what he told and predicted.
The whole troop
Rose in tears, then took their way
To the uncanny scene under Earnaness.
There, on the sand, where his soul had left him,
They found him at rest, their ring-giver
From days gone by. The great man
Had breathed his last. Beowulf the King
Had indeed met with a marvelous death.
But what they saw first was far stranger:
The serpent on the ground, gruesome and vile,
Lying facing him. The fire-dragon
Was scaresomely burnt, scorched all colors.
From head to tail, his entire length
Was fifty feet. He had shimmered forth
On the night air once, then winged back
Down to his den; but death owned him now,
He would never enter his earth-gallery again.
Beside him stood pitchers and piled-up dishes,
Silent flagons, precious swords
Eaten through with rust, ranged as they had been
While they waited their thousand winters underground.
That huge cache, gold inherited
From an ancient race, was under a spell–
Which meant no one was ever permitted
To enter the king-hall unless God himself,
Mankind’s Keeper, True King of Triumphs,
Allowed some person pleasing him–
And in his eyes worthy–to open the hoard.
What came about brought to nothing
The hopes of the one who had wrongly hidden
Riches under the rock face. First the dragon slew
That man among men, who in turn made fierce amends
And settled the feud. Famous for his deeds
A warrior may be, but it remains a mystery
Where his life will end, when he may no longer
Dwell in the mead-hall among his own.
So it was with Beowulf, when he faced the cruelty
And cunning of the mound-guard. He himself was ignorant
Of how his departure from the world would happen.
The high-born chiefs who had buried the treasure
Declared it until doomsday so accursed
That whoever robbed it would be guilty of wrong
And grimly punished for their transgression,
Hasped in hell-bonds in heathen shrines.
Yet Beowulf’s gaze at the gold treasure
When he first saw it had not been selfish.