Beowulf: Chapter 30

Wiglaf, son of Weohstan, spoke:
“Often when one man follows his own will
Many are hurt. This happened to us.
Nothing we advised could ever convince
The prince we loved, our land’s guardian,
Not to vex the custodian of the gold,
Let him lie where he was long accustomed,
Lurk there under the earth until the end of the world.
He held to his high destiny. The hoard is laid bare,
But at a grave cost; it was too cruel a fate
That forced the king to that encounter.
I have been inside and seen everything
Amassed in the vault. I managed to enter
Although no great welcome awaited me
Under the earth wall. I quickly gathered up
A huge pile of the priceless treasures
Handpicked from the hoard and carried them here
Where the king could see them. He was still himself,
Alive, aware, and in spite of his weakness
He had many requests. He wanted me to greet you
And order the building of a barrow that would crown
The site of his pyre, serve as his memorial,
In a commanding position, since of all men
To have lived and thrived and lorded it on earth
His worth and due as a warrior were the greatest.
Now let us again go quickly
And feast our eyes on that amazing fortune
Heaped under the wall. I will show the way
And take you close to those coffers packed with rings
And bars of gold. Let a bier be made
And got ready quickly when we come out
And then let us bring the body of our lord,
The man we loved, to where he will lodge
For a long time in the care of the Almighty.”
Then Weohstan’s son, stalwart to the end,
Had orders given to owners of dwellings,
Many people of importance in the land,
To fetch wood from far and wide
For the good man’s pyre.
“Now shall flame consume
Our leader in battle, the blaze darken
Round him who stood his ground in the steel-hail,
When the arrow-storm shot from bowstrings
Pelted from the shield-wall. The shaft hit home.
Feather-fledged, it finned the barb in flight.”
Next the wise son of Weohstan
Called from among the king’s thanes
A group of seven: he selected the best
And entered with them, the eighth of their number,
Under the God-cursed roof; one raised
A lighted torch and led the way.
No lots were cast for who should loot the hoard
For it was obvious to them that every bit of it
Lay unprotected within the vault,
There for the taking. It was no trouble
To hurry to work and haul out
The priceless store. They pitched the dragon
Over the cliff top, let tide’s flow
And backwash take the treasure-minder.
Then coiled gold was loaded on a cart
In great abundance, and the gray-haired leader,
The prince of his bier, born to Hronesness.
The Geat people built a pyre for Beowulf,
Stacked and decked it until it stood four-square,
Hung with helmets, heavy war-shields
And shining armor, just as he had ordered.
Then his warriors laid him in the middle of it,
Mourning a lord far-famed and beloved.
On a height they kindled the hugest of all
Funeral fires; fumes of wood smoke
Billowed darkly up, the blaze roared
And drowned out their weeping, wind died down
And flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house,
Burning it to the core. They were disconsolate
And wailed aloud for their lord’s decease.
A Geat woman too sang out in grief:
With hair bound up, she unburdened herself
Of her worst fears, a wild litany
Of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded,
Enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,
Slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke.
Then the Geat people began to construct
A mound on a headland, high and imposing,
A marker that sailors could see from far away,
And in ten days they had done the work.
It was their hero’s memorial;; what remained from fire
They housed inside it, behind a wall
As worthy of him as their workmanship could make it.
And they buried torques in the barrow, and jewels
And a trove of such things as trespassing men
Had once dared to drag from the hoard.
They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure,
Gold under gravel, gone to earth,
As useless to men now as it ever was.
Then twelve warriors rode around the tomb,
Chieftain’s sons, champions in battle,
All of them distraught, chanting in dirges,
Mourning his loss as a man and a king.
They extolled his heroic exploits
And gave thanks for his greatness; which was the proper thing,
For a man should praise a prince whom he holds dear
And cherish his memory when that moment comes
When he has to be convoyed from his bodily home.
So the Geat people, his hearth companions,
Sorrowed for the lord who had been laid low.
They said that of all the kings upon the earth
He was the man most gracious and fair-minded,
Kindest to his people and keenest to win fame.