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Ringler, Dick / Beowulf: A New Translation for Oral Delivery (May 2005)

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VIII

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Unferth, the son
of Ecglaf, was sitting
at the king's feet;
he was court spokesman.
Bristling, he broached
a battle challenge;
Beowulf's unbidden
bold arrival
annoyed him enormously,
since he was never pleased
when anyone
was honored more
or more highly esteemed
than he was. "Are you
the Beowulf," he said,
"whom Breca defeated
and soundly trounced
in a swimming match?
The pair of you agreed
out of pride and folly
to race in the ocean
at the risk of your lives
and could not be dissuaded
by a soul on earth,
neither friend nor foe,
from this freakish scheme.
You paddled out
into the pitching waves,
embraced the breakers
in bold folly,
climbed them with arms
crazily flailing
as you slogged through the spray.
For seven nights
the two of you tirelessly
toiled in the icy
billows of winter.
He beat you soundly;
he was much stronger.
In the morning the waves
washed him ashore
in the wild country
of the Battle-Rams,
from where the brave hero
at last reached his home,
the land of the Brondings,
and his high gift-throne,
where he handed out rings
and swayed his subjects.
The son of Beanstan
scored a great success
and made good his vow.
And thus, though from this
or that fracas
you may, possibly,
have emerged unharmed,
you will find your match,
I fancy, if you wait
here in this meadhall
for a whole night."
The prince of the Geats
replied with a grin:
"Friend Unferth,
fuddled with beer
you've been babbling away
about Breca's deeds.
No one but me
knows what happened.
I have shown more strength
and shared more hardship
in the ocean than any
other warrior.
Breca and I,
when both of us
were mere children,
made an agreement
to wager our lives
in the wintry sea,
to demonstrate our daring.
We did so, too,
brandishing bright
blades in our fists
to fight off whales
in the freezing waves.
Breca could never
have bettered my speed
or swum more swiftly
in the surges, while I
was reluctant to leave him
lagging behind me.
We fought with the flood
for five nights,
swimming side by side,
until a sudden storm
and deep darkness
drove us apart.
Battle-fierce blasts
blew from the north
straight in our faces,
stirring up the depths,
exciting the sea-monsters,
who swarmed to attack me.
But my hard mailcoat
helped me withstand them:
grey and hand-linked,
it guarded my breast
with its thousands of rings,
and thwarted their malice.
Then an obscene sea-beast
seized me, dragging me
down to the deepest
depths of the ocean
fast in its clutches;
but fate was with me
and let me skewer
the loathsome brute
with my iron blade:
I was able to kill
that evil creature
with my own hand.

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