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

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XVI

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Next, in the meadhall,
the munificent king
gave some old heirlooms,
exquisite treasures,
to Beowulf's band
of bold followers,
and promised besides
to pay compensation
in gold for the one
Grendel had murdered,
as he meant to murder
many others,
if that great hand-grip
and God's wisdom
had allowed him to.
The Lord disposes
all things on earth
and always will;
foresight, therefore,
and forethought are best,
and mental balance,
since men who inhabit
this weary war-ravaged
world experience
many good things---
and much evil.
Old Hrothgar,
who an age ago
had fought to support
his father Healfdene,
was served at the feast
with song and story:
harp music rang
through the high rafters
when the court poet
recounted the tale
of Finn the Frisian
and the fierce Danish
champion Hnæf,
who with his choice war-band
was attacked by Finn
on a trip to Frisia.
The fair Hildeburh,
Finn's consort
and Hnæf's sister,
had no need to praise
the truth of the Jutes
when her two loved ones,
her son and brother,
were slain together
by wrathful swords.
What a bereaved lady!
When daybreak came
the daughter of Hoc
had reason to curse
her wretched destiny,
when she saw them lie
slaughtered, kinsmen
she loved more deeply
than life or any
treasure on earth.
The attack left Finn
with just a handful
of his Jutish troops,
too few by far
to defeat Hengest,
the Danish leader
after the death of Hnæf,
or end the stand-off
by ousting the Danes
from their entrenchment.
So terms were offered:
that a hall
and high-seat should be cleared
for the Danes who survived;
that in the days ahead
they should have the same rights
as the sons of the Jutes;
and that Finn the Frisian,
Folcwalda's son,
should treat them daily
to treasure in abundance,
giving Hengest's men
handsome presents
of burnished gold
in the banquet hall,
presents as lavish
as it was his practice to give
his Frisians and Jutes
to fire their courage.
A pact of peace
was promptly sealed
by both parties.
Brave but fated,
Finn gave Hengest
firm guarantees
that he would treat the Danes
with tact, wisdom
and noble restraint,
and that no Frisian
would endanger the pact
by deed or word,
nor, moved by malice,
would mock the Danes
for living in allegiance
to their lord's killer,
since fate had clearly
forced them to do so.
If, however,
any Frisian
should ever mention
the old conflict,
then the sword's edge
must settle matters.
A solemn oath
was sworn and treasure
was brought from the hoard.
The body of Denmark's
lost champion
was laid on the pyre,
where the eye could behold
iron helmets
emblazoned with golden
boar images,
bloody mailcoats,
and, battered and torn,
a mound of corpses,
for many had died.
Hildeburh asked
that her hapless son
should be lifted up
to lie by Hnæf,
that his corpse should be burnt
to cold ashes
by his uncle's side.
She uttered a lament
as his loved body
was laid on the pyre.
Soon ruddy flames
roared at the foot
of the black barrow,
while blood spurted
from reopened wounds
or oozed from gashes
and heads melted.
The hungry flames
battened greedily
on the battle-dead
of both peoples;
their bloom was extinguished.

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