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

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XXII

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The son of Ecgtheow
said in parting:
"O sorrowing king!
Son of Healfdene!
Graciously recall,
as I go to perform
this special service,
what we spoke of before,
that if I should die
while daringly
acting in your interest,
you would afterward play
the part of a father
toward a departed son.
Dread Hrothgar!
If death takes me,
protect and cherish
my trusting companions,
my sorrowing thanes,
and send Hygelac
the great treasures
you gave me yesterday;
when he looks on those gifts
the lord of the Geats,
the son of Hrethel,
will see at once
that I found favor
with a friend and enjoyed
his loving bounty
as long as I could.
And let Unferth,
that illustrious man,
have my own weapon,
my heirloom blade
full of swirling designs;
with his sword Hrunting
I will do great deeds
or die trying."
At once then, without
waiting a moment
for pause or parley,
the prince of the Geats
leapt in the water
that lapped beneath him.
While he dove downward
the day slipped by,
but at last he made out
the loathsome bottom.
She saw him at once,
the obscene creature
who had controlled the sea's
terrible depths
for a hundred years:
a human being
raiding her monstrous
realm from above!
Swooping suddenly,
she seized the hero
in cruel clutches,
but her claws failed
to injure him;
the iron rings
of his mail ensured
that she might not pierce
that linked war-shirt
with her long talons.
Reaching the bottom,
the raging sea-wolf
bore Beowulf
to her bloody lair,
holding him so tight
that he was helpless to wield
a weapon, no matter
how wildly he tried;
and meanwhile many
amazing sea-creatures
attacked his armor
with tusks and fangs,
sorely assailing him.
Soon he noticed
they had entered an eerie
undersea hall
where the turbid waves
could not touch him at all,
while high overhead
a hollow vault
kept out the water.
How uncanny it was
that a blazing fire
should be burning there!
But its light let him see
the loathsome she-wolf
of the ocean depths.
He instantly struck her
an awesome blow
with all his might:
he let Hrunting
play a loud war-tune
on her skull,
but discovered then
that the keen weapon
could not harm her;
its famous edges
failed Beowulf
in his hour of need,
though always in the past
it had been successful
when swung against hard
helmets and mailcoats.
Here, however,
the famous weapon
failed shamefully.
Wholly undaunted,
Hygelac's nephew
fixed his mind
on feats of valor;
throbbing with anger
he threw down the sword
with its steel edges
and strange patterns
so it rang on the ground.
He reckoned now
on his sure hand-grip---
which shows how a man
must act, if he aims
to earn glory,
rightly despising
risks and reversals.
Prompt and pitiless,
the prince of the Geats
grabbed the shoulder
of Grendel's mother;
raging with wrath
he wrestled her down,
fierce and relentless,
and she fell to the earth.
She was quick to requite him
with a counterblow,
lashing out lethally
with her long talons.
Weary, exhausted,
the warrior stumbled,
lost his footing
and lurched to the ground.
She drew the bright-edged
dagger at her belt
and straddled her guest,
striving to avenge
her only child,
and only his closely
woven mailcoat,
the war-dress on his shoulders,
stopped her knife
from destroying him.
The son of Ecgtheow,
the slayer of Grendel,
would doubtless have died there
deep underground
if that marvel of meshwork
made by Wayland
had failed to protect him
and if the Father of all,
God in heaven,
had not given him help,
ordering the outcome
with evident justice,
since Beowulf once more
bounded to his feet.

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