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

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XXIII

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His eye, darting
eagerly about,
glimpsed a heavy sword
hanging on the wall,
a massive weapon
made by the giants,
huger than any
human being
besides himself
could swing in battle,
forged in the giants'
fabulous smithy.
The slayer of Grendel
seized it by the hilt
and flourished it fiercely,
fighting for his life;
he swung the snake-patterned
sword forcefully
and hit the sea-hag
on her hideous neck,
smashing her spine;
the sword drove on
through her doomed body
and she dropped to the ground.
His blade dripping blood,
Beowulf rejoiced.
He noticed, now,
in that unnatural hall,
fire burning
fierce as the sun,
heaven's candle.
Hygelac's thane
hastily searched
the whole area,
keeping to the walls
and clutching the sword
tightly by the hilt:
he trusted its edges
to work his will
and wanted to give
Grendel a final
grim requital
for his killings on more
occasions than one,
that murderous first
midnight visit
when he slew Hrothgar's
soldiers and thanes
brutally in bed:
he bolted down
fifteen retainers
who had been fast asleep,
then fled to the fens
with fifteen more,
a horrid booty.
The hero had given
that cruel foe
his quittance in Heorot,
a fatal injury,
and found him now
dead in bed,
drained forever
of his ruthless strength.
The rotten carcass
burst open
when Beowulf struck it
a last blow
and lopped off its head.
Soon the Danes
sitting up above
on land with Hrothgar
and looking at the waves,
saw that the surges
of the sea were turning
a ghastly red.
Grey-haired counselors
blindly assumed
that Beowulf was dead;
they said men would never
see him again
walking in triumph
to wait on Hrothgar,
their ancient king;
they all thought
the she-wolf of the deep
was sure to have killed him.
In late afternoon
they left the headland,
care-stricken comrades,
and the king with them,
their bountiful lord.
But Beowulf's men
stayed there, heartbroken,
staring at the water,
longing to look
on their lord but never
imagining they would.
Meanwhile, down below,
that gigantic blade
had begun to melt
in the demon's blood,
dripping to the earth
like icicles
at the end of winter,
when the Lord loosens
the ligatures of frost
that fetter the waves,
our Father, the Maker
of times and seasons,
the true Creator.
Beowulf disdained
to bear from that place
any of the spoils
lying all around him
except for Grendel's head
and the golden hilt,
ancient and awesome;
it was all that was left
of that huge sword,
so hot was the blood,
so poisonous the fiend
who had perished there.
When Beowulf saw
that both his enemies
were dead, he swam upward,
diving through the water.
The ocean depths
had been exorcised,
cleansed of evil,
when the cruel fiend
left this transient
and delusive world.
Soon Beowulf,
swimming steadily,
breached the surface,
bearing the great
burden of booty
he was bringing to land.
His men ran to meet him,
a tumultuous throng
of thanes, rejoicing
and thanking God
that they saw him again,
safe among them.
They unbuckled their lord's
bloodstained mailcoat
and white helmet,
while the waters drowsed,
curdling thickly,
clabbered with gore.
Frolicking fearlessly,
footsoldiers trooped
from that fateful tarn,
following the now
familiar track;
mettlesome youths,
four of them, lugged
the fiend's severed
unsightly head
from that seaside cliff,
a taxing business
for the two pairs of men
chosen to carry
the chilling burden
to the tall meadhall
trussed to their spears.
Soon they neared
the sumptuous building,
fourteen exulting
foreign warriors
marching together,
in their midst their lord,
pacing the well-known
path to Heorot.
At last the illustrious
leader of the Geats,
honored by his acts,
entered the precincts
of the hall itself
to hail the king.
The demon's head
was dragged by its hair
and dumped on the floor
where the drinkers sat,
a dreadful sight
for the Danes and their queen;
they gazed in terror
at the grisly thing.

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