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

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XXXII

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But theft had not entered
the thoughts of the man
who robbed the ring-hoard
and enraged its keeper:
a fugitive slave,
fleeing from his master
because of heinous deeds
and hoping to escape
a bad whipping,
he had bolted inside,
seeking refuge.
This sudden intruder
had hardly entered
the hollow darkness
when he saw the huge
slumbering form
of the dread dragon
and darted away
as fast as he could,
filching the goblet
in mindless terror.
There were many such
elegant ornaments
in that underground vault,
the vast legacy
of a vanished race.
A heart-heavy man
had hidden them there
in a bygone age
while brooding darkly
on those dear treasures.
Death had taken
all his kinsmen
in earlier days,
and this lone relict
of a lost people,
this watcher of the hoard,
awaited it too,
aware he could keep
his wealth for only
the blink of an eye.
The barrow stood ready
on a wide headland
at the water's edge,
secured against thieves
by cunning artifice.
The keeper of the rings
carried inside it
armful after armful
of opulent jewels
resplendent with gold,
then spoke these words:
"Keep, O earth,
this kingly wealth,
since men may not have it.
They mined it from you
in days that are gone;
now death and battle
have claimed them forever,
calling away
my sweet comrades;
they have seen the last
of mirth in the hall.
Not a man is left
to brandish a sword
or burnish a mead-cup;
all have gone elsewhere,
eminent heroes.
Now the stout helmet
must be stripped clean
of its plates of gold:
the polishers sleep
who once furbished
the war-bonnet;
and the staunch mailcoat
that sturdily endured
the crash of battle
must not accompany
its owner farther:
those iron rings
are barred from embarking
on that bleak last journey
by their master's side.
The music of ringing
harps is still;
the hawk no longer
swings through the rafters,
nor does the swift stallion
paw the courtyard:
imperious death
has silenced a world
of sentient beings."
So he mourned
in solitude
for all the others,
anguished and grieving
day and night,
until death's surges
hushed his heartbeats.
The hoard was discovered
unguarded and open
by a great dragon,
a smooth-skinned serpent
in search of a grave-mound,
winging its fiery
way through the night
enveloped in flame,
a violent portent
for dwellers on earth.
Although it is a dragon's style
to hunt out hoards
of heathen treasure,
they never bring it
an ounce of profit.
This fierce, furious
fire-breathing reptile
had been guarding its mound
of gold in the earth
for three hundred years
when the thief robbed it
and roused its wrath.
When he had rifled the mound
and taken the goblet,
the terrified slave
carried the golden
cup to his master,
earning a pardon
for old offences.
His astonished lord
studied the treasure;
seldom in his life
had he seen such a thing.
Meanwhile the drowsing
monster awoke;
sniffing the ground,
it soon picked up
the scent of the stranger,
who had sneaked too close
to the dragon's head,
a dangerous act;
but a man whose death
is not mandated,
and whom God guards
and guides, can survive
dozens of dangers.
The dragon combed
the area anxiously,
avid to know
whose foot had approached it
while it was fast asleep.
Sometimes, enraged,
it circled the whole
far-flung fastness, searching,
but it found no one
in that wilderness;
it was wild with anger
and wanted vengeance.
Once it went back
to look for its goblet
and learned that someone
had dared to ransack
its darling treasure,
its hidden gold-hoard.
It could hardly wait
for dusk to descend,
indignant and impatient;
it was in a frenzy now,
fiercely resolved
to repay its foes
with poison and flame
for taking its cup.
When twilight came
it was delighted;
it left the barrow
and soared skyward
in search of battle.
Its onslaught would have
an ill beginning
for the folk in that land
and be followed at once
by an ill ending
for their ancient king.

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