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

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XXXIII

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The despoiler was soon
spitting out flames
and burning down buildings,
bringing men death
and enormous dread;
it had no intention
of leaving anything
alive in that country.
These vast depredations
of the venomous worm
left wide tracts
of wasteland, showing
how whole heartedly
it hated the Geats
and strove to destroy them,
streaking back home
to its big barrow
before break of day,
leaving wreckage and reeking
ruin everywhere.
It trusted its war-strength
and its towering mound
to protect it from harm;
that trust deceived it.
Beowulf was brought
these baleful tidings,
was told that his own
tall meadhall,
the gift-seat of the Geats,
greatest of buildings,
was in ashes.
The old ring-giver's
heart was heavy
with huge misgivings;
he wondered if all
unwittingly
he had offended God,
the Father of heaven,
by breaking his law;
his breast seethed
with sad foreboding,
as was seldom the case.
The scather, meanwhile,
had scorched the entire
coastline with fire,
crofts, villages,
courts, and castles;
and the king of the Geats,
the prince of his people,
pondered gloomily
how to avenge himself.
He devised, in the end,
a shield of iron
and showed his royal
smiths how to make it;
he had seen at once
that a shield of wood
was sure to fail him
in a fight against fire.
The fierce-hearted king
was approaching the end
of his present life,
his sojourn on earth,
and so was the dragon,
who had lain on its gold
so long a time.
The stern war-king
disdained to attack
his flying enemy
with a force of men,
a clutch of companions;
he was quite fearless
and discounted the scather's
skill in warfare,
its naked strength.
Had he not, himself,
survived many
violent clashes
and fierce encounters
since those far-off days
when his grip had crushed
Grendel in combat
and his quick courage
had cleansed the hall
of noble Hrothgar?
And had he not wrought revenge
that was highly praised
when Hygelac his lord,
the son of Hrethel,
was slain leading
his raid on Frisia?
The ruler of the Geats,
the father of his folk,
had been felled in battle
by blows of the sword,
but Beowulf escaped,
performing a famous
feat of swimming,
cleaving the waves
while carrying thirty
suits of mail
on his sinewy arm.
The Hetware
could hardly boast
of their short-lived charge
with shields held tight
while fighting on foot;
few of them survived
Beowulf's attack
to go back to their homes,
whereas Ecgtheow's son
triumphantly swam
through the ocean waves
to his own people.
There Hygd, the widow
of Hygelac, offered
to give him the throne,
for she had grave doubts
that Heardred her child
could hold the country
against foreign hosts,
now that his father was dead.
But she sought in vain
to persuade the valiant
son of Ecgtheow
to usurp his youthful
cousin's kingdom
or covet its throne
or allow the Geats
to elect him king;
but he guided the boy
in governing the land
until he reached manhood
and could reign on his own.
Then Ohthere's sons,
Eanmund and Eadgils,
exiles from Sweden,
asked for asylum
in the realm of the Geats;
they were rebels, in flight
from Onela their uncle,
the ablest sea-king
and ring-lord ever
to rule the Swedes,
a highborn hero.
Heardred was killed
helping those rebels:
Hygelac's son
obtained a reward
for his hospitality
when the Swedes slaughtered him.
No sooner was he dead
than Onela returned
to his own kingdom,
allowing Beowulf
to lead the Geats
and ascend their throne---
an exceptional king.

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