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

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XXXV

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He crawls into bed,
crying bitterly,
the one for the other;
his wealth, his estates
seem senseless. It was precisely
the same with Hrethel,
whose hollowing heart
heaved with sorrow
for Herebeald his son.
How could he make
the offender pay
for his fatal deed?
How show hatred
to Hæthcyn, the son
he no longer loved
because of his luckless mistake?
Wretched, irresolute,
old Hrethel chose
simply to die
and seek God's light,
bequeathing to his heirs
his country and his people,
as a leader should
when he leaves this world.
Soon there was warfare
between Swedes and Geats
and battles fought
by both peoples
over restless seas,
after Hrethel had died
and the sons of the king
of Sweden, Ongentheow,
proved wild and warlike,
unwilling to live
in peace with the Geats;
but they plowed our seas
and struck at our people
near Storm Mountain.
My two relatives
taught them a lesson,
defeating their forces
in a famous campaign,
though the older of my uncles
paid the ultimate price,
forfeiting his life,
for this fight brought death
to Hæthcyn my kinsman.
But Hygelac,
my other uncle,
wrought an apt vengeance
with naked steel
the next morning,
when Ongentheow was slain
by Eofor, a Geat
whose mind was inflamed
with remembered wrongs;
his savage sword-blow
smashed the helmet
of the king of the Swedes
and he crashed to the ground.
I always repaid
my own lord, Hygelac,
for his countless gifts
with courage in battle
and a grateful sword.
He granted me many
lands and lordships
and had little need
to look for retainers
who would be less faithful,
giving money
to Gepid hirelings,
swashbuckling Swedes,
or swordsmen from Denmark.
I fought always
in the front rank,
the foremost of his foot-troops,
and I firmly intend
to battle like that
while this blade lasts,
which has often been my ally,
early and late,
since the day I slew
Dæghrefen, flower
of the Frankish troops,
in front of the hosts.
He wanted to plunder
Wealhtheow's neck-ring
and carry it off
to the king of Frisia,
but he died in our deadly
duel instead,
the standard bearer
of the stout-hearted Franks,
untouched by the sword:
my terrible bear-hugs
hushed his heartbeats.
Here, however,
it is my worthy blade
that must win us the hoard."
Beowulf made
his battle vows
for the last time:
"I outlived storms
of strife in my youth
and am still ready,
though feeble with age,
to fight valiantly
and gain glory,
if this grim monster
dares venture
from its den to meet me!"
Now Beowulf said
goodbye to his men
for the last time,
saluting each
of his noble thanes:
"I would not fight
this foe with the sword
if I could find a way,
with all honor
and in all fairness,
to deal with a dragon
as I did with Grendel.
But here I expect
hot battle-fires,
blasts of venom,
and must bear a shield,
swathed in armor.
I solemnly vow
not to flee a footstep
but to let fate decide
our doom as it will,
our destiny---fate,
and almighty God.
My mind is resolved
to forgo vaunts
against this grim spoiler.
My warriors,
you must await what will come,
standing here steadfast
in your steel mailcoats,
watching to see
which of us survives
disenabling wounds.
It is not your task,
nor meet for man
except me alone
to contest the strength
of this terrible worm.
I shall gain glory
and gaze on its treasure
with my own eyes,
or else it will kill me,
ending the reign
of your ancient king."
Beowulf rose
brandishing his shield,
helmet on his head,
and hurried in his armor
toward the stone rampart,
still confident
in his renowned strength.
He was no coward!
But now this hero,
so nobly born,
survivor of so much
violent conflict,
such fierce encounters
where foot-troops clashed,
saw stone arches
standing before him,
spewing forth streams
of splashing flame
and noxious fumes.
No man on earth
could enter that doorway
and open the hoard
without passing through
those poisonous flames.
Livid with anger,
the lord of the Geats
let a bold war-cry
burst from his lungs;
it entered the mound
and echoed inside it,
ringing loudly
in its rocky depths.
The hoard-keeper, hearing
a human voice,
twitched with fury;
the time was past
for friendly parley.
First came a scorching
blast from the barrow,
the breath of the monster,
its angry war-flame;
the earth shook.
The warrior, watchfully
waiting outside,
swung up his shield
to receive the foe,
whose hate-swollen heart
hurried it out
to kill the intruder.
Quickly Beowulf
unsheathed Nægling,
his sharp sword,
an ancient heirloom;
each of those two
mighty ones meant
mischief to the other.
Tensely leaning
against his tall shield,
the warrior watched
as the worm tightened
into close coils;
the king waited.
Uncoiling in a flash,
the creature launched itself,
streaking toward the stranger
with destruction. His shield
offered protection
to the old war-king
for less time
than he liked or hoped,
where he found he was fighting
his first battle
in which fate was unfriendly
and refused to give him
quick victory.
The king of the Geats
swung his ancestral
sword, striking
the brindled horror,
but its blade failed him
badly in battle,
biting less deeply
than the peril
of the prince demanded,
harried and harassed.
The hoard-keeper
fumed with resentment
when it felt the blow
and spat out flames;
the sparks flew flashing
a long way off.
The lord of the Geats
could not boast of success,
for his blade had failed him,
his trusty war-sword
had betrayed him at need,
as it should never have done.
It would not be easy
for the sorely pressed
son of Ecgtheow
to relinquish his long
life in the world,
destined to dwell
in a different place,
like everyone else
on earth, and surrender
this brief being.
After a breathing space
they engaged again,
those grim combatants,
the dragon attacking
with redoubled rage
and the ring-giver,
his reign over,
suffering sorely
in the searing flames.
He could hope for no help
from his hand-picked troop:
instead of staunchly
standing beside him,
flocking to defend him,
they had fled to the woods
to save themselves,
except for a single thane
who was racked with grief,
for a right-thinking man
can never undo
the knots of kinship.

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