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

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XXXVI

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Wiglaf was his name,
Weohstan his father's;
he was agile and bold,
Ælfhere's kinsman,
and a Swede by birth.
Seeing Beowulf
encased in his war-mask
and overcome by heat,
he recalled the gifts
the king had given him,
the wealthy lands
of the Wægmundings,
the lands that had once
belonged to his father.
He knew his duty
and could not hold back,
but lifted his yellow
lindenwood shield
and wielded the sword
that had once belonged
to Eanmund the exile,
Ohthere's son.
Wiglaf's father
Weohstan had killed
that friendless wanderer
in fierce combat
and had carried the spoils,
the crested helmet,
the mailcoat, the sword
made by giants,
to Onela, Eanmund's
uncle, who gave him
his nephew's armor
and did not protest
that the bloody corpse
was his brother's son.
Weohstan cherished
that war-gear for years,
the sword and mailcoat,
until his son Wiglaf
was as swift a swordsman
as himself, then gave him
the armor and many
other treasures
in the land of the Geats,
where they lived at the time,
when he was near death.
Never before
had the proud youngster
been proved in combat
or swung a sword
by the side of his chief.
But his faith did not falter,
nor did his father's blade
flinch in battle,
as the firedrake learned
when the two foes
tested each other.
Filled with anger
toward his false comrades,
Wiglaf shouted
words of reproach:
"I remember once
at the mead-drinking,
while we swilled his beer,
how we solemnly vowed
to the great chieftain
who gave us rings
that we would pay him back
for these precious gifts,
this dazzling war-gear,
if danger should ever
approach him. Today
he picked us out
from among his troops,
imagining
we were loyal friends,
and loaded us with gifts
because he thought us all
thanes he could trust,
honor-bound men,
though it was always his hope,
as king of the country,
to accomplish this feat
all alone,
for all our sakes,
since he was aware
of the wonderful deeds
he had done in the past.
Now the day has come
when our noble lord
needs the support
of good companions.
We must go forward
to help our leader
while this heat torments him,
this grim firestorm.
God knows
it would be far better
that flames should devour me
than that I should outlive
my lord and master.
We would be cowards
to carry our shields
home to the loved ones
at our hearths, unless first
we slay this dragon
and save the life
of our beloved king.
It would be little thanks
for all we owe him
if only he
of the folk of the Geats
should fall in battle,
suffer and die,
so I will assist him here
and we will share mailcoat,
shield, and broadsword."
He strode through the smoke
to stand by his lord,
his helmet gleaming
and hailing him loudly:
"Beowulf! My king!
Be bold and resolute!
You vowed in your youth
with vaunting words
that as long as you lived
you would let no chance
for glory slip by you!
In this great contest
you must unflinchingly
defend your life
with undiminished strength---
and with me to help you!"
These bracing words
had barely been uttered
when the fearful worm
came flying toward them,
swooping from the sky
for a second attack.
Loyal Wiglaf's
lindenwood shield
was consumed in a flash
except for its boss,
and his linked mailcoat
gave little protection.
He crept gratefully
beneath the king's great
iron-forged shield
when his own had been burned
by those baleful flames.
Beowulf, incensed,
swung his gleaming
sword Nægling
with astounding strength,
striking the dragon
on its naked skull.
But Nægling shattered;
that excellent
ancient weapon
failed its master,
for his fate was such
that iron blades
and edges could never
help him in combat;
his hand was too mighty,
we have been told,
overtaxing the strength
of every weapon
he had ever borne
against an enemy.
They all failed him.
Meanwhile the murderous
monster unwound
its loathsome coils
and launched a third
grievous assault
when it got the chance.
Cruelly it clamped
the king's neck
in its bestial jaws
and Beowulf's life-blood
spurted from his veins
and splashed on the ground.

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