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

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XLII

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It was manifest
that the man who hid them
had been crossed in his hope
of keeping those riches
hidden forever;
now a hero had died,
killed by a dragon,
before cold iron
hushed its heartbeats.
It is hard to know
what will bring the end
of a brave chieftain
when all his hours
on earth are numbered,
his days of drinking
with dear kinsmen.
It was so with the king
when he sought out the worm,
the cruel dragon;
he was quite unaware
of the doom that would soon
bring death upon him.
For the heathen lords
who hid that treasure
had cursed it, decreeing
until the crack of doom
that anyone aiming
to own those riches
would be punished without pity,
imprisoned among idols
and fettered in hell-chains,
unless he first obtained
the gold-granting grace
of God, the real
Owner of all
earthly treasure.
Wiglaf the son
of Weohstan spoke:
"Many must suffer
misery, at times,
because of one man's will;
how well we know it!
We could not dissuade
our magnanimous king
by any arguments
or any means
from going to fight
the gold-keeper,
letting it lie there
where it had lain for years
and occupy its mound
until the end of the world.
The doom was too strong
that drove him here,
and he held to his hero's
high destiny.
The hoard has been opened
at hideous cost!
I stood in its midst
and stared at the treasure,
the glory of gold,
when I got the chance;
but venturing inside
that vast earth-hall
is a grim business,
so I grabbed a random
and hurried armful
of hoarded gold,
clasped it to my chest
and carried it out
to show my master.
He was shaken by pain
but still conscious
and striving to speak,
though sick and dying.
He said I should greet you
and tell you to build
a tall grave-mound
to cover his ashes
and keep his memory
alive in our hearts;
for our lord was the best
warrior on earth
and the worthiest king,
as long as he lived
his life among us.
But now let us make
another journey
inside the barrow
to see those riches,
that golden treasure;
I will guide your steps
and lead you to stacks
of lustrous gems,
piles of jewels.
Let the pyre be ready
by the time we return
from our trip inside,
so we may carry our dear
comrade and lord,
our worthy master,
to where he will rest
in the long keeping
of everlasting God."
Sadly, then, the young
son of Weohstan,
the bold warrior,
bade his companions,
a multitude
of men of the Geats,
to fetch firewood
from far and near
for Beowulf's pyre.
"Now blistering flames,"
he said, "must consume
our sovereign lord,
who so often stood
in the iron storm
when swarms of missiles
swept from bowstrings
and flew over shields,
while feathered shafts
followed arrowheads
and performed their duty."
Weeping, the son
of Weohstan next
summoned seven
soldiers from the host,
the worthiest he knew,
and went with them,
the eighth in the group,
to enter the mound;
he strode in the lead,
stalwart and bold,
a blazing torch
burning in his hand.
It seemed needless
to decide by lot
who should ransack
that heathen wealth,
when they saw no sign
of the serpent and gold
covered the ground
without its keeper in sight;
they had no regrets
when notable treasures
were carried outside.
They kicked the dragon
over the sea-cliff,
let the surf take it,
the flood enfold
that fatal hoard-guard.
Fantastic treasures
of twisted gold
were piled on a cart
and the prince, the white-haired
warrior, was borne
to Whale Headland.

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