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

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III

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Thus Healfdene's son
was harrowed by grief,
by sorrow that seldom
ceased churning.
Nothing could help him:
the nightly assaults
were too terrible
and too prolonged,
the dark bedevilment
dogging his people.
But at long last,
in the land of the Geats,
Hygelac's thane
heard about Grendel.
In that day
of this life
no earthly man
had equal strength
or equal courage.
He asked for a swift
seagoing ship,
said he intended
to visit Hrothgar
over the vast waters,
now that the war-king
was in need of help.
Much as they loved him,
men did not try
to dissuade the prince
from his set purpose
but urged him on.
The omens were propitious.
He chose from among
his choicest followers
a keen company
of comrades, the bravest
he could find in the land.
With fourteen others,
a seasoned sailor,
he sought out his ship,
leading the way
to land's end.
With little delay
they launched the vessel
beneath the solemn bluffs.
Excited mariners
clambered aboard
while currents swirled,
the surf on the sand.
Seamen of the Geats,
laughing with pleasure,
loaded the hold
with burnished swords
and bright armor,
then shoved the nail-clinched
ship out to sea.
Spurred by gusts
it splashed and scudded
through the wild waters
like a wind-blown bird,
until by noon
the next day
the swift vessel
had made such headway
that the lookout at last
saw land ahead,
wide sea-cliffs,
windswept, sunswept,
and vast headlands.
The voyage was over,
the sea had been crossed,
and sailors leapt
into the welcome surf
and waded ashore.
They moored the vessel,
their mailcoats rustling,
and gave grateful thanks
to God almighty
that their sea-crossing
had been safe and easy.
From rocks up above them
Hrothgar's sentinel,
whose task was to guard
and patrol the sea-cliffs,
saw strangers who bore
stout battle-gear
and sturdy war-shields
striding down the gangplank;
he needed to know
who these newcomers were.
Mounting his horse
he made for the beach,
brandished his spear
and bluntly challenged
the foreign sailors
with formal words:
"Who are you, you unknown
ironclad men,
alien troops
armed in mailcoats,
bringing your boat
from abroad, crossing
the sounding sea?
I have served for years
as coastguard here,
carefully watching
to defend these shores
against foes meaning
to wreak havoc
in the realm of the Danes.
Never before
have unknown sailors
landed on our coast
with less concealment,
even though you came
without asking leave
of noble Hrothgar;
never before
have I seen a man
of such eminence
as your leader
in his lordly mail,
a hero, I think,
no hall-sloucher,
unless he is counterfeit!
Quickly, now, tell me
what land you come from,
before I let you proceed
a league farther
in the land of the Danes---
spies, perhaps!
Suspicious voyagers!
Seafarers! hear
my simple thought:
it would be wise of you---
you would be well advised!---
to tell me instantly
what tribe you come from."

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