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

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Cruel evidence
of the clash that ensued
between Swedes and Geats
was seen everywhere,
how those proud peoples
competed in hatred.
Old Ongentheow,
angry and bitter,
fell back baffled
with his band of comrades,
hoping for safety
on higher ground.
He had heard men praise
Hygelac's prowess
and daring in war;
he doubted his own
power to defeat
the prince and protect
the wealth of his kingdom,
its women and children,
from attacking troops,
so he retreated at once
behind a high earth-wall.
Hygelac was quick
to pursue the Swedes;
his excited troops
stormed the stronghold
and his standards were soon
pouring implacably
through that place of refuge.
Old Ongentheow,
angry and grizzled,
was brought to bay
by bright sword-blades;
the fearsome Swede
was forced to acknowledge
the sword of Eofor,
the son of Wonred.
Eofor's brother,
eager young Wulf,
had struck him already,
and streams of blood
poured from a scalp-wound,
but pain did not daunt him,
the intrepid old Swede;
he returned the stroke,
whirling instantly
toward Wulf his assailant,
and bashed him with a brutal
blow in exchange.
It hewed through his helmet
and hammered his skull
so that Wulf the son
of Wonred staggered,
tried in vain
to return the blow,
then lurched to the ground
lathered in gore;
that angry stroke
had injured him badly,
but his life was spared
by lenient fate.
While he lay bathed in blood,
his brother Eofor
let his massive blade
made by the giants
hew the giant
helm of Ongentheow
above his ancient shield;
the old Swede
died instantly
and dropped to the ground.
A huddle of Geats
hurried at once
to assist Wulf
when they safely could,
when the Swedish troops
had been swept from the field.
Eofor plundered
Ongentheow's corpse,
stripping the king
of his steel mailcoat,
his high helmet,
his hard-hilted sword.
The bloody spoil
was brought to Hygelac,
who received it with thanks
and swore to give Eofor
dazzling rewards,
which he did, too,
when they came back home;
the king of the Geats,
the heir of Hrethel,
gave Eofor and Wulf
unwonted wealth
to reward their valor:
a hundred thousand
hides of folk-land,
farmsteads of fabulous value;
nor could he be faulted for that largess,
idly censured by others,
since they had earned it in battle;
and Eofor got the king's
only daughter
as a prize for his hearth
and a pledge of favor.
And here is the root
of the hatred and rage
to soothe whose seethings,
I sadly fear,
the Swedes will soon
seek to destroy us,
when they learn that our lord
and leader is dead,
the war-chief lifeless
who once preserved
the hoard and homeland
of hapless Hrothgar
from monstrous foes
after much slaughter;
he delivered the Danes
and later persevered
in noble deeds.
But now let us hurry
to look on the place
where our lord lies dead,
then bear his lifeless
body solemnly
to the funeral pyre.
Fabulous treasures
will melt with him there,
measureless riches,
the wonderful hoard
he won by dying.
Bracelets and rings
bought at the cost
of his precious blood
must perish by fire.
Flames will consume them,
and his friends will not wear
those rings in remembrance
nor radiant maidens
clasp those circlets
round their comely throats;
instead they will often,
stripped of jewelry
and with woe in their hearts,
wander exile-paths,
now that our leader
has renounced laughter
and the mirth of men.
Many a spear-shaft
will be grabbed in dismay
on grey mornings
numb with frost;
it will not be the harp
that wakes warriors,
but the wan raven
cawing over corpses,
croaking to the eagle
what fine feeding
he found this morning,
gnawing at bodies
next to the wolf."
The speaker ended
his speech and neither
what he said of the past
nor saw in the future
was much mistaken.
Mournfully, the Geats
all went trooping
under Eagle Bluff
to see the marvel;
their souls were weeping.
At last, lying there
lifeless on the sand,
they beheld their lord,
the hand that had once
given them gold,
their great leader;
the king of the Geats
had come to the end
of the world, dying
a wondrous death.
As they neared the spot
they noticed something
even more wondrous,
the monstrous serpent
lying beside him,
loathsome and mottled,
its skin seared
and scorched by the flames,
fifty fearful
feet long
where it lay on the ground.
While it lived, it was fond
of soaring at night,
then swooping back
to its noisome den;
now it was dead;
it had guarded its last
gold-hoard on earth.
Standing beside it
were stoups and flagons,
dishes, drinking-horns
and damascened swords,
thinned by rust
and their thousand years
of lying idle
in the lap of the earth.
Moreover those rareties
and relics from the past,
those treasures of gold,
were protected by spells,
so that no man on earth
could come near the hoard
or gain its gold
unless God himself,
the guardian of men
and granter of triumphs,
vouchsafed him safety
and unsealed the treasure:
some great hero
whom God found deserving.

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