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

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XLIII

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There the men of the Geats
made for their ruler
a funeral pyre
of fabulous splendor,
hung with helmets
and hollow shields
and bright mailcoats,
as Beowulf had asked;
amidst these marvels
his lamenting thanes
laid the body
of their beloved king.
The wind died away
when warriors kindled
a bright death-fire
on that bare headland,
and murky wood-smoke
mingled with weeping
rose over roaring
rust-colored flames
as they burned their way
through bone and marrow,
turning them to ash.
With tears and laments
men remembered
their mighty king,
while with hair bound tight
and heaving breast
a woman of the Geats
wailed her heart out,
crazed with terror,
crying bitterly
that she dreaded days
of doom and disaster,
invading armies,
violence of troops,
slaughter, exile,
slavery. Heaven
swallowed the smoke.
Sick with foreboding,
the men of the Geats
made a grave-mound
visible at sea
for vast distances,
and were done in ten
days constructing
Beowulf's barrow.
They built a wall
enclosing his ashes,
crafted it as well
as their most masterful
masons could devise.
Riches of gold
and rings were heaped
in its hollow vault,
the whole treasure
Beowulf's thanes
had borne from the hoard;
they buried all of it
back in the ground,
that unlucky gold,
where it lives today
as idle and vain
as it ever was.
Slowly, then, twelve
sons of princes
rode on horseback
around the barrow,
lamenting their leader
in mournful lays;
they complained of their plight
but praised the king,
applauded his virtue
and prowess in war,
were generous in judgment,
just as retainers
should always be,
honoring their lord
with worthy love
and words of praise
when fate leads him
forth from the body.
Woe-stricken warriors
wept for Beowulf,
along with his hearth-friends
and loyal thanes.
He had been, they said,
the best and wisest
of kings of this world,
kindest to his people,
most open handed,
most eager for praise.

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