Beowulf Becomes King – The Dragon Attacks

Later it happened,<br>
after Hygelac fell<br>
in the storm of war,<br>
and his son, Heardred,<br>
fell too under his shield,<br>
killed by the sword<br>
fighting the Swedes,<br>
that the broad kingdom<br>
came into Beowulf’s hand.<br>
He held it well, ruled <br>
fifty winters; he was <br>
an old land guardian.<br>
Then in the dark nights<br>
a dragon began to rule,<br>
he who guarded a hoard, <br>
a steep stone burial mound<br>
high on the heath.<br>
A path led underneath<br>
unknown to men.<br>
But a certain man<br>
stumbled on it,<br>
into the heathen hoard,<br>
and took a cup,<br>
a large, decorated treasure.<br>
The dragon did not hide <br>
his opinion of that deed;<br>
the neighboring people<br>
quickly learned his anger.<br>
But the thief did not<br>
of his own accord<br>
plunder the treasure:<br>
he was driven by need,<br>
a fugitive from justice.<br>
Fleeing hostile blows <br>
and in need of a roof,<br>
he stumbled in,<br>
a man distressed.<br>
He was amazed at what <br>
he saw–a precious <br>
hoard, cups and weapons.<br>
There were many such <br>
ancient treasures in <br>
that earth house, for <br>
in the old days a man<br>
had hidden the riches<br>
of a noble, dying tribe there.<br>
He was the last; death<br>
had taken the rest.<br>
That lone survivor, knowing <br>
death was near, mourning <br>
his lost friends, kept <br>
those treasures all alone.<br>
The cave stood near the sea,<br>
protected by secret spells.<br>
He bore the treasures inside,<br>
a huge and worthy hoard<br>
of worked gold. He said,<br>
“Hold you now, Earth, what<br>
warriors could not. Lo,<br>
from you first it was taken.<br>
War-Death has seized my people;<br>
none of them can bear a sword,<br>
hold an ornamented cup. They<br>
have gone elsewhere. Now shall<br>
the hard helmet and its golden<br>
ornaments fall. Their owners<br>
sleep in death, those who<br>
once wore the war-mask. So <br>
it is with the coat of mail,<br>
which stood amid crashing shields,<br>
held off the bite of iron:<br>
it lies, falling to pieces,<br>
like the warrior who owned it.<br>
Never again will that armor<br>
travel far on a war chief<br>
by the side of heroes.<br>
There is no joy in the song,<br>
no pleasure in the harp.<br>
No hawk sweeps over the hall.<br>
No horse gallops in the courtyard.<br>
Death has sent off many men.”<br>
Thus, sad in mind,<br>
he moaned his sorrow;<br>
the lonely survivor moved <br>
day and night in sadness<br>
until the flood of death<br>
surged into his heart.<br>
The Dragon Attacks<br>
An old night-ravager,<br>
that one which, burning,<br>
seeks a burial mound,<br>
the smooth dragon of malice<br>
who flies by night<br>
encompassed in fire,<br>
found the hoard<br>
standing open.<br>
Earth dwellers fear him much.<br>
He must seek a hoard<br>
in the earth, where,<br>
old in winters, he <br>
will guard heathen <br>
gold, though he gains <br>
nothing from it.<br>
So that foe of the people,<br>
exceedingly powerful,<br>
guarded the cave<br>
three hundred winters<br>
until a man<br>
angered his heart,<br>
took a cup<br>
to his master<br>
asking for peace.<br>
Peace was granted:<br>
the lord examined<br>
the cup, the ancient<br>
work of men.<br>
So was the hoard robbed,<br>
ransacked of a treasure.<br>
The dragon awoke,<br>
and strife came: it<br>
sniffed along the stones,<br>
found an intruder’s footprints.<br>
The thief had stepped<br>
with insidious craft<br>
near the dragon’s head.<br>
(Thus may an undoomed man<br>
survive danger<br>
if the Almighty<br>
holds him in favor.)<br>
The hoard-keeper sought<br>
eagerly along the ground,<br>
looked for the man<br>
who had robbed him<br>
while he slept.<br>
Hot and fierce he moved<br>
about the cave. He<br>
went completely around<br>
the wasted place but<br>
no man was there.<br>
Eager for battle, he<br>
turned and turned again<br>
searching the cave,<br>
but the golden cup was gone.<br>
Anxiously he awaited<br>
the fall of night;<br>
enraged, the cave-keeper<br>
would with fire avenge<br>
the loss of his cup.<br>
When the day was gone,<br>
as the dragon wanted,<br>
he no longer waited,<br>
but went in flame,<br>
prepared with fire.<br>
The beginning was fearful<br>
to people in the land,<br>
as was the ending:<br>
death for their king.<br>
The fiend spouted fire,<br>
burned bright houses–<br>
the glow of fire stood out,<br>
a horror to the people.<br>
That terrible sky-flier<br>
wished to leave<br>
nothing alive.<br>
Near and far was seen<br>
the dragon’s violence,<br>
how that destroyer<br>
hated and humbled the Geat <br>
people. The people of the land<br>
were enveloped in fire.<br>
At dawn he darted<br>
back into his cave.<br>
He trusted in his war<br>
and in his cavern.<br>
But trust was to play him false.<br>
Beowulf learned the terror<br>
quickly, in truth:<br>
the surging fires<br>
burned his house,<br>
the mead hall of the Geats.<br>
That was sorrow<br>
to the good man,<br>
the greatest of sorrows:<br>
the wise king feared<br>
he’d enraged God,<br>
broken a commandment.<br>
His heart surged<br>
with gloomy thoughts,<br>
which was not<br>
his usual way.<br>
The flame-dragon had burned<br>
the fortress of the people.<br>
The war-king studied revenge.<br>