Beowulf’s Reign

Beowulf’s Reign

That prince ordered<br>
an iron shield:<br>
he knew for a fact<br>
that the best wood,<br>
the very best linden,<br>
couldn’t help<br>
against flame.<br>
<br>
The good prince awaited<br>
the last of his days,<br>
the end of this world’s life,<br>
and the dragon with him,<br>
no matter how long<br>
he’d held the treasure.<br>
<br>
Beowulf scorned a host,<br>
a large army,<br>
when he sought the dragon;<br>
he didn’t fear<br>
the dragon’s war;<br>
he trusted his strength<br>
and courage since he had<br>
survived many battles,<br>
the flashings of battle gleams,<br>
since the time he’d cleared<br>
Hrothgar’s wine-hall<br>
of Grendel’s family,<br>
that hateful race.<br>
<br>
Nor was it a small battle<br>
when the Geat king,<br>
that lord of the folk,<br>
Hygelac, attacked Fresland<br>
and died there<br>
of sword drinks,<br>
beaten down by weapons.<br>
Yet from that place Beowulf <br>
came, down to the sea,<br>
with thirty suits of battle<br>
in his arms, and in his strength<br>
was able to swim.<br>
<br>
The Hetware had no cause <br>
for joy among their soldiers–<br>
few of those<br>
who carried shields<br>
left that battle<br>
to seek their homes.<br>
Beowulf swam the wide water,<br>
wretched, solitary,<br>
back to his people.<br>
There Hygd, Hygelac’s wife,<br>
offered him treasure<br>
and the kingdom,<br>
rings and the throne,<br>
because she did not<br>
trust her son to keep them<br>
from foreign armies.<br>
<br>
But Beowulf would not<br>
for any reason be<br>
lord over his king’s son,<br>
so he protected the boy,<br>
gave him good council<br>
till Heardred became a man.<br>
Banished men sought<br>
Heardred over the sea,<br>
sons of Othere,<br>
king of the Swedes;<br>
they had rebelled<br>
against their lord,<br>
the best of sea-kings.<br>
<br>
That was Heardred’s death-sentence,<br>
the son of Hygelac:<br>
for entertaining those men<br>
he died of sword strokes.<br>
Then Ongentheow’s son<br>
left for home, and Beowulf <br>
held the gift seat,<br>
ruled over the Geats.<br>
He was a good king.<br>
He avenged Heardred’s death<br>
in later days,<br>
became to the wretched Eadgils<br>
a friend, supported<br>
that son of Ohthere<br>
over the wide sea<br>
with men and weapons.<br>
On a cold expedition he<br>
deprived king Onela of life.<br>
Thus had that son of Ecgtheow<br>
survived each battle, terrible <br>
war, much courage-work, <br>
until the day when <br>
he fought the dragon.<br>
<br>
Beowulf Visits the Dragon<br>
<br>
Twelve enraged men<br>
paid the dragon a visit.<br>
The king had by then<br>
learned how the feud arose,<br>
this affliction of men:<br>
to his possession had come,<br>
through the hand of an informer,<br>
the precious cup.<br>
The thief, the cause of this <br>
strife, made thirteen, a saddened <br>
captive, abjectly showing the way.<br>
He went against his will<br>
to that earth-hall,<br>
the one he’d found<br>
near the surging sea,<br>
by the tossing water.<br>
<br>
The inside was full<br>
of works of art.<br>
The awful keeper,<br>
alert fighter,<br>
held those gold treasures,<br>
old under the earth;<br>
no man would buy them cheap.<br>
<br>
The brave king,<br>
gold-friend of the Geats,<br>
sat down on the headland<br>
and talked with his companions.<br>
He was sad, restless,<br>
and ready to die.<br>
That fate was near<br>
which the old man<br>
would greet.<br>
He would seek his reward,<br>
life from body parted;<br>
not for long<br>
would the soul of the prince<br>
stay wrapped in flesh.<br>
<br>
Beowulf spoke:<br>
“Often in youth<br>
I survived<br>
the storm of battle,<br>
the time of war.<br>
I remember all that.<br>
I was seven winters old<br>
when my father took me<br>
to the king of the people.<br>
Hrethal gave me treasure <br>
and feasting, remembering kinship.<br>
I wasn’t more hateful<br>
to him than any son<br>
in his house–<br>
than one of his children–<br>
Herebeald, Haethcyn, or my Hygelac.<br>
The eldest was,<br>
by a kinsman’s deed,<br>
strewn on the bed of death–<br>
Haethcyn struck his lord<br>
and brother with the arrow <br>
from a bow: missed the mark<br>
and killed his kinsman<br>
with a bloody arrow.<br>
That was a feud that <br>
couldn’t be fought.<br>
Weary it is to the heart:<br>
That prince lost his life<br>
. . .unavenged.<br>
That felt just as it does<br>
for an old man to await<br>
the swinging of his son<br>
on the gallows.<br>
He sings a mournful song<br>
when his son hangs<br>
a feast to ravens<br>
and, though old and wise,<br>
he cannot help.<br>
Every morning calls to mind<br>
the journey of his son<br>
to elsewhere–the father<br>
cares not to wait<br>
for the other heirs<br>
when he has, through<br>
an unavoidable death,<br>
experienced an evil.<br>
Sorrow is in the home,<br>
the wine-hall abandoned,<br>
bereft of joy.<br>
The riders sleep,<br>
warriors in the grave;<br>
there is no harp song,<br>
no joy in the court.<br>
Not as there once was.<br>
Comes then from the bedstead<br>
a song of sorrow.<br>
The house and fields<br>
seem too large.”<br>
<br>
So Beowulf spoke<br>
of his sorrow<br>
for Herebeald.<br>
He could not<br>
for that murder<br>
seek revenge,<br>
though the doer<br>
was not dear to him.<br>
<br>
“When that sorrow befell Hrethal<br>
he gave up the joys of men<br>
and chose God’s light.<br>
He left to his offspring<br>
a land and a people.<br>
Then were accusations<br>
across the water,<br>
severe hostility<br>
from the war-like sons<br>
of Ongentheow. They would <br>
have nothing of friendship,<br>
but around Hreosnaburg<br>
planned a terrible slaughter.<br>
My kinsmen avenged that,<br>
the feud and crime,<br>
as is well known,<br>
though one paid with his life,<br>
a hard bargain:<br>
for Haethcyn the battle was fatal.<br>
And I’ve heard tell<br>
how another kinsman<br>
attacked his slayer<br>
with sword’s edge;<br>
When Ongentheow sought Eofor<br>
he found his helmet split,<br>
fell down, battle pale.<br>
I repaid Hygelac<br>
for the favors he’d shown,<br>
lands and a house,<br>
with my bright sword.<br>
(He needn’t look<br>
for a worse man).<br>
I went alone in the front,<br>
and will so ever,<br>
as long as this sword lasts<br>
which has served me so well.<br>
I was the killer of Daghrefin,<br>
the Huga champion.<br>
He brought no treasures<br>
back from the battle<br>
to the Frisian king<br>
but died in the fight,<br>
that banner guardian,<br>
a prince in bravery.<br>
Nor was my sword his death,<br>
but my hand grasp<br>
broke his bone-house,<br>
tore out his surging heart.<br>
Now shall the sword’s edge,<br>
hands and hard sword,<br>
fight over this hoard.”<br>
<br>
Then Beowulf made his last boast:<br>
“I ventured many battles <br>
in my youth; now, old, <br>
I will seek another,<br>
try again for glorious <br>
deeds, if that avenger<br>
will come out.”<br>
<br>
He spoke to each<br>
of his brave companions<br>
for the last time:<br>
“I would not use a sword<br>
against this monster<br>
if I might otherwise fight,<br>
as I did with Grendel.<br>
But how else fight fire?<br>
a breath of poison?<br>
Therefore I wear shield and mail.<br>
I will not back<br>
a step away<br>
from that hoard-guardian.<br>
We two shall end<br>
as fate decrees.<br>
I am brave in mind,<br>
so I go against the war-flyer<br>
in no need<br>
of further boasting.<br>
You men wait on the hill,<br>
protect the war-gear<br>
and see which will,<br>
after the death rush,<br>
come away unwounded.<br>
This is not your duty,<br>
nor in the power of man.<br>
No one but myself<br>
can fight this monster.<br>
Your lord shall either<br>
win the treasure<br>
or lose his life.”<br>
<br>
The brave in battle arose then, <br>
bore his shield and mail, <br>
trusting his strength <br>
under the stone cliffs.<br>
(This is not the coward’s way).<br>