The Death Of Beowulf

The wound began<br>
to swell and burn,<br>
the venom seethed,<br>
that poison inside.<br>
The prince went<br>
to sit by the wall,<br>
the wise man sat down<br>
to look at the work <br>
of giants held within <br>
the earth-house standing <br>
on stone pillars.<br>
Wiglaf bathed him,<br>
his lord,<br>
wearied in battle,<br>
and unfastened his helmet.<br>
Beowulf spoke,<br>
despite his wounds.<br>
(He knew well<br>
he’d seen the last<br>
of this world’s joys,<br>
that he’d numbered<br>
his last day.)<br>
“Now should I give my sons<br>
my battle garments,<br>
but fate did not grant<br>
that I have sons.<br>
I ruled the people<br>
fifty winters.<br>
Not one king among <br>
the neighboring peoples<br>
dared greet me<br>
with a sword;<br>
I feared no one.<br>
I awaited my destiny well:<br>
never did I plot a quarrel,<br>
never did I swear<br>
an unjust oath.<br>
I take joy in this,<br>
despite a mortal wound.<br>
The Ruler of Mankind<br>
will not charge<br>
that I murdered a kinsman<br>
when my life<br>
departs this body.<br>
Go quickly, Wiglaf,<br>
examine the hoard<br>
under the gray stone<br>
now that the dragon lies<br>
sleeping of a wound,<br>
bereft of his treasure.<br>
Be in haste<br>
so that I may see<br>
the ancient treasure,<br>
may examine<br>
the curious gems,<br>
so that I may<br>
more cheerfully give up<br>
my life and country.”<br>
Wiglaf hurried<br>
from his wounded lord,<br>
obeyed the battle-sick one,<br>
rushed in his mail<br>
under the cave’s roof.<br>
There by a seat<br>
the brave young man saw<br>
many precious jewels,<br>
shining gold on the ground,<br>
and works of art<br>
on the walls.<br>
There in the dragon’s den<br>
Wiglaf saw the cups<br>
of ancient men,<br>
ornaments fallen.<br>
There were helmets,<br>
old and rusty,<br>
and many arm-rings<br>
twisted with skill.<br>
(Treasure, gold in <br>
the ground, may be easily<br>
seized by any man,<br>
hide it who will.)<br>
Wiglaf saw a standard<br>
all golden high <br>
over the treasure,<br>
the greatest of hand-wonders,<br>
woven with the skill of hands.<br>
From it a light shone,<br>
lit all the ground<br>
so he could look<br>
over all the treasures.<br>
Then, I have heard,<br>
he rifled the hoard and<br>
into his bosom loaded<br>
the ancient work of giants–<br>
goblets and dishes,<br>
whatever he chose,<br>
even the golden standard.<br>
The sword, the iron edge,<br>
had carried off<br>
the guardian who<br>
for a long while<br>
carried surging fire<br>
in the middle of the sky.<br>
Wiglaf was in haste,<br>
eager to return<br>
with these great treasures;<br>
he feared the great spirit<br>
might be dead<br>
in the place where he lay.<br>
With the treasure<br>
in his hands<br>
he found his lord<br>
bloody and weak.<br>
He bathed Beowulf<br>
until he could speak,<br>
until words broke<br>
from his breast-hoard.<br>
The king, aged in sorrow,<br>
beheld the gold and spoke:<br>
“I thank the Wonder-King,<br>
the Ruler of All,<br>
that I could win this<br>
for my people<br>
before my death-day.<br>
I have traded<br>
my old life for <br>
the people’s needs.<br>
I cannot remain.<br>
Bid my warriors<br>
raise a splendid mound<br>
on the shore-cliffs<br>
after my funeral fire<br>
that a remembrance shall<br>
tower high on Hronesness.<br>
Sea-farers shall afterward<br>
call it Beowulf’s Mound<br>
when they pilot ships<br>
far over the ocean’s mists.”<br>
He unfastened from his neck,<br>
his golden necklace, gave it<br>
to the brave young warrior,<br>
and a gold-trimmed helmet,<br>
a ring, and mail.<br>
He bid him use them well.<br>
“You are the last<br>
remnant of our kin,<br>
of the Waegmundings.<br>
Fate has swept<br>
the rest away,<br>
those courageous warriors.<br>
I follow them.”<br>
Those were the aged king’s <br>
last words, thoughts from <br>
the heart, before he tasted<br>
the funeral-fire,<br>
that hot, hostile flame.<br>
His heart departed, his soul,<br>
to seek glory.<br>
Wiglaf Speaks to the Cowards<br>
The young man looked<br>
on his beloved lord,<br>
wretchedly killed,<br>
lying on the ground.<br>
His killer, the terrible <br>
cave-dragon, also lay <br>
bereft of life, overwhelmed <br>
in destruction.<br>
The dragon no longer<br>
coiled round the hoard,<br>
but was taken by iron,<br>
hacked in battle<br>
by the hammer’s creation.<br>
He had fallen<br>
on the ground<br>
near his treasure house.<br>
No longer would he circle<br>
at midnight<br>
proud in his flames;<br>
he had fallen<br>
before the prince’s<br>
As far as I have heard<br>
no man ever prospered<br>
rushing against that enemy;<br>
no man ever prospered<br>
who found that dragon awake.<br>
Beowulf bought the treasures<br>
with his life.<br>
Both of them found<br>
the end of this life.<br>
Soon the cowards,<br>
the ten warriors,<br>
returned from the woods,<br>
those who did not dare<br>
fight with spears<br>
when their lord<br>
needed help.<br>
They carried their shields,<br>
wore their mail,<br>
in shame<br>
to where Wiglaf sat,<br>
near his lord’s shoulder<br>
trying to wake him<br>
with water.<br>
He did not succeed–<br>
he could not,<br>
though he much wished it,<br>
hold his chief in life.<br>
He could not change<br>
the will of God.<br>
The young man<br>
gave a grim welcome<br>
to those who had <br>
lost courage. Wiglaf spoke,<br>
glaring at the hated ones:<br>
“Lo, this will he say<br>
who wishes to speak the truth:<br>
that lord of men<br>
gave you treasures,<br>
the war-equipment<br>
you stand in.<br>
At the ale-bench<br>
he often gave you. . .<br>
hall-sitters. . .<br>
helmets and armor, <br>
the most splendid<br>
he could find,<br>
far or near.<br>
He completely<br>
wasted that armor.<br>
When war came<br>
he couldn’t boast<br>
of warriors.<br>
Still, God granted<br>
victory to him<br>
that he alone avenged<br>
himself with sword<br>
when he needed help.<br>
I could do little in battle,<br>
though I undertook it.<br>
It was beyond my measure.<br>
But I struck the foe<br>
and fire gushed less<br>
strongly from his head.<br>
There were too few men <br>
around the prince<br>
when he faced<br>
his time of need.<br>
Now shall the treasure,<br>
the sword gifts<br>
and delightful homes<br>
given to your people,<br>
cease. You will lose <br>
your land rights<br>
when men far and wide<br>
hear of your flight,<br>
your shameful doings.<br>
Death is better<br>
to any man<br>
than a life of disgrace.”<br>
He commanded then<br>
that the battle-deeds<br>
be announced<br>
to those in town,<br>
up over the cliff-side<br>
where the other warriors<br>
the whole morning<br>
had waited,<br>
sad in heart,<br>
for their lord’s return<br>
or news of his death.<br>
The Messenger Tells of Beowulf’s Death and of the Feud Which Will Now Be
The messenger was not silent<br>
but said truly<br>
to all who heard:<br>
“Now is the joy-giver<br>
of the Geat people<br>
still on his death-bed,<br>
his slaughter-couch, <br>
through the deeds<br>
of the dragon.<br>
Beside him lies<br>
his life-enemy, sick<br>
from a dagger wound.<br>
His sword could not<br>
in any way<br>
wound the monster.<br>
Wiglaf, son of Weohstan,<br>
sits by Beowulf, one <br>
warrior by another,<br>
in the death-watch.<br>
Now may the people<br>
expect a time of war<br>
when the Franks and Frisians<br>
learn of our king’s fall.<br>
A hard quarrel was made<br>
with the Hugas<br>
when Hygelac went<br>
traveling in ships<br>
to the land of the Frisians,<br>
attacked the Hetware.<br>
With a larger army they <br>
brought down that warrior;<br>
he fell among his troops.<br>
He gave no gifts<br>
to his warriors.<br>
Since then the Mereovingians<br>
have given us no kindness.<br>
Nor do I expect <br>
kindness from the Swedes–<br>
it is widely known<br>
that Haethcyn, son of Hrethel,<br>
wounded Ongentheow<br>
near Ravenswood<br>
when the Geats<br>
arrogantly sought<br>
war against the Swedes.<br>
Quickly Ongentheow,<br>
old and terrible,<br>
gave a counterblow,<br>
cut down Haethcyn<br>
and rescued his wife,<br>
that aged woman,<br>
bereft of her gold,<br>
the mother of Onela and Ohthere.<br>
Ongentheow pursued<br>
his enemies–<br>
lordless they escaped<br>
into Ravenswood,<br>
and those survivors,<br>
weary with wounds,<br>
were besieged<br>
by a huge army.<br>
Often through the night<br>
that wretched band<br>
heard threats,<br>
how in the morning<br>
he would,<br>
with the sword,<br>
cut them open,<br>
or hang them from trees,<br>
a sport for birds.<br>
Help came to them<br>
with the early dawn<br>
when Hygelac<br>
sounded his trumpet,<br>
came up the road<br>
with picked warriors.<br>
The bloody tracks were widely<br>
seen, the bloody feud<br>
between Geats and Swedes.<br>
Ongentheow was forced<br>
to seek higher ground,<br>
the old man<br>
with his kinsmen–<br>
he quickly learned<br>
of Hygelac’s war,<br>
did not believe<br>
he could not withstand<br>
the war of the sailors.<br>
The old man retreated<br>
with his children and wife<br>
behind an earth-wall.<br>
Hygelac attacked the refuge,<br>
overran the enclosure.<br>
There was Ongentheow,<br>
gray-haired, brought to bay<br>
with the edges of swords.<br>
He was forced to submit<br>
to the judgement of Eofor.<br>
Wulf hit him angrily,<br>
struck him with sword<br>
so that blood sprang<br>
out of his veins,<br>
out under his hair.<br>
But that old man<br>
was not daunted–<br>
he quickly repaid<br>
that blow with a harder,<br>
nor could Wulf<br>
return the blow,<br>
for Ongentheow had<br>
sheared his helmet<br>
so that Wulf bowed<br>
to the earth,<br>
covered with blood.<br>
(He was hurt, though not yet doomed.)<br>
As his brother lay,<br>
Eofor, with his broad sword,<br>
an ancient sword<br>
made by giants,<br>
broke Ongentheow’s helmet.<br>
That king, shepherd of his people,<br>
bowed, mortally wounded.<br>
Wulf was bound up. They<br>
controlled the slaughter-place.<br>
One warrior plundered another.<br>
They took from Ongentheow<br>
his iron mail,<br>
his hard sword,<br>
and his helmet also.<br>
They carried<br>
the old man’s armor<br>
to Hygelac.<br>
He received these weapons<br>
and promised treasures<br>
to his people,<br>
which he fulfilled,<br>
paying Wulf and Eofor<br>
for the storm of battle–<br>
gave them both<br>
land and treasures.<br>
Nor should any man<br>
throughout this world<br>
reproach those gifts–<br>
they were earned in war.<br>
And to Eofor<br>
Hygelac gave<br>
his only daughter<br>
as a pledge<br>
of friendship.<br>
That is the feud,<br>
the deadly hostility<br>
for which I expect<br>
the Swedes will attack<br>
when they learn our lord<br>
who long protected<br>
over hoard and kingdom,<br>
is dead.<br>
That most valiant of warriors<br>
will no longer look after<br>
the needs of our people,<br>
will do no more<br>
heroic deeds.<br>
Now should we hurry<br>
to see our king<br>
and bring him back<br>
to a funeral pyre.<br>
Not a little will melt<br>
with that bold man,<br>
but a huge treasure, <br>
countless wealth,<br>
bought with grimness<br>
by that brave man.<br>
All that the flames will eat,<br>
the fire embrace;<br>
no warrior will carry<br>
any of it as a token,<br>
no beautiful woman<br>
will wear a neck-ring,<br>
but, bereft of gold<br>
they shall walk<br>
in a foreign country<br>
now that our lord has forgotten<br>
laughter and joy.<br>
Now shall the spear be <br>
raised, clasped in hands,<br>
many a cold morning;<br>
now no sound of harp<br>
shall wake the warrior,<br>
but the voice<br>
of the dark raven,<br>
eager over the doomed,<br>
speaking to the eagle<br>
of how the meals are,<br>
how he rifles corpses<br>
beside the wolf.”<br>
Thus the valiant warrior<br>
spoke grievous words.<br>
And he was not much wrong.<br>
The Funeral<br>
The sad troops rose,<br>
went in tears<br>
below Earnaness<br>
to view the wonder.<br>
Lifeless on the sand,<br>
held in his rest-bed,<br>
was the man who had <br>
given them treasures.<br>
That was the last day<br>
of the prince of the Geats;<br>
he died a wondrous death.<br>
There too on the ground<br>
was the strange thing,<br>
the hateful dead dragon,<br>
the fire-thrower,<br>
in his horrible colors,<br>
scorched by flames.<br>
He measured fifty feet,<br>
he who had<br>
joyed in the sky,<br>
flown at night,<br>
then hidden in his lair.<br>
But he’d made his last<br>
use of caverns–<br>
death held him fast.<br>
Beside him lay<br>
cups and pitchers,<br>
dishes and swords<br>
eaten through with rust<br>
as if the earth had embraced<br>
them a thousand winters.<br>
That was a hoard<br>
of great power,<br>
that gold<br>
ancient men<br>
had encircled with a spell<br>
so that no man<br>
could touch it,<br>
unless God himself,<br>
the great Truth-King,<br>
gave leave<br>
to whichever man<br>
seemed fit to Him.<br>
But it was plain<br>
that nothing had gone well<br>
for him who had,<br>
unrightly, hidden those<br>
works of art<br>
under that roof.<br>
It’s a mystery where<br>
a good man goes<br>
when he reaches his end,<br>
when he can no longer<br>
live in the houses of men.<br>
So it was with Beowulf<br>
after he’d sought<br>
the keeper of the cave.<br>
He himself couldn’t know<br>
how he would leave the world.<br>
The famous kings who had cursed <br>
that treasure deeply<br>
damned him who plundered it<br>
into eternal heathen shrines,<br>
the solid bond of Hell.<br>
But Beowulf did not<br>
look on it in greed.<br>
Wiglaf spoke, Weohstan’s son:<br>
“Often must a warrior<br>
suffer for another’s mistake,<br>
as has happened here.<br>
Nor could we convince<br>
our beloved prince<br>
that he should not attack<br>
that gold-keeper<br>
but let him lie<br>
alone in his cave<br>
until the world’s end.<br>
He grasped<br>
his high fate–<br>
the hoard is open,<br>
grimly bought.<br>
That fate<br>
was too cruel<br>
to which our king<br>
was impelled.<br>
I went inside,<br>
saw all the treasure,<br>
the precious things;<br>
I didn’t enter<br>
in a friendly way.<br>
I hastily grasped<br>
many things in my hands,<br>
carried out many<br>
of the hoarded treasures<br>
to my lord.<br>
He was alive still,<br>
sound in mind;<br>
that aged man<br>
sorrowfully said<br>
many things:<br>
He wanted you to build<br>
on the site of his pyre<br>
a high mound,<br>
great and glorious,<br>
since he was<br>
among warriors<br>
the most magnificent,<br>
famous throughout the world.<br>
We should now hasten<br>
to see the curious gems,<br>
the wonders under the earth.<br>
I will show you the way.<br>
Make the pyre ready<br>
so that we may bring our lord<br>
to the place<br>
he will abide<br>
in the keeping<br>
of the All-Powerful.”<br>
Wiglaf ordered<br>
the brave warriors<br>
to carry wood<br>
from far and wide<br>
to the funeral pyre<br>
for the great leader<br>
of the people.<br>
“Now shall fire eat,<br>
the flourishing dark flames,<br>
the ruler of warriors,<br>
he who often braved<br>
the rain of iron,<br>
the storming of arrows<br>
hard from bows,<br>
the sturdy shaft<br>
swift on feathered wings.”<br>
Wiglaf called seven warriors,<br>
the very best,<br>
and made the eighth himself,<br>
to go under<br>
that evil roof.<br>
One carried a torch.<br>
No man needed forcing<br>
when he saw that great treasure<br>
rusting without guardian.<br>
None mourned<br>
carrying that off,<br>
and they shoved the dragon<br>
over the cliff–<br>
the waves embraced<br>
that treasure guardian.<br>
Then the twisted gold,<br>
treasure uncountable,<br>
was lain in a wagon;<br>
they carried the gray warrior<br>
to Hronesness.<br>
For him then<br>
they prepared<br>
a huge funeral pyre<br>
on the earth,<br>
hung with helmets,<br>
and bright coats of mail,<br>
as Beowulf had asked.<br>
There they laid<br>
the famous prince<br>
and lamented<br>
that beloved lord.<br>
Warriors then built<br>
the greatest of fires.<br>
Wood-smoke ascended,<br>
dark black over the flames.<br>
That roar wrapped around <br>
sorrowful weeping.<br>
The wind stood still.<br>
Then his bone-house broke,<br>
the heart burned.<br>
Beowulf’s queen uttered <br>
a mournful song, spoke <br>
her heart’s care with her hair <br>
bound tight. She told earnestly<br>
how she feared evil days,<br>
a great slaughter of warriors,<br>
humiliation and captivity.<br>
Heaven swallowed the smoke.<br>
The Geats built a mound then,<br>
in ten days, high and broad <br>
on the hill, a beacon<br>
for the warrior<br>
widely seen by sailors.<br>
They surrounded the ashes<br>
by a wall, as splendid<br>
as the cleverest<br>
men could make.<br>
In the mound they placed<br>
rings and bracelets<br>
and all such things as<br>
they’d found in the hoard.<br>
They left that treasure<br>
in the hands of the earth,<br>
as it lies still,<br>
as useless to men<br>
as it had been before.<br>
Then twelve warriors<br>
rode round the grave<br>
speaking their sorrow,<br>
reciting praises<br>
for their lord’s<br>
courageous deeds.<br>
(A warrior should do so<br>
when his lord dies.)<br>
Thus the Geats<br>
mourned their great lord,<br>
saying he was,<br>
among this world’s kings,<br>
the mildest, the gentlest,<br>
the kindest to his people,<br>
and the most eager<br>
for eternal fame.<br>
<p><p>Adapted from old english by Dr. David Breeden