'TWAS now, men say, in his sovran's need
that the earl made known his noble strain,
craft and keenness and courage enduring.
Heedless of harm, though his hand was burned,
hardy-hearted, he helped his kinsman.
A little lower the loathsome beast
he smote with sword; his steel drove in
bright and burnished; that blaze began
to lose and lessen. At last the king
wielded his wits again, war-knife drew,
a biting blade by his breastplate hanging,
and the Weders'-helm smote that worm asunder,
felled the foe, flung forth its life.
So had they killed it, kinsmen both,
athelings twain: thus an earl should be
in danger's day! -- Of deeds of valor
this conqueror's-hour of the king was last,
of his work in the world. The wound began,
which that dragon-of-earth had erst inflicted,
to swell and smart; and soon he found
in his breast was boiling, baleful and deep,
pain of poison. The prince walked on,
wise in his thought, to the wall of rock;
then sat, and stared at the structure of giants,
where arch of stone and steadfast column
upheld forever that hall in earth.
Yet here must the hand of the henchman peerless
lave with water his winsome lord,
the king and conqueror covered with blood,
with struggle spent, and unspan his helmet.
Beowulf spake in spite of his hurt,
his mortal wound; full well he knew
his portion now was past and gone
of earthly bliss, and all had fled
of his file of days, and death was near:
"I would fain bestow on son of mine
this gear of war, were given me now
that any heir should after me come
of my proper blood. This people I ruled
fifty winters. No folk-king was there,
none at all, of the neighboring clans
who war would wage me with 'warriors'-friends'1
and threat me with horrors. At home I bided
what fate might come, and I cared for mine own;
feuds I sought not, nor falsely swore
ever on oath. For all these things,
though fatally wounded, fain am I!
From the Ruler-of-Man no wrath shall seize me,
when life from my frame must flee away,
for killing of kinsmen! Now quickly go
and gaze on that hoard 'neath the hoary rock,
Wiglaf loved, now the worm lies low,
sleeps, heart-sore, of his spoil bereaved.
And fare in haste. I would fain behold
the gorgeous heirlooms, golden store,
have joy in the jewels and gems, lay down
softlier for sight of this splendid hoard
my life and the lordship I long have held."
When his lord needed him most, *Wiglaf struck. He attacked the dragon away from the flaming head where his hand had already been burnt. Lower on the neck his blow penetrated the hide and the dragon's fire began to lessen. Still conscious, *Beowulf drew a war-knife and struck at the dragon down the middle. Two noble kinsmen killed the dragon together.
The wounds beginning to affect *Beowulf, he sits by the wall, removes his helmet and begins to speak. He hopes that his war gear will soon be passed on to his son. For fifty years he had ruled without foreign threat, he made no oaths he did not keep, and God could not punish him for killing his kinsmen. He urges *Wiglaf to go quickly and show him what treasure he had helped release from the clutches of the dragon.
Select Bibliography :
Anonymous. Beowulf - Verse Intermediate Saxon. Transcribed by Altman, R.I. Public Domain etext obtained via the Online Book Initiative.
Anonymous. Beowulf Gummere, F.B. trans., Eliot, C.W. ed.. Harvard Classics, Vol. 49.: PF Collier & Sons, New York. 1910. Public Domain etext obtained via the Online Book Initiative.