Beowulf eText - Chapter XXXV

This eText contains embedded glossary terms and other notes added by our community of educators. Simply click or tap on the yellow highlighted words within the text to see the annotations.
Turn Off

Chapter XXXV

“THEN HE GOES to his chamber and alone chants a dirge for his lost one. His homestead and house all seems too large. So did the crown of the Geats hide waves of woe within his heart. He could in no way avenge the foul slaughter upon the killer, nor could he even pursue the hero at all with loathing deeds, even though he did not love him. And because of the sorrow his soul endured, he gave up the gladness of men and chose the light of God. As the wealthy do, he left lands and cities to his sons when he went from the earth.

“There was conflict and battle between Swede and Geat over the oceans' expanse; war arose, the hard horrors of battle, and when Hrethel died, Ongentheow's sons became impetuous and bold. They brooked no peace treaty over the seas, but drove their boats to harass in hatred around Hreosnabeorh. My cousins had vengeance for that feud and outrageous wrong—this is well-known. One of them, however, paid for it with his heart's blood; it was a hard bargain. That fray proved fatal for Haethcyn, the first among the Geats. The murderer was killed at morning, I heard, and brother avenged brother with a swordstrike when Ongentheow engaged Eofor there. The war-crown was split wide, and the white-haired Scylfing fell down pale. The hand that struck him had made reckoning in many feuds, and did not flinch from forcing the fatal blow.

“I paid for the treasures that Hygelac gave me with war as I had the opportunity to do so with my gleaming sword; he entrusted me with land, a homestead, and a house. He had no need to seek help among the Gepidæ, or the Spear-Danes, or the Swedish realm—lesser warriors that he would buy with wages! I always fought in the forefront, alone in the vanguard—and thus shall I fight while I remain in this life and so long as will last this blade, which has often, both then and now, stood me in good stead, since with my valor Dæghrefn, champion of the Hugas, was killed by my hand. Nor did he go back from there to the Frisian king with booty and breast-ornaments, but that brave prince, the bearer of the standard, fell slain in battle. He was not killed by blade, but his bones were broken and his heart was stilled by a war-grip. Now will the edge of the sword, my hand, and the hard blade contend for the hoard.”

Beowulf spoke, and made a battle-boast, his last one of all: “I have survived many wars in my youth, and now I, the old defender of the people, will once again seek battle and accomplish mighty deeds, if that fell destroyer will come forth from his cavern to fight me!” Then he hailed all the helmeted heroes, greeting the dear liegemen who were his comrades in war for the last time. “I would carry neither weapon, nor sword against the serpent, if I knew how I could make good my boast with such an enemy, as I did in the day of Grendel. But I must now fear fire in this fight, and poisonous breath, and so I bring with me breastplate and shield. I will flee not even one footstep from the barrow's keeper. One fight upon this rampart shall end our war, as fate which is master of mankind will allow. I am bold in spirit, and so I forbear more boasts against this wingéd warrior. Now wait by the barrow, you in coats of mail and battle gear, to see which of the two of us will bear the wounds of this battle-rush better. Wait for the finish. This is not your fight, nor is it fitting for any but me alone to test my might against this monster here and achieve heroism. I shall win that wealth mightily, or war shall seize your king and lord with cruel killing!”

The sturdy champion then stood up with his shield. Beneath his helmet, his face was stern; he carried his war-gear near the rugged cliffs, and he trusted in the might of his single manhood—such is not the way of the coward! Soon that warrior king, who survived many battles and furious clashes with foes, spied a rocky arch by the wall; out of the arch, a stream broke from the barrow. The brook's surface was hot with fire. He could never hope to come near the hoard unharmed; he could not endure that passage because of the dragon's flame.

Then did that Storm-Geat prince force a word from his lungs, and he burst with rage; he stormed with a strong heart, and his clear cry resonated loudly beneath the gray rocks of the cliffs. The hoard-guardian heard a human voice, and his rage was kindled. There was no more pause for making peace agreements! First to come forth from the cave was that hot stench of combat: the poison breath of that foul worm. The stout lord of the Geats raised his shield against the hated one by the stone path; that coiled foe came courageously seeking strife. The stalwart king drew his sword—that ancient heirloom had no dull edge—and each of the two felt fearful of his foe, though their hearts were fierce. The warrior king stood resolutely with his shield raised high, and the worm now coiled himself together; the mailed one waited.

That blazing serpent, curved like an arch, advanced upon him, gliding headlong and quickly. The shield protected the soul and body of the hero king for a time shorter than he would have desired; he had supposed that morning that he would achieve glory in combat. But Fate denied him the honors of victory. The lord of the Geats lifted his arm and struck the dire foe with the prince's heirloom. Its burnished edge was turned aside on the bone, and it bit more feebly than its noble master needed at that time in his time of duress. Then after the mighty blow, the barrow's keeper became furious with rage, and those vicious fires flew far and wide. The Geats' lord could not boast in the victor's glory—his sword had failed as it never should have, that renowned iron, and he was naked in combat! It was not an easy path for Ecgtheow's honored heir to tread over the plains as he won himself a home Elsewhere, as all men must do when they resign their allotted days.

It was not long before those champions closed ranks again. The hoard-guardian rallied his courage; he drew breath into his breast as he began once more, and the ruler of the people was hard-pressed in peril as he was encompassed with fire. Alas, for his band of comrades, the sons of princes, did not stand armed about him with a battle-stance, but they ran off to the woods to save their lives. But one soul was burdened with care, for true kinship can never be marred in a noble mind!