« PreviousContinue »
From cloudless skies. He scanned the cave,
of the Danes. He gave him his due when Grendel he
found Stretched as in sleep, and spent with the battle. But dead was the fiend, the fight at Heorot Had laid him low. The lifeless body Sprang from the blows of Beowulf's sword, As fiercely he hacked the head from the carcass. But the men who were watching the water with Hrothgar
1595 Suddenly saw a stir in the waves, The chop of the sea all churned up with blood And bubbling gore. The gray-haired chiefs For Beowulf grieved, agreeing together That hope there was none of his home-returning With victory crowned, to revisit his lord. 1601 Most of them feared he had fallen prey To the mere-wolf dread in the depths of the sea. When evening came, the Scyldings all Forsook the headland, and Hrothgar himself Turned homeward his steps. But sick at heart The strangers sat and stared at the sea, Hoped against hope to behold their comrade And leader again.
Now that goodly sword Began to melt with the gore of the monster;1610 In bloody drippings it dwindled away. 'Twas a marvellous sight: it melted like ice, When fetters of frost the Father unlocks, Unravels the ropes of the wrinkled ice, Lord and Master of months and seasons. Beheld in the hall the hero from Juteland Treasures unnumbered, but naught he took, Save Grendel's head, and the hilt of the sword, Bright and jeweled, —the blade had melted, Its metal had vanished, so venomous hot 1620 Was the blood of the demon-brute dead in the
Swimming monsters swarmed about him,
floor. Quick to repay in kind what she got, On her foe she fastened her fearful clutches; Enfolded the warrior weary with fighting; The sure-footed hero stumbled and fell. On his prostrate body she squatted enormous; Unsheathed her hip-knife, shining and broad, Her son to avenge, her offspring sole. But the close-linked corslet covered his breast, Foiled the stroke and saved his life. All had been over with Ecgtheow's son, Under the depths of the Ocean vast, Had not his harness availed to help him, His battle-net stiff, and the strength of God. The Ruler of battles aright decided it; The Wielder all-wise awarded the victory: Lightly the hero leaped to his feet. He spied 'mongst the arms a sword surpassing, Huge and ancient, a hard-forged slayer, Weapon matchless and warriors' delight, Save that its weight was more than another Might bear into battle or brandish in war; 1560 Giants had forged that finest of blades. Then seized its chain-hilt the chief of the
Scyldings; His wrath was aroused, reckless his mood, As he brandished the sword for a savage blow. Bit the blade in the back of her neck, Cut the neck-bone, and cleft its way Clean through her body; she sank to the
ground; The sword was gory; glad was the hero. A light flashed out from the inmost den, Like heaven's candle, when clear it shines 1570
Soon was in the sea the slayer of monsters;
Brought from the holm-cliff the head of the
monster; 'Twas toil and labor to lift the burden, Four of their stoutest scarce could carry it Swung from a spear-pole, a staggering load. . 1638 Thus the fourteen of them, thanes adventur
ous, Marched o'er the moor to the mead-hall of
Hrothgar. Tall in the midst of them towered the hero; Strode among his comrades, till they came to
the hall. In went Beowulf, the brave and victorious, 1645 Battle-beast hardy, Hrothgar to greet. Lifting by the hair the head of Grendel, They laid it in the hall, where the heroes were
carousing, Right before the king, and right before the
queen; Gruesome was the sight that greeted the Danes.
For this I bear both breastplate and shield; 2525
Uprose with his shield the shining hero,
ringing. Hate was aroused, the hoard-ward knew The leader's hail. Too late 'twas now To parley for peace. The poisonous breath Of the monster shot from the mouth of the cave, Reeking hot. The hollow earth rumbled. The man by the rock upraised his shield, The Lord of the Jutes, 'gainst the loathly
dragon. Now kindled for battle the curled-up beast; The king undaunted with drawn sword stood, ('Twas an heirloom olden with edge of lightning) Each was so fierce he affrighted the other. 2565 Towering tall 'neath tilted shield, Waited the king as the worm coiled back, Sudden to spring: so stood he and waited. Blazing he came in coils of fire Swift to his doom. The shield of iron Sheltered the hero too short a while, Life and limb it less protected Than he hoped it would, for the weapon he held First time that day he tried in battle; Wyrd had not willed he should win the fight. But the Lord of the Jutes uplifted his arm, 2576 Smote the scaly worm, struck him so fierce That his ancient bright-edged blade gave way, Bent on the bone, and bit less sure Than its owner had need in his hour of peril.2580 That sword-stroke roused the wrath of the cave
guard; Fire and flame afar he spirted, Blaze of battle; but Beowulf there No victory boasted: his blade had failed him, Naked in battle, as never it should have, Well-tempered iron! Nor easy it was For Ecgtheow's heir, honored and famous,
BEOWULF'S LAST FIGHT AND DEATH
(Beowulf left with the Danes his grisly trophies of battle, the head of Grendel, his huge forequarter, and the hilt of the giant sword with its mystical runic inscription. Loading his boat with the gifts of Hrothgar, he and his comrades sailed away home. After the death of Hygėlac and his son, Beowulf became king of the Jutes, and ruled over them fifty years. In his old age his people were harried by a fire-dragon whom the hero went out to fight. It seems that an outlaw, banished and flying for shelter, had come upon a treasure hid in a deep cave or barrow, guarded by a dragon. Long years before, an earl, the last of his race, had buried the treasure. After his death the dragon, sniffing about the stones, had found it and guarded it three hundred years, until the banished man discovered the place, and carried off one of the golden goblets. In revenge the dragon made nightly raids on Beowulf's realm, flying through the air, spitting fire, burning houses and villages, even Beowulf's hall, the “gift-stool" of the Jutes. Beowulf had an iron shield made against the dragon's fiery breath, and with eleven companions, sought out the hill-vault near the sea. Before attacking the monster he spoke these words to his comrades:) Beowulf said to them, brave words spoke he: “Brunt of battles I bore in my youth, One fight more I make this day. I mean to win fame defending my people, If the grim destroyer will seek me out, Come at my call from his cavern dark.” Then he greeted his thanes each one, For the last time hailed his helmeted warriors, His comrades dear. “I should carry no sword, No weapon of war 'gainst the worm should bear, If the foe I might slay by strength of my arm, As Grendel I slew long since by my hand. 2522 But I look to fight a fiery battle, With scorching puffs of poisonous breath.
This earth to forsake, forever to leave it; Years ago, in youth, thou vowedst
Living, ne'er to lose thine honor,
I stand by thee to the end!” Bursting with wrath the battle renewed.
After these words the worm came on, The hoard-ward took heart, and with heaving Snorting with rage, for a second charge; breast
All mottled with fire his foes he sought, Came charging amain. The champion brave, The warriors hated. But Wiglaf's shield Strength of his people, was sore oppressed, 2595 Was burnt to the boss by the billows of fire; Enfolded by flame. No faithful comrades His harness helped not the hero young. Crowded about him, his chosen band,
Shelter he found 'neath the shield of his kinsAll æthelings' sons, to save their lives,
man, Fled to the wood. One of them only
When the crackling blaze had crumbled his own: Felt surging sorrow; for nought can stifle 2600 But mindful of glory, the mighty hero Call of kin in a comrade true;
Smote amain with his matchless sword. Wiglaf his name, 'twas Weohstan's son
Down it hurtled, driven by anger, Shield-thane beloved, lord of the Scylfings Till it stuck in the skull, then snapped the blade, Ælfhere's kinsman. When his king he saw Broken was Nægling, Beowulf's sword, Hard by the heat under helmet oppressed, 2605 Ancient and gray. 'Twas granted him never He remembered the gifts he had got of old, To count on edge of iron in battle; Lands and wealth of the Wægmunding line, His hand was too heavy, too hard his strokes, The folk-rights all that his father's had been; As I have heard tell, for every blade He could hold no longer, but hard he gripped
He brandished in battle: the best gave way, Linden shield yellow and ancient sword. ... 2610 And left him helpless and hard bestead. For the first time there the faithful thane, 2652 Now for a third time neared the destroyer; 2715 Youthful and stalwart, stood with his leader, The fire-drake fierce, old feuds remembering, Shoulder to shoulder in shock of battle.
Charged the warrior who wavered an instant; Nor melted his courage, nor cracked his blade, Blazing he came and closed his fangs His war-sword true, as the worm found out 2656 On Beowulf's throat; and throbbing spirts When together they got in grim encounter. Of life-blood dark o'erdrenched the hero.
Wiglaf in wrath upbraided his comrades, Then in the hour of utmost peril, Sore was his heart as he spake these words: The stripling proved what stock he came of; “Well I mind when our mead we drank
Showed his endurance and dauntless courage. In the princely hall, how we promised our lord Though burnt was his hand when he backed his Who gave us these rings and golden armlets, kinsman, That we would repay his war-gifts rich, With head unguarded the good thane charged, Helmets and armor, if haply should come Thrust from below at the loathly dragon, His hour of peril; us hath he made
Pierced with the point and plunged the blade in, Thanes of his choice for this adventure;
The gleaming-bright, till the glow abated
2730 Helmeted warriors, hardy and brave.
The war-knife that hung at his harness' side, Yet all the while, unhelped and alone,
And cut in two the coiled monster. He meant to finish this feat of strength, So felled they the foe and finished him bravely, Shepherd of men and mightiest lord
Together they killed him, the kinsmen two, Of daring deeds. The day is come, –
A noble pair. So needs must do Now is the hour he needs the aid
Comrades in peril. For the king it proved Of spearmen good. Let us go to him now, 2675 His uttermost triumph, the end of his deeds Help our hero while hard bestead
And work in the world. The wound began, By the nimble flames. God knows that I Where the cave-dragon savage had sunk his Had rather the fire should ruthlessly fold
teeth, My body with his, than harbor me safe. To swell and fever, and soon he felt Shame it were surely our shields to carry 2680 The baleful poison pulse through his blood, Home to our lands, unless we first
And burn in his breast. The brave old warrior Slay this foe and save the life
Sat by the wall and summoned his thoughts, Of the Weder-king. Full well I know
Gazed on the wondrous work of the giants: To leave him thus, alone to endure,
Arches of stone, firm-set on their pillars, 2745 Bereft of aid, breaks ancient right.
2685 Upheld that hill-vault hoar and ancient. My helmet and sword shall serve for us both, Shield and armor we share to-day.”
Now Beowulf's thane, the brave and faithful,
Dashed with water his darling lord, Waded the warrior through welter and reek; His comrade and king all covered with blood Buckler and helmet he bore to his leader; And faint with the fight; unfastened his helmet. Heartened the hero with words of hope:
Beowulf spoke despite his hurt, “Do thy best now, dearest Beowulf,
His piteous wound. Full well he knew
Gazing sad at the gold before him:
His years on earth were ended now,
Swiftly, 'tis said, the son of Weohstan
the cave Boldly he bore his battle-net in. Glad of the victory, he gazed about him; Many a sun-bright jewel he saw; Glittering gold, strewn on the ground, Heaped in the den of the dragon hoary, Old twilight-flier,-flagons once bright, Wassail cups wondrous of warriors departed Stript of their mountings, many a helmet Ancient and rusted, armlets a many, Curiously woven. (Wealth so hoarded, Buried treasure, will taint with pride, Him that hides it, whoever it be.) Towering high o'er the hoard he saw A gleaming banner with gold inwoven, Of broidure rare, its radiance streamed So ht, he could peer to the bounds of the cave, Survey its wonders; no worm was seen. Edge of the sword had ended his life. Then, as they say, that single adventurer Plundered the hoard that was piled by the
giants Gathered together old goblets and platters, Took what he liked; the towering banner Brightest of beacons he brought likewise. .. .2776 So Wiglaf returned with treasure laden The high-souled hero hastened his steps, Anxiously wondered if he should find 2785 The lord of the Weders alive where he left him Sapped of his strength and stretched on the
ground. As he came from the hill he beheld his comrade, His lord of bounty, bleeding and faint, Near unto death. He dashed him once more Bravely with water, till burden of speech Broke from his breast, and Beowulf spoke,
1 The Goddess of Fate.
(Translated by P. V. D. SHELLY) No man becomes, before death calls him, Wiser in thought than then he needs be Well to consider, ere the thread's severed, What to his ghost, of good or of evil, After the death-day is destined by doom.
THE DROWNING OF THE EGYPTIANS (From the Exodus. Translated by
J. D. SPAETH.) The host was harrowed with horror of drowning; Sea-death menaced their miserable souls. 448
1 The Erodus, a poem of 589 lines, is the oldest extant epic of a series on Biblical subjects, written apparently in the north of England. No exact date can be given, but it was evidently written before the time of King Al fred (871-901).
That the ocean's master was mightier than he.
deep We drive afar. 'Tis a dreary waste Of ceaseless surges we sail across, In this wavering world, o'er wind-swept tracts Of open sea.. Anxious the struggle, Ere we bring at last our barks to land, O'er the rough sea-ridges. Our rescue is near; The Son of God doth safely guide us, Helps us into our harbor of refuge;
860 Shows from the deck the sheltered waters Where smoothly to anchor our ancient chargers, Hold with the hawsers our horses of the deep. Then fix we our hope on that haven of safety That the Prince of Glory prepared for us all, 865 The Ruler on high, when He rose to heaven.
The slopes of the hill-sides were splashed with
blood. There was woe on the waters, the waves spat
gore; They were full of weapons, and frothed with
slaughter. Back were beaten the bold Egyptians, Fled in fear; they were filled with terror. Headlong they hastened their homes to seek. Less bold were their boasts as the billows rolled
o'er them, Dread welter of waves. Not one of that army Went again home, but Wyrd from behind Barred with billows their backward path. Where ways had lain, now weltered the sea, The swelling flood. The storm went up High to the heavens; hugest of uproars Darkened the sky; the dying shrieked With voices doomed. The Deep streamed with
blood. Shield-walls were shattered by shock of the
tempest. Greatest of sea-deaths engulfed the mighty, 465 Captains and troops. Retreat was cut off At the ocean's brink. Their battle-shields
gleamed High o'er their heads as the heaped-up waters Compassed them round, the raging flood. Doomed was the host, by death hemmed in, 470 Suddenly trapped. The salty billows Swept with their swirling the sand from their
feet, As the Ocean cold to its ancient bed, Through winding channels the churning flood, Came rolling back o'er the rippled bottom, 475 Swift avenger, naked and wild. With slaughter was streaked the storm-dark air; The bursting deep with blood-terror yawned, When He who made it, by Moses' hand Unbitted the wrath of the raging flood; Wide it came sweeping to swallow the foe; Foamed the waters, the fated sank; Earth was o'erwhelmed, the air was darkened; Burst the wave-walls, the bulwarks tumbled; The sea-towers melted, when the Mighty One
smote The pride of the host, through the pillar of fire, With holy hand from heaven above. The onslaught wild of the angry main None might oppose. He appointed their end In the roaring horror. Wroth was the sea: 490 Up it rose, down it smote, dealing destruction. Slaughter-blood spread, the sea-wall fell, Upreared on high, the handiwork of God, When the ocean He smote with His ancient
sword, Felled the defence of the foam-breasted waves. With the death-blow deep, the doomed men
slept. The army of sinners their souls gave up, The sea-pale host, ensnared and surrounded, When the dark upheaval o'erwhelmed them all, Hugest of wild waves. The host sank down, Pharaoh and his folk, the flower of Egypt Utterly perished. The enemy of God Soon discovered, when the sea he entered,
DOOMSDAY (From The Crist. Translated by J. D. SPAETH.) Lo! on a sudden, and all unlooked for, In the dead of the night, the day of the Lord Shall break tremendous on man and beast, O’erwhelming the world and the wide creation, As a ruthless robber, ranging at night, Who strides through the dark with stealthy
pace, And suddenly springs on sleep-bound heroes, Greets with violence his victims unguarded. A mighty host on the mount of Sion Shall gather together glad and rejoicing The faithful of the Lord, they shall find their
reward. With one accord from the quarters four, And uttermost ends of the earth at once, Glorious angels together shall blow Their shattering trumpets; the trembling earth Shall shake and sink, as they sound together,
i Cynewulf, the greatest early poet of the north of England, lived probably in Northumbria at the end of the 8th century. The Christ, from which the two selections are taken, is his chief poem; it is 1664 lines long and consists of three parts, The Advent, The Ascension, and Doomsday.