31 May 2012

Fitt 38, Part 2, Beowulf Dies

There is little to say about this posting. At Beowulf's dying request, Wiglaf brings him a sample of the dragon's wealth. Beowulf is still alive when he returns, but still bleeding. Beowulf thanks God that he has won a treasure that would be of use to his people after he is dead. He gives instructions about how he is to be buried: burned and then his remains placed in a tower, near the sea, so that sailors would see it and remember his name. He wills his golden necklace, coat of chain mail, and gold-decorated helmet to Wiglaf, then dies.
He filled his arms with flagons and plates      2775
and chose to bring the banner, too,
the brightest beacon. The blade of his old lord--
its edge was iron-- had earlier wounded
the one who had guarded the wealth of treasures.
down through the ages. It endured blazing flames,    2780
hot, for the hoard's sake, a hostile upwelling
late in the night, till he lost the struggle.

The herald hurried, hoping to return,
goaded by goldwork, greedy to learn
if the iron-willed would find him alive,
where he waited, the Wedera lord,
his power failing, in the place he was left.

So he fetched treasures to his famous lord,
the one he followed, and found him bleeding
in his last moments. He must again          2790
wash him with water, till the word's thrusting point
broke through the breast hoard.1
The elder saw gold in the arms of the youth.
"I give thanks for this gold to God Almighty,
"have words of praise for Heaven's King,
"the Lord of Life for letting me see
"what I have won of worth to my people,
"before my death to find such riches.
"For the treasure hoard I have now tendered
"the last of my life. Then look after       2800
"the country's needs. I cannot remain."

"Make veteran men mound up my barrow
"to shine after the fire, facing the sea
"to bring me back to my people's minds
"as it watches from high on the Whales’ Headland,
"so that sailors will say it is
"Beowulf's Barrow, aboard their ships,
"the men who sail through mists at sea."

He took from his neck the torc of gold,2
the glorious king, to give to his thane,
the young hero, and a helmet with gold
with the torc and sark, and he said, “Use them well.
“You are the last one alive of our clan,
“the Waegmundings. Wyrd swept them off,
“all my family to their fated deaths,
“earls in their might. I must follow.”

The old man spoke no other word
before accepting the seething blaze,
the funeral fire, then, flying outward
his soul set off to seek true judgement.

1It seems like only half a line.
2Possibly the one that Queen Wealhtheow had given to Beowulf and that he, in turn, had given to Queen Hygd.

28 May 2012

My New Blog on Almost Everything

Making this blog has been a good experience. I've liked having my material on-line and seeing how many people want to share it. So far, that's over five thousand visits. However, this is a very specialized blog, and I am not, shall we say, very narrow in my interests. So, for everything except Beowulf, have a look at the "My Continuing Education" blog.

23 May 2012

Fitt 38, Part 1: Wiglaf takes treasure to Beowulf

We are certainly progressing through the poem. And so we should be, considering that it has been a year and a half since I started the translation! My request a few posts back that visitors leave a comment on the work, whether positive or helpful (that is, negative), went without response, I'm sad to say. I'll continue the translation, nevertheless. This post makes it over 87% complete.

Since Beowulf's dying request was to see the dragon's hoard, Wiglaf enters the old barrow to fetch it. He sees old armour, a wonderful golden "standard," and a heap of treasure. He fills up his arms and exits the chamber.

The standard, flag, or banner referred to interests me. It is a counterpart to the standard that was mentioned at the poem's start, which was raised on the boat that brought the baby Scyld to the Danes. What would it have looked like?

The Bayeux tapestry shows the Anglo-Saxons with dragon-shaped windsock banners. One is upright, the other has fallen.

More information is available here.

The tapestry also shows triangular flags that may be raven banners, like those of the vikings.

 My imagination pictures it as a Roman-style vexillum, like this.
That, however, is pure speculation.


At once, I heard, Weohstan's son,
after the words of the wounded king,
obeyed the injured man, bore the ring net,
the woven war-shirt, within the barrow.                2755
Verging the seat the victor saw,
the spirited youth, a splendour of jewels,
glittering gold on the ground itself,
 wonders on the wall; and the worm's sleeping place--
the old twilight flyer. And flagons stood             2760
of bygone nobles--no burnishers there--
stripped of their riches; a store of helmets,
rusted relics; rings for the arm,
cleverly clasped.
                                   It can easily,
such gold in the ground, grab hold of a man        2765
and, whoever hides it, it will have its way.

A golden standard also struck his eye,
high over the hoard, a handmade wonder,
carefully crafted. It cast a light
that let the man look from the ground;                 2770
it drew his eyes. Of the dragon itself,
he saw no sign. The sword's edge took him.

Then the heaped-up hoard, I heard, was plundered;
the old work of giants, by just one man.
He filled his arms with flagons and plates              2775
and chose to bring the banner, too,
the brightest beacon. The blade of his old lord--
its edge was iron-- had earlier wounded
the one who had guarded the wealth of treasures.

16 May 2012

Fitt XXXVII, Part II. Beowulf asks to see the Dragon's treasure

Beowulf regrets that he has no son to succeed him. He asks Wiglaf to bring the dragon's gold outside, where he can see it. He knows this is his last request. He says that he is dying with a clear conscience, having ruled for a long time, protected his people, told the truth, and never having killed a member of his own family.

“This is when I would have wished on my son
“body armour, had I been given                             2730
“one who would watch the wealth I leave
“when I am gone. I governed the people
“fifty winters. Not one of the folk-kings
“in neighbouring lands, no living soul,
“wished to meet me with weapons bared,
“bringing terror. I abided my fate
“here on the earth, helped my people,
“sought no deceit and seldom made
“an oath without right. In all these things
“though fatally wounded, I find some comfort       2740
“that man’s Maker may not condemn me
“for kinslaughter when I cannot hold
“life in my body. Now, be away!
“Take stock of the gold under grey pale stone
“my dear Wiglaf, now the worm lies dead,
“sore-wounded, asleep, and stripped of treasure,
“and waste no time. I want to see
“the wealth I have won, old wonders of gold,
“facetted gems, and find my rest
“with an easier heart, the hoard in sight,            2750
“and leave my life and long dominion.”

11 May 2012

Fitt 37: A Dragon Dies, Beowulf is Dying

I've been away from the translation for a while now. Consider it a holiday after about a long haul. However, I'm back on the job, and here is the first part of Fitt 37.

Wiglaf stabs the dragon and Beowulf, despite his wound, kills it. Beowulf recognizes that his time has come, so sits by the rock wall of the tomb and Wiglaf washes the blood off him.

I look forward to polishing some of the lines here before I'm done, but first I want to push on toward completing the poem, then toward a more polished version.


I heard that then, to help his king,
the earl at his side summoned up courage,
power and nerve, all part of his nature.
He scorned its head; though his hand was scorched,
the man helped his kin with mind and strength.

A little lower on the outlandish foe
the armored soldier sank his weapon            2700
bright and golden, so the blaze began
to lose its light.
                                  At last the king
gathered his wits, got out his war-knife
bitter and sharp, sheathed on his byrnie.
The Weders' helm then halved the worm,
their fierce courage felled their rival
and it took those two together to kill it,
lordly kinsmen.  Likewise men ought
to be loyal when needed.
                                                     For the lord that was
the last of his deeds that led to success.        2710
his work in the world. The wound started
that the earth dragon earlier made
to swell and fester. He soon discovered
a deadly evil deepened in his breast,
poison inside. The prince then went
by the wall of rock, wise in his thinking,
and seated himself. He saw the Giants' work
how stone arches on strong pillars
held up forever the hall in the earth.

With hands that were bloody from battle then        2720
the famous lord, the faultless thane,
cleansed with water his king and friend,
exhausted from battle, and unbuckled his helmet.

Beowulf spoke, despite his hurt,
his awful wound. He understood
his days of life were done at last,
the pleasures of the earth, that all had passed
of his numbered days, death very near.