image

Beowulf in modern English, translated by Seamus Heaney, Beowulf (11)

He wished good luck to the Geats who had shared

his hearth and his gold. He was sad at heart,

unsettled yet ready, sensing his death.

His fate hovered near, unknowable but certain:

it would soon claim his coffered soul,

part life from limb. Before long

the prince's spirit would spin free from his body. Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“Many a skirmish I survived when I was young

and many times of war: I remember them well.

At seven, I was fostered out by my father,

left in the charge of my people's lord. King Hrethel kept me and took care of me,

was open-handed, behaved like a kinsman.

While I was his ward, he treated me no worse

as a wean about the place than one of his own boys,

Herebeald and Haethcyn, or my own Hygelac.

For the eldest, Herebeald, an unexpected

deathbed was laid out, through a brother's doing, when Haethcyn bent his horn-tipped bow

and loosed the arrow that destroyed his life.

He shot wide and buried a shaft

in the flesh and blood of his own brother.

That offence was beyond redress, a wrongfooting

of the heart's affections; for who could avenge the prince's life or pay his death-price? It was like the misery felt by an old man

who has lived to see his son's body swing on the gallows. He begins to keen

and weep for his boy, watching the raven

gloat where he hangs: he can be of no help.

The wisdom of age is worthless to him.

Morning after morning, he wakes to remember

that his child is gone; he has no interest

in living on until another heir

is born in the hall, now that his first-born

has entered death's dominion forever. He gazes sorrowfully at his son's dwelling, the banquet hall bereft of all delight,

the windswept hearthstone; the horsemen are sleeping,

the warriors under ground; what was is no more.

No tunes from the harp, no cheer raised in the yard.

Alone with his longing, he lies down on his bed

and sings a lament; everything seems too large ,

the steadings and the fields.

Such was the feeling

of loss endured by the lord of the Geats

after Herebeald's death. He was helplessly placed

to set to rights the wrong committed,

could not punish the killer in accordance with the law

of the blood-feud, although he felt no love for him.

Heartsore, wearied, he turned away

from life's joys, chose God's light and departed, leaving buildings and lands

to his sons, as a man of substance will.

“Then over the wide sea Swedes and Geats

battled and feuded and fought without quarter.

Hostilities broke out when Hrethel died.

Ongentheow's sons were unrelenting, refusing to make peace, campaigning violently

from coast to coast, constantly setting up

terrible ambushes around Hreasnahill.

My own kith and kin avenged

these evil events, as everybody knows,

but the price was high: one of them paid

with his life. Haethcyn, lord of the Geats,

met his fate there and fell in the battle.

Then, as I have heard, Hygelac's sword was raised in the morning against Ongentheow,

his brother's killer. When Eofor cleft

the old Swede's helmet, halved it open, he fell, death-pale: his feud-calloused hand

could not stave off the fatal stroke.

“The treasures that Hygelac lavished on me

I paid for when I fought, as fortune allowed me,

with my glittering sword. He gave me land

and the security land brings, so he had no call

to go looking for some lesser champion,

some mercenary from among the Gifthas

or the Spear-Danes or the men of Sweden.

I marched ahead of him, always there

at the front of the line; and I shall fight like that

for as long as I live, as long as this sword

shall last, which has stood me in good stead

late and soon, ever since I killed

Dayraven the Frank in front of the two armies.

He brought back no looted breastplate

to the Frisian king, but fell in battle,

their standard-bearer, high-born and brave.

No sword blade sent him to his death,

my bare hands stilled his heartbeats

and wrecked the bone-house. Now blade and hand,

sword and sword-stroke, will assay the hoard.”

Beowulf spoke, made a formal boast

for the last time: “I risked my life

often when I was young. Now I am old,

but as king of the people I shall pursue this fight

for the glory of winning, if the evil one will only

abandon his earth-fort and face me in the open.”

Then he addressed each dear companion

one final time, those fighters in their helmets,

resolute and high-born: “I would rather not

use a weapon if I knew another way

to grapple with the dragon and make good my boast

as I did against Grendel in days gone by.

But I shall be meeting molten venom

in the fire he breathes, so I go forth

in mail-shirt and shield. I won't shift a foot when I meet the cave-guard: what occurs on the wall

between the two of us will turn out as fate,

overseer of men, decides. I am resolved.

I scorn further words against this sky-borne foe.

“Men at arms, remain here on the barrow,

safe in your armour, to see which one of us

is better in the end at bearing wounds

in a deadly fray. This fight is not yours,

nor is it up to any man except me

to measure his strength against the monster

or to prove his worth. I shall win the gold

by my courage, or else mortal combat,

doom of battle, will bear your lord away.”

Then he drew himself up beside his shield.

The fabled warrior in his warshirt and helmet

trusted in his own strength entirely

and went under the crag. No coward path.

Hard by the rock-face that hale veteran,

a good man who had gone repeatedly

into combat and danger and come through,

saw a stone arch and a gushing stream

that burst from the barrow, blazing and wafting

a deadly heat. It would be hard to survive

unscathed near the hoard, to hold firm

against the dragon in those flaming depths.

Then he gave a shout. The lord of the Geats

unburdened his breast and broke out

in a storm of anger. Under grey stone

his voice challenged and resounded clearly.

Hate was ignited. The hoard-guard recognized

a human voice, the time was over

for peace and parleying. Pouring forth

in a hot battle-fume, the breath of the monster

burst from the rock. There was a rumble under ground.

Down there in the barrow, Beowulf the warrior

lifted his shield: the outlandish thing

writhed and convulsed and viciously

turned on the king, whose keen-edged sword,

an heirloom inherited by ancient right,

was already in his hand. Roused to a fury,

each antagonist struck terror in the other.

Unyielding, the lord of his people loomed

by his tall shield, sure of his ground,

while the serpent looped and unleashed itself.

Swaddled in flames, it came gliding and flexing

and racing towards its fate. Yet his shield defended

the renowned leader's life and limb for a shorter time than he meant it to:

that final day was the first time

when Beowulf fought and fate denied him

glory in battle. So the king of the Geats

raised his hand and struck hard

at the enamelled scales, but scarcely cut through:

the blade flashed and slashed yet the blow

was far less powerful than the hard-pressed king

had need of at that moment. The mound-keeper

went into a spasm and spouted deadly flames:

when he felt the stroke, battle-fire

billowed and spewed.

Beowulf was foiled

of a glorious victory. The glittering sword,

infallible before that day,

failed when he unsheathed it, as it never should have.

For the son of Ecgtheow, it was no easy thing

to have to give ground like that and go

unwillingly to inhabit another home

in a place beyond; so every man must yield

the leasehold of his days.

Before long

the fierce contenders clashed again.

The hoard-guard took heart, inhaled

and swelled up and got a new wind; he who had once ruled

was furled in fire and had to face the worst.

No help or backing was to be had then

from his high-born comrades; that hand-picked troop

broke ranks and ran for their lives

to the safety of the wood. But within one heart

sorrow welled up: in a man of worth

the claims of kinship cannot be denied.

His name was Wiglaf, a son of Weohstan's, a well-regarded Shylfing warrior

related to Aelfhere. When he saw his lord

tormented by the heat of his scalding helmet,

he remembered the bountiful gifts bestowed on him,

how well he lived among the Waegmundings,

the freehold he inherited from his father before him.

He could not hold back: one hand brandished

the yellow-timbered shield, the other drew his sword—

an ancient blade that was said to have belonged

to Eanmund, the son of Ohthere, the one

Weohstan had slain when he was an exile without friends.

He carried the arms to the victim's kinfolk, the burnished helmet, the webbed chain-mail

and that relic of the giants. But Onela returned

the weapons to him, rewarded Weohstan

with Eanmund's war-gear. He ignored the blood-feud,

the fact that Eanmund was his brother's son. Weohstan kept that war-gear for a lifetime,

the sword and the mail-shirt, until it was the son's turn to follow his father and perform his part.

Then, in old age, at the end of his days

among the Weather-Geats, he bequeathed to Wiglaf

innumerable weapons.

And now the youth

was to enter the line of battle with

his lord, his first time to be tested as a fighter.

His spirit did not break and the ancestral blade

would keep its edge, as the dragon discovered

as soon as they came together in the combat.

Sad at heart, addressing his companions,

Wiglaf spoke wise and fluent words:

“I remember that time when mead was flowing,

how we pledged loyalty to our lord in the hall,

promised our ring-giver we would be worth our price,

make good the gift of the war-gear,

those swords and helmets, as and when

his need required it. He picked us out

from the army deliberately, honoured us and judged us

fit for this action, made me these lavish gifts—

and all because he considered us the best

of his arms-bearing thanes. And now, although

he wanted this challenge to be one he'd face by himself alone—the shepherd of our land,

a man unequalled in the quest for glory

and a name for daring—now the day has come

when this lord we serve needs sound men

to give him their support. Let us go to him,

help our leader through the hot flame

and dread of the fire. As God is my witness,

I would rather my body were robed in the same

burning blaze as my gold-giver's body than go back home bearing arms.

That is unthinkable, unless we have first

slain the foe and defended the life

of the prince of the Weather-Geats. I well know

the things he has done for us deserve better.

Should he alone be left exposed

to fall in battle? We must bond together,

shield and helmet, mail-shirt and sword.”

Then he waded the dangerous reek and went

under arms to his lord, saying only:

“Go on, dear Beowulf, do everything

you said you would when you were still young

and vowed you would never let your name and fame

be dimmed while you lived. Your deeds are famous,

so stay resolute, my lord, defend your life now

with the whole of your strength. I shall stand by you.”

After those words, a wildness rose

in the dragon again and drove it to attack,

heaving up fire, hunting for enemies,

the humans it loathed. Flames lapped the shield,

charred it to the boss, and the body armour

on the young warrior was useless to him.

But Wiglaf did well under the wide rim

Beowulf shared with him once his own had shattered

in sparks and ashes.

Inspired again

by the thought of glory, the war-king threw

his whole strength behind a sword-stroke

and connected with the skull. And Naegling snapped.

Beowulf's ancient iron-grey sword let him down in the fight. It was never his fortune

to be helped in combat by the cutting edge

of weapons made of iron. When he wielded a sword,

no matter how blooded and hard-edged the blade

his hand was too strong, the stroke he dealt

(I have heard) would ruin it. He could reap no advantage.

Then the bane of that people, the fire-breathing dragon,

was mad to attack for a third time.

When a chance came, he caught the hero

in a rush of flame and clamped sharp fangs

into his neck. Beowulf's body ran wet with his life-blood: it came welling out.

Next thing, they say, the noble son of Weohstan

saw the king in danger at his side

and displayed his inborn bravery and strength

He left the head alone, but his fighting hand

was burned when he came to his kinsman's aid. He lunged at the enemy lower down

so that his decorated sword sank into its belly

and the flames grew weaker.

Once again the king

gathered his strength and drew a stabbing knife

he carried on his belt, sharpened for battle.

He stuck it deep into the dragon's flank. Beowulf dealt it a deadly wound.

They had killed the enemy, courage quelled his life;

that pair of kinsmen, partners in nobility,

had destroyed the foe. So every man should act,

be at hand when needed; but now, for the king,

this would be the last of his many labours

and triumphs in the world.

Then the wound

dealt by the ground-burner earlier began

to scald and swell; Beowulf discovered

deadly poison suppurating inside him,

surges of nausea, and so, in his wisdom,

the prince realized his state and struggled

towards a seat on the rampart. He steadied his gaze

on those gigantic stones, saw how the earthwork

was braced with arches built over columns.

And now that thane unequalled for goodness

with his own hands washed his lord's wounds, swabbed the weary prince with water,

bathed him clean, unbuckled his helmet.



Want to learn a language?


Learn from this text and thousands like it on LingQ.

  • A vast library of audio lessons, all with matching text
  • Revolutionary learning tools
  • A global, interactive learning community.

Language learning online @ LingQ

He wished good luck to the Geats who had shared

his hearth and his gold. He was sad at heart,

unsettled yet ready, sensing his death.

His fate hovered near, unknowable but certain:

it would soon claim his coffered soul,

part life from limb. Before long

the prince's spirit would spin free from his body.

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“Many a skirmish I survived when I was young

and many times of war: I remember them well.

At seven, I was fostered out by my father,

left in the charge of my people's lord.

King Hrethel kept me and took care of me,

was open-handed, behaved like a kinsman.

While I was his ward, he treated me no worse

as a wean about the place than one of his own boys,

Herebeald and Haethcyn, or my own Hygelac.

For the eldest, Herebeald, an unexpected

deathbed was laid out, through a brother's doing,

when Haethcyn bent his horn-tipped bow

and loosed the arrow that destroyed his life.

He shot wide and buried a shaft

in the flesh and blood of his own brother.

That offence was beyond redress, a wrongfooting

of the heart's affections; for who could avenge

the prince's life or pay his death-price?

It was like the misery felt by an old man

who has lived to see his son's body

swing on the gallows. He begins to keen

and weep for his boy, watching the raven

gloat where he hangs: he can be of no help.

The wisdom of age is worthless to him.

Morning after morning, he wakes to remember

that his child is gone; he has no interest

in living on until another heir

is born in the hall, now that his first-born

has entered death's dominion forever.

He gazes sorrowfully at his son's dwelling,

the banquet hall bereft of all delight,

the windswept hearthstone; the horsemen are sleeping,

the warriors under ground; what was is no more.

No tunes from the harp, no cheer raised in the yard.

Alone with his longing, he lies down on his bed

and sings a lament; everything seems too large ,

the steadings and the fields.

Such was the feeling

of loss endured by the lord of the Geats

after Herebeald's death. He was helplessly placed

to set to rights the wrong committed,

could not punish the killer in accordance with the law

of the blood-feud, although he felt no love for him.

Heartsore, wearied, he turned away

from life's joys, chose God's light

and departed, leaving buildings and lands

to his sons, as a man of substance will.

“Then over the wide sea Swedes and Geats

battled and feuded and fought without quarter.

Hostilities broke out when Hrethel died.

Ongentheow's sons were unrelenting,

refusing to make peace, campaigning violently

from coast to coast, constantly setting up

terrible ambushes around Hreasnahill.

My own kith and kin avenged

these evil events, as everybody knows,

but the price was high: one of them paid

with his life. Haethcyn, lord of the Geats,

met his fate there and fell in the battle.

Then, as I have heard, Hygelac's sword

was raised in the morning against Ongentheow,

his brother's killer. When Eofor cleft

the old Swede's helmet, halved it open,

he fell, death-pale: his feud-calloused hand

could not stave off the fatal stroke.

“The treasures that Hygelac lavished on me

I paid for when I fought, as fortune allowed me,

with my glittering sword. He gave me land

and the security land brings, so he had no call

to go looking for some lesser champion,

some mercenary from among the Gifthas

or the Spear-Danes or the men of Sweden.

I marched ahead of him, always there

at the front of the line; and I shall fight like that

for as long as I live, as long as this sword

shall last, which has stood me in good stead

late and soon, ever since I killed

Dayraven the Frank in front of the two armies.

He brought back no looted breastplate

to the Frisian king, but fell in battle,

their standard-bearer, high-born and brave.

No sword blade sent him to his death,

my bare hands stilled his heartbeats

and wrecked the bone-house. Now blade and hand,

sword and sword-stroke, will assay the hoard.”

Beowulf spoke, made a formal boast

for the last time: “I risked my life

often when I was young. Now I am old,

but as king of the people I shall pursue this fight

for the glory of winning, if the evil one will only

abandon his earth-fort and face me in the open.”

Then he addressed each dear companion

one final time, those fighters in their helmets,

resolute and high-born: “I would rather not

use a weapon if I knew another way

to grapple with the dragon and make good my boast

as I did against Grendel in days gone by.

But I shall be meeting molten venom

in the fire he breathes, so I go forth

in mail-shirt and shield. I won't shift a foot

when I meet the cave-guard: what occurs on the wall

between the two of us will turn out as fate,

overseer of men, decides. I am resolved.

I scorn further words against this sky-borne foe.

“Men at arms, remain here on the barrow,

safe in your armour, to see which one of us

is better in the end at bearing wounds

in a deadly fray. This fight is not yours,

nor is it up to any man except me

to measure his strength against the monster

or to prove his worth. I shall win the gold

by my courage, or else mortal combat,

doom of battle, will bear your lord away.”

Then he drew himself up beside his shield.

The fabled warrior in his warshirt and helmet

trusted in his own strength entirely

and went under the crag. No coward path.

Hard by the rock-face that hale veteran,

a good man who had gone repeatedly

into combat and danger and come through,

saw a stone arch and a gushing stream

that burst from the barrow, blazing and wafting

a deadly heat. It would be hard to survive

unscathed near the hoard, to hold firm

against the dragon in those flaming depths.

Then he gave a shout. The lord of the Geats

unburdened his breast and broke out

in a storm of anger. Under grey stone

his voice challenged and resounded clearly.

Hate was ignited. The hoard-guard recognized

a human voice, the time was over

for peace and parleying. Pouring forth

in a hot battle-fume, the breath of the monster

burst from the rock. There was a rumble under ground.

Down there in the barrow, Beowulf the warrior

lifted his shield: the outlandish thing

writhed and convulsed and viciously

turned on the king, whose keen-edged sword,

an heirloom inherited by ancient right,

was already in his hand. Roused to a fury,

each antagonist struck terror in the other.

Unyielding, the lord of his people loomed

by his tall shield, sure of his ground,

while the serpent looped and unleashed itself.

Swaddled in flames, it came gliding and flexing

and racing towards its fate. Yet his shield defended

the renowned leader's life and limb

for a shorter time than he meant it to:

that final day was the first time

when Beowulf fought and fate denied him

glory in battle. So the king of the Geats

raised his hand and struck hard

at the enamelled scales, but scarcely cut through:

the blade flashed and slashed yet the blow

was far less powerful than the hard-pressed king

had need of at that moment. The mound-keeper

went into a spasm and spouted deadly flames:

when he felt the stroke, battle-fire

billowed and spewed.

Beowulf was foiled

of a glorious victory. The glittering sword,

infallible before that day,

failed when he unsheathed it, as it never should have.

For the son of Ecgtheow, it was no easy thing

to have to give ground like that and go

unwillingly to inhabit another home

in a place beyond; so every man must yield

the leasehold of his days.

Before long

the fierce contenders clashed again.

The hoard-guard took heart, inhaled

and swelled up and got a new wind; he who had once ruled

was furled in fire and had to face the worst.

No help or backing was to be had then

from his high-born comrades; that hand-picked troop

broke ranks and ran for their lives

to the safety of the wood. But within one heart

sorrow welled up: in a man of worth

the claims of kinship cannot be denied.

His name was Wiglaf, a son of Weohstan's,

a well-regarded Shylfing warrior

related to Aelfhere. When he saw his lord

tormented by the heat of his scalding helmet,

he remembered the bountiful gifts bestowed on him,

how well he lived among the Waegmundings,

the freehold he inherited from his father before him.

He could not hold back: one hand brandished

the yellow-timbered shield, the other drew his sword—

an ancient blade that was said to have belonged

to Eanmund, the son of Ohthere, the one

Weohstan had slain when he was an exile without friends.

He carried the arms to the victim's kinfolk,

the burnished helmet, the webbed chain-mail

and that relic of the giants. But Onela returned

the weapons to him, rewarded Weohstan

with Eanmund's war-gear. He ignored the blood-feud,

the fact that Eanmund was his brother's son.

Weohstan kept that war-gear for a lifetime,

the sword and the mail-shirt, until it was the son's turn

to follow his father and perform his part.

Then, in old age, at the end of his days

among the Weather-Geats, he bequeathed to Wiglaf

innumerable weapons.

And now the youth

was to enter the line of battle with

his lord, his first time to be tested as a fighter.

His spirit did not break and the ancestral blade

would keep its edge, as the dragon discovered

as soon as they came together in the combat.

Sad at heart, addressing his companions,

Wiglaf spoke wise and fluent words:

“I remember that time when mead was flowing,

how we pledged loyalty to our lord in the hall,

promised our ring-giver we would be worth our price,

make good the gift of the war-gear,

those swords and helmets, as and when

his need required it. He picked us out

from the army deliberately, honoured us and judged us

fit for this action, made me these lavish gifts—

and all because he considered us the best

of his arms-bearing thanes. And now, although

he wanted this challenge to be one he'd face

by himself alone—the shepherd of our land,

a man unequalled in the quest for glory

and a name for daring—now the day has come

when this lord we serve needs sound men

to give him their support. Let us go to him,

help our leader through the hot flame

and dread of the fire. As God is my witness,

I would rather my body were robed in the same

burning blaze as my gold-giver's body

than go back home bearing arms.

That is unthinkable, unless we have first

slain the foe and defended the life

of the prince of the Weather-Geats. I well know

the things he has done for us deserve better.

Should he alone be left exposed

to fall in battle? We must bond together,

shield and helmet, mail-shirt and sword.”

Then he waded the dangerous reek and went

under arms to his lord, saying only:

“Go on, dear Beowulf, do everything

you said you would when you were still young

and vowed you would never let your name and fame

be dimmed while you lived. Your deeds are famous,

so stay resolute, my lord, defend your life now

with the whole of your strength. I shall stand by you.”

After those words, a wildness rose

in the dragon again and drove it to attack,

heaving up fire, hunting for enemies,

the humans it loathed. Flames lapped the shield,

charred it to the boss, and the body armour

on the young warrior was useless to him.

But Wiglaf did well under the wide rim

Beowulf shared with him once his own had shattered

in sparks and ashes.

Inspired again

by the thought of glory, the war-king threw

his whole strength behind a sword-stroke

and connected with the skull. And Naegling snapped.

Beowulf's ancient iron-grey sword

let him down in the fight. It was never his fortune

to be helped in combat by the cutting edge

of weapons made of iron. When he wielded a sword,

no matter how blooded and hard-edged the blade

his hand was too strong, the stroke he dealt

(I have heard) would ruin it. He could reap no advantage.

Then the bane of that people, the fire-breathing dragon,

was mad to attack for a third time.

When a chance came, he caught the hero

in a rush of flame and clamped sharp fangs

into his neck. Beowulf's body

ran wet with his life-blood: it came welling out.

Next thing, they say, the noble son of Weohstan

saw the king in danger at his side

and displayed his inborn bravery and strength

He left the head alone, but his fighting hand

was burned when he came to his kinsman's aid.

He lunged at the enemy lower down

so that his decorated sword sank into its belly

and the flames grew weaker.

Once again the king

gathered his strength and drew a stabbing knife

he carried on his belt, sharpened for battle.

He stuck it deep into the dragon's flank.

Beowulf dealt it a deadly wound.

They had killed the enemy, courage quelled his life;

that pair of kinsmen, partners in nobility,

had destroyed the foe. So every man should act,

be at hand when needed; but now, for the king,

this would be the last of his many labours

and triumphs in the world.

Then the wound

dealt by the ground-burner earlier began

to scald and swell; Beowulf discovered

deadly poison suppurating inside him,

surges of nausea, and so, in his wisdom,

the prince realized his state and struggled

towards a seat on the rampart. He steadied his gaze

on those gigantic stones, saw how the earthwork

was braced with arches built over columns.

And now that thane unequalled for goodness

with his own hands washed his lord's wounds,

swabbed the weary prince with water,

bathed him clean, unbuckled his helmet.

×

We use cookies to help make LingQ better. By visiting the site, you agree to our cookie policy.