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Beowulf in modern English, translated by Seamus Heaney, Beowulf (10)

Thus Beowulf bore himself with valour;

he was formidable in battle yet behaved with honour

and took no advantage; never cut down

a comrade who was drunk, kept his temper

and, warrior that he was, watched and controlled

his God-sent strength and his outstanding

natural powers. He had been poorly regarded

for a long time, was taken by the Geats

for less than he was worth: and their lord too

had never much esteemed him in the mead-hall.

They firmly believed that he lacked force,

that the prince was a weakling; but presently

every affront to his deserving was reversed.

The battle-famed king, bulwark of his earls,

ordered a gold-chased heirloom of Hrethel's to be brought in; it was the best example

of a gem-studded sword in the Geat treasury.

This he laid on Beowulf's lap and then rewarded him with land as well,

seven thousand hides, and a hall and a throne.

Both owned land by birth in that country,

ancestral grounds; but the greater right

and sway were inherited by the higher born.

A lot was to happen in later days

in the fury of battle. Hygelac fell

and the shelter of Heardred's shield proved useless against the fierce aggression of the Shylfings:

ruthless swordsmen, seasoned campaigners,

they came against him and his conquering nation,

and with cruel force cut him down

so that afterwards

the wide kingdom

reverted to Beowulf. He ruled it well

for fifty winters, grew old and wise

as warden of the land

until one began

to dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl

from the steep vaults of a stone-roofed barrow

where he guarded a hoard; there was a hidden passage,

unknown to men, but someone managed

to enter by it and interfere

with the heathen trove. He had handled and removed

a gem-studded goblet; it gained him nothing,

though with a thief's wiles he had outwitted the sleeping dragon; that drove him into rage,

as the people of that country would soon discover.

The intruder who broached the dragon's treasure and moved him to wrath had never meant to.

It was desperation on the part of a slave

fleeing the heavy hand of some master,

guilt-ridden and on the run,

going to ground. But he soon began

to shake with terror;.............in shock

the wretch...........................................................................

panicked and ran away with the precious.......................

metalwork. There were many other

heirlooms heaped inside the earth-house,

A newly constructed

barrow stood waiting, on a wide headland

close to the waves, its entryway secured.

Into it the keeper of the hoard had carried

all the goods and golden ware worth preserving. His words were few:

“Now, earth, hold what earls once held

and heroes can no more; it was mined from you first

by honourable men. My own people have been ruined in war; one by one

they went down to death, looked their last

on sweet life in the hall. I am left with nobody

to bear a sword or burnish plated goblets,

put a sheen on the cup. The companies have departed.

The hard helmet, hasped with gold,

will be stripped of its hoops; and the helmet-shiner

who should polish the metal of the war-mask sleeps;

the coat of mail that came through all fights,

through shield-collapse and cut of sword,

decays with the warrior. Nor may webbed mail

range far and wide on the warlord's back beside his mustered troops. No trembling harp,

no tuned timber, no tumbling hawk

swerving through the hall, no swift horse

pawing the courtyard. Pillage and slaughter

have emptied the earth of entire peoples.”

And so he mourned as he moved about the world,

deserted and alone, lamenting his unhappiness

day and night, until death's flood brimmed up in his heart.

Then an old harrower of the dark

happened to find the hoard open,

the burning one who hunts out barrows,

the slick-skinned dragon, threatening the night sky

with streamers of fire. People on the farms

are in dread of him. He is driven to hunt out

hoards under ground, to guard heathen gold

through age-long vigils, though to little avail.

For three centuries, this scourge of the people

underground treasury, until the intruder

unleashed its fury; he hurried to his lord

with the gold-plated cup and made his plea

to be reinstated. Then the vault was rifled,

the ring-hoard robbed, and the wretched man

had his request granted. His master gazed

on that find from the past for the first time.

When the dragon awoke, trouble flared again.

He rippled down the rock, writhing with anger

when he saw the footprints of the prowler who had stolen

too close to his dreaming head.

So may a man not marked by fate

easily escape exile and woe

by the grace of God.

The hoard-guardian

scorched the ground as he scoured and hunted

for the trespasser who had troubled his sleep.

Hot and savage, he kept circling and circling

the outside of the mound. No man appeared

in that desert waste, but he worked himself up

by imagining battle; then back in he'd go in search of the cup, only to discover

signs that someone had stumbled upon

the golden treasures. So the guardian of

the mound, the hoard-watcher, waited for the gloaming

with fierce impatience; his pent-up fury

at the loss of the vessel made him long to hit back

and lash out in flames. Then, to his delight,

the day waned and he could wait no longer

behind the wall, but hurtled forth

in a fiery blaze. The first to suffer

were the people on the land, but before long

it was their treasure-giver who would come to grief.

The dragon began to belch out flames

and burn bright homesteads; there was a hot glow

that scared everyone, for the vile sky-winger

would leave nothing alive in his wake.

Everywhere the havoc he wrought was in evidence.

Far and near, the Geat nation

bore the brunt of his brutal assaults

and virulent hate. Then back to the hoard

he would dart before daybreak, to hide in his den.

He had swinged the land, swathed it in flame,

in fire and burning, and now he felt secure

in the vaults of his barrow; but his trust was unavailing.

Then Beowulf was given bad news,

a hard truth: his own home,

the best of buildings, had been burnt to a cinder,

the throne-room of the Geats. It threw the hero

into deep anguish and darkened his mood:

the wise man thought he must have thwarted

ancient ordinance of the eternal Lord,

broken His commandment. His mind was in turmoil,

unaccustomed anxiety and gloom

confused his brain; the fire-dragon

had rased the coastal region and reduced

forts and earthworks to dust and ashes,

so the war-king planned and plotted his revenge.

The warriors' protector, prince of the hall-troop, ordered a marvellous all-iron shield

from his smithy works. He well knew

that linden boards would let him down

and timber burn. After many trials,

he was destined to face the end of his days

in this mortal world; as was the dragon,

for all his long leasehold on the treasure.

Yet the prince of the rings was too proud

to line up with a large army

against the sky-plague. He had scant regard

for the dragon as a threat, no dread at all

of its courage or strength, for he had kept going

often in the past, through perils and ordeals

of every sort, after he had purged

Hrothgar's hall, triumphed in Heorot and beaten Grendel. He outgrappled the monster

and his evil kin.

One of his cruellest

hand-to-hand encounters had happened

when Hygelac, king of the Geats, was killed

in Friesland: the people's friend and lord, Hrethel's son, slaked a sword blade's thirst for blood. But Beowulf's prodigious gifts as a swimmer guaranteed his safety:

he arrived at the shore, shouldering thirty

battle-dresses, the booty he had won.

There was little for the Hetware to be happy about

as they shielded their faces and fighting on the ground

began in earnest. With Beowulf against them,

few could hope to return home.

Across the wide sea, desolate and alone,

the son of Ecgtheow swam back to his people.

There Hygd offered him throne and authority

as lord of the ring-hoard: with Hygelac dead,

she had no belief in her son's ability to defend their homeland against foreign invaders.

Yet there was no way the weakened nation

could get Beowulf to give in and agree

to be elevated over Heardred as his lord

or to undertake the office of kingship.

But he did provide support for the prince,

honoured and minded him until he matured

as the ruler of Geatland.

Then over sea-roads

exiles arrived, sons of Ohthere.

They had rebelled against the best of all

the sea-kings in Sweden, the one who held sway

in the Shylfing nation, their renowned prince,

lord of the mead-hall. That marked the end

for Hygelac's son: his hospitality was mortally rewarded with wounds from a sword.

Heardred lay slaughtered and Onela returned

to the land of Sweden, leaving Beowulf

to ascend the throne, to sit in majesty

and rule over the Geats. He was a good king.

In days to come, he contrived to avenge

the fall of his prince; he befriended Eadgils

when Eadgils was friendless, aiding his cause

with weapons and warriors over the wide sea,

sending him men. The feud was settled

on a comfortless campaign when he killed Onela.

And so the son of Ecgtheow had survived

every extreme, excelling himself in daring and

in danger, until the day arrived

when he had to come face to face with the dragon.

The lord of the Geats took eleven comrades

and went in a rage to reconnoitre.

By then he had discovered the cause of the affliction

being visited on the people. The precious cup

had come to him from the hand of the finder,

the one who had started all this strife

and was now added as a thirteenth to their number.

They press-ganged and compelled this poor creature

to be their guide. Against his will

he led them to the earth-vault he alone knew,

an underground barrow near the sea-billows

and heaving waves, heaped inside

with exquisite metalwork. The one who stood guard

was dangerous and watchful, warden of that trove

buried under earth: no easy bargain

would be made in that place by any man.

The veteran king sat down on the cliff-top.


Thus Beowulf bore himself with valour;  

he was formidable in battle yet behaved with honour  

and took no advantage; never cut down

a comrade who was drunk, kept his temper  

and, warrior that he was, watched and controlled  

his God-sent strength and his outstanding  

natural powers. He had been poorly regarded  

for a long time, was taken by the Geats  

for less than he was worth: and their lord too  

had never much esteemed him in the mead-hall.  

They firmly believed that he lacked force,  

that the prince was a weakling; but presently  

every affront to his deserving was reversed.

The battle-famed king, bulwark of his earls,  

ordered a gold-chased heirloom of Hrethel's  

to be brought in; it was the best example  

of a gem-studded sword in the Geat treasury.  

This he laid on Beowulf's lap  

and then rewarded him with land as well,  

seven thousand hides, and a hall and a throne.  

Both owned land by birth in that country,  

ancestral grounds; but the greater right  

and sway were inherited by the higher born.

A lot was to happen in later days  

in the fury of battle. Hygelac fell  

and the shelter of Heardred's shield proved useless  

against the fierce aggression of the Shylfings:  

ruthless swordsmen, seasoned campaigners,  

they came against him and his conquering nation,  

and with cruel force cut him down  

so that afterwards  

the wide kingdom  

reverted to Beowulf. He ruled it well  

for fifty winters, grew old and wise

as warden of the land  

until one began  

to dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl

from the steep vaults of a stone-roofed barrow  

where he guarded a hoard; there was a hidden passage,

unknown to men, but someone managed

to enter by it and interfere  

with the heathen trove. He had handled and removed  

a gem-studded goblet; it gained him nothing,  

though with a thief's wiles he had outwitted  

the sleeping dragon; that drove him into rage,

as the people of that country would soon discover.

The intruder who broached the dragon's treasure

and moved him to wrath had never meant to.

It was desperation on the part of a slave

fleeing the heavy hand of some master,

guilt-ridden and on the run,

going to ground. But he soon began

to shake with terror;.............in shock

the wretch...........................................................................

panicked and ran away with the precious.......................

metalwork. There were many other

heirlooms heaped inside the earth-house,

A newly constructed  

barrow stood waiting, on a wide headland  

close to the waves, its entryway secured.  

Into it the keeper of the hoard had carried  

all the goods and golden ware   worth preserving. His words were few:  

“Now, earth, hold what earls once held  

and heroes can no more; it was mined from you first  

by honourable men. My own people have been ruined in war; one by one  

they went down to death, looked their last  

on sweet life in the hall. I am left with nobody  

to bear a sword or burnish plated goblets,  

put a sheen on the cup. The companies have departed.  

The hard helmet, hasped with gold,  

will be stripped of its hoops; and the helmet-shiner  

who should polish the metal of the war-mask sleeps;  

the coat of mail that came through all fights,  

through shield-collapse and cut of sword,

decays with the warrior. Nor may webbed mail  

range far and wide on the warlord's back  

beside his mustered troops. No trembling harp,  

no tuned timber, no tumbling hawk  

swerving through the hall, no swift horse  

pawing the courtyard. Pillage and slaughter  

have emptied the earth of entire peoples.”  

And so he mourned as he moved about the world,  

deserted and alone, lamenting his unhappiness  

day and night, until death's flood

brimmed up in his heart.

Then an old harrower of the dark  

happened to find the hoard open,  

the burning one who hunts out barrows,  

the slick-skinned dragon, threatening the night sky  

with streamers of fire. People on the farms  

are in dread of him. He is driven to hunt out  

hoards under ground, to guard heathen gold  

through age-long vigils, though to little avail.  

For three centuries, this scourge of the people

underground treasury, until the intruder  

unleashed its fury; he hurried to his lord  

with the gold-plated cup and made his plea  

to be reinstated. Then the vault was rifled,  

the ring-hoard robbed, and the wretched man  

had his request granted. His master gazed  

on that find from the past for the first time.

When the dragon awoke, trouble flared again.  

He rippled down the rock, writhing with anger  

when he saw the footprints of the prowler who had stolen 

too close to his dreaming head.  

So may a man not marked by fate  

easily escape exile and woe  

by the grace of God.

The hoard-guardian  

scorched the ground as he scoured and hunted  

for the trespasser who had troubled his sleep.  

Hot and savage, he kept circling and circling  

the outside of the mound. No man appeared  

in that desert waste, but he worked himself up  

by imagining battle; then back in he'd go 

in search of the cup, only to discover  

signs that someone had stumbled upon  

the golden treasures. So the guardian of  

the mound, the hoard-watcher, waited for the gloaming  

with fierce impatience; his pent-up fury  

at the loss of the vessel made him long to hit back 

and lash out in flames. Then, to his delight,  

the day waned and he could wait no longer  

behind the wall, but hurtled forth  

in a fiery blaze. The first to suffer

were the people on the land, but before long  

it was their treasure-giver who would come to grief.    

The dragon began to belch out flames  

and burn bright homesteads; there was a hot glow  

that scared everyone, for the vile sky-winger  

would leave nothing alive in his wake.  

Everywhere the havoc he wrought was in evidence.  

Far and near, the Geat nation  

bore the brunt of his brutal assaults  

and virulent hate. Then back to the hoard

he would dart before daybreak, to hide in his den.  

He had swinged the land, swathed it in flame,  

in fire and burning, and now he felt secure  

in the vaults of his barrow; but his trust was unavailing.

Then Beowulf was given bad news,  

a hard truth: his own home,  

the best of buildings, had been burnt to a cinder,  

the throne-room of the Geats. It threw the hero  

into deep anguish and darkened his mood:  

the wise man thought he must have thwarted

ancient ordinance of the eternal Lord,  

broken His commandment. His mind was in turmoil,

unaccustomed anxiety and gloom  

confused his brain; the fire-dragon  

had rased the coastal region and reduced  

forts and earthworks to dust and ashes,  

so the war-king planned and plotted his revenge.  

The warriors' protector, prince of the hall-troop,  

ordered a marvellous all-iron shield  

from his smithy works. He well knew

that linden boards would let him down  

and timber burn. After many trials,  

he was destined to face the end of his days  

in this mortal world; as was the dragon,  

for all his long leasehold on the treasure.

Yet the prince of the rings was too proud  

to line up with a large army  

against the sky-plague. He had scant regard  

for the dragon as a threat, no dread at all  

of its courage or strength, for he had kept going

often in the past, through perils and ordeals  

of every sort, after he had purged  

Hrothgar's hall, triumphed in Heorot  

and beaten Grendel. He outgrappled the monster 

and his evil kin.

One of his cruellest  

hand-to-hand encounters had happened  

when Hygelac, king of the Geats, was killed  

in Friesland: the people's friend and lord, 

Hrethel's son, slaked a sword blade's  

thirst for blood. But Beowulf's prodigious

gifts as a swimmer guaranteed his safety:  

he arrived at the shore, shouldering thirty  

battle-dresses, the booty he had won.  

There was little for the Hetware to be happy about  

as they shielded their faces and fighting on the ground 

began in earnest. With Beowulf against them,

few could hope to return home.

Across the wide sea, desolate and alone,  

the son of Ecgtheow swam back to his people.  

There Hygd offered him throne and authority

as lord of the ring-hoard: with Hygelac dead,  

she had no belief in her son's ability  

to defend their homeland against foreign invaders.  

Yet there was no way the weakened nation  

could get Beowulf to give in and agree  

to be elevated over Heardred as his lord  

or to undertake the office of kingship.  

But he did provide support for the prince,  

honoured and minded him until he matured  

as the ruler of Geatland.

Then over sea-roads

exiles arrived, sons of Ohthere.  

They had rebelled against the best of all  

the sea-kings in Sweden, the one who held sway  

in the Shylfing nation, their renowned prince,  

lord of the mead-hall. That marked the end  

for Hygelac's son: his hospitality  

was mortally rewarded with wounds from a sword.  

Heardred lay slaughtered and Onela returned  

to the land of Sweden, leaving Beowulf  

to ascend the throne, to sit in majesty

and rule over the Geats. He was a good king.

In days to come, he contrived to avenge  

the fall of his prince; he befriended Eadgils  

when Eadgils was friendless, aiding his cause 

with weapons and warriors over the wide sea,  

sending him men. The feud was settled  

on a comfortless campaign when he killed Onela.      

And so the son of Ecgtheow had survived  

every extreme, excelling himself in daring and  

in danger, until the day arrived

when he had to come face to face with the dragon.

The lord of the Geats took eleven comrades  

and went in a rage to reconnoitre.  

By then he had discovered the cause of the affliction  

being visited on the people. The precious cup  

had come to him from the hand of the finder,  

the one who had started all this strife  

and was now added as a thirteenth to their number.  

They press-ganged and compelled this poor creature  

to be their guide. Against his will

he led them to the earth-vault he alone knew,  

an underground barrow near the sea-billows  

and heaving waves, heaped inside  

with exquisite metalwork. The one who stood guard  

was dangerous and watchful, warden of that trove  

buried under earth: no easy bargain  

would be made in that place by any man.      

The veteran king sat down on the cliff-top.