BEOWULF The Adventures of Beowulf
an Adaptation from the Old English
by Dr. David Breeden
Illustrated by Randy Grochoske

Like us on Facebook

Beowulf on Funeral Pyre

The adventures of Beowulf, Episode 12
-- The Death of Beowulf--

The wound began
to swell and burn,
the venom seethed,
that poison inside.
The prince went
to sit by the wall,
the wise man sat down
to look at the work
of giants held within
the earth-house standing
on stone pillars.

Wiglaf bathed him,
his lord,
wearied in battle,
and unfastened his helmet.

Beowulf spoke,
despite his wounds.
(He knew well
he'd seen the last
of this world's joys,
that he'd numbered
his last day.)
"Now should I give my sons
my battle garments,
but fate did not grant
that I have sons.
I ruled the people
fifty winters.
Not one king among
the neighboring peoples
dared greet me
with a sword;
I feared no one.
I awaited my destiny well:
never did I plot a quarrel,
never did I swear
an unjust oath.
I take joy in this,
despite a mortal wound.
The Ruler of Mankind
will not charge
that I murdered a kinsman
when my life
departs this body.
Go quickly, Wiglaf,
examine the hoard
under the gray stone
now that the dragon lies
sleeping of a wound,
bereft of his treasure.
Be in haste
so that I may see
the ancient treasure,
may examine
the curious gems,
so that I may
more cheerfully give up
my life and country."

Wiglaf hurried
from his wounded lord,
obeyed the battle-sick one,
rushed in his mail
under the cave's roof.
There by a seat
the brave young man saw
many precious jewels,
shining gold on the ground,
and works of art
on the walls.
There in the dragon's den
Wiglaf saw the cups
of ancient men,
ornaments fallen.
There were helmets,
old and rusty,
and many arm-rings
twisted with skill.
(Treasure, gold in
the ground, may be easily
seized by any man,
hide it who will.)

Wiglaf saw a standard
all golden high
over the treasure,
the greatest of hand-wonders,
woven with the skill of hands.
From it a light shone,
lit all the ground
so he could look
over all the treasures.
Then, I have heard,
he rifled the hoard and
into his bosom loaded
the ancient work of giants--
goblets and dishes,
whatever he chose,
even the golden standard.
The sword, the iron edge,
had carried off
the guardian who
for a long while
carried surging fire
in the middle of the sky.

Wiglaf was in haste,
eager to return
with these great treasures;
he feared the great spirit
might be dead
in the place where he lay.
With the treasure
in his hands
he found his lord
bloody and weak.
He bathed Beowulf
until he could speak,
until words broke
from his breast-hoard.

The king, aged in sorrow,
beheld the gold and spoke:
"I thank the Wonder-King,
the Ruler of All,
that I could win this
for my people
before my death-day.
I have traded
my old life for
the people's needs.
I cannot remain.
Bid my warriors
raise a splendid mound
on the shore-cliffs
after my funeral fire
that a remembrance shall
tower high on Hronesness.
Sea-farers shall afterward
call it Beowulf's Mound
when they pilot ships
far over the ocean's mists."

He unfastened from his neck,
his golden necklace, gave it
to the brave young warrior,
and a gold-trimmed helmet,
a ring, and mail.
He bid him use them well.
"You are the last
remnant of our kin,
of the Waegmundings.
Fate has swept
the rest away,
those courageous warriors.
I follow them."

Those were the aged king's
last words, thoughts from
the heart, before he tasted
the funeral-fire,
that hot, hostile flame.
His heart departed, his soul,
to seek glory.

Wiglaf Speaks to the Cowards

The young man looked
on his beloved lord,
wretchedly killed,
lying on the ground.
His killer, the terrible
cave-dragon, also lay
bereft of life, overwhelmed
in destruction.
The dragon no longer
coiled round the hoard,
but was taken by iron,
hacked in battle
by the hammer's creation.
He had fallen
on the ground
near his treasure house.
No longer would he circle
at midnight
proud in his flames;
he had fallen
before the prince's
hand-work.

As far as I have heard
no man ever prospered
rushing against that enemy;
no man ever prospered
who found that dragon awake.
Beowulf bought the treasures
with his life.
Both of them found
the end of this life.

Soon the cowards,
the ten warriors,
returned from the woods,
those who did not dare
fight with spears
when their lord
needed help.
They carried their shields,
wore their mail,
in shame
to where Wiglaf sat,
near his lord's shoulder
trying to wake him
with water.
He did not succeed--
he could not,
though he much wished it,
hold his chief in life.
He could not change
the will of God.

The young man
gave a grim welcome
to those who had
lost courage. Wiglaf spoke,
glaring at the hated ones:
"Lo, this will he say
who wishes to speak the truth:
that lord of men
gave you treasures,
the war-equipment
you stand in.
At the ale-bench
he often gave you. . .
hall-sitters. . .
helmets and armor,
the most splendid
he could find,
far or near.
He completely
wasted that armor.
When war came
he couldn't boast
of warriors.
Still, God granted
victory to him
that he alone avenged
himself with sword
when he needed help.
I could do little in battle,
though I undertook it.
It was beyond my measure.
But I struck the foe
and fire gushed less
strongly from his head.
There were too few men
around the prince
when he faced
his time of need.
Now shall the treasure,
the sword gifts
and delightful homes
given to your people,
cease. You will lose
your land rights
when men far and wide
hear of your flight,
your shameful doings.
Death is better
to any man
than a life of disgrace."

He commanded then
that the battle-deeds
be announced
to those in town,
up over the cliff-side
where the other warriors
the whole morning
had waited,
sad in heart,
for their lord's return
or news of his death.

The Messenger Tells of Beowulf's Death and of the Feud Which Will Now Be Renewed

The messenger was not silent
but said truly
to all who heard:
"Now is the joy-giver
of the Geat people
still on his death-bed,
his slaughter-couch,
through the deeds
of the dragon.
Beside him lies
his life-enemy, sick
from a dagger wound.
His sword could not
in any way
wound the monster.
Wiglaf, son of Weohstan,
sits by Beowulf, one
warrior by another,
in the death-watch.
Now may the people
expect a time of war
when the Franks and Frisians
learn of our king's fall.
A hard quarrel was made
with the Hugas
when Hygelac went
traveling in ships
to the land of the Frisians,
attacked the Hetware.
With a larger army they
brought down that warrior;
he fell among his troops.
He gave no gifts
to his warriors.
Since then the Mereovingians
have given us no kindness.
Nor do I expect
kindness from the Swedes--
it is widely known
that Haethcyn, son of Hrethel,
wounded Ongentheow
near Ravenswood
when the Geats
arrogantly sought
war against the Swedes.
Quickly Ongentheow,
old and terrible,
gave a counterblow,
cut down Haethcyn
and rescued his wife,
that aged woman,
bereft of her gold,
the mother of Onela and Ohthere.
Ongentheow pursued
his enemies--
lordless they escaped
into Ravenswood,
and those survivors,
weary with wounds,
were besieged
by a huge army.
Often through the night
that wretched band
heard threats,
how in the morning
he would,
with the sword,
cut them open,
or hang them from trees,
a sport for birds.
Help came to them
with the early dawn
when Hygelac
sounded his trumpet,
came up the road
with picked warriors.
The bloody tracks were widely
seen, the bloody feud
between Geats and Swedes.
Ongentheow was forced
to seek higher ground,
the old man
with his kinsmen--
he quickly learned
of Hygelac's war,
did not believe
he could not withstand
the war of the sailors.
The old man retreated
with his children and wife
behind an earth-wall.
Hygelac attacked the refuge,
overran the enclosure.
There was Ongentheow,
gray-haired, brought to bay
with the edges of swords.
He was forced to submit
to the judgement of Eofor.
Wulf hit him angrily,
struck him with sword
so that blood sprang
out of his veins,
out under his hair.
But that old man
was not daunted--
he quickly repaid
that blow with a harder,
nor could Wulf
return the blow,
for Ongentheow had
sheared his helmet
so that Wulf bowed
to the earth,
covered with blood.
(He was hurt, though not yet doomed.)
As his brother lay,
Eofor, with his broad sword,
an ancient sword
made by giants,
broke Ongentheow's helmet.
That king, shepherd of his people,
bowed, mortally wounded.
Wulf was bound up. They
controlled the slaughter-place.
One warrior plundered another.
They took from Ongentheow
his iron mail,
his hard sword,
and his helmet also.
They carried
the old man's armor
to Hygelac.
He received these weapons
and promised treasures
to his people,
which he fulfilled,
paying Wulf and Eofor
for the storm of battle--
gave them both
land and treasures.
Nor should any man
throughout this world
reproach those gifts--
they were earned in war.
And to Eofor
Hygelac gave
his only daughter
as a pledge
of friendship.
That is the feud,
the deadly hostility
for which I expect
the Swedes will attack
when they learn our lord
who long protected
over hoard and kingdom,
is dead.
That most valiant of warriors
will no longer look after
the needs of our people,
will do no more
heroic deeds.
Now should we hurry
to see our king
and bring him back
to a funeral pyre.
Not a little will melt
with that bold man,
but a huge treasure,
countless wealth,
bought with grimness
by that brave man.
All that the flames will eat,
the fire embrace;
no warrior will carry
any of it as a token,
no beautiful woman
will wear a neck-ring,
but, bereft of gold
they shall walk
in a foreign country
now that our lord has forgotten
laughter and joy.
Now shall the spear be
raised, clasped in hands,
many a cold morning;
now no sound of harp
shall wake the warrior,
but the voice
of the dark raven,
eager over the doomed,
speaking to the eagle
of how the meals are,
how he rifles corpses
beside the wolf."
Thus the valiant warrior
spoke grievous words.
And he was not much wrong.

The Funeral

The sad troops rose,
went in tears
below Earnaness
to view the wonder.
Lifeless on the sand,
held in his rest-bed,
was the man who had
given them treasures.
That was the last day
of the prince of the Geats;
he died a wondrous death.

There too on the ground
was the strange thing,
the hateful dead dragon,
the fire-thrower,
in his horrible colors,
scorched by flames.
He measured fifty feet,
he who had
joyed in the sky,
flown at night,
then hidden in his lair.
But he'd made his last
use of caverns--
death held him fast.

Beside him lay
cups and pitchers,
dishes and swords
eaten through with rust
as if the earth had embraced
them a thousand winters.
That was a hoard
of great power,
that gold
ancient men
had encircled with a spell
so that no man
could touch it,
unless God himself,
the great Truth-King,
gave leave
to whichever man
seemed fit to Him.
But it was plain
that nothing had gone well
for him who had,
unrightly, hidden those
works of art
under that roof.

It's a mystery where
a good man goes
when he reaches his end,
when he can no longer
live in the houses of men.
So it was with Beowulf
after he'd sought
the keeper of the cave.
He himself couldn't know
how he would leave the world.
The famous kings who had cursed
that treasure deeply
damned him who plundered it
into eternal heathen shrines,
the solid bond of Hell.
But Beowulf did not
look on it in greed.

Wiglaf spoke, Weohstan's son:
"Often must a warrior
suffer for another's mistake,
as has happened here.
Nor could we convince
our beloved prince
that he should not attack
that gold-keeper
but let him lie
alone in his cave
until the world's end.
He grasped
his high fate--
the hoard is open,
grimly bought.
That fate
was too cruel
to which our king
was impelled.
I went inside,
saw all the treasure,
the precious things;
I didn't enter
in a friendly way.
I hastily grasped
many things in my hands,
carried out many
of the hoarded treasures
to my lord.
He was alive still,
sound in mind;
that aged man
sorrowfully said
many things:
He wanted you to build
on the site of his pyre
a high mound,
great and glorious,
since he was
among warriors
the most magnificent,
famous throughout the world.
We should now hasten
to see the curious gems,
the wonders under the earth.
I will show you the way.
Make the pyre ready
so that we may bring our lord
to the place
he will abide
in the keeping
of the All-Powerful."
 
Wiglaf ordered
the brave warriors
to carry wood
from far and wide
to the funeral pyre
for the great leader
of the people.
 
"Now shall fire eat,
the flourishing dark flames,
the ruler of warriors,
he who often braved
the rain of iron,
the storming of arrows
hard from bows,
the sturdy shaft
swift on feathered wings."
 
Wiglaf called seven warriors,
the very best,
and made the eighth himself,
to go under
that evil roof.
One carried a torch.
No man needed forcing
when he saw that great treasure
rusting without guardian.
None mourned
carrying that off,
and they shoved the dragon
over the cliff--
the waves embraced
that treasure guardian.
 
Then the twisted gold,
treasure uncountable,
was lain in a wagon;
they carried the gray warrior
to Hronesness.
For him then
they prepared
a huge funeral pyre
on the earth,
hung with helmets,
war-shields,
and bright coats of mail,
as Beowulf had asked.
 
There they laid
the famous prince
and lamented
that beloved lord.
Warriors then built
the greatest of fires.
Wood-smoke ascended,
dark black over the flames.
That roar wrapped around
sorrowful weeping.
The wind stood still.
Then his bone-house broke,
the heart burned.

Beowulf's queen uttered
a mournful song, spoke
her heart's care with her hair
bound tight. She told earnestly
how she feared evil days,
a great slaughter of warriors,
humiliation and captivity.
Heaven swallowed the smoke.

The Geats built a mound then,
in ten days, high and broad
on the hill, a beacon
for the warrior
widely seen by sailors.
They surrounded the ashes
by a wall, as splendid
as the cleverest
men could make.
In the mound they placed
rings and bracelets
and all such things as
they'd found in the hoard.
They left that treasure
in the hands of the earth,
as it lies still,
as useless to men
as it had been before.

Then twelve warriors
rode round the grave
speaking their sorrow,
reciting praises
for their lord's
courageous deeds.
(A warrior should do so
when his lord dies.)

Thus the Geats
mourned their great lord,
saying he was,
among this world's kings,
the mildest, the gentlest,
the kindest to his people,
and the most eager
for eternal fame.


[Return to Main Page] [Return to Culture Cafe]