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  Beowulf.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
XXXVI
 
 
WIGLAF his name was, Weohstan’s son,
linden-thane loved, the lord of Scylfings,
Ælfhere’s kinsman. His king he now saw
with heat under helmet hard oppressed.
He minded the prizes his prince had given him,        5
wealthy seat of the Wægmunding line,
and folk-rights that his father owned.
Not long he lingered. The linden yellow,
his shield, he seized; the old sword he drew:—
as heirloom of Eanmund earth-dwellers knew it,        10
who was slain by the sword-edge, son of Ohtere,
friendless exile, erst in fray
killed by Weohstan, who won for his kin
brown-bright helmet, breastplate ringed,
old sword of Eotens, Onela’s gift,        15
weeds of war of the warrior-thane,
battle-gear brave: though a brother’s child
had been felled, the feud was unfelt by Onela. 1
For winters this war-gear Weohstan kept,
breastplate and board, till his bairn had grown        20
earlship to earn as the old sire did:
then he gave him, mid Geats, the gear of battle,
portion huge, when he passed from life,
fared agéd forth. For the first time now
with his leader-lord the liegeman young        25
was bidden to share the shock of battle.
Neither softened his soul, nor the sire’s bequest
weakened in war. 2 So the worm found out
when once in fight the foes had met!
Wiglaf spake,—and his words were sage;        30
sad in spirit, he said to his comrades:—
“I remember the time, when mead we took,
what promise we made to this prince of ours
in the banquet-hall, to our breaker-of-rings,
for gear of combat to give him requital,        35
for hard-sword and helmet, if hap should bring
stress of this sort! Himself who chose us
from all his army to aid him now,
urged us to glory, and gave these treasures,
because he counted us keen with the spear        40
and hardy ’neath helm, though this hero-work
our leader hoped unhelped and alone
to finish for us,—folk-defender
who hath got him glory greater than all men
for daring deeds! Now the day is come        45
that our noble master has need of the might
of warriors stout. Let us stride along
the hero to help while the heat is about him
glowing and grim! For God is my witness
I am far more fain the fire should seize        50
along with my lord these limbs of mine! 3
Unsuiting it seems our shields to bear
homeward hence, save here we essay
to fell the foe and defend the life
of the Weders’ lord. I wot ’twere shame        55
on the law of our land if alone the king
out of Geatish warriors woe endured
and sank in the struggle! My sword and helmet,
breastplate and board, for us both shall serve!”
Through slaughter-reek strode he to succor his chieftain,        60
his battle-helm bore, and brief words spake:—
“Beowulf dearest, do all bravely,
as in youthful days of yore thou vowedst
that while life should last thou wouldst let no wise
thy glory droop! Now, great in deeds,        65
atheling steadfast, with all thy strength
shield thy life! I will stand to help thee.”
  At the words the worm came once again,
murderous monster mad with rage,
with fire-billows flaming, its foes to seek,        70
the hated men. In heat-waves burned
that board 4 to the boss, and the breastplate failed
to shelter at all the spear-thane young.
Yet quickly under his kinsman’s shield
went eager the earl, since his own was now        75
all burned by the blaze. The bold king again
had mind of his glory: with might his glaive
was driven into the dragon’s head,—
blow nerved by hate. But Nægling 5 was shivered,
broken in battle was Beowulf’s sword,        80
old and gray. ’Twas granted him not
that ever the edge of iron at all
could help him at strife: too strong was his hand,
so the tale is told, and he tried too far
with strength of stroke all swords he wielded,        85
though sturdy their steel: they steaded him nought.
Then for the third time thought on its feud
that folk-destroyer, fire-dread dragon,
and rushed on the hero, where room allowed,
battle-grim, burning; its bitter teeth        90
closed on his neck, and covered him
with waves of blood from his breast that welled.
 
Note 1. That is, although Eanmund was brother’s son to Onela, the slaying of the former by Weohstan is not felt as cause of feud, and is rewarded by gift of the slain man’s weapons. [back]
Note 2. Both Wiglaf and the sword did their duty.—The following is one of the classic passages for illustrating the comitatus as the most conspicuous Germanic institution, and its underlying sense of duty, based partly on the idea of loyalty and partly on the practical basis of benefits received and repaid. [back]
Note 3. Sc. “than to bide safely here,”—a common figure of incomplete comparison. [back]
Note 4. Wiglaf’s wooden shield. [back]
Note 5. Gering would translate “kinsman of the nail,” as both are made of iron. [back]
 

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