XL

THE MESSENGER OF DEATH

          Then he charged that the battle be announced at the hedge
          Up o'er the cliff-edge, where the earl-troopers bided
          The whole of the morning, mood-wretched sat them,
          Bearers of battle-shields, both things expecting,
5       The end of his lifetime and the coming again of
          The liegelord belovèd. Little reserved he
          Of news that was known, who the ness-cliff did travel,
          But he truly discoursed to all that could hear him:
          "Now the free-giving friend-lord of the folk of the Weders,
10      The folk-prince of Geatmen, is fast in his death-bed,
          By the deeds of the dragon in death-bed abideth;
          Along with him lieth his life-taking foeman
          Slain with knife-wounds: he was wholly unable
          To injure at all the ill-planning monster
15      With bite of his sword-edge. Wiglaf is sitting,
          Offspring of Wihstan, up over Beowulf,
          Earl o'er another whose end-day hath reached him,
          Head-watch holdeth o'er heroes unliving,
          For friend and for foeman. The folk now expecteth
20      A season of strife when the death of the folk-king
          To Frankmen and Frisians in far-lands is published.
          The war-hatred waxed warm 'gainst the Hugmen,
          When Higelac came with an army of vessels
          Faring to Friesland, where the Frankmen in battle
25      Humbled him and bravely with overmight 'complished
          That the mail-clad warrior must sink in the battle,
          Fell 'mid his folk-troop: no fret-gems presented
          The atheling to earlmen; aye was denied us
          Merewing's mercy. The men of the Swedelands
30      For truce or for truth trust I but little;
          But widely 'twas known that near Ravenswood Ongentheow
          Sundered Hæthcyn the Hrethling from life-joys,
          When for pride overweening the War-Scylfings first did
          Seek the Geatmen with savage intentions.
35      Early did Ohthere's age-laden father,
          Old and terrible, give blow in requital,
          Killing the sea-king, the queen-mother rescued,
          The old one his consort deprived of her gold,
          Onela's mother and Ohthere's also,
40      And then followed the feud-nursing foemen till hardly,
          Reaved of their ruler, they Ravenswood entered.
          Then with vast-numbered forces he assaulted the remnant,
          Weary with wounds, woe often promised
          The livelong night to the sad-hearted war-troop:
45      Said he at morning would kill them with edges of weapons,
          Some on the gallows for glee to the fowls.
          Aid came after to the anxious-in-spirit
          At dawn of the day, after Higelac's bugle
          And trumpet-sound heard they, when the good one proceeded
50      And faring followed the flower of the troopers.

Footnotes

  1. The name of a tribe of the Franks that eventually came to found the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings that began to rule in the early fifth century. Clovis, a Merovingian king who came to power around 486 CE, united the Frankish tribes and made them subject to his leadership through conquest. He also converted to Catholicism and worked to establish it as the primary religion within his lands.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  2. This is the name given to an aggregation of tribes that once inhabited the region of the Roman province of Gaul, an area containing roughly the modern nations of France, Belgium, and parts of western Germany. Much of what we know of the Franks comes from The History of the Franks (Historia Francorum), written by Gregory of Tours, the Bishop of Tours, who lived between 538 and 594 CE.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. As Wiglaf predicted, the Geats understand that with Beowulf gone, they will be attacked by the Frisians, the Franks, the Merovingians, and there is no Geat leader great enough to stop the coming wars. The death of Beowulf symbolizes the fall of the Geat kingdom.

    — Owl Eyes Reader