The Nacreous Oughts

20 April 2008

Many such goblets · had gone to the earth-house,
legacies left · by a lordly people.
In an earlier age · someone unknown
had cleverly covered · these costly treasures.
That throne held the hoard · for the lifetime allowed him,
but gold could not gladden · a man in mourning.
Newly-built · near the breaking waves,
a barrow stood · at the base of a bluff,
its entrance sculpted · by secret arts.
Earthward the warrior · bore the hoard-worthy
portion of plate, · the golden craftwork.
The ringkeeper spoke · these words as he went:

"Hold now, Earth, · what men may not,
the hoard of the heroes, · earth-gotten wealth
when it first was won. · War-death has felled them,
an evil befalling · each of my people.
The household is mirthless · when men are lifeless.
I have none to wear sword, · none to bear wine
or polish the precious · vessels and plates.
Gone are the brethren · who braved many battles.
From the hard helmet · the hand-wrought gilding
drops in the dust. · Asleep are the smiths
who knew how to burnish · the war-chief's mask
or mend the mail-shirts · mangled in battle.
Shields and mail-shirts · molder with warriors
and follow no foes · to faraway fields.
No harp rejoices · to herald the heroes,
no hand-fed hawk · swoos through the hall,
no stallion stamps · in the stronghold's courtyard.
Death has undone · many kindreds of men."

--Beowulf (tr Sullivan & Murphy)

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