Hwaet!—now weak are weary hands
that hardly hold the hilt of sword.
Hoar-frost on beard, hoard-silvered head,
and vellumed skin all sing the tale
of far-fled youth. Full fifty winters
have I sat with crown-ringed brow
since Heardred’s death, and costly weregild
claimed by spear from Sweden’s son,
Then last I drew
a blade from belt in battle-blood.
Many a battle won I when young;
now I am old. I used to swim
all armor-clad for countless nights,
so strong was I. I could not now.
And do the sceopes sing hero-songs
of how the king, Ecgtheow’s bearn,
sits aging here?
These harrowed nights,
when sweat-soaked dreams drive waking cries
from shadowed sleep, I oft bethink
that kinder death had lingered there
in Grendel’s maw, or had the hag,
the demon’s dam, drowned me deep.
Age is more cruel, a grimmer gaest,
that spills no blood, yet makes a king
but half a man.
I wait alone.
There is no Cain-kin left to kill,
and every steadt is stale with peace.
E’en the wyrm of Earanaes
a sleeper is, unsoured by dreams
of youthful years and waning strength.
My byrnie rusts, and Naegling’s blade
sticks to its sheath, as unused as
my fighting arm.
When final breath
escapes my lips, and leaves me lying
ashen-white, who will welcome
Geatland’s king, conquered by years,
overcome by time, no sword in his hand—
No battle-dirge, no bloodstained shroud,
no wealth of foes beneath his feet?
What barrow shall board this broken body
that fails with age?
Be it not so.
I’ll turn on Time, that dauntless devil,
and like old Grendel tear his arm.
He shall not claim me. To the North,
to Earanaes, I’ll thrust my thrall
that he may plunder the wyrm’s warren:
my end be writ in wrath and fire
before I’ll bow to Man’s decline.
Drag up the drakon, the deep-sleeper
from golden bed, and let us dance.