Weary Hands

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,

Onela king.    

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.

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