Beowulf's Death

(pages 61-63 of "The Norton Anthology")

The dragon advances, and Beowulf finds his iron shield less protection than he thought against the dragon's flames. Nevertheless, he strikes the dragon with his sword. Angered by the blow, the dragon ejects even more fire, and Beowulf is forced to step back. At this point all of Beowulf's companions (except Wiglaf) flee to the woods. The dragon bytes Beowulf on the neck with his huge, poisonous fangs. As Beowulf bleeds all over the cave, Wiglaf finds the dragon's weak spot on its neck and hits it with his sword. Beowulf manages to stab the dragon with a sharp knife from his vest. Both, the dragon and Beowulf, fall.

Wiglaf patches his King's wounds, and Beowulf speaks to him. He knows he is about to die. Beowulf says he has no son to whom to leave his armor, but he is glad that he held the throne for fifty years and protected his people. He rejoices that he has not indulged in plots or sworn false oaths and that the Lord will have no occasion to accuse him of the slaughter of kinsmen. He asks Wiglaf to build a great burial for him and to take a good care of his people. He says that although he is dying, he is glad to give his people the gold that was found in dragon's place.

`I thank God that I can give my people these gifts of gold. But you must see to the people's needs now, Wiglaf. I cannot be here any more. After they burn my body, tell the warriors to build a great burial for mound on the cliffs that stick out into the sea. The sailors steering their ships on the gloomy waters will see it Beowulf's Barrow, and my people will remember me. You are the last of our family, Wiglaf. All others fell when Fate decided they must. Now I must follow them.'
These were Beowulf's last words.

Soldiers who ran away from the dragon return, and Wiglaf scolds them for their cowardice. He says they have failed to earn the trust Beowulf placed in them and that he will exile them as punishment.

A messenger is sent out to tell all the land of the death of their king. The messenger delivers not only the news, but a prophecy as well. He says that with the death of their King, they will face wars in the future, especially with the Swedes. He talks about history of the two nations and of the bad feeling between them.

`When our enemies hear out lord is dead and that only one man among the Geats dared to defend him, they will soon attack us. The Franks and the Frisians would like to finish the war that Hygelac started. The Swedes are only waiting for a chance to trouble us again. Beowulf was too strong for them, and so we had piece for many years. Now it will be different. Mothers and fathers will weep again for their dead children. The black raven, the wolf and the eagle will find a feast on the battlefield. The Geats will be people wandering without a homeland once our enemies come in upon us.'

It appears that Beowulf's death signals the end of the Geatish people and the glory they won during Beowulf's reign.

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