Beowulf: A Dramatic Translation
Excerpt: The Lament of the Last Survivor


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Beowulf: A Dramatic Translation

A slave has stolen a jewelled chalice and so provoked a dragon; yet more than the threat of retribution is at stake. Defining realities again glimmer beneath the surface, as revealed in the history of the hoard. At the center of that history stands an apocalyptic figure, literally, the last survivor of his nation: a warrior who has witnessed the death of all his comrades. Blasted by an apprehension of mortality and inevitable decay, this bitter and pathetic man hoards in the grave the treasure of his people, and then dies, leaving the barrow to a dragon—himself a lone hoarder and “last survivor.”

Within the hollow tomb
the shepherd of rings
lay down in darkness
a jewel-encrusted heap.
He gave a share worthy of a hoard
and spoke these words:

“Earth, hold this now,
all that noblemen once held,
and heroes now cannot possess.
What! Good men first obtained
these things from you.

“Brute war, the ravager of life,
has taken every man in death,
all my countrymen.
All have lost their lives,
their good times in the hall.
Not one that I possess
is left to wear the sword
or bear the plated goblet,
the warriors' precious cup.
Those worthy fighting men
are vanished now!

“This hard helmet,
though now it gleams,
will lose its sheen of coated gold.
The steward, who once would shine
the mask of war, is sleeping now.
The steel gray coat
that long endured
terrible clash and tumult,
clanging shields,
the bite of iron swords,
will crumble into dust, like men.
Nor will the ringed warshirt
ride on campaign with any lord
with heroes at his side.

“The wooden harp will sing
no more enchanting songs.
No longer will the hawk
go swooping through the hall,
nor the swift horse
stamp in the fort-yard again.
Butchery has sent away
the race of living men!”

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