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  • From where he crouched at the king's feet, Unferth, a son of Ecglaf's, spoke

  • Contrary words.

  • Beowulf's coming, His sea-braving, made him sick with envy:

  • He could not brook or abide the fact That anyone else alive under heaven

  • Might enjoy greater regard than he did: "Are you the Beowulf who took on Breca

  • In a swimming match on the open sea, Risking the water just to prove you could

  • win?

  • It was sheer vanity made you venture out On the main deep.

  • And no matter who tried, Friend or foe, to deflect the pair of you,

  • Neither would back down: the sea-test obsessed you.

  • You waded in, embracing water, Taking its measure, mastering currents,

  • Riding on the swell.

  • The ocean swayed, Winter went wild in the waves, but you vied

  • For seven nights; and then he outswam you, Came ashore the stronger contender.

  • He was cast up safe and sound one morning Among the Heathoreams, then made his way

  • To where he belonged in Bronding country, Home again, sure of his ground

  • In strong room and bawn.

  • So Breca made good His boast upon you and was proved right.

  • No matter, therefore, how you may have fared In every bout and battle until now,

  • This time you'll be worsted; no one has ever Outlasted an entire night against Grendel."

  • Beowulf, Ecgtheow's son, replied: "Well, friend Unferth, you have had your say

  • About Breca and me.

  • But it was mostly beer That was doing the talking.

  • The truth is this: When the going was heavy in those high waves,

  • I was the strongest swimmer of all.

  • We'd been children together and we grew up Daring ourselves to outdo each other,

  • Boasting and urging each other to risk Our lives on the sea.

  • And so it turned out.

  • Each of us swam holding a sword, A naked, hard-proofed blade for protection

  • Against the whale-beasts.

  • But Breca could never Move out farther or faster from me

  • Than I could manage to move from him.

  • Shoulder to shoulder, we struggled on For five nights, until the long flow

  • And pitch of the waves, the perishing cold, Night falling and winds from the North

  • Drove us apart.

  • The deep boiled up And its wallowing sent the sea-brutes wild.

  • My armor held me to hold out; My hard-ringed chain-mail, hand-forged and

  • linked, A fine, close-fitting filigree of gold,

  • Kept me safe when some ocean creature Pulled me to the bottom.

  • Pinioned fast And swathed in its grip, I was granted one

  • Final chance: my sword plunged And the ordeal was over.

  • Through my own hands The fury of battle had finished off the sea-beast.

  • "Time and again, foul things attacked me, Lurking and stalking, but I lashed out,

  • Gave as good as I got with my sword.

  • My flesh was not for feasting on, There would be no monsters gnawing and gloating

  • Over their banquet at the bottom of the sea.

  • Instead, in the morning, mangled and sleeping The sleep of the sword, they slopped and floated

  • Like the ocean's leavings.

  • From now on Sailors would the safe, the deep-sea raids

  • Were over for good.

  • Light came from the East, Bright guarantee of God, and the waves

  • Went quiet; I could see the headlands And buffeted cliffs.

  • Often, for undaunted courage, Fate spares the man it has not already marked.

  • However it had occurred, my sword had killed Nine sea monsters.

  • Such night-dangers And hard ordeals I have never heard of

  • Nor of a man so desolate in surging waves.

  • But worn out as I was, I survived, Came through with my life.

  • The ocean lifted And laid me ashore, I landed safe On the coast

  • of Finland.

  • Now, I cannot recall any fight you entered, Unferth,

  • That bears comparison.

  • I don't boast when I say That neither you nor Breca ever were much

  • Celebrated for swordsmanship Or for facing danger in the battlefield.

  • You killed your own kith and kin, So for all your cleverness and quick tongue,

  • You will suffer damnation in the pits of hell.

  • The fact it, Unferth, if you were truly As keen or courageous as you claim to be

  • Grendel would never have got away with Such unchecked atrocity, attacks on your king,

  • Havoc in Heorot and horrors everywhere.

  • But he knows he need never be in dread Of your blade making a mizzle of his blood

  • Or of vengeance arriving ever from this quarter--- From the Victory-Shieldings, the shoulderers

  • of the spear.

  • He knows he can trample down you Danes To his heart's content, humiliate and murder

  • Without fear of reprisal.

  • But he will find me different.

  • I will show him how Geats shape to kill In the heat of battle.

  • Then whoever wants to May go bravely to morning mead, when morning

  • light, Scarfed in sun-dazzle, shines forth from the

  • south And brings another daybreak to the world."

From where he crouched at the king's feet, Unferth, a son of Ecglaf's, spoke

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Beowulf and Unferth (from Seamus Heaney's Beowulf)

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    Chia-Yin Huang posted on 2016/09/14
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