The Death of St. Guthlac
It is widely known among the generations of men,
heard by the people, that the God of Beginnings,
the Almighty King, created the first of the kindred of men
from the purest earth. Then was the novel origin of the race of men,
a joyous composition, fair and rejoicing.
Adam the Father was first conceived by God’s favor in Paradise-plain,
where there was no want of delightful things nor decay of prosperity,
the fumbling of life nor tumbling of body,
the crumbling of delight nor the arrival of death—
instead Adam was allowed to live in that land free from all frailties,
and enjoy these new pleasures at length.
There he had no need to await, through the passing season
of men, the end of life or delight in that radiant home,
but after a time would be allowed to return to the joys
of the most beautiful heaven-realm—
limbs and body and the spirit of life as one,
and there afterwards always in ever-delights would be allowed to dwell
for the expanse of life in the sight of the Lord, without the journey of death,
if they had desired to keep the word of the Holy One bright in their breasts,
and execute his decrees and labor in his homeland.
Too soon it wearied them that they should work at the Wielder’s pleasure,
but his wife Eve seized by the serpent’s lore the forbidden fruit
and plucked from the tree a blossom prohibited by the word of God
the Glory-King. Then she by the Devil’s guile gave the mortal-making morsel
to her husband so that the couple was constrained to die.
Afterwards that land was estranged to Adam and Eve—
the bright country of choice carried away, and so with their children
and heirs following, they were shoved into the struggling world,
shamefully shivering in a strange land. They paid the price for this deed,
these profound faults, through the killing blow of death,
which they had brought to pass through their folly. Since their sin-wrack
women and men must be punished for their great sin,
a God-guilty grief through soul-parting, for these profound faults.
Death crowded in upon the kindred of men—
our enemy tyrannized us throughout our world.
There was never again any man from that triumphant stock
so eager for God’s will or so wise that he might be able to avoid
that bitter drink which Eve gave Adam of old,
that his young bride poured out for him.
It injured both of them in their beloved home.
Death reigned over earth-dwellers, although there were many
that did God’s will, spirit-holy in various human habitations,
throughout the open fields. Some early, some late,
and some within our own times’ memory,
by the date, sought the reward of victory.
Books tell us how Guthlac became blessed in Anglia
through the pleasure of God. He elected eternal power
and protection for himself. Renowned wide and broad
were his miraculous works, famous in the cities
throughout the interior of Britain:
how, by the power of God, he often healed many that sought him
from the travel-ways; men of heavy torments, heart-sorrowed
and tremble-minded, bound by disease, discomforted and sorry.
Always they found comfort ready there at the side
of that champion of God, help and healing. There is no man
that can recount or reckon the number of all of those miracles
that Guthlac here in this world here performed
for the multitudes through the grace of the Lord.
Often to that habitation came a death-powered host of devils,
in gangs shorn of glory, bearing down on him where the sainted
and resolute servant of valor defended his dwelling.
There they raised a resounding army-shout with many voices,
of diverse noise, in the waste, denied shape and deprived of their joys.
The champion of the Lord, the bold battle-leader, ably withstood
the swarming enemy. The hour of horrid ghasts was never delayed,
nor was it long to await the crime-wrights to heave up a war-cry,
joylessly clamoring, audibly moving to and fro.
Sometimes the furious ones would cry like wild animals in packs,
sometimes again the malicious man-harmers turned into human shape
with the greatest noise, and other times the accursed pledge-breakers
drew themselves into the form of dragons, pained and plague-clad
spewing forth venom. Always they found Guthlac prepared
and prudent of thought. He awaited them patiently, though
the band of fiends should menace him with life-killing.
Sometimes the kindred of birds flew to his hands, urged by hunger,
where they would assuredly find sustenance and worthied him
with insistent chirping. Sometimes again human messengers humbly
sought him and there, journey-bold on the triumph-plain,
they found help at the hand of the holy servant, and solace of the soul.
Indeed there were none that journeyed back again ashamed,
abased, without hope—rather the holy man healed through virtuous power
both body and soul of every man that tormented sought him in need,
heroes heart-sorrowed as long as the Warden of Life, the Eternal Almighty,
wished to grant that Guthlac be allowed to enjoy the fruits of life here on Earth.
Then the ending-day of Guthlac’s earthly struggle and miseries
pressed closely, the enforced separation of life. Then, fifteen years
after he had chosen his dwelling-place in the desert, the Spirit of Succor
blessedly was sent from above to the Law’s proclaimer,
holy from the heights. Guthlac burned with his breast,
goaded unto his going-forth. Suddenly disease shot through him.
Yet in courage undismayed, he awaited the bright promises,
restful in his refuge. His bone-close was oppressed closely
during the night-gloom, his breast-hoard enfeebled.
His joyful spirit was eager for the forth-way.
The Father of Angels did not wish to allow him to endure
in this miserable worldly life a long space after that, that sinless man
who pleased him with his deeds here during his days’ time
with acts of quick spirit. Then the Help-mighty let his hand
come where his sainted servant waited, brave-minded and doom-blessed
in his secret cell, stern and strong-hearted. Guthlac’s joy was renewed,
the bliss in his breast. His bone-coffer was kindled in sickness, fixed with inward
bands; his body-hoard unclosed. His limbs heavied, persecuted by pains.
Guthlac recognized the truth that the Almighty sought him from above,
the Maker for his mercies. He fortified his heart’s mind stoutly
against the hedging-fear of the fiends’ struggles. Yet he was not afraid—
neither taloned fever nor death-parting was terrifying in his mind.
Instead the praise of the Lord burned in his breast, his brand-hot love
triumph-true in his spirit, which had always surpassed his every pain.
Nor was there pained anxiety in this loaned time, though his body
and soul, a conjugal pair, should soon separated their precious joined meal.
The days danced past, the night-helms’ darkness.
The moment was near when he must satisfy that former-deed
through the arrival of death, draw lots for glory,
even that same death as our fallen parents assumed of old,
and as that first race of creatures did before them.
Then was Guthlac’s strength wearied in that dire moment,
the heart so stern and steadfast of courage. The disease was terrible,
hot and savage. His breast welled within, his bone-case burned.
The barrel was tapped that Eve brewed for Adam
at the start of the world. The Enemy first poured it for that woman—
and afterwards she served up that bitter tankard for Adam, her own dear husband.
Ever since their children have paid a terrible price for these former deeds:
so that none of the human race, no man on the earth after its start,
has been able to defend himself and avoid that miserable drink,
the deep death-cup, instead in that cruel moment the door opens
itself at once, revealing the entrance to him.
Powerful or humble no one caught up in flesh can
oppose that end with his life, but it rushes upon him
with greedy claws. So, cruel and solitary and close to Guthlac,
after the night-shade, Death was encroaching nearby,
a slaughter-greedy warrior.
A single serving-man dwelt with him, who visited him every day.
Deep-hearted and wise-minded, he went to God’s temple, where he knew
the native apostle, his chosen teacher most dear, would be
and when he went inside to speak blessedly, he wished to hearken
to the saint’s instruction, conversation with the meek man.
Then he found his patron wearied with his disease, a fact
that fell heavy upon his heart. Heart-sorrow moved him, a great mind-care.
Guthlac’s servant then asked him: “How has it happened,
my cherished lord, my father, shelter to his friends, that your spirit
is thus afflicted and closely assailed? I have never found you,
dearest lord, distressed like this before. Can you muster
a word in conversation? It seems to my mind that some weakness
from the onset of disease has afflicted you during the recent night,
persecuting you with pained wounds. That will be the keenest of sorrows
in my breast until you comfort my heart and spirit. Do you know,
my generous lord, what end must be decreed for this illness?”
After a moment Guthlac replied to him—he could not immediately draw
in a breath: this bitter bane-sickness had sunk within him.
The bold one spoke, blessed in courage, and gave answer:
“I wish to say that agony has reached out to me, pain wading
through in this wan night, unlocking my body-hoard.
My limbs grow heavy, beset by pains. This soul-house,
this fated flesh-home must be covered over in its earth-lodge,
my limbs in a loamy shroud, and, fixed upon my final bed,
abide upon the couch of death. The warrior approaches, quick to battle-play.
My wait for soul-parting will be no longer than seven nights’ time-mark,
when my spirit will seek its end hence on the eighth day that passes.
Then my days upon this mould-way will have bounced by:
my sorrow will have abated and then I might be allowed to gain
my meed, renewed gifts at the knees of the Creator, and to follow
the Lamb of God ever after in perpetual joys. Now my soul is eager
and ready for the journey there. Now you readily know of my limbs’ life-parting.
Long is the lingering of this worldly life.”
There was wailing and lamentation then: the heart was newly sad
and the mind mourning after the serving-man heard that the saint
was eager for the going forth. For that fearful news he knew sorrow
for his patron, heavy in his heart. His breast darkened within,
his regretful mind anxious after he saw his lord eager for death.
He could hardly keep composure for this, but let his burning tears flow,
suffering his grief, welling wave-drops.
The world’s way could not contain life, that dear ornament,
in anyone fated to go for longer than was ordained for them.
Holy of soul, Guthlac perceived the pensive heart of his sad-minded servant.
Then that shelter of the multitude, glad at heart and dear to God,
cheered the younger man, speaking in words to his dearest friend:
“Don’t be upset, though this disease burns me within.
It is no hardship to suffer the will of the Prince, my Lord:
I have no sorrow in my mind for death in this infirm hour,
nor do I dread much the reaving raiders of Hell’s thanes,
nor can sin’s first-born set any torment or frailty of body upon me.
Instead they must be frustrated in flame, seething in pain and welling
in sorrow, weeping in the wrack-way, beshorn of pleasures
in that Death-hall, of every glory, of love and leniency.
My cherished child, do not be so sick at heart.
I am hastening to the journey to take up
my heavenly home, eager for its rewards in eternal joy,
and to see, for my life-deeds, the Victorious Lord.
“My beloved son, there will be no suffering or struggle,
when I seek the God of Glory, the Heaven-King,
where is peace and bliss, the joy of the glory-fast,
and the Lord is present, who I in this dreary hour have readily satisfied
with soul-secrets and deeds, with mind and might.
Faultless I will know at that moment my reward,
my perpetual recompense, holy on the heights.
There my hope guides me to seek, my soul aspires
from this body-vessel towards those enduring joys in blessed weal.
There is no homeland for me, neither pain nor sorrow.
I know there is an eternal requital after the body’s crumbling.”
Then glory’s servant grew still, the stout secret-keeper:
he was in need of rest and weary-minded. The sky grew dark
over the children of men, the count of nights passing by,
murky over their multitudes. Then the day arrived when the Living God,
The Lord and Eternal Almighty was joyfully resurrected
within his body-shroud; when he arose from death, in single dominion
of the earth at Easter-tide, Majesty of All Majesties, heaving up
the greatest crowd to the heavens; when he climbed up from hell.
So then on that bright day, in that noble hour, clamorous
with grace, the blessed man, mild and modest,
not soft in strength, worked courageously.
Then the joy of noble men, stern and heart-wise,
rose as quickly as he could, weary from his great affliction.
Then his mind confirmed his dazzling belief, and Guthlac offered
thanksgiving in God’s temple, meditating upon soul-mysteries
according to the will of the Lord. And Guthlac began to proclaim
the good news unto his thane, as the Lord rose through the grace of the spirit,
to speak in triumph-tokens. He strengthened his servant’s mind
by miracles of glory and happy weal in that lovely creation,
as he had never heard in this loaned time, no other lesson like it,
before nor since nor ever in his life—nor the secrets of the Lord
so deeply narrated, in such broad understanding, by human mouth.
It seemed to him more likely that it was the word of a heaven-kindred angel
down from the soaring joys, a much greater servant of power
than the teaching of any man among earthly men. The sight seemed to him
to be the greatest miracle, that such learning-craft was kept
in the breast of any noble man among the children of men.
Every word, all his wisdom was so profound and the composure of this man,
his mind and mighty skill that the Maker of Angels,
the Succor of Souls had given to Guthlac.
Then the number of four days had passed by, which the thane of the Lord
endured bravely, assaulted by disease, harried in agonies.
Guthlac did not bear in sorrow grievous thoughts of soul-parting,
his dreary heart. Death drew near him, stepping in its thieving course,
strong and swift seeking his soul-house.
Then came the seventh day, present to the people, since it sank
within him, fierce, near to his heart, in war-showers
a flickering of fletched force, unlocking his life-hoard,
seeking him with crafty keys. When the wise hero, the messenger,
his serving-man, sought out that nobleman at that holy home.
He found him then hopeless, reclining and eager for the forth-way,
ghost-holy in the temple of God, boiling in bubbling troubles.
It was the sixth hour then, at mid-day,
when the final-moment approached his master.
Guthlac was assailed with the closeness of his unavoidable ordeals,
struck with slaughter-spears. Though he could not easily draw in breath,
he raised his voice in brave speech. Then his servant, heart-saddened,
shivering and soul-weary, began to beseech the man, exhausted
yet mind-glad and eager to die, asking him, if he by the Shaper of Might
could muster his word-talk and heave up speech so that he might declare to him
the news and reveal the course of his words, how he trusted his own counsels,
his practice in that hidden disease before death had laid him flat.
The blessed man gave him answer, a beloved man among the beloved,
although he could but slowly, the courage-hard nobleman,
draw in breath: “My precious child, it is not now very far to that uttermost end
day of needful parting, so that you, who never lacked reward,
must obey my instruction, the last of my words in this worldly life,
no long while long from now. Attend faithfully to all your promises
and friendship, those words we spoke to each other, dearest of men.”
“I will never in your need, my master,
permit our brotherly love to weaken.”
“Be ready for a journey after my body and limbs and this soul of life
sunder their conjugal meal by spirit’s separation. Hasten after that moment
and tell my dearest sister of my forth-way to the eternal home upon a long road
to fair joy. Also reveal my words to her, that I have kept myself from her face
all the days of this world-life for I desired that we would be allowed
to see each other soon, free from our frailties, in the perpetual pleasances
of Heaven-glory and the sight of our Everlasting Redeemer.
There must our love remain pledge-fast, where we will always may
enjoy delights in that radiant city, prosperity among the angels.
Say to her as well that she must entrust this bone-vessel
in a barrow, enclose it in clay, my soul-less shell in a dark enclosure,
where it afterwards must abide for a time in its sandy house.”
Then his serving-man’s thought became greatly troubled,
overwhelmed by oppression, by the words of that prince,
when he recognized at once the soul-parting of his master,
that end-day was not far away. Then he speedily began to converse
wordfully to his dear lord: “I beg you by the Ward of Souls,
most beloved hero of the kindred of men, joy of noblemen,
that you ease my heart-sorrowed breast. The end is not far
as I have recognized in your orations. Often my sad thought reminds me
of my anxieties, hot at heart, my lamenting mind constrained by night
and I would never dare, my father, my comfort, to question you.
“Always I have heard, when Heaven’s gem, the joy-candle of men,
declines to the west, the heaven-bright sun hastens to its setting
in the evening time, another man in debate with you. I have heard the words
of that lord, that unknown herald often seeking you between the day-roar
and the dark night, the conversing words of this man, and in the morning
so sorrow-minded perceived the speech of a sagacious spirit
on your dwelling. Indeed, I yet do not know, until you, my lord, reveal more
to me through your words, whence his origin might be.”
And then the blessed man returned a reply to his dear servant
after a long while, so he could slowly, his courage evident, wield his breath:
“Listen, you address me, my friend, in words questioning this hastening man
of secrets which I have never wished to become informant to any men
across the earth, the servants among the people, except to you now,
lest that men and women should marvel at it and pour it forth in folly,
in songs while I still lived. Truly, I never wished through boasting words to hinder
the comfort of my own soul, nor provoke the wrath of God, my Father.”
“Indeed in the second year-space since I began to inhabit this hermitage,
my Victor-Lord, Life-Granter to man, has always sent to me a holy spirit,
an angel of the highest kind, a mighty thane of the Creator,
who was to seek me every evening and morning too, fixed in victory,
and heal me of every pain and heart-sorrow. And glory’s favorable
messenger enclosed in my breast the gift of wisdom much more complex
than any known in this life, which is permitted to reveal to no living man,
so that one could but scarcely conceal what he conceived
in his heart’s thoughts, after he was visible before my eyes.
“Until this day I always had concealed in my mind the glorious arrival
of the Lord from every man. Dearest of men, now for your love
and companionship that we have long observed between us, I do not wish that you
may ever be sorrowful after my life-decree makes you an exhausted
and heart-sick man, seethed in welling sorrow. Ever I desire to keep peace with you.
Now my soul hastens from my breast-box unto its true joy.
The time is not delayed, this bone-vessel grows weak, the earth-hoard mourns,
the soul hurries him into its eternal home, eager for its outward journey,
to be given its seats. Now I am greatly wearied with work.”
Then Guthlac collapsed against the wall, bending his head,
still courage braced him within. From time to time he drew breath by force,
a spirited man, and from his mouth came the sweetest smell.
Like in summer’s time blossoming flowers are smelled joyfully across
the fields, fixed in their places by the root and honey-flowing, so that saint’s breath
was drawn forth the whole day long until coming of evening.
Then the radiance of the glorious heavens sought its setting-course,
the north-heavens darkened, black under the clouds,
the world was drawn over by mist, covered over by shadows—
the expanse of night thronged over the earth’s adornments.
Then came the greatest brilliance, holy from heaven,
shining radiantly, bright over the sheltering hall.
Obliged to do so, Guthlac, blessed in valor,
awaited his last day, struck by slaughtering arrows.
The splendor of glory, noble about that noble, all night long, sparkled clearly.
The shadows receded, dissolving under the breeze.
The radiance of light was all about that holy house, the heavenly candle,
from the even-gloom until from the east came the dawn’s roaring
across the profound path, the warm weather-token.
The servant of glory rose, blessed and mindful of bravery, speaking
to his serving-man, splendid to his faithful companion: “It is time
that you go and remember all of my errand. Carry it with haste,
as I have instructed you earlier, my message to my dear sister.
Now from my body, eager for God-joys, my soul is quite ready.”
Then Guthlac raised his hands, fed by the Host and humble from that honorable bite,
he also opened his eyes, the holy head gems, seeing then to the Reign of Heaven,
glad-minded for the rewards of its joys and then he sent by his deeds
his beautiful soul into the Delight of Majesty.
Then was Guthlac’s spirit carried away, blessed upon the lofty road.
Angels carried him unto that enduring delight, and his body cooled,
unlifed under the lofty sky. Then a brilliance blazed there, brightest of trees:
That beacon was entirely about the holy house, heavenly of arms,
rising straight up from the earth like a flaming tower up to the roof of the stars,
visible under heaven, more splendid than the sun, the beauty of the noble stars.
Troops of angels sang triumphant hymns,
their voice heard in the wind beneath the heavens, the saints’ joy. (487-98)
So that sheltering stead was filled with happiness throughout
its inner parts, with the sweetest odors and skyward miracles—
the ancestral seat of the blessed and the song of angels. There was more
of the surpassing and overjoyed than any voice in this world could reckon:
how that fragrance and that melody were heard; the heavenly sound and holy song;
God’s high-majesty; how each voice harmonized with its accompanying voice.
That island quaked, the earth-field trembled. (499-508a)
Then Guthlac’s messenger was afraid, wanting courage, when he hastily departed;
an unhappy man that climbed into a boat and drove that wave-horse,
a journey upon a water-runner, swift under his sorrows.
The sky glittered warmly, shining over the shelter-hall. The brim-wood hurried,
light and fast on its course. The lake-steed made speed, bearing on the harbor,
that sandy place where the sea-floater would perch after its swim-play,
grinding against the gravel. (508b-17a)
He bore his mourning sadness burning in his breast, his sad heart,
his weary mind-sense, he who knew his master, his dearest friend,
watched his tracks, having sailed away from life. The ring of his woes
reminded him grievously. Tears welled forth in waves, hot cheek-drops,
and he carried in his chest a great mind-care. He had to deliver to that woman
Guthlac’s message, hateful news all too true. (517b-25)
Then the spirit-cold servant came to where the woman lived, glory’s joyous maid.
He did not conceal what had occurred, the forward-course of the doomed,
but sang out, friend-lacking, a parting song and spoke these words: (526-9)
“Courage is best for him that very often must endure lord-killing—
he must deeply meditate upon the oppressive prince-parting
when its ill season comes, woven with fate-songs.
He knows that who grieves sad-souled…
Ah! he knows that his beloved treasure-giver is buried.
He must depart from there, abjected and sad.
A lack of mirth is the hardship that he often suffers in his pained heart. (530-8a)
“At any rate, I need not make so light of his hence-journey.
My lord, leader of warriors and your own brother, best of those between the seas
who we in England have ever heard, conceived in child’s form,
and of the kindred of men. He has turned toward the judgment of God,
the support of the weary. He has turned from worldly joys,
O delight of your cherished kin, perchance into the majesty of glory and his protection.
He is departed to seek out dwellings, a home upon the upward way. (538b-48a)
“Now his portion of earth, the bone-house broken out of its refuges
from within, abides upon its death-couch, and his portion of glory
voyages from its body-vessel into the light of God, its triumphant reward.
I am ordered to say to you that you two will always be allowed
to take a common home at your desire, in those everlasting joys
among the brethren-rights, the glorious rewards of your deeds,
and to enjoy its profit and blissful things. (548b-56a)
“My victory-lord also ordered me to announce to you, when he was eager
for the journey, that you, dearest maid, should cover over his body-home.
Now you know my journey’s purpose at once. Now I, pain-souled,
low-minded must go forth now with my heart drooping…”