Wiglaf weeps for his lord’s exchange of “those lordly treasures for his life’s boundary.” The dragon lies dead, vanquished by the noble warriors, no longer able to work in darkness.
The cowardly thanes sneak out of the woods to see what has happened. They see Wiglaf comforting the dead Beowulf. Wiglaf turns on his comrades, cursing them for being such cowardly men.
Wiglaf sends a messenger to the people telling them that their king is dead. The messenger also foresees a time of great slaughter for the Geats. The feud that began with Hygelac and the Frisians (which the messenger repeats again in great detail) will continue when the Swedes hear of Beowulf’s death. The treasures that Beowulf died to earn will be buried in the mound with him. The harp will stay silent for the coming of the ravens of war.
The people all go to collect the body of their lord. While there they see the body of the dragon, and they speculate that some “ancient sorcerers swore a greed-spell” that would bring suffering to the Geats. Wiglaf orders the burial mound prepared, while the dragon’s body is to be shoved into the waters. At the ceremony, Beowulf’s body is burned on a pyre, as the women wail and the men share stories of his bravery.
We now see the aftermath of all the greed. Despite Beowulf’s own greed that motivated him to fight for the treasure, however, it still makes him greater than the dragon, which moved “at sunset” and in darkness, as all the monsters did. The dragon is cursed again with burial at sea, just as Grendel and his mother were buried earlier in the poem.
Though Wiglaf is not quite the strong thane that Beowulf was, he is obviously learning, and in quite a hurry. He has enough presence of mind to berate the cowards for their weakness, and he knows that the people must quickly grieve for their lost lord, so that they may prepare for the war that is inevitable.
Again stories told within the text have relevance to the primary narrative. Like the civilization that owned the treasure before, the last surviving member of the Geats (Beowulf) will be buried with the permanent riches. The recurring enemies of the Geats and Danes, the Frisians and the Swedes, will return. In addition, the ruling class overlaps with the artistic class in the telling of these stories. The messenger and Wiglaf now have the task of telling these stories of the ancient feuds and heroes, since there is no longer a hall in which to sing and a great minstrel to sing the tale.
Finally, closure is achieved in the poem by having it end as it began–with a funeral scene. Certain elements are retained between the two funerals. The people still mourn, and the king meets death accompanied by a wealth of treasure. This time, however, Beowulf cannot be sent out to sea as Scyld Shefing was, because he is too earthly in his desire to see the wealth. In addition, the sea has been corrupted by the bodies of the monsters resting in its depths. Therefore, Beowulf must be buried on land, with the treasures of mankind surrounding his ashes, pointing the way for all men that should happen to sail over the sea. It is a fitting end to the warrior who worked to protect his peoplethe chance for rest, though still ably serving a purpose.