Beowulf

Part II

Sections: V-IX

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.


Contents


V:Lines:320-370:Hrothgar’s Court

The street was of stone, that pathway

Pressed them together. Mail-shirts hard,

Hand-linked, gleaming. Bright armour

Rang with ring-iron, as they marched

In their grim gear straight to the hall.

Sea-weary, stacking their hard-rimmed

Broad shields, against the walls, there

They dropped to the benches, armour

Clashing, warrior’s war-gear; spears stood,

Mariners’ defence, clustered together,

A grey ash-grove; adorned were they

With iron-clad weapons. Then a proud

And noble warrior asked of the heroes:

‘Whence do you bring those plated shields,

Shirts of steel-grey, and masked helmets,

That heap of lances? I am Hrothgar’s

Officer and herald; never have I seen

Such a host of brave-looking strangers.

With courage, I judge, you seek Hrothgar,

Not as exiles but of heart-greatness.’

Then the man of renown; proud prince

Of the Geat people, harsh under his helm,

Replied to him, with these words:

‘We are Hygelac’s table companions,

My name is Beowulf. I would announce

My errand to the famed son of Halfdane,

To that sovereign king, your lord and master,

If in his great virtue he’ll grant us audience.’

Wulfgar replied; he, the Vandal leader,

His courage known to many, famous

For warfare and for wisdom. ‘I will request

Of the Lord of the Shieldings, the Dane-Friend,

Giver of Rings, what you desire of him.

I will ask the great king about your quest,

Give you swift reply, whatever answer

That virtuous one is pleased to deliver.’

Then he turned to where Hrothgar sat,

Old and grey, amongst a crowd of earls.

Striding proudly, as a veteran warrior,

He took his place at the Dane-lord’s side.

Then Wulfgar spoke to his friend and master:

‘Men of the Geats, have ventured here,

From a far place, on the wide waters.

The leader of this band of warriors,

Is named Beowulf; they request,

My lord, that they might exchange

Words with you. Gracious Hrothgar,

Do not refuse them, grant their asking,

Since by their war-gear they seem worthy

Of noble respect. He who led them here,

Is a powerful prince among warriors.’

VI:Lines 371-455:Beowulf’s Offer

Hrothgar spoke, that Helm of the Shieldings:

‘I knew him when he was a lad.

His old father was called Ecgtheow,

To whom Hethel the Geat wed

His only daughter; now his heir

Comes here bravely, seeking a firm friend.

I have heard said, by seafarers,

Who ferried a gift-cargo to Geatland

With our thanks, that, famous for battle,

He has the strength of thirty men

There in his hand’s grip. I have hopes

That Holy God, in his goodness,

Sends him to us, to the West-Danes,

To fight Grendel’s terror. For his daring,

I will offer him precious treasure.

Swiftly, bid him and his noble kin,

Come stand before me, every man.

Speak the word that they are welcome

To the Danelands.’ Came the word:

‘My victorious lord, leader of East-Danes

Asks me to say, he knows your noble line,

And that he welcomes you here,

Bold crosser of the sea-waves;

Now may you enter, in your war-gear,

Masked by helmets, to see Hrothgar:

But let battle-shields and ashen spears

Here await the outcome of words.’

Then the hero rose, ringed by his warriors,

That proud band of thanes; a few remained

To guard their gear, as the steadfast man bade;

The rest hastened on, and their prince, harsh

Under his helm, led his warriors as one,

Under Heorot’s roof, to stand in that hall.

Beowulf spoke – on him the mail shone,

A web of armour woven by smith’s skill:

‘Health to you, Hrothgar. I am Hygelac’s

Kinsman and follower: despite my youth

I have worked great deeds. Grendel’s acts

Are clearly known on my native shore,

Seafarers say this finest of buildings

Stands idle, is useless to any man,

Once the evening star hides under heaven.

So, King Hrothgar, those best and wisest

Of my people advised me to come here,

And seek you, knowing all my vast strength.

They have seen me return from the battle,

Foul with the foes’ blood, where I bound five,

Destroying monstrous kin, killing sea-demons

In the water by night. I have weathered storms,

To avenge the Geats – they sought sorrow,

The foes I crushed. Now I seek Grendel,

The dread creature, to settle the matter

Alone with that troll. Now I ask of you,

Prince of the Bright-Danes, one boon,

One request, Defender of Shieldings;

Do not refuse me, Bulwark of Warriors,

Friend of the Folk, having come so far,

Let me cleanse Heriot, with only my nobles,

My hoard of warriors, I alone at the head;

I have heard too that this evil monster,

Reckless indeed, scorns use of weapons;

So, I too – that Hygelac my liege-lord

May have joy in his heart – will forego

The bearing of sword or of broad shield

Rimmed with lime-wood; by hand-grip

Alone fight with this fiend, life for life,

Foe against foe. Whichever death takes

Must deem it the judgement of God.

Grendel will wish, I suspect, if he can

To devour all us Geats in the war-hall,

Without fear, I think, as he has before,

All the warrior force. You’ll not need

To shroud my face: he will have my

Blood-stained body, if Death takes me,

My gory corpse; he would feed on flesh.

The lone prowler eats all mercilessly,

Marking his lair in the moor. So make

No funeral provision for my remains.

Send to Hygelac, should I fall in the fight,

This best of battle-gear over my breast,

This fair mail that belonged to Hrethel,

Wayland’s work. Fate ever does as it must.’

VII:Lines:456-498:Hrothgar Replies

Hrothgar, Helm of the Shieldings, replied:

‘Beowulf, my friend, you sought us out,

For the sake of the fight, and for honour.

Your father’s blow started a mighty feud:

He it was killed Heatholaf the Wulfing,

With his own hand; and in fear of reprisal

His own spear-kin dared not shelter him.

So he sought the South-Dane folk here,

We Honour-Shieldings, over the waves.

I had but begun then my rule of the Danes,

Though a youth, I held the precious kingdom,

Treasure-chest of heroes. Heoragar was dead,

My elder brother, lifeless then that son

Of the Half-Dane. He was the better man.

I settled the feud, paying a blood-fee;

Over the wave-crests, ancient treasure,

I sent the Wulfings. Your father took oaths.

It saddens my heart to tell any man

What shame Grendel brings to Heriot,

Swift attacks in hatred; my guards wane,

My war-band: fate sweeps them away

Amid Grendel’s violence. God may well

Put an end to that bold ravager’s deeds.

Time and again, swilling their beer,

Over the ale-flagons, warriors have vowed

To wait in the beer-hall, with sharp blades,

To defend Heorot from Grendel’s attack.

But the mead-hall, this noble house,

In morning-tide, was stained with blood.

At daylight, the benches were dripping,

Drenched by battle. My friends were less,

Dear companions, those had death taken.

Sit now to table, and tell your tales

Of glorious heroes, as your heart urges.’

Then a bench was placed for the Geats

Gathered together, in the beer-hall:

There the strong-hearted were seated,

The proud and skilful, a thane beside them,

Who bore in his hands a rich ale-cup,

Poured bright mead. At times a bard

Sang clear in Heorot, brought noble joy

To that great host of Danes and Geats.

VIII:Lines:499-558:The Sea-Monsters

Unferth, the son of Ecglaf, spoke,

Who sat at the Lord of Shieldings’ feet,

Loosing battle-runes – Beowulf’s venture,

This brave sea-crossing, riled him greatly,

Since he’d not have it that any other man

Boasted of greater deeds in middle-earth,

Under the wide heavens, than he himself –

‘Are you that Beowulf who battled with Breca

On the open sea, paddling the ocean?

Out of bravado there, risking the waves,

For a foolish boast, in the deep water,

You risked your lives, and no man,

Not friend or foe, could dissuade you

From that sad contest, rowing the sound.

There your arms grasped ocean-currents,

Crossing the sea-roads, hands weaving,

Gliding over the sea, the breakers falling

In winter’s tide; seven nights toiling

In the water’s clutches. He beat you at sea,

The mightier man. Then he, at morning-tide,

Was cast up by the wave, on Raumar’s shore.

From there he sought out his own country,

One dear to his people, that of the Brondings.

A fine stronghold, where he had folk,

Burghs and rings. That son of Beanstan

Rightly fulfilled his boast over you.

So I expect a worse outcome still,

And a grim struggle, though you’ve won

Many a battle, should you dare wait

For Grendel, the night long, nearby.’

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, answered:

‘Now, Unferth, my friend, drunk on beer,

You’ve talked a lot about Breca,

And told of his efforts. The truth is

I had the greater sea-strength,

Power in the waves, than any man,

We had agreed when we were lads,

And vowed – both being still as yet

In our youth – that we would risk

Our lives on the sea. And that we did.

Rowing the sound, we had naked swords

Close to hand; we planned to protect

Ourselves from whales: he was not a whit

Swifter at sea, nor able to float from me

On the far waters, nor did I wish to let him.

We were there together, on that sea,

For five nights, till the waves parted us,

The swell high, weather of the coldest,

Night blackening, and the north wind

Fierce against us, the waves run wild,

And the sea-creatures were angered.

My chain-mail, strong, hand-linked,

Helped me then, against those foes.

A battle-proof web, at my breast,

Chased with gold. A fierce prey-seeker

Dragged me deep, held me fast

In cruel grip. However it was given me

To reach the monster, with the point

Of my sword. In the swirl I killed

The mighty sea-beast, with my own hand.’

IX:Lines:559-661:Beowulf’s Vow

‘Time and again, hateful creatures

Pressed me close. Them I served

With my dear sword, as was right.

They’d not have me for their prey,

Enjoy their crime, not dine on me

At their banquet, on the sea-floor,

But at dawn, slain by my blade,

They lay there, on the wet sand,

Settled by my sword, so that now

On the high seas, no mariner

Is hindered. Light came from the east,

Bright beacon of God. The sea calm,

Now my sight found the headlands,

Windswept cliffs. Fate often spares

A lucky man, if his courage holds out.

However it chanced, my sword slew

Nine of the creatures. I have heard

Of no fiercer fight, at night, under heaven,

Of no man more pounded by the waves.

Yet I escaped alive from the foe’s grasp,

Weary with battle. The sea took me,

With the tide at the flood, to Finland,

In a tossing boat. Not a word of you,

Have I heard, Unferth, in such a fight,

Or your dread blade. Breca nor you,

At the onset, ever did such a deed

With bright sword – that’s no boast –

Moreover you killed your brother,

Slew your close kin. Despite your wit,

You in Hell shall suffer torment.

I tell you, in truth, son of Ecglaf,

Grendel, that foul demon, would never

Have wreaked such havoc on your king,

Brought shame to Heorot, if your mind

And heart were as fierce as you claim,

But he has found he need little fear

Your race in battle, its dread tempest

Of blades, you Victory-Shieldings.

He takes his toll, spares not one

Of the Danes, but slakes his lust,

Slaying and slitting. He expects no fight

From the Spear-Danes. But I’ll show him

The Geats’ strength and stomach for war,

Before long. A man will be able to go

Drink mead again bravely, when dawn

Of another day brings the sun southwards

To shine, radiant, on the sons of men.’

The grey-haired, great-hearted warrior,

Treasure-giving lord of the Bright-Danes,

Trusted what he heard from Beowulf,

The folk’s defender, of his firm intent.

Heroes’ laughter rose, sounds of harmony,

Words were joyful. Wealhtheow entered,

Hrothgar’s queen, mindful of courtesies,

Gold-adorned, to greet those in the hall,

And the noble lady handed a full cup

First to the guardian of the East-Danes,

Beloved of his people, bade him be blithe,

As he drank the ale. The honoured king

Partook with delight of feast and of cup.

Then did the rounds, the Helmings’ lady,

Gave the full hall-cup, to young and old,

A draught to each, the be-ringed queen,

Generous in spirit, until she came

Carrying the mead-cup, to Beowulf.

With wise words she greeted the Geat,

Thanked God that her wish was granted,

That here was a noble man to help them

Fend off evil. The war-hardened warrior,

He took the rich cup from Wealhtheow,

Then eager for battle, he spoke to her gravely,

Did Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, saying:

‘I determined when I put out to sea,

Seated there with my warlike crew,

That I’d fulfil your people’s wishes,

Forthwith, or I’d die in the conflict,

Fast in that fiend’s grip. I must do

The deed bravely, or meet my end,

As fate wills, here in this mead-hall.’

Gold-decked, that queen of the folk,

Well pleased with the Geat’s vow,

Went then, to sit by her lord.

Then all was as before in the hall,

Brave words uttered, men full of joy,

Loud talk of victory, until at last

The son of Halfdane, wished to seek

Evening rest. He knew that the ogre

Had been planning a raid on the hall,

From the instant they saw sunlight,

Till night, darkening, with shadowy

Helm-shapes, came stealing over all,

Black under heaven. The warriors rose;

Then the one took leave of the other,

Hrothgar of Beowulf, and bid him well,

The wine-hall’s ruler, spoke these words:

‘Since I could raise arm and shield,

I’ve never trusted this stronghold

Of Danes to any man, save you:

Have now and hold this best of houses.

Think on glory, show mighty courage,

Ware of the watcher. You’ll want naught

If you win through this brave deed alive.’