Beowulf

Part V

Sections: XXI-XXVI

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


XXI:Lines:1383-1472:The Mere

Then Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow replied:

‘Wise one, do not grieve. It’s always better

To avenge a friend, than mourn too deeply.

Each one of us, in this world, must await

Our end. Let every man who can, win glory

Before he dies. That is best for the warrior

In after times, when he is no longer living.

Arise, Ward of the Kingdom, let us swiftly

Follow the trail of this mother of Grendel.

I swear to you that go where she will, she

Shall not be lost in some fold of ground;

Nor in mountain holt, nor the ocean bed.

You must endure this day, with patience

For every suffering, as I’d expect of you.’

The old man leapt to his feet, thanking

God Almighty for Beowulf’s promise.

Then a horse was bridled, for Hrothgar,

One with a braided mane. The wise king

Was well-set, the foot soldiers marched

Bearing lime-wood shields. Her tracks

Down the forest-trail were clear to see.

Gone over the ground, running straight

Over the murky moor, she had borne

The king’s thane, the body not soul,

Finest of Hrothgar’s royal guards.

Now Beowulf, the noble, crossed

Steep stony slopes, narrow ways

Choked paths, uncertain gullies,

Cliff-ledges over haunted lakes.

He took the lead with a few good

Men, to sound the unknown way,

Until he reached a mountain grove,

Above grey stone, a hanging wood,

Dour and dismal. The water below,

Seethed with blood. For the Danes,

The Shieldings’ Friends, there was

Heart’s pain to endure; grief woke

In those noble thanes, on finding

Aeschere’s head by the cliff-edge.

The lake welled blood – folk stared –

A fiery gore. The war-horn sounded

A death-dirge. They sat down to watch,

Clear in the water, a host of serpents,

Strange sea-dragons conning the deep,

Water-demons on sloping headlands,

Such as deal grievous sea-raids at dawn,

Worms, wild-things, slithering down,

In bitter rage, when they heard the call

Of the war-horn. A Geat shot one

With an arrow deep through the heart.

It ended its writhing there in the water.

Its struggles grew less, a slow death.

Held in the shallows, it was spiked

By boar-spears, hooked hard there,

Struck savagely, and dragged ashore,

Wondrous wave-spawn; men stared

At the gruesome guest. Now, Beowulf

Fearless of death, armed himself nobly.

He needed his braided, strong meshed

Mail, there in the depths of the lake,

To protect his frame, its cage of bone,

So that no grip could crush his heart,

No grasping in malice choke his life.

A shining helmet guarded his head,

Ready to cleave the mere-depths,

Stir the waters; the helm was adorned,

Nobly banded and bound, as long ago

It was wrought by its weapon-smith,

Set with boar-shapes, made so no blade,

No battle-sword might bite through.

And no small thing then did Unferth

Lend him, not the least of his needs,

That long-handled sword, Hrunting.

It was the finest of ancient treasures,

Iron-edged, alight with snake-forms,

Tempered in blood. It had never failed

Any man who had waved it in battle,

Who had dared to go a dread journey

Into enemy realms. Not for the first time

Was it to be wielded in some brave effort.

When he lent that sword to the better man,

Ecglaf’s great son neglected to mention

The words he had uttered when in drink;

Not daring to risk his life, down there,

Under the swirling wave; glory foregone,

A brave man’s fame: not so Beowulf,

Ready now, and rigged out for the fight.

XXII:Lines:1473-1556:Grendel’s Dam

So, Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

‘Great son of Halfdane, wisest of leaders,

Gold-Giver, now I am ready for every

Venture, think of what we have said:

That if I should depart life in serving

You, then after my death you would act

Like a father, protector of my company,

My young warriors; and if I fall that you

Dear Hrothgar, would send to Hygelac

All of the treasure you have given me.

Seeing that gold, those riches, Hrethel’s

Son, the Lord of the Geats, will know

I have found me a noble ring-giver,

A great king, and enjoyed his favour.

And let Unferth have the ancient blade,

Wondrous and wave-wrought, so grant

That far-famed man the honed edge:

I will gain glory with Hrunting, or die.’

With this the lord of the Weder-Geats,

Not waiting any reply, plunged bravely

Into the depths of the seething lake.

It took him the best part of the day,

Before he could reach its solid bed,

She knew it at once, the ravenous one

Greedy and wrathful, whom the wide

Expanse of water had held for half

A hundred years, knew that a human

Entered her strange realm from above.

Groping upwards, she seized the man

In her dire grasp. Yet in no way could

She get at his body; the ring-mail held;

Her loathsome fingers failed to pierce

The war-gear; the linked limb-guard.

Touching the lake-bed, the she-wolf

Of the waters bore him off to her lair,

Preventing him, for all his courage,

From wielding a sword, while a horde

Of strange things tracked his scent,

Tusked creatures struck at his armour,

A foul onslaught. Then the earl saw

He was fast in some house of malice,

Out of the force of the flood, whose

Roof stopped the water reaching him,

Free of its onrush. Firelight he saw,

A pallid flame, glimmering, alive.

He saw, too, that accursed dweller

In the deep, that mighty mere-wife;

Thrust hard with his sword; swung

So the ring-marked blade rang out

Its wild war-song. Yet he found

The steel would not hew and bite,

That its edge failed the hero in his

Hour of need. Though it had served

In many a hand to hand fight, split

Armour and helms of the doomed,

For the first time its glory faded,

The precious gift’s powers failed.

But Hygelac’s kinsman held firm,

Strong in courage, mindful of fame.

Then in fury he hurled the solid steel,

The patterned sword, to the ground,

And trusted instead to a hand-grasp,

His mighty grip. So must a man do

Who would win long-lasting glory

In battle. He must be careless of life.

Then, without qualm, the Geat prince

Gripped Grendel’s dam by the shoulder,

Heaved hard in his anger, throwing

His deadly foe to the floor, but she

Hit back swiftly, caught him in turn

In a fierce grasp, gripping him tight.

The strongest of sure-footed heroes

Daunted, stumbled, and took a fall.

Then she straddled him, and drew

Her broad bright blade, wanting

Vengeance then for her only child,

For Grendel her son; the twined

Mail-mesh, saved Beowulf’s life,

Withstood the entry of edge or tip.

The son of Ecgtheow, prince of Geats,

Would surely have died down there,

If his firm armour, that net of chain,

Had not helped him, and Holy God

Given victory. The All-Wise, Ruler

Of the Heavens, found it easy to set

Things right; and Beowulf on his feet.

XXIII:Lines:1557-1599:Beowulf’s Victory

Then he saw on a weapon-pile, a sword,

Firm-edged from the days of giants,

A warrior’s winning blade of choice,

Though greater than any other man

Could trust himself to wield in a fight,

Fine and noble, a work of the mighty.

So the Shielding’s hero seized the hilt,

Drew the sword in his furious frenzy,

Striking, without thought for his life,

So the edge sliced deep into her neck,

Shattering the bone, severing it wholly

That doomed house of flesh, so she fell.

The blade blood-wet, he hailed his work.

Light gleamed, a pure brightness within,

Even as the sun’s candle shines clear

In the heavens. He searched the hall,

Hygelac’s thane, angered, intent,

Skirted the wall, his sword held high,

The hilt guarded, and found good use

For that blade, taking payment now

For all of Grendel’s savage attacks,

All the evil he worked on the Danes;

More than that once when he slew

Hrothgar’s hearth-comrades in sleep,

Devoured fifteen of the West-Danes,

Where they lay, carrying off as many,

A hideous haul. Beowulf the fierce

Warrior, now repaid him for that,

Finding Grendel’s scarred body,

Lying there lifeless, its flesh torn

By him in Heorot, he gave it a harsh

Sword-blow; the corpse split at this

Stroke after death. He cut off the head.

The wise men watching with Hrothgar,

Saw the lake boil in a sudden turmoil

Of blood-red water. Their grey-heads

Bowed, by the good king they spoke

Of no longer expecting the prince

To return to their glorious leader,

In triumph. They agreed the she-wolf

Of the deep must have destroyed him.

XXIV:Lines:1600-1650:His Return

When the ninth hour arrived, the Shieldings

Left the cliff with their Gold-Giving king.

But Beowulf’s men, sick at heart, stayed

To gaze at the mere, hope without belief

That they might see their lord and friend

Again. Meanwhile, beneath the water,

The sword began to break into gory icicles,

It was a wonder the way it melted, as ice

Will when the Father frees the frost fetters,

Unwinds the braids of water, he who

Rules time and tide. Such the true maker.

Though Beowulf saw vast treasure there,

He brought back no more than the head,

And his inlaid sword-hilt; the blade

Had scorched and melted; it scalded,

The blood of that poisonous alien spirit.

Then having survived the fight, where

His foe fell, he swam out and upwards.

The wide expanse was calm once more,

The turmoil over, now the alien spirit

Was loosed from life in this frail world.

Swimming strongly, the seafarer’s leader

Came to land, pleased with his spoils,

And the great burden he bore with him.

His band of men, ran towards him,

Thanking God, overjoyed at seeing

Their prince returned, safe and sound.

Swiftly the hero’s helmet and mail

Were loosened; the lake grew still,

Blood-stained water under welkin.

Overjoyed at heart, they fared forth,

Over footpaths, the beaten tracks,

The road they knew; full of spirit,

Those princely men bore the head

With some difficulty, between them –

It took four to carry Grendel’s head,

Hoist on a spear, to the gold-hall –

And they soon reached the place,

Fourteen of them, Geat warriors,

Making their way with their prince,

In a proud throng to the mead-hall.

There he entered, lord of the thanes,

A man brave in deed, raised to glory,

Proven in battle, to greet Hrothgar.

Grendel’s head, gripped by the hair,

Was hurled to the floor, where all

Were drinking, and earls and ladies

Gazed in wonder at the fearful sight.

XXV:Lines: 1651-1739:The Deed Re-Told

Then Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

‘Now, Lord of Shieldings, son of Halfdane,

With joy we bring you these lake-spoils,

The tokens of triumph you see here.

I barely escaped with my life from this

Fight under the flood, a task fraught

With danger, and nothing easy. If God

Had not shielded me, all were ended.

I could not work the deed with Hrunting,

Fine weapon though it chance to be.

But the Ruler of Men, who often helps

The defenceless, showed me a sword,

An ancient weapon hung on the wall;

While I could, I drew it, and so killed

The lair-dweller. The patterned blade

Melted there, in battle-hot blood-surge.

The foul deeds avenged, as was fitting,

The deadly Dane-slaughter, I grasped

The hilt, brought from the demons’ den.

I pledge that you and your warrior host

May all sleep sound now in Heorot, free

From sorrow, no longer need you fear

For your thanes, young and old, or dread

As you did before, Lord of the Shieldings,

That taking of life that wasted your men.’

Then the gold hilt, a relic of giant’s work,

Was placed in the hands of the aged king.

When death removed that wrathful creature,

God’s murderous enemy, and his mother,

That hilt, the work of wondrous smiths,

Passed into the Lord of the Dane’s hoard.

It came into the power of a king on earth,

The best of those, between the two seas,

Who dealt out rich gifts, in Scedeland.

Hrothgar gazed at the hilt, that relic

Of ancient times, where was engraved

The source of war, when the waves

Rose, and destroyed the race of giants.

That tribe, alien to the eternal Lord,

Suffered terribly. The Almighty dealt

Their reward, in that seethe of waters.

There were runes too, in shining gold,

Inlaid on the blade, rightly marked,

Set down to state for whom the sword

That finest of blades, with braided hilt,

And serpent pattern, had first been made.

Then the wise son of Halfdane spoke,

And all those who were there fell silent:

‘An aged guardian of his homeland,

Who recalls tradition, and acts rightly

Towards his people, may indeed say

That this man was born to greatness.

Beowulf, my friend, your fame runs

Everywhere, throughout the nations.

You have strength, wisdom at heart,

Joined to patience. I will stand firm

To the friendship we spoke of before.

You will be an enduring comfort now

To your people, a bulwark for heroes.

Heremod proved not so to Ecgwala’s

Children, to the Honour-Shieldings,

His rise brought no joy to the Danes,

Only destruction, only their slaughter.

He felled his table-companions in fury,

His right hand men; despite his fame,

He was exiled from human pleasures,

Though Almighty God had given him

Power, and exalted him over others,

But his heart grew thirsty for blood,

He gave no more rings to the Danes.

Lived without joy, and suffered pain

The people’s bane. Learn from this:

Know true virtue. So, I say to you,

Being old, winter-wise. Almighty God

In wondrous ways, from deep knowledge,

Grants human beings the gifts of wisdom,

Land and lordship: He governs them all.

At times, for His pleasure, He allows

The mind of some noble man its sway,

Grants him earthly joy in his homeland,

Command of the warriors’ stronghold.

He grants him power, in this world,

Over a vast kingdom, so that the man,

In his unknowing, sees no end to it all.

He lives well; neither illness nor age

Trouble him; no sharp sorrow darkens

His thought, no conflict, nor the bite

Of malice, but rather the whole world

Bends to his will: he knows life’s best.’

XXVI:Lines: 1740-1816:Hrothgar’s Speech

‘Until overweening pride enters him,

Waxes and swells, and the warden sleeps,

The soul’s guardian, the soundest slumber;

Bound in distraction: the slayer is near,

Loosing a deadly shaft from the bow.

Then under the helm, into the heart,

It strikes – he lacks all defence –from those

Strange, perverse, demands of the evil one.

What he has long ruled seems too little;

Cruelly he covets, ceases ring-giving,

Forgets the future, forgoes the past,

When God, the Ruler of Glory, gave

A portion of honour into his hands.

In the end it must come to pass

That the body, flesh lent to him, fails,

Fated it falls. Another heir shares

The treasure, without fear or regret,

All of the earl’s wealth he hoarded.

Dear Beowulf, finest of warriors,

Guard yourself against such error,

Choose the better path for yourself,

Eternal worth. Great champion, give

No heed to pride. You’ll glory in strength,

For a while; soon sickness or sword

Will weaken your powers, a flare

From the fire, or the flood’s surge,

Or blade’s leap, or spear’s flight,

Or foul old age. The brightest eye

Darkens and dims. Warrior, soon

Comes Death over-sweeping you.

I’ve ruled the Ring-Danes fifty years,

Under these skies, saved them in war

From many a race in middle-earth,

Ash-spear and sword-edge, until

No enemy was left under heaven.

Now, there came reverses here,

Pain after pleasure, for Grendel

Invaded my home, time and again,

And I endured continual sorrows,

From his raids. Thanks be to fate,

The power eternal, that I survive,

To set eyes on his blade-bloodied

Head, after all the tale of horror.

Go, find a bench, and honoured

By that conflict, join in the feast.

We will share treasure at dawn.’

The Geat, went, joy in his heart,

To seek a settle, as the king said.

Then the brave warriors, seated

There in the hall, drank as before,

Feasted again. Night’s helm fell,

Dark over warriors. The men rose,

The aged grey-haired Shielding,

Wished for bed, and the Geat,

The brave shield-man, for sleep.

At once a hall-thane, assigned

To serve the hero’s needs, such

As a sea-borne guest was given

Of courtesy, in those days, led

The weary traveller from afar,

The great-hearted man, to rest.

The hall towered above, gabled,

Gold-glinting; the guest slept

Until the black raven cawed,

Gleefully, at the sun in the sky,

Heaven’s joy. Then the bright

Warriors came, those noblemen,

Eager to return to their people,

Fit to fare, and the brave guest

Longing for his far-off ship.

He told Unferth, Ecglaf’s son,

The hardy warrior, to take back

And wear the sword, his dear blade,

Hrunting, with thanks for the loan,

Saying he found it a friend in battle,

A warlike blade, with never a word

Of blame. He was a man of pride.

Then with his warriors all armed

And ready to go, their honoured lord

Approached the high seat of the king,

And the brave hero greeted Hrothgar.