Part I

Prologue and Sections: I-IV

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

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Prologue:Lines 1-52:The Spear-Danes

Now! We Spear-Danes, in ages gone,

Days of the clan-kings, knew glory.

How those princes did mighty deeds.

Shield Sheafson seized mead-benches

From many a man, among his enemies;

That terror of warriors flourished later,

After his first rescue as foundling,

Waxed under heaven, grew in honour,

Till near tribes, over the whale-road,

Had to yield to him, forced to submit,

Offer him tribute. That was a fine king!

After, a boy-child was born to him,

A lad in the yard, sent there by God

To comfort the people; He had seen

What they had suffered; leaderless

A long while; so the Lord of Life,

Wielder of Glory, granted him honour;

Beaw was known – his fame flew wide –

Heir to Shield, in the Northern lands.

So should a lad do, working good deeds,

Giving gifts freely in his father’s house;

So, in old age, when battle comes

Willing companions stand by him,

His people rally; by noble effort,

Among men everywhere, man prospers.

Then Shield passed, at the appointed time,

Still in his prime, into the Lord’s hands.

As he had asked, when he wielded words,

A friend to the Shieldings, beloved ruler,

Long king over them, his dear comrades

Shouldered down to the sea’s brine.

There in the harbour rode a whorled prow,

Ice-shrouded, ready, fit for a hero;

They laid down their beloved prince,

The ring-giver, there amidships,

Might by the mast; many the riches

From far-off lands, precious armour

None I heard comelier, keel weighted

With battle-weapons, war-gear,

Blade and breastplate; on him lay

Many a treasure, forced with him

On the tide’s sway, to drift afar.

No less on him had they bestowed

A nation’s riches than those did

Who had once launched him,

Then a child, alone on the waves.

Now they raised a golden standard

High at his head; let him to ride

Gave him to ocean; troubled hearts,

Mourning minds. No man knows

Can tell for certain, wise counsellor

Or earthly hero, what had that cargo.

I:Lines:53-114:The Coming Of Grendel

Then Beaw the Shielding held the forts,

A long while, loved king of his nation,

Famed among folk; elder on earth

His father departed. And then his heir

The great Halfdane, aged, battle-scarred

Ruled the bright Shieldings his lifetime.

To him were born, this leader of warriors,

Four in succession; woke to the world,

Heorogar, Hrothgar, the good Halga,

And Yrsa I heard, Onela’s queen,

A bed-balm for a brave Shielding.

Then to Hrothgar was fortune given,

Honour in battle, so that his kinsmen

Followed him fast, a force that grew

To a mighty host. So his mind turned

To house-building, here he would have

A massive mead-hall, worked by men

That men’s sons should hear of forever.

And within it would share out all,

To young and old, as God allowed him,

Bar common land or the lives of men.

Far and wide, heard I, the task was given,

To many craftsmen, in middle-earth;

For the folk: a hall. Soon it came to pass,

Out of men’s hands, it stood complete

The finest of places; he called it Heorot,

Whose words held wide sway there.

No boast and no lie, rich rings he dealt

At his feasts. The hall towered up,

High, horn-gabled, waiting the flare

Of fierce fire, nor was it long till

Sharp-edged malice, between in-laws,

Born of their enmity, awakened.

It was then a bold monster, fretted

Its time away, dweller in darkness,

That every day heard din of revels

Loud in the hall. There the harp’s note,

Sweet song of poets. Skilled men told

Of distant source, of man’s beginning;

Of how the Almighty made the earth,

A plain of beauty, bounded by water;

Placed victorious the sun and moon,

Lights as lanterns for world-dwellers,

And filled all the folds of the earth

With tree-limbs and leaves; life gave

To everything that lived and moved.

So the people of the lord lived well

Happily then, until began to work

Monstrous evil, a fiend from hell.

This grim demon was named Grendel

A marsh-stalker, moors in his hold,

Fen and fastness, the wretch ruled

Over exiled monsters, for a while,

Those the creator had banished

With Cain’s kin, the eternal Lord

Avenging so the killing of Abel;

Cain gained little from that feud,

He drove him from all mankind:

Then unspeakable things awoke,

Ogres and elves, imps of Orcus,

The giants too, who fought with God

Interminably, till He repaid them.

II:Lines 115-188:The Monster’s Depredations

So Grendel, at nightfall, set out to see

How the Ring-Danes were placed in

The high house, after their beer-fest.

There he found a noble host

Sleeping from feasting, dead to woe

And human sorrow; the cursed beast

Grim and greedy, ruthless, and ripe

For savagery, had soon snatched

Thirty thanes from their slumber,

Then returned, sated with spoils,

With a feast of flesh, to seek his lair.

There, in half-light, before the dawn,

Grendel’s craftiness was revealed;

After the feasting, rose the lament

In that morning-cry. The mighty king,

Their fine leader, sat there sorrowing.

The man suffered, mourning his thanes,

As they stared at the demon’s foul trail

Its strong poison lasting and lingering;

Nor had they long to wait for more,

Later, one night, Grendel again

Dealt more murder, without remorse,

His fate and fury held too fast to him.

Easy to find him who’d be elsewhere,

Seeking his slumber further away,

A bed among branches, when clear,

Truly told, all the tokens apparent,

Of the hall-seeker’s hatred; held himself

Further and safer in shunning the fiend.

So Grendel ruled, defying the right,

One against all, till the finest of houses

Stood deserted. Twelve winter-tides,

Long time, the lord of the Shieldings

Suffered in anguish, every woe,

Seas of sorrow. So it was known

To the sons of men, sung clearly

In bitter ballads, that Grendel wrought

Long against Hrothgar, in fierce enmity,

Fighting and feud, a host of seasons

In singular strife, refusing all truce

With any man of the massed Danes,

To forgo his fury, make reparation.

None of those counsellors expected

Recompense from the killer’s hands.

There the dark death-shade battened

On young and old, as he lay in wait

And set snares; in the night holding

The misty moors. No man knows

Where hell’s mysteries go roaming.

So the foe of mankind, lone walker,

Wrought many felonies, committed

Harsh hurts. He haunted Heorot,

The glittering hall, in the dark of night,

Prevented from nearing the gift-throne,

The Maker’s treasure he held no love for.

They were harsh times, heart-breaking

For the Shielding’s king. Many often sat,

Mighty in counsel, pondering a plan;

What bold-minded men might do best

To counteract the moments of terror.

Oftentimes they made sacred vows

At pagan shrines, offered up prayer

That some demon-slayer would grant

Aid to the people. Such were their ways,

Their heathen hopes. Hell they thought on,

In heart’s depths. They knew not the Maker,

The Judge of deeds, blind to the Lord God,

Nor honoured the Helm of the Heavens,

Wielder of Glory. Woe to the man

Who in his terror must give his soul

To the fire’s embrace, without hope

Of help or change. Blessed is the man

Who after death seeks for the Lord

Finding peace in his Father’s arms.

III:Lines:189-257:The Geats Take Ship

Over those troubles Halfdane’s son

Brooded endlessly, the wise hero

Mired in woe; too heavy the load,

Leaden, long, lay on the people,

Nerve-wracking, nauseous, night-evil.

Among the Geats, a thane to Hygelac,

Good Beowulf, heard of this Grendel.

He was one of the strongest of men,

In his day, in this life of ours,

Noble and powerful; he commanded

A boat be readied, saying he wished

To seek the king over the swan-road,

The great clan-leader who needed men.

His clear-headed followers endorsed

The venture, though he was dear to them.

Urging him on, and seeking omens.

As leader then he chose his comrades

From among the Geats, the bravest

Found. Fifteen in total boarded

The sea-vessel, hard by the shore,

He, their leader, skilled in ship-craft.

It took time, the ship in the waves,

Boat on the water under the cliffs,

Eager warriors climbed the prow,

Currents swirled, sea churned the sand,

Into the hold went bright weapons,

Gleaming battle-gear, then they sailed,

A willing crew, in a well-founded ship,

Over the waves, the wind behind them,

Foam before, and the vessel birdlike,

Till on the second day at the due time,

The curved prow ended its voyage,

And those seafarers sighted land,

Sunlit sea-cliffs, towering pillars,

Wide headlands, the crossing complete,

The journey done. They leapt ashore,

Those warriors, out of the Wedermark,

Moored the vessel, chain-mail clashed,

The fine war-gear; God be thanked

The path of the sea had proved calm.

From the wall the lookout saw them,

The Shielding who guarded the cliffs,

Saw shields glitter on the gang-plank,

Arms flourished, he determined

To know who these men were.

So he mounted and rode to the shore,

Throthgar’s thane, flourished his spear,

His great shaft of wood, asked formally:

‘Who are you, adorned with war-gear,

Clad in chain-mail, who sail the keel

Of your tall ship, cross the sea-lanes,

Here, over the water? Stationed here,

I am the watchman, ward of the coast

So that no enemy, come from the sea,

Might ravage these Danish lands.

Never so openly have men arrived,

Bearing lime-wood shields, lacking

The passwords our leaders granted;

Without their consent. Never have I

Seen a mightier lord of this earth,

Warrior in war-gear. You are no vassal,

Ennobled by battle, unless you alone

Belie all appearances! I must know

Your lineage now, lest you go on,

As men mistrusted, fare further

In the lands of the Danes. Now

Strangers, out of the sea, know

My one thought: it’s best to say

And quickly, where you hail from!’

IV:Lines:258-319:Their Arrival On The Shore

Their leader, the captain of the crew,

Answered, unlocked his word-hoard:

‘We are, by birth, of the Geat nation,

And are hearth-brethren to Hygelac:

My father was known among men,

A warrior in chief, named Ecgtheow

Worn by many a winter, till in old age

He passed from our halls. Remembered,

He, by the wise, throughout the world.

We came, determined to seek your lord,

The son of Halfdane, shield of the nation,

The people’s guard: so, guide us well.

We came on a great errand, to him,

Lord of the Danes, there is no need

I think for secrecy. You know if it is

Wholly true, as we have heard tell,

An unknown enemy, a hidden despoiler,

At dark of night, wreaks unseen havoc,

Among the Shieldings, deals uncanny

Slaughter and suffering. I can offer,

Wholehearted counsel to Hrothgar,

How the wise and good may defeat

This fiend, if he would seek respite

From a weight of sorrows hereafter,

And be free of overwhelming care,

Or else endure, unending torment,

Terrible troubles, as long as Heorot,

The finest of houses, stands on high!’

The watchman, unhesitating, spoke,

From horseback: ‘Every shield-man

Of sense knows how to distinguish

Words and deeds, by judging rightly.

I witness here: this troop is loyal

To the lord of the Shieldings: go with

Arms and armour: I will guide you.

Moreover, I will order my comrades

To guard your ship against enemies,

Fresh-tarred, down on the sands,

Defend it with honour, until it bears

The beloved hero, over ocean stream,

Its curved prow turning to Wedermark.

To the doer of fine deeds it is given

To survive the fierce onslaught whole.’

So they fared on their way. The ship lay still,

Hanging over the sands, broad of beam,

Anchor-fast. Figures of boars flashed

Over cheek-guards, forged with gold,

Fair and fire-hardened, life-defending.

The warriors roused, marched in step,

Hurried, till they saw the timbered hall,

Shining with gold, rise before them.

That was the foremost house for mortals

Of all king’s halls under the heavens,

Its light shone out over many lands.

So then their fierce escort led them

Straight to that glorious court

Of noble men. The worthy warrior

Wheeled his steed, spoke these words:

‘Now I must leave you. May the Father

Of Grace, the Almighty, keep you safe

In your errand. I go to watch the sea

To keep guard against cruel foes.’