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.
- XXI:Lines:1383-1472:The Mere
- XXII:Lines:1473-1556:Grendel’s Dam
- XXIII:Lines:1557-1599:Beowulf’s Victory
- XXIV:Lines:1600-1650:His Return
- XXV:Lines: 1651-1739:The Deed Re-Told
- XXVI:Lines: 1740-1816:Hrothgar’s Speech
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.
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.
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.
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.