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Beowulf in modern English, translated by Seamus Heaney, Beowulf (6)

Gifts presented, including a torque: Beowulf will present it in due course to King Hygelac, who will die wearing it

The cup was carried to him, kind words

spoken in welcome and a wealth of wrought gold

graciously bestowed: two arm bangles,

a mail-shirt and rings, and the most resplendent

torque of gold I ever heard tell of

anywhere on earth or under heaven.

There was no hoard like it since Hama snatched

the Brosings' neck-chain and bore it away

with its gems and settings to his shining fort,

away from Eormenric's wiles and hatred,

and thereby ensured his eternal reward.

Hygelac the Geat, grandson of Swerting,

wore this neck-ring on his last raid;

at bay under his banner, he defended the booty,

treasure he had won. Fate swept him away

because of his proud need to provoke

a feud with the Frisians. He fell beneath his shield,

in the same gem-crusted, kingly gear

he had worn when he crossed the frothing wave-vat.

So the dead king fell into Frankish hands.

They took his breast-mail, also his neck-torque,

and punier warriors plundered the slain

when the carnage ended; Geat corpses

covered the field.

Applause filled the hall.

Then Wealhtheow pronounced in the presence of the company:

“Take delight in this torque, dear Beowulf,

wear it for luck and wear also this mail

from our people's armoury: may you prosper in them!

Be acclaimed for strength, for kindly guidance

to these two boys, and your bounty will be sure.

You have won renown: you are known to all men

far and near, now and forever.

Your sway is wide as the wind's home,

as the sea around cliffs. And so, my prince,

I wish you a lifetime's luck and blessings

to enjoy this treasure. Treat my sons

with tender care, be strong and kind.

Here each comrade is true to the other,

loyal to lord, loving in spirit.

The thanes have one purpose, the people are ready:

having drunk and pledged, the ranks do as I bid.”

Bedtime in Heorot

She moved then to her place. Men were drinking wine

at that rare feast; how could they know fate,

the grim shape of things to come,

the threat looming over many thanes

as night approached and King Hrothgar prepared

to retire to his quarters? Retainers in great numbers

were posted on guard as so often in the past.

Benches were pushed back, bedding gear and bolsters

spread across the floor, and one man

lay down to his rest, already marked for death.

At their heads they placed their polished timber

battle-shields; and on the bench above them,

each man's kit was kept to hand:

a towering war-helmet, webbed mail-shirt

and great-shafted spear. It was their habit

always and everywhere to be ready for action,

at home or in the camp, in whatever case

and at whatever time the need arose

to rally round their lord. They were a right people.

Another threat is lurking in the night

They went to sleep. And one paid dearly

for his night's ease, as had happened to them often,

ever since Grendel occupied the gold-hall,

committing evil until the end came,

death after his crimes. Then it became clear,

obvious to everyone once the fight was over,

that an avenger lurked and was still alive,

grimly biding time. Grendel's mother,

monstrous hell-bride, brooded on her wrongs.

She had been forced down into fearful waters,

the cold depths, after Cain had killed

his father's son, felled his own

brother with a sword. Branded an outlaw,

marked by having murdered, he moved into the wilds,

shunned company and joy. And from Cain there sprang

misbegotten spirits, among them Grendel,

the banished and accursed, due to come to grips

with that watcher in Heorot waiting to do battle.

The monster wrenched and wrestled with him

but Beowulf was mindful of his mighty strength,

the wondrous gifts God had showered on him:

He relied for help on the Lord of All,

on His care and favour. So he overcame the foe,

brought down the hell-brute. Broken and bowed,

outcast from all sweetness, the enemy of mankind

made for his death-den. But now his mother

had sallied forth on a savage journey,

grief-racked and ravenous, desperate for revenge.

Grendel's mother attacks

She came to Heorot. There, inside the hall,

Danes lay asleep, earls who would soon endure

a great reversal, once Grendel's mother

attacked and entered. Her onslaught was less

only by as much as an amazon warrior's

strength is less than an armed man's

when the hefted sword, its hammered edge

and gleaming blade slathered in blood,

razes the sturdy boar-ridge off a helmet.

Then in the hall, hard-honed swords

were grabbed from the bench, many a broad shield

lifted and braced; there was little thought of helmets

or woven mail when they woke in terror.

The hell-dam was in panic, desperate to get out,

in mortal terror the moment she was found.

She had pounced and taken one of the retainers

in a tight hold, then headed for the fen.

To Hrothgar, this man was the most beloved

of the friends he trusted between the two seas.

She had done away with a great warrior,

ambushed him at rest.

Beowulf was elsewhere.

Earlier, after the award of the treasure,

the Geat had been given another lodging.

There was uproar in Heorot. She had snatched their trophy,

Grendel's bloodied hand. It was a fresh blow

to the afflicted bawn. The bargain was hard,

both parties having to pay

with the lives of friends. And the old lord,

the grey-haired warrior, was heartsore and weary

when he heard the news: his highest-placed adviser,

his dearest companion, was dead and gone.

Beowulf is summoned

Beowulf was quickly brought to the chamber:

the winner of fights, the arch-warrior,

came first-footing in with his fellow troops

to where the king in his wisdom waited,

still wondering whether Almighty God

would ever turn the tide of his misfortunes.

So Beowulf entered with his band in attendance

and the wooden floor-boards banged and rang

as he advanced, hurrying to address the prince of

the Ingwins, asking if he'd rested

since the urgent summons had come as a surprise.

Hrothgar laments the death of his counsellor. He knows Grendel's mother must avenge her son

Then Hrothgar, the Shieldings' helmet, spoke:

“Rest? What is rest? Sorrow has returned.

Alas for the Danes! Aeschere is dead.

He was Yrmenlaf's elder brother

and a soul-mate to me, a true mentor,

my right-hand man when the ranks clashed

and our boar-crests had to take a battering

in the line of action. Aeschere was everything

the world admires in a wise man and a friend.

Then this roaming killer came in a fury

and slaughtered him in Heorot. Where she is hiding,

glutting on the corpse and glorying in her escape,

I cannot tell; she has taken up the feud

because of last night, when you killed Grendel,

wrestled and racked him in ruinous combat

since for too long he had terrorized us

with his depredations. He died in battle,

paid with his life; and now this powerful

other one arrives, this force for evil

driven to avenge her kinsman's death.

Or so it seems to thanes in their grief,

in the anguish every thane endures

at the loss of a ring-giver, now

that the hand that bestowed so richly has been stilled in death.

The country people's tales about the monsters

“I have heard it said by my people in hall,

counsellors who live in the upland country,

that they have seen two such creatures

prowling the moors, huge marauders

from some other world. One of these things,

as far as anyone ever can discern,

looks like a woman; the other, warped

in the shape of a man, moves beyond the pale

bigger than any man, an unnatural birth

called Grendel by country people

in former days. They are fatherless creatures,

and their whole ancestry is hidden in a past

of demons and ghosts. They dwell apart

among wolves on the hills, on windswept crags

and treacherous keshes, where cold streams

pour down the mountain and disappear

under mist and moorland.

The haunted mere

A few miles from here

a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch

above a mere; the overhanging bank

is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface.

At night there, something uncanny happens:

the water burns. And the mere bottom

has never been sounded by the sons of men.

On its bank, the heather-stepper halts:

the hart in flight from pursuing hounds

will turn to face them with firm-set horns

and die in the wood rather than dive

beneath its surface. That is no good place.

When wind blows up and stormy weather

makes clouds scud and the skies weep,

out of its depths a dirty surge

is pitched towards the heavens. Now help depends

again on you and on you alone.

The gap of danger where the demon waits

is still unknown to you. Seek it if you dare.

I will compensate you for settling the feud

as I did the last time with lavish wealth,

coffers of coiled gold, if you come back.”

Beowulf bolsters Hrothgar's courage. He proclaims the heroic code that guides their lives

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better

to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.

For every one of us, living in this world

means waiting for our end. Let whoever can

win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,

that will be his best and only bulwark.

So arise, my lord, and let us immediately

set forth on the trail of this troll-dam.

I guarantee you: she will not get away,

not to dens under ground nor upland groves

nor the ocean floor. She'll have nowhere to flee to.

Endure your troubles to-day. Bear up

and be the man I expect you to be.”

The expedition to the mere

With that the old lord sprang to his feet

and praised God for Beowulf's pledge.

Then a bit and halter were brought for his horse

with the plaited mane. The wise king mounted

the royal saddle and rode out in style

with a force of shield-bearers. The forest paths

were marked all over with the monster's tracks,

her trail on the ground wherever she had gone

across the dark moors, dragging away

the body of that thane, Hrothgar's best

counsellor and overseer of the country.

So the noble prince proceeded undismayed

up fells and screes, along narrow footpaths

and ways where they were forced into single file,

ledges on cliffs above lairs of water-monsters.

He went in front with a few men,

good judges of the lie of the land,

and suddenly discovered the dismal wood,

mountain trees growing out at an angle

above grey stones: the bloodshot water

surged underneath. It was a sore blow

to all of the Danes, friends of the Shieldings,

a hurt to each and every one

of that noble company when they came upon

Aeschere's head at the foot of the cliff.

Everybody gazed as the hot gore

kept wallowing up and an urgent war-horn

repeated its notes: the whole party

sat down to watch. The water was infested

with all kinds of reptiles. There were writhing sea-dragons

and monsters slouching on slopes by the cliff,

serpents and wild things such as those that often

surface at dawn to roam the sail-road

and doom the voyage. Down they plunged,

ashing in anger at the loud call

of the battle-bugle. An arrow from the bow

of the Geat chief got one of them

as he surged to the surface: the seasoned shaft

stuck deep in his flank and his freedom in the water

got less and less. It was his last swim.

He was swiftly overwhelmed in the shallows,

prodded by barbed boar-spears,

cornered, beaten, pulled up on the bank,

a strange lake-birth, a loathsome catch

men gazed at in awe.


Gifts presented, including a torque: Beowulf will present it in due course to King Hygelac, who will die wearing it

The cup was carried to him, kind words

spoken in welcome and a wealth of wrought gold

graciously bestowed: two arm bangles,

a mail-shirt and rings, and the most resplendent

torque of gold I ever heard tell of

anywhere on earth or under heaven.

There was no hoard like it since Hama snatched

the Brosings' neck-chain and bore it away

with its gems and settings to his shining fort,

away from Eormenric's wiles and hatred,

and thereby ensured his eternal reward.

Hygelac the Geat, grandson of Swerting,

wore this neck-ring on his last raid;

at bay under his banner, he defended the booty,

treasure he had won. Fate swept him away

because of his proud need to provoke

a feud with the Frisians. He fell beneath his shield,

in the same gem-crusted, kingly gear

he had worn when he crossed the frothing wave-vat.

So the dead king fell into Frankish hands.

They took his breast-mail, also his neck-torque,

and punier warriors plundered the slain

when the carnage ended; Geat corpses

covered the field.

Applause filled the hall.

Then Wealhtheow pronounced in the presence of the company:

“Take delight in this torque, dear Beowulf,

wear it for luck and wear also this mail

from our people's armoury: may you prosper in them!

Be acclaimed for strength, for kindly guidance

to these two boys, and your bounty will be sure.

You have won renown: you are known to all men

far and near, now and forever.

Your sway is wide as the wind's home,

as the sea around cliffs. And so, my prince,

I wish you a lifetime's luck and blessings

to enjoy this treasure. Treat my sons

with tender care, be strong and kind.

Here each comrade is true to the other,

loyal to lord, loving in spirit.

The thanes have one purpose, the people are ready:

having drunk and pledged, the ranks do as I bid.”

Bedtime in Heorot

She moved then to her place. Men were drinking wine

at that rare feast; how could they know fate,

the grim shape of things to come,

the threat looming over many thanes

as night approached and King Hrothgar prepared

to retire to his quarters? Retainers in great numbers

were posted on guard as so often in the past.

Benches were pushed back, bedding gear and bolsters

spread across the floor, and one man

lay down to his rest, already marked for death.

At their heads they placed their polished timber

battle-shields; and on the bench above them,

each man's kit was kept to hand:

a towering war-helmet, webbed mail-shirt

and great-shafted spear. It was their habit

always and everywhere to be ready for action,

at home or in the camp, in whatever case

and at whatever time the need arose

to rally round their lord. They were a right people.

Another threat is lurking in the night

They went to sleep. And one paid dearly

for his night's ease, as had happened to them often,

ever since Grendel occupied the gold-hall,

committing evil until the end came,

death after his crimes. Then it became clear,

obvious to everyone once the fight was over,

that an avenger lurked and was still alive,

grimly biding time. Grendel's mother,

monstrous hell-bride, brooded on her wrongs.

She had been forced down into fearful waters,

the cold depths, after Cain had killed

his father's son, felled his own

brother with a sword. Branded an outlaw,

marked by having murdered, he moved into the wilds,

shunned company and joy. And from Cain there sprang

misbegotten spirits, among them Grendel,

the banished and accursed, due to come to grips

with that watcher in Heorot waiting to do battle.

The monster wrenched and wrestled with him

but Beowulf was mindful of his mighty strength,

the wondrous gifts God had showered on him:

He relied for help on the Lord of All,

on His care and favour. So he overcame the foe,

brought down the hell-brute. Broken and bowed,

outcast from all sweetness, the enemy of mankind

made for his death-den. But now his mother

had sallied forth on a savage journey,

grief-racked and ravenous, desperate for revenge.

Grendel's mother attacks

She came to Heorot. There, inside the hall,

Danes lay asleep, earls who would soon endure

a great reversal, once Grendel's mother

attacked and entered. Her onslaught was less

only by as much as an amazon warrior's

strength is less than an armed man's

when the hefted sword, its hammered edge

and gleaming blade slathered in blood,

razes the sturdy boar-ridge off a helmet.

Then in the hall, hard-honed swords

were grabbed from the bench, many a broad shield

lifted and braced; there was little thought of helmets

or woven mail when they woke in terror.

The hell-dam was in panic, desperate to get out,

in mortal terror the moment she was found.

She had pounced and taken one of the retainers

in a tight hold, then headed for the fen.

To Hrothgar, this man was the most beloved

of the friends he trusted between the two seas.

She had done away with a great warrior,

ambushed him at rest.

Beowulf was elsewhere.

Earlier, after the award of the treasure,

the Geat had been given another lodging.

There was uproar in Heorot. She had snatched their trophy,

Grendel's bloodied hand. It was a fresh blow

to the afflicted bawn. The bargain was hard,

both parties having to pay

with the lives of friends. And the old lord,

the grey-haired warrior, was heartsore and weary

when he heard the news: his highest-placed adviser,

his dearest companion, was dead and gone.

Beowulf is summoned

Beowulf was quickly brought to the chamber:

the winner of fights, the arch-warrior,

came first-footing in with his fellow troops

to where the king in his wisdom waited,

still wondering whether Almighty God

would ever turn the tide of his misfortunes.

So Beowulf entered with his band in attendance

and the wooden floor-boards banged and rang

as he advanced, hurrying to address the prince of

the Ingwins, asking if he'd rested

since the urgent summons had come as a surprise.

Hrothgar laments the death of his counsellor. He knows Grendel's mother must avenge her son

Then Hrothgar, the Shieldings' helmet, spoke:

“Rest? What is rest? Sorrow has returned.

Alas for the Danes! Aeschere is dead.

He was Yrmenlaf's elder brother

and a soul-mate to me, a true mentor,

my right-hand man when the ranks clashed

and our boar-crests had to take a battering

in the line of action. Aeschere was everything

the world admires in a wise man and a friend.

Then this roaming killer came in a fury

and slaughtered him in Heorot. Where she is hiding,

glutting on the corpse and glorying in her escape,

I cannot tell; she has taken up the feud

because of last night, when you killed Grendel,

wrestled and racked him in ruinous combat

since for too long he had terrorized us

with his depredations. He died in battle,

paid with his life; and now this powerful

other one arrives, this force for evil

driven to avenge her kinsman's death.

Or so it seems to thanes in their grief,

in the anguish every thane endures

at the loss of a ring-giver, now

that the hand that bestowed so richly has been stilled in death.

The country people's tales about the monsters

“I have heard it said by my people in hall,

counsellors who live in the upland country,

that they have seen two such creatures

prowling the moors, huge marauders

from some other world. One of these things,

as far as anyone ever can discern,

looks like a woman; the other, warped

in the shape of a man, moves beyond the pale

bigger than any man, an unnatural birth

called Grendel by country people

in former days. They are fatherless creatures,

and their whole ancestry is hidden in a past

of demons and ghosts. They dwell apart

among wolves on the hills, on windswept crags

and treacherous keshes, where cold streams

pour down the mountain and disappear

under mist and moorland.

The haunted mere

A few miles from here

a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch

above a mere; the overhanging bank

is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface.

At night there, something uncanny happens:

the water burns. And the mere bottom

has never been sounded by the sons of men.

On its bank, the heather-stepper halts:

the hart in flight from pursuing hounds

will turn to face them with firm-set horns

and die in the wood rather than dive

beneath its surface. That is no good place.

When wind blows up and stormy weather

makes clouds scud and the skies weep,

out of its depths a dirty surge

is pitched towards the heavens. Now help depends

again on you and on you alone.

The gap of danger where the demon waits

is still unknown to you. Seek it if you dare.

I will compensate you for settling the feud

as I did the last time with lavish wealth,

coffers of coiled gold, if you come back.”

Beowulf bolsters Hrothgar's courage. He proclaims the heroic code that guides their lives

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better

to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.

For every one of us, living in this world

means waiting for our end. Let whoever can

win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,

that will be his best and only bulwark.

So arise, my lord, and let us immediately

set forth on the trail of this troll-dam.

I guarantee you: she will not get away,

not to dens under ground nor upland groves

nor the ocean floor. She'll have nowhere to flee to.

Endure your troubles to-day. Bear up

and be the man I expect you to be.”

The expedition to the mere

With that the old lord sprang to his feet

and praised God for Beowulf's pledge.

Then a bit and halter were brought for his horse

with the plaited mane. The wise king mounted

the royal saddle and rode out in style

with a force of shield-bearers. The forest paths

were marked all over with the monster's tracks,

her trail on the ground wherever she had gone

across the dark moors, dragging away

the body of that thane, Hrothgar's best

counsellor and overseer of the country.

So the noble prince proceeded undismayed

up fells and screes, along narrow footpaths

and ways where they were forced into single file,

ledges on cliffs above lairs of water-monsters.

He went in front with a few men,

good judges of the lie of the land,

and suddenly discovered the dismal wood,

mountain trees growing out at an angle

above grey stones: the bloodshot water

surged underneath. It was a sore blow

to all of the Danes, friends of the Shieldings,

a hurt to each and every one

of that noble company when they came upon

Aeschere's head at the foot of the cliff.

Everybody gazed as the hot gore

kept wallowing up and an urgent war-horn

repeated its notes: the whole party

sat down to watch. The water was infested

with all kinds of reptiles. There were writhing sea-dragons

and monsters slouching on slopes by the cliff,

serpents and wild things such as those that often

surface at dawn to roam the sail-road

and doom the voyage. Down they plunged,

ashing in anger at the loud call

of the battle-bugle. An arrow from the bow

of the Geat chief got one of them

as he surged to the surface: the seasoned shaft

stuck deep in his flank and his freedom in the water

got less and less. It was his last swim.

He was swiftly overwhelmed in the shallows,

prodded by barbed boar-spears,

cornered, beaten, pulled up on the bank,

a strange lake-birth, a loathsome catch

men gazed at in awe.