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Beowulf in modern English, translated by Seamus Heaney, Beowulf (4)

No weapons, therefore,

for either this night: unarmed he shall face me

if face me he dares. And may the Divine Lord

in His wisdom grant the glory of victory

to whichever side He sees fit.”

The Geats await Grendel's attack

Then down the brave man lay with his bolster

under his head and his whole company

of sea-rovers at rest beside him.

None of them expected he would ever see

his homeland again or get back

to his native place and the people who reared him.

They knew too well the way it was before,

how often the Danes had fallen prey

to death in the mead-hall. But the Lord was weaving

a victory on His war-loom for the Weather-Geats.

Through the strength of one they all prevailed;

they would crush their enemy and come through

in triumph and gladness. The truth is clear:

Almighty God rules over mankind

and always has.

Then out of the night

came the shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift;

the hall-guards were slack, asleep at their posts,

all except one; it was widely understood

that as long as God disallowed it,

the fiend could not bear them to his shadow-bourne.

One man, however, was in fighting mood,

awake and on edge, spoiling for action.

Grendel strikes

In off the moors, down through the mist bands

God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.

The bane of the race of men roamed forth,

hunting for a prey in the high hall.

Under the cloud-murk he moved towards it

until it shone above him, a sheer keep

of fortified gold. Nor was that the first time

he had scouted the grounds of Hrothgar's dwelling—

although never in his life, before or since,

did he find harder fortune or hall-defenders.

Spurned and joyless, he journeyed on ahead

and arrived at the bawn. The iron-braced door

turned on its hinge when his hands touched it.

Then his rage boiled over, he ripped open

the mouth of the building, maddening for blood,

pacing the length of the patterned floor

with his loathsome tread, while a baleful light,

flame more than light, flared from his eyes.

He saw many men in the mansion, sleeping,

a ranked company of kinsmen and warriors

quartered together. And his glee was demonic,

picturing the mayhem: before morning

he would rip life from limb and devour them,

feed on their flesh; but his fate that night

was due to change, his days of ravening

had come to an end.

A Geat warrior perishes

Mighty and canny,

Hygelac's kinsman was keenly watching

for the first move the monster would make.

Nor did the creature keep him waiting

but struck suddenly and started in;

he grabbed and mauled a man on his bench,

bit into his bone-lappings, bolted down his blood

and gorged on him in lumps, leaving the body

utterly lifeless, eaten up

hand and foot. Venturing closer,

his talon was raised to attack Beowulf

where he lay on the bed; he was bearing in

with open claw when the alert hero's

comeback and armlock forestalled him utterly.

Beowulf's fight with Grendel

The captain of evil discovered himself

in a handgrip harder than anything

he had ever encountered in any man

on the face of the earth. Every bone in his body

quailed and recoiled, but he could not escape.

He was desperate to flee to his den and hide

with the devil's litter, for in all his days

he had never been clamped or cornered like this.

Then Hygelac's trusty retainer recalled

his bedtime speech, sprang to his feet

and got a firm hold. Fingers were bursting,

the monster back-tracking, the man overpowering.

The dread of the land was desperate

to escape, to take a roundabout road and flee

to his lair in the fens. The latching power

in his fingers weakened; it was the worst trip

the terror-monger had taken to Heorot.

And now the timbers trembled and sang,

a hall-session that harrowed every Dane

inside the stockade: stumbling in fury,

the two contenders crashed through the building.

The hall clattered and hammered, but somehow

survived the onslaught and kept standing:

it was handsomely structured, a sturdy frame

braced with the best of blacksmith's work

inside and out. The story goes

that as the pair struggled, mead-benches were smashed

and sprung off the floor, gold fittings and all.

Before then, no Shielding elder would believe

there was any power or person upon earth

capable of wrecking their horn-rigged hall

unless the burning embrace of a fire

engulf it in flame. Then an extraordinary

wail arose, and bewildering fear

came over the Danes. Everyone felt it

who heard that cry as it echoed off the wall,

a God-cursed scream and strain of catastrophe,

the howl of the loser, the lament of the hell-serf

keening his wound. He was overwhelmed,

manacled tight by the man who of all men

was foremost and strongest in the days of this life.

Beowulf's thanes defend him

But the earl-troop's leader was not inclined

to allow his caller to depart alive:

he did not consider that life of much account

to anyone anywhere. Time and again,

Beowulf's warriors worked to defend

their lord's life, laying about them

as best they could with their ancestral blades.

Stalwart in action, they kept striking out

on every side, seeking to cut

straight to the soul. When they joined the struggle

there was something they could not have known at the time,

that no blade on earth, no blacksmith's art

could ever damage their demon opponent.

He had conjured the harm from the cutting edge

of every weapon. But his going away

out of this world and the days of his life

would be agony to him, and his alien spirit

would travel far into fiends' keeping.

Grendel is defeated, Beowulf fulfils his boast

Then he who had harrowed the hearts of men

with pain and affliction in former times

and had given offence also to God

found that his bodily powers failed him.

Hygelac's kinsman kept him helplessly

locked in a handgrip. As long as either lived,

he was hateful to the other. The monster's whole

body was in pain, a tremendous wound

appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split

and the bone-lappings burst. Beowulf was granted

the glory of winning; Grendel was driven

under the fen-banks, fatally hurt,

to his desolate lair. His days were numbered,

the end of his life was coming over him,

he knew it for certain; and one bloody clash

had fulfilled the dearest wishes of the Danes.

The man who had lately landed among them,

proud and sure, had purged the hall,

kept it from harm; he was happy with his nightwork

and the courage he had shown. The Geat captain

had boldly fulfilled his boast to the Danes:

he had healed and relieved a huge distress,

unremitting humiliations,

the hard fate they'd been forced to undergo,

no small affliction. Clear proof of this

could be seen in the hand the hero displayed

high up near the roof: the whole of Grendel's

shoulder and arm, his awesome grasp.

The morning after: relief and rejoicings

Then morning came and many a warrior

gathered, as I've heard, around the gift-hall,

clan-chiefs flocking from far and near

down wide-ranging roads, wondering greatly

at the monster's footprints. His fatal departure

was regretted by no-one who witnessed his trail,

the ignominious marks of his flight

where he'd skulked away, exhausted in spirit

and beaten in battle, bloodying the path,

hauling his doom to the demons' mere.

The bloodshot water wallowed and surged,

there were loathsome upthrows and overturnings

of waves and gore and wound-slurry.

With his death upon him, he had dived deep

into his marsh-den, drowned out his life

and his heathen soul: hell claimed him there.

Then away they rode, the old retainers

with many a young man following after,

a troop on horseback, in high spirits

on their bay steeds. Beowulf's doings

were praised over and over again.

Nowhere, they said, north or south

between the two seas or under the tall sky

on the broad earth was there anyone better

to raise a shield or to rule a kingdom.

Yet there was no laying of blame on their lord,

the noble Hrothgar; he was a good king.

Hrothgar's minstrel sings about Beowulf

At times the war-band broke into a gallop,

letting their chestnut horses race

wherever they found the going good

on those well-known tracks. Meanwhile, a thane

of the king's household, a carrier of tales,

a traditional singer deeply schooled

in the lore of the past, linked a new theme

to a strict metre. The man started

to recite with skill, rehearsing Beowulf's

triumphs and feats in well-fashioned lines,

entwining his words.

The tale of Sigemund, the dragon-slayer. Appropriate for Beowulf, who has defeated Grendel

He told what he'd heard

repeated in songs about Sigemund's exploits,

all of those many feats and marvels,

the struggles and wanderings of Waels's son,

things unknown to anyone

except to Fitela, feuds and foul doings

confided by uncle to nephew when he felt

the urge to speak of them: always they had been

partners in the fight, friends in need.

They killed giants, their conquering swords

had brought them down.

After his death Sigemund's glory grew and grew

because of his courage when he killed the dragon,

the guardian of the hoard. Under grey stone

he had dared to enter all by himself

to face the worst without Fitela.

But it came to pass that his sword plunged

right through those radiant scales

and drove into the wall. The dragon died of it.

His daring had given him total possession

of the treasure hoard, his to dispose of

however he liked. He loaded a boat:

Waels's son weighted her hold

with dazzling spoils. The hot dragon melted.

King Heremod remembered and contrasted with Beowulf

Sigemund's name was known everywhere.

He was utterly valiant and venturesome,

a fence round his fighters and flourished therefore

after King Heremod's prowess declined

and his campaigns slowed down. The king was betrayed,

ambushed in Jutland, overpowered

and done away with. The waves of his grief

had beaten him down, made him a burden,

a source of anxiety to his own nobles:

that expedition was often condemned

in those earlier times by experienced men,

men who relied on his lordship for redress,

who presumed that the part of a prince was to thrive

on his father's throne and defend the nation,

the Shielding land where they lived and belonged,

its holdings and strongholds. Such was Beowulf

in the affection of his friends and of everyone alive.

But evil entered into Heremod.

Meanwhile, the Danes kept racing their mounts

down sandy lanes. The light of day

broke and kept brightening. Bands of retainers

galloped in excitement to the gabled hall

to see the marvel; and the king himself,

guardian of the ring-hoard, goodness in person,

walked in majesty from the women's quarters

with a numerous train, attended by his queen

and her crowd of maidens, across to the mead-hall.

King Hrothgar gives thanks for the relief of Heorot and adopts Beowulf “in his heart”

When Hrothgar arrived at the hall, he spoke,

standing on the steps, under the steep eaves,

gazing at the roofwork and Grendel's talon:

“First and foremost, let the Almighty Father

be thanked for this sight. I suffered a long

harrowing by Grendel. But the Heavenly Shepherd

can work His wonders always and everywhere.

Not long since, it seemed I would never

be granted the slightest solace or relief

from any of my burdens: the best of houses

glittered and reeked and ran with blood.

This one worry outweighed all others—

a constant distress to counsellors entrusted

with defending the people's forts from assault

by monsters and demons. But now a man,

with the Lord's assistance, has accomplished something

none of us could manage before now

for all our efforts.


No weapons, therefore,

for either this night: unarmed he shall face me

if face me he dares. And may the Divine Lord

in His wisdom grant the glory of victory

to whichever side He sees fit.”

The Geats await Grendel's attack

Then down the brave man lay with his bolster

under his head and his whole company

of sea-rovers at rest beside him.

None of them expected he would ever see

his homeland again or get back

to his native place and the people who reared him.

They knew too well the way it was before,

how often the Danes had fallen prey

to death in the mead-hall. But the Lord was weaving

a victory on His war-loom for the Weather-Geats.

Through the strength of one they all prevailed;

they would crush their enemy and come through

in triumph and gladness. The truth is clear:

Almighty God rules over mankind

and always has.

Then out of the night

came the shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift;

the hall-guards were slack, asleep at their posts,

all except one; it was widely understood

that as long as God disallowed it,

the fiend could not bear them to his shadow-bourne.

One man, however, was in fighting mood,

awake and on edge, spoiling for action.

Grendel strikes

In off the moors, down through the mist bands

God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.

The bane of the race of men roamed forth,

hunting for a prey in the high hall.

Under the cloud-murk he moved towards it

until it shone above him, a sheer keep

of fortified gold. Nor was that the first time

he had scouted the grounds of Hrothgar's dwelling—

although never in his life, before or since,

did he find harder fortune or hall-defenders.

Spurned and joyless, he journeyed on ahead

and arrived at the bawn. The iron-braced door

turned on its hinge when his hands touched it.

Then his rage boiled over, he ripped open

the mouth of the building, maddening for blood,

pacing the length of the patterned floor

with his loathsome tread, while a baleful light,

flame more than light, flared from his eyes.

He saw many men in the mansion, sleeping,

a ranked company of kinsmen and warriors

quartered together. And his glee was demonic,

picturing the mayhem: before morning

he would rip life from limb and devour them,

feed on their flesh; but his fate that night

was due to change, his days of ravening

had come to an end.

A Geat warrior perishes

Mighty and canny,

Hygelac's kinsman was keenly watching

for the first move the monster would make.

Nor did the creature keep him waiting

but struck suddenly and started in;

he grabbed and mauled a man on his bench,

bit into his bone-lappings, bolted down his blood

and gorged on him in lumps, leaving the body

utterly lifeless, eaten up

hand and foot. Venturing closer,

his talon was raised to attack Beowulf

where he lay on the bed; he was bearing in

with open claw when the alert hero's

comeback and armlock forestalled him utterly.

Beowulf's fight with Grendel

The captain of evil discovered himself

in a handgrip harder than anything

he had ever encountered in any man

on the face of the earth. Every bone in his body

quailed and recoiled, but he could not escape.

He was desperate to flee to his den and hide

with the devil's litter, for in all his days

he had never been clamped or cornered like this.

Then Hygelac's trusty retainer recalled

his bedtime speech, sprang to his feet

and got a firm hold. Fingers were bursting,

the monster back-tracking, the man overpowering.

The dread of the land was desperate

to escape, to take a roundabout road and flee

to his lair in the fens. The latching power

in his fingers weakened; it was the worst trip

the terror-monger had taken to Heorot.

And now the timbers trembled and sang,

a hall-session that harrowed every Dane

inside the stockade: stumbling in fury,

the two contenders crashed through the building.

The hall clattered and hammered, but somehow

survived the onslaught and kept standing:

it was handsomely structured, a sturdy frame

braced with the best of blacksmith's work

inside and out. The story goes

that as the pair struggled, mead-benches were smashed

and sprung off the floor, gold fittings and all.

Before then, no Shielding elder would believe

there was any power or person upon earth

capable of wrecking their horn-rigged hall

unless the burning embrace of a fire

engulf it in flame. Then an extraordinary

wail arose, and bewildering fear

came over the Danes. Everyone felt it

who heard that cry as it echoed off the wall,

a God-cursed scream and strain of catastrophe,

the howl of the loser, the lament of the hell-serf

keening his wound. He was overwhelmed,

manacled tight by the man who of all men

was foremost and strongest in the days of this life.

Beowulf's thanes defend him

But the earl-troop's leader was not inclined

to allow his caller to depart alive:

he did not consider that life of much account

to anyone anywhere. Time and again,

Beowulf's warriors worked to defend

their lord's life, laying about them

as best they could with their ancestral blades.

Stalwart in action, they kept striking out

on every side, seeking to cut

straight to the soul. When they joined the struggle

there was something they could not have known at the time,

that no blade on earth, no blacksmith's art

could ever damage their demon opponent.

He had conjured the harm from the cutting edge

of every weapon. But his going away

out of this world and the days of his life

would be agony to him, and his alien spirit

would travel far into fiends' keeping.

Grendel is defeated, Beowulf fulfils his boast

Then he who had harrowed the hearts of men

with pain and affliction in former times

and had given offence also to God

found that his bodily powers failed him.

Hygelac's kinsman kept him helplessly

locked in a handgrip. As long as either lived,

he was hateful to the other. The monster's whole

body was in pain, a tremendous wound

appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split

and the bone-lappings burst. Beowulf was granted

the glory of winning; Grendel was driven

under the fen-banks, fatally hurt,

to his desolate lair. His days were numbered,

the end of his life was coming over him,

he knew it for certain; and one bloody clash

had fulfilled the dearest wishes of the Danes.

The man who had lately landed among them,

proud and sure, had purged the hall,

kept it from harm; he was happy with his nightwork

and the courage he had shown. The Geat captain

had boldly fulfilled his boast to the Danes:

he had healed and relieved a huge distress,

unremitting humiliations,

the hard fate they'd been forced to undergo,

no small affliction. Clear proof of this

could be seen in the hand the hero displayed

high up near the roof: the whole of Grendel's

shoulder and arm, his awesome grasp.

The morning after: relief and rejoicings

Then morning came and many a warrior

gathered, as I've heard, around the gift-hall,

clan-chiefs flocking from far and near

down wide-ranging roads, wondering greatly

at the monster's footprints. His fatal departure

was regretted by no-one who witnessed his trail,

the ignominious marks of his flight

where he'd skulked away, exhausted in spirit

and beaten in battle, bloodying the path,

hauling his doom to the demons' mere.

The bloodshot water wallowed and surged,

there were loathsome upthrows and overturnings

of waves and gore and wound-slurry.

With his death upon him, he had dived deep

into his marsh-den, drowned out his life

and his heathen soul: hell claimed him there.

Then away they rode, the old retainers

with many a young man following after,

a troop on horseback, in high spirits

on their bay steeds. Beowulf's doings

were praised over and over again.

Nowhere, they said, north or south

between the two seas or under the tall sky

on the broad earth was there anyone better

to raise a shield or to rule a kingdom.

Yet there was no laying of blame on their lord,

the noble Hrothgar; he was a good king.

Hrothgar's minstrel sings about Beowulf

At times the war-band broke into a gallop,

letting their chestnut horses race

wherever they found the going good

on those well-known tracks. Meanwhile, a thane

of the king's household, a carrier of tales,

a traditional singer deeply schooled

in the lore of the past, linked a new theme

to a strict metre. The man started

to recite with skill, rehearsing Beowulf's

triumphs and feats in well-fashioned lines,

entwining his words.

The tale of Sigemund, the dragon-slayer. Appropriate for Beowulf, who has defeated Grendel

He told what he'd heard

repeated in songs about Sigemund's exploits,

all of those many feats and marvels,

the struggles and wanderings of Waels's son,

things unknown to anyone

except to Fitela, feuds and foul doings

confided by uncle to nephew when he felt

the urge to speak of them: always they had been

partners in the fight, friends in need.

They killed giants, their conquering swords

had brought them down.

After his death Sigemund's glory grew and grew

because of his courage when he killed the dragon,

the guardian of the hoard. Under grey stone

he had dared to enter all by himself

to face the worst without Fitela.

But it came to pass that his sword plunged

right through those radiant scales

and drove into the wall. The dragon died of it.

His daring had given him total possession

of the treasure hoard, his to dispose of

however he liked. He loaded a boat:

Waels's son weighted her hold

with dazzling spoils. The hot dragon melted.

King Heremod remembered and contrasted with Beowulf

Sigemund's name was known everywhere.

He was utterly valiant and venturesome,

a fence round his fighters and flourished therefore

after King Heremod's prowess declined

and his campaigns slowed down. The king was betrayed,

ambushed in Jutland, overpowered

and done away with. The waves of his grief

had beaten him down, made him a burden,

a source of anxiety to his own nobles:

that expedition was often condemned

in those earlier times by experienced men,

men who relied on his lordship for redress,

who presumed that the part of a prince was to thrive

on his father's throne and defend the nation,

the Shielding land where they lived and belonged,

its holdings and strongholds. Such was Beowulf

in the affection of his friends and of everyone alive.

But evil entered into Heremod.

Meanwhile, the Danes kept racing their mounts

down sandy lanes. The light of day

broke and kept brightening. Bands of retainers

galloped in excitement to the gabled hall

to see the marvel; and the king himself,

guardian of the ring-hoard, goodness in person,

walked in majesty from the women's quarters

with a numerous train, attended by his queen

and her crowd of maidens, across to the mead-hall.

King Hrothgar gives thanks for the relief of Heorot and adopts Beowulf “in his heart”

When Hrothgar arrived at the hall, he spoke,

standing on the steps, under the steep eaves,

gazing at the roofwork and Grendel's talon:

“First and foremost, let the Almighty Father

be thanked for this sight. I suffered a long

harrowing by Grendel. But the Heavenly Shepherd

can work His wonders always and everywhere.

Not long since, it seemed I would never

be granted the slightest solace or relief

from any of my burdens: the best of houses

glittered and reeked and ran with blood.

This one worry outweighed all others—

a constant distress to counsellors entrusted

with defending the people's forts from assault

by monsters and demons. But now a man,

with the Lord's assistance, has accomplished something

none of us could manage before now

for all our efforts.