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Beowulf in modern English, translated by Seamus Heaney, Beowulf (7)

Beowulf got ready,

donned his war-gear, indifferent to death;

his mighty, hand-forged, fine-webbed mail

would soon meet with the menace underwater.

It would keep the bone-cage of his body safe:

no enemy's clasp could crush him in it,

no vicious armlock choke his life out.

To guard his head he had a glittering helmet

that was due to be muddied on the mere bottom

and blurred in the upswirl. It was of beaten gold,

princely headgear hooped and hasped

by a weapon-smith who had worked wonders

in days gone by and adorned it with boar-shapes;

since then it had resisted every sword.

And another item lent by Unferth

at that moment of need was of no small importance:

the brehon handed him a hilted weapon,

a rare and ancient sword named Hrunting.

The iron blade with its ill-boding patterns

had been tempered in blood. It had never failed

the hand of anyone who hefted it in battle,

anyone who had fought and faced the worst

in the gap of danger. This was not the first time

it had been called to perform heroic feats.

When he lent that blade to the better swordsman,

Unferth, the strong-built son of Ecglaf,

could hardly have remembered the ranting speech

he had made in his cups. He was not man enough

to face the turmoil of a fight under water

and the risk to his life. So there he lost

fame and repute. It was different for the other

rigged out in his gear, ready to do battle.

Beowulf takes his leave

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“Wisest of kings, now that I have come

to the point of action, I ask you to recall

what we said earlier: that you, son of Halfdane

and gold-friend to retainers, that you, if I should fall

and suffer death while serving your cause,

would act like a father to me afterwards.

If this combat kills me, take care

of my young company, my comrades in arms.

And be sure also, my beloved Hrothgar,

to send Hygelac the treasures I received.

Let the lord of the Geats gaze on that gold,

let Hrethel's son take note of it and see

that I found a ring-giver of rare magnificence

and enjoyed the good of his generosity.

And Unferth is to have what I inherited:

to that far-famed man I bequeath my own

sharp-honed, wave-sheened wonderblade.

With Hrunting I shall gain glory or die.”

After these words, the prince of the Weather-Geats

was impatient to be away and plunged suddenly:

without more ado, he dived into the heaving

depths of the lake. It was the best part of a day

before he could see the solid bottom.

Beowulf is captured by Grendel's mother

Quickly the one who haunted those waters,

who had scavenged and gone her gluttonous rounds

for a hundred seasons, sensed a human

observing her outlandish lair from above.

So she lunged and clutched and managed to catch him

in her brutal grip; but his body, for all that,

remained unscathed: the mesh of the chain-mail

saved him on the outside. Her savage talons

failed to rip the web of his warshirt.

Then once she touched bottom, that wolfish swimmer

carried the ring-mailed prince to her court

so that for all his courage he could never use

the weapons he carried; and a bewildering horde

came at him from the depths, droves of sea-beasts

who attacked with tusks and tore at his chain-mail

in a ghastly onslaught. The gallant man

could see he had entered some hellish turn-hole

and yet the water did not work against him

because the hall-roofing held off the force of

the current; then he saw firelight,

a gleam and flare-up, a glimmer of brightness.

His sword fails to do damage

The hero observed that swamp-thing from hell,

the tarn-hag in all her terrible strength,

then heaved his war-sword and swung his arm:

the decorated blade came down ringing

and singing on her head. But he soon found

his battle-torch extinguished: the shining blade

refused to bite. It spared her and failed

the man in his need. It had gone through many

hand-to-hand fights, had hewed the armour

and helmets of the doomed, but here at last

the fabulous powers of that heirloom failed.

Hygelac's kinsman kept thinking about

his name and fame: he never lost heart.

Then, in a fury, he flung his sword away.

He fights back with his bare hands

The keen, inlaid, worm-loop-patterned steel

was hurled to the ground: he would have to rely

on the might of his arm. So must a man do

who intends to gain enduring glory

in a combat. Life doesn't cost him a thought.

Then the prince of War-Geats, warming to this fight

with Grendel's mother, gripped her shoulder

and laid about him in a battle frenzy:

he pitched his killer opponent to the floor

but she rose quickly and retaliated,

grappled him tightly in her grim embrace.

The sure-footed fighter felt daunted,

the strongest of warriors stumbled and fell.

So she pounced upon him and pulled out

a broad, whetted knife: now she would avenge

her only child. But the mesh of chain-mail

on Beowulf's shoulder shielded his life,

turned the edge and tip of the blade.

The son of Ecgtheow would have surely perished

and the Geats lost their warrior under the wide earth

had the strong links and locks of his war-gear

not helped to save him: holy God

decided the victory. It was easy for

the Lord, the Ruler of Heaven, to redress the balance

once Beowulf got back up on his feet.

Beowulf discovers a mighty sword and slays his opponent

Then he saw a blade that boded well,

a sword in her armoury, an ancient heirloom

from the days of the giants, an ideal weapon,

one that any warrior would envy,

but so huge and heavy of itself

only Beowulf could wield it in a battle.

So the Shieldings' hero, hard-pressed and enraged,

took a firm hold of the hilt and swung

the blade in an arc, a resolute blow

that bit deep into her neck-bone

and severed it entirely, toppling the doomed

house of her flesh; she fell to the floor.

The sword dripped blood, the swordsman was elated.

He proceeds to behead Grendel's corpse

A light appeared and the place brightened

the way the sky does when heaven's candle

is shining clearly. He inspected the vault:

with sword held high, its hilt raised

to guard and threaten, Hygelac's thane

scouted by the wall in Grendel's wake.

Now the weapon was to prove its worth.

The warrior determined to take revenge

for every gross act Grendel had committed—

and not only for that one occasion

when he'd come to slaughter the sleeping troops,

fifteen of Hrothgar's house-guards

surprised on their benches and ruthlessly devoured,

and as many again carried away,

a brutal plunder. Beowulf in his fury

now settled that score: he saw the monster

in his resting place, war-weary and wrecked,

a lifeless corpse, a casualty

of the battle in Heorot. The body gaped

at the stroke dealt to it after death:

Beowulf cut the corpse's head off.

Forebodings of those on the shore

Immediately the counsellors keeping a lookout

with Hrothgar, watching the lake water,

saw a heave-up and surge of waves

and blood in the backwash. They bowed grey heads,

spoke in their sage, experienced way

about the good warrior, how they never again

expected to see that prince returning

in triumph to their king. It was clear to many

that the wolf of the deep had destroyed him forever.

The ninth hour of the day arrived.

The brave Shieldings abandoned the cliff-top

and the king went home; but sick at heart,

staring at the mere, the strangers held on.

They wished, without hope, to behold their lord,

Beowulf himself.

The sword blade melts

Meanwhile, the sword

began to wilt into gory icicles,

to slather and thaw. It was a wonderful thing,

the way it all melted as ice melts

when the Father eases the fetters off the frost

and unravels the water-ropes. He who wields power

over time and tide: He is the true Lord.

Beowulf returns with the sword's hilt and Grendel's head

The Geat captain saw treasure in abundance

but carried no spoils from those quarters

except for the head and the inlaid hilt

embossed with jewels; its blade had melted

and the scrollwork on it burnt, so scalding was the blood

of the poisonous fiend who had perished there.

Then away he swam, the one who had survived

the fall of his enemies, flailing to the surface.

The wide water, the waves and pools

were no longer infested once the wandering fiend

let go of her life and this unreliable world.

The seafarers' leader made for land,

resolutely swimming, delighted with his prize,

the mighty load he was lugging to the surface.

His thanes advanced in a troop to meet him,

thanking God and taking great delight

in seeing their prince back safe and sound.

Quickly the hero's helmet and mail-shirt

were loosed and unlaced. The lake settled,

clouds darkened above the bloodshot depths.

With high hearts they headed away

along footpaths and trails through the fields,

roads that they knew, each of them wrestling

with the head they were carrying from the lakeside cliff,

men kingly in their courage and capable

of difficult work. It was a task for four

to hoist Grendel's head on a spear

and bear it under strain to the bright hall.

But soon enough they neared the place,

fourteen Geats in fine fettle,

striding across the outlying ground

in a delighted throng around their leader.

He displays Grendel's head in Heorot

In he came then, the thane's commander,

the arch-warrior, to address Hrothgar:

his courage was proven, his glory was secure.

Grendel's head was hauled by the hair,

dragged across the floor where the people were drinking,

a horror for both queen and company to behold.

They stared in awe. It was an astonishing sight.

A brief account of the fight

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“So, son of Halfdane, prince of the Shieldings,

we are glad to bring this booty from the lake.

It is a token of triumph and we tender it to you.

I barely survived the battle under water.

It was hard-fought, a desperate affair

that could have gone badly; if God had not helped me,

the outcome would have been quick and fatal.

Although Hrunting is hard-edged,

I could never bring it to bear in battle.

But the Lord of Men allowed me to behold—

for He often helps the unbefriended—

an ancient sword shining on the wall,

a weapon made for giants, there for the wielding.

Then my moment came in the combat and I struck

the dwellers in that den. Next thing the damascened

sword blade melted; it bloated and it burned

in their rushing blood. I have wrested the hilt

from the enemies' hand, avenged the evil

done to the Danes; it is what was due.

And this I pledge, O prince of the Shieldings:

you can sleep secure with your company of troops

in Heorot Hall. Never need you fear

for a single thane of your sept or nation,

young warriors or old, that laying waste of life

that you and your people endured of yore.”

Then the gold hilt was handed over

to the old lord, a relic from long ago

for the venerable ruler. That rare smithwork

was passed on to the prince of the Danes

when those devils perished; once death removed

that murdering, guilt-steeped, God-cursed fiend,

eliminating his unholy life

and his mother's as well, it was willed to that king

who of all the lavish gift-lords of the north

was the best regarded between the two seas.


Beowulf got ready,

donned his war-gear, indifferent to death;

his mighty, hand-forged, fine-webbed mail

would soon meet with the menace underwater.

It would keep the bone-cage of his body safe:

no enemy's clasp could crush him in it,

no vicious armlock choke his life out.

To guard his head he had a glittering helmet

that was due to be muddied on the mere bottom

and blurred in the upswirl. It was of beaten gold,

princely headgear hooped and hasped

by a weapon-smith who had worked wonders

in days gone by and adorned it with boar-shapes;

since then it had resisted every sword.

And another item lent by Unferth

at that moment of need was of no small importance:

the brehon handed him a hilted weapon,

a rare and ancient sword named Hrunting.

The iron blade with its ill-boding patterns

had been tempered in blood. It had never failed

the hand of anyone who hefted it in battle,

anyone who had fought and faced the worst

in the gap of danger. This was not the first time

it had been called to perform heroic feats.

When he lent that blade to the better swordsman,

Unferth, the strong-built son of Ecglaf,

could hardly have remembered the ranting speech

he had made in his cups. He was not man enough

to face the turmoil of a fight under water

and the risk to his life. So there he lost

fame and repute. It was different for the other

rigged out in his gear, ready to do battle.

Beowulf takes his leave

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“Wisest of kings, now that I have come

to the point of action, I ask you to recall

what we said earlier: that you, son of Halfdane

and gold-friend to retainers, that you, if I should fall

and suffer death while serving your cause,

would act like a father to me afterwards.

If this combat kills me, take care

of my young company, my comrades in arms.

And be sure also, my beloved Hrothgar,

to send Hygelac the treasures I received.

Let the lord of the Geats gaze on that gold,

let Hrethel's son take note of it and see

that I found a ring-giver of rare magnificence

and enjoyed the good of his generosity.

And Unferth is to have what I inherited:

to that far-famed man I bequeath my own

sharp-honed, wave-sheened wonderblade.

With Hrunting I shall gain glory or die.”

After these words, the prince of the Weather-Geats

was impatient to be away and plunged suddenly:

without more ado, he dived into the heaving

depths of the lake. It was the best part of a day

before he could see the solid bottom.

Beowulf is captured by Grendel's mother

Quickly the one who haunted those waters,

who had scavenged and gone her gluttonous rounds

for a hundred seasons, sensed a human

observing her outlandish lair from above.

So she lunged and clutched and managed to catch him

in her brutal grip; but his body, for all that,

remained unscathed: the mesh of the chain-mail

saved him on the outside. Her savage talons

failed to rip the web of his warshirt.

Then once she touched bottom, that wolfish swimmer

carried the ring-mailed prince to her court

so that for all his courage he could never use

the weapons he carried; and a bewildering horde

came at him from the depths, droves of sea-beasts

who attacked with tusks and tore at his chain-mail

in a ghastly onslaught. The gallant man

could see he had entered some hellish turn-hole

and yet the water did not work against him

because the hall-roofing held off the force of

the current; then he saw firelight,

a gleam and flare-up, a glimmer of brightness.

His sword fails to do damage

The hero observed that swamp-thing from hell,

the tarn-hag in all her terrible strength,

then heaved his war-sword and swung his arm:

the decorated blade came down ringing

and singing on her head. But he soon found

his battle-torch extinguished: the shining blade

refused to bite. It spared her and failed

the man in his need. It had gone through many

hand-to-hand fights, had hewed the armour

and helmets of the doomed, but here at last

the fabulous powers of that heirloom failed.

Hygelac's kinsman kept thinking about

his name and fame: he never lost heart.

Then, in a fury, he flung his sword away.

He fights back with his bare hands

The keen, inlaid, worm-loop-patterned steel

was hurled to the ground: he would have to rely

on the might of his arm. So must a man do

who intends to gain enduring glory

in a combat. Life doesn't cost him a thought.

Then the prince of War-Geats, warming to this fight

with Grendel's mother, gripped her shoulder

and laid about him in a battle frenzy:

he pitched his killer opponent to the floor

but she rose quickly and retaliated,

grappled him tightly in her grim embrace.

The sure-footed fighter felt daunted,

the strongest of warriors stumbled and fell.

So she pounced upon him and pulled out

a broad, whetted knife: now she would avenge

her only child. But the mesh of chain-mail

on Beowulf's shoulder shielded his life,

turned the edge and tip of the blade.

The son of Ecgtheow would have surely perished

and the Geats lost their warrior under the wide earth

had the strong links and locks of his war-gear

not helped to save him: holy God

decided the victory. It was easy for

the Lord, the Ruler of Heaven, to redress the balance

once Beowulf got back up on his feet.

Beowulf discovers a mighty sword and slays his opponent

Then he saw a blade that boded well,

a sword in her armoury, an ancient heirloom

from the days of the giants, an ideal weapon,

one that any warrior would envy,

but so huge and heavy of itself

only Beowulf could wield it in a battle.

So the Shieldings' hero, hard-pressed and enraged,

took a firm hold of the hilt and swung

the blade in an arc, a resolute blow

that bit deep into her neck-bone

and severed it entirely, toppling the doomed

house of her flesh; she fell to the floor.

The sword dripped blood, the swordsman was elated.

He proceeds to behead Grendel's corpse

A light appeared and the place brightened

the way the sky does when heaven's candle

is shining clearly. He inspected the vault:

with sword held high, its hilt raised

to guard and threaten, Hygelac's thane

scouted by the wall in Grendel's wake.

Now the weapon was to prove its worth.

The warrior determined to take revenge

for every gross act Grendel had committed—

and not only for that one occasion

when he'd come to slaughter the sleeping troops,

fifteen of Hrothgar's house-guards

surprised on their benches and ruthlessly devoured,

and as many again carried away,

a brutal plunder. Beowulf in his fury

now settled that score: he saw the monster

in his resting place, war-weary and wrecked,

a lifeless corpse, a casualty

of the battle in Heorot. The body gaped

at the stroke dealt to it after death:

Beowulf cut the corpse's head off.

Forebodings of those on the shore

Immediately the counsellors keeping a lookout

with Hrothgar, watching the lake water,

saw a heave-up and surge of waves

and blood in the backwash. They bowed grey heads,

spoke in their sage, experienced way

about the good warrior, how they never again

expected to see that prince returning

in triumph to their king. It was clear to many

that the wolf of the deep had destroyed him forever.

The ninth hour of the day arrived.

The brave Shieldings abandoned the cliff-top

and the king went home; but sick at heart,

staring at the mere, the strangers held on.

They wished, without hope, to behold their lord,

Beowulf himself.

The sword blade melts

Meanwhile, the sword

began to wilt into gory icicles,

to slather and thaw. It was a wonderful thing,

the way it all melted as ice melts

when the Father eases the fetters off the frost

and unravels the water-ropes. He who wields power

over time and tide: He is the true Lord.

Beowulf returns with the sword's hilt and Grendel's head

The Geat captain saw treasure in abundance

but carried no spoils from those quarters

except for the head and the inlaid hilt

embossed with jewels; its blade had melted

and the scrollwork on it burnt, so scalding was the blood

of the poisonous fiend who had perished there.

Then away he swam, the one who had survived

the fall of his enemies, flailing to the surface.

The wide water, the waves and pools

were no longer infested once the wandering fiend

let go of her life and this unreliable world.

The seafarers' leader made for land,

resolutely swimming, delighted with his prize,

the mighty load he was lugging to the surface.

His thanes advanced in a troop to meet him,

thanking God and taking great delight

in seeing their prince back safe and sound.

Quickly the hero's helmet and mail-shirt

were loosed and unlaced. The lake settled,

clouds darkened above the bloodshot depths.

With high hearts they headed away

along footpaths and trails through the fields,

roads that they knew, each of them wrestling

with the head they were carrying from the lakeside cliff,

men kingly in their courage and capable

of difficult work. It was a task for four

to hoist Grendel's head on a spear

and bear it under strain to the bright hall.

But soon enough they neared the place,

fourteen Geats in fine fettle,

striding across the outlying ground

in a delighted throng around their leader.

He displays Grendel's head in Heorot

In he came then, the thane's commander,

the arch-warrior, to address Hrothgar:

his courage was proven, his glory was secure.

Grendel's head was hauled by the hair,

dragged across the floor where the people were drinking,

a horror for both queen and company to behold.

They stared in awe. It was an astonishing sight.

A brief account of the fight

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“So, son of Halfdane, prince of the Shieldings,

we are glad to bring this booty from the lake.

It is a token of triumph and we tender it to you.

I barely survived the battle under water.

It was hard-fought, a desperate affair

that could have gone badly; if God had not helped me,

the outcome would have been quick and fatal.

Although Hrunting is hard-edged,

I could never bring it to bear in battle.

But the Lord of Men allowed me to behold—

for He often helps the unbefriended—

an ancient sword shining on the wall,

a weapon made for giants, there for the wielding.

Then my moment came in the combat and I struck

the dwellers in that den. Next thing the damascened

sword blade melted; it bloated and it burned

in their rushing blood. I have wrested the hilt

from the enemies' hand, avenged the evil

done to the Danes; it is what was due.

And this I pledge, O prince of the Shieldings:

you can sleep secure with your company of troops

in Heorot Hall. Never need you fear

for a single thane of your sept or nation,

young warriors or old, that laying waste of life

that you and your people endured of yore.”

Then the gold hilt was handed over

to the old lord, a relic from long ago

for the venerable ruler. That rare smithwork

was passed on to the prince of the Danes

when those devils perished; once death removed

that murdering, guilt-steeped, God-cursed fiend,

eliminating his unholy life

and his mother's as well, it was willed to that king

who of all the lavish gift-lords of the north

was the best regarded between the two seas.