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Beowulf in modern English, translated by Seamus Heaney, Beowulf (9)

Heroic Beowulf and his band of men

crossed the wide strand, striding along

the sandy foreshore; the sun shone,

the world's candle warmed them from the south as they hastened to where, as they had heard,

the young king, Ongentheow's killer and his people's protector, was dispensing rings inside his bawn. Beowulf's return was reported to Hygelac as soon as possible,

news that the captain was now in the enclosure,

his battle-brother back from the fray

alive and well, walking to the hall.

Room was quickly made, on the king's orders, and the troops filed across the cleared floor.

After Hygelac had offered greetings

to his loyal thane in lofty speech,

he and his kinsman, that hale survivor,

sat face to face. Haereth's daughter moved about with the mead-jug in her hand,

taking care of the company, filling the cups

that warriors held out. Then Hygelac began

to put courteous questions to his old comrade

in the high hall. He hankered to know

every tale the Sea-Geats had to tell.

Hygelac questions Beowulf

“How did you fare on your foreign voyage,

dear Beowulf, when you abruptly decided

to sail away across the salt water

and fight at Heorot? Did you help Hrothgar

much in the end? Could you ease the prince

of his well-known troubles? Your undertaking

cast my spirits down, I dreaded the outcome

of your expedition and pleaded with you

long and hard to leave the killer be,

let the South-Danes settle their own

blood-feud with Grendel. So God be thanked

I am granted this sight of you, safe and sound.”

Beowulf tells what happened in the land of the Danes

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“What happened, Lord Hygelac, is hardly a secret

any more among men in this world—

myself and Grendel coming to grips

on the very spot where he visited destruction

on the Victory-Shieldings and violated

life and limb, losses I avenged

so no earthly offspring of Grendel's need ever boast of that bout before dawn,

no matter how long the last of his evil

family survives.

When I first landed

I hastened to the ring-hall and saluted Hrothgar.

Once he discovered why I had come

the son of Halfdane sent me immediately

to sit with his own sons on the bench.

It was a happy gathering. In my whole life

I have never seen mead enjoyed more

in any hall on earth. Sometimes the queen

herself appeared, peace-pledge between nations,

to hearten the young ones and hand out

a torque to a warrior, then take her place.

Sometimes Hrothgar's daughter distributed ale to older ranks, in order on the benches:

I heard the company call her Freawaru

as she made her rounds, presenting men

with the gem-studded bowl, young bride-to-be

to the gracious Ingeld, in her gold-trimmed attire.

He foresees the grim consequence of a proposed marriage

The friend of the Shieldings favours her betrothal:

the guardian of the kingdom sees good in it

and hopes this woman will heal old wounds

and grievous feuds.

But generally the spear

is prompt to retaliate when a prince is killed,

no matter how admirable the bride may be.

When the Danes appear at Freawaru's wedding, their hosts, the Heathobards, will be stirred to avenge an old defeat “Think how the Heathobards will be bound to feel,

their lord, Ingeld, and his loyal thanes,

when he walks in with that woman to the feast:

Danes are at the table, being entertained,

honoured guests in glittering regalia,

burnished ring-mail that was their hosts' birthright, looted when the Heathobards could no longer wield

their weapons in the shield-clash, when they went down

with their beloved comrades and forfeited their lives.

Then an old spearman will speak while they are drinking,

having glimpsed some heirloom that brings alive

memories of the massacre; his mood will darken

and heart-stricken, in the stress of his emotion,

he will begin to test a young man's temper and stir up trouble, starting like this:

‘Now, my friend, don't you recognize your father's sword, his favourite weapon, the one he wore when he went out in his war-mask

to face the Danes on that final day?

After Wethergeld died and his men were doomed

the Shieldings quickly claimed the field,

and now here's a son of one or other of those same killers coming through our hall

overbearing us, mouthing boasts,

and rigged in armour that by right is yours.' And so he keeps on, recalling and accusing,

working things up with bitter words

until one of the lady's retainers lies spattered in blood, split open

on his father's account. The killer knows

the lie of the land and escapes with his life.

Then on both sides the oath-bound lords

will break the peace, a passionate hate

will build up in Ingeld and love for his bride

will falter in him as the feud rankles.

I therefore suspect the good faith of the Heathobards,

the truth of their friendship and the trustworthiness

of their alliance with the Danes.

The tale of the fight with Grendel resumed

But now, my lord,

I shall carry on with my account of Grendel,

the whole story of everything that happened

in the hand-to-hand fight.

After heaven's gem had gone mildly to earth, that maddened spirit,

the terror of those twilights, came to attack us

where we stood guard, still safe inside the hall.

There deadly violence came down on Handscio

and he fell as fate ordained, the first to perish,

rigged out for the combat. A comrade from our ranks

had come to grief in Grendel's maw: he ate up the entire body.

There was blood on his teeth, he was bloated and furious,

all roused up, yet still unready

to leave the hall empty-handed;

renowned for his might, he matched himself against me,

wildly reaching. He had this roomy pouch,

a strange accoutrement, intricately strung

and hung at the ready, a rare patchwork

of devilishly fitted dragon-skins.

I had done him no wrong, yet the raging demon

wanted to cram me and many another

into this bag—but it was not to be

once I got to my feet in a blind fury.

It would take too long to tell how I repaid

the terror of the land for every life he took

and so won credit for you, my king,

and for all your people. And although he got away

to enjoy life's sweetness for a while longer, his right hand stayed behind him in Heorot,

evidence of his miserable overthrow

as he dived into murk on the mere bottom.

Beowulf recalls the feast in Heorot

“I got lavish rewards from the lord of the Danes

for my part in the battle, beaten gold

and much else, once morning came

and we took our places at the banquet table.

There was singing and excitement: an old reciter,

a carrier of stories, recalled the early days.

At times some hero made the timbered harp

tremble with sweetness, or related true

and tragic happenings; at times the king

gave the proper turn to some fantastic tale,

or a battle-scarred veteran, bowed with age,

would begin to remember the martial deeds

of his youth and prime and be overcome

as the past welled up in his wintry heart.

He tells about Grendel's mother “We were happy there the whole day long

and enjoyed our time until another night

descended upon us. Then suddenly

the vehement mother avenged her son

and wreaked destruction. Death had robbed her,

Geats had slain Grendel, so his ghastly dam

struck back and with bare-faced defiance

laid a man low. Thus life departed

from the sage Aeschere, an elder wise in counsel.

But afterwards, on the morning following,

the Danes could not burn the dead body

nor lay the remains of the man they loved

on his funeral pyre. She had fled with the corpse

and taken refuge beneath torrents on the mountain.

It was a hard blow for Hrothgar to bear,

harder than any he had undergone before.

And so the heartsore king beseeched me

in your royal name to take my chances

underwater, to win glory

and prove my worth. He promised me rewards.

Hence, as is well known, I went to my encounter

with the terror-monger at the bottom of the tarn.

For a while it was hand-to-hand between us,

then blood went curling along the currents

and I beheaded Grendel's mother in the hall with a mighty sword. I barely managed

to escape with my life; my time had not yet come.

But Halfdane's heir, the shelter of those earls, again endowed me with gifts in abundance.

“Thus the king acted with due custom.

I was paid and recompensed completely,

given full measure and the freedom to choose

from Hrothgar's treasures by Hrothgar himself. These, King Hygelac, I am happy to present

to you as gifts. It is still upon your grace

that all favour depends. I have few kinsmen

who are close, my king, except for your kind self.”

Beowulf presents Hygelac with the treasures he has won

Then he ordered the boar-framed standard to be brought,

the battle-topping helmet, the mail-shirt grey as hoar-frost

and the precious war-sword; and proceeded with his speech.

“When Hrothgar presented this war-gear to me

he instructed me, my lord, to give you some account

of why it signifies his special favour.

He said it had belonged to his older brother,

King Heorogar, who had long kept it,

but that Heorogar had never bequeathed it

to his son Heoroweard, that worthy scion, speach

loyal as he was.

Enjoy it well.”

I heard four horses were handed over next.

Beowulf bestowed four bay steeds

to go with the armour, swift gallopers,

all alike. So ought a kinsman act,

instead of plotting and planning in secret

to bring people to grief, or conspiring to arrange

the death of comrades. The warrior king

was uncle to Beowulf and honoured by his nephew:

each was concerned for the other's good. I heard he presented Hygd with a gorget,

the priceless torque that the prince's daughter, Wealhtheow, had given him; and three horses,

supple creatures, brilliantly saddled.

The bright necklace would be luminous on Hygd's breast.


Heroic Beowulf and his band of men

crossed the wide strand, striding along

the sandy foreshore; the sun shone,

the world's candle warmed them from the south

as they hastened to where, as they had heard,

the young king, Ongentheow's killer

and his people's protector, was dispensing rings

inside his bawn. Beowulf's return

was reported to Hygelac as soon as possible,

news that the captain was now in the enclosure,

his battle-brother back from the fray

alive and well, walking to the hall.

Room was quickly made, on the king's orders,

and the troops filed across the cleared floor.

After Hygelac had offered greetings

to his loyal thane in lofty speech,

he and his kinsman, that hale survivor,

sat face to face. Haereth's daughter

moved about with the mead-jug in her hand,

taking care of the company, filling the cups

that warriors held out. Then Hygelac began

to put courteous questions to his old comrade

in the high hall. He hankered to know

every tale the Sea-Geats had to tell.

Hygelac questions Beowulf

“How did you fare on your foreign voyage,

dear Beowulf, when you abruptly decided

to sail away across the salt water

and fight at Heorot? Did you help Hrothgar

much in the end? Could you ease the prince

of his well-known troubles? Your undertaking

cast my spirits down, I dreaded the outcome

of your expedition and pleaded with you

long and hard to leave the killer be,

let the South-Danes settle their own

blood-feud with Grendel. So God be thanked

I am granted this sight of you, safe and sound.”

Beowulf tells what happened in the land of the Danes

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:

“What happened, Lord Hygelac, is hardly a secret

any more among men in this world—

myself and Grendel coming to grips

on the very spot where he visited destruction

on the Victory-Shieldings and violated

life and limb, losses I avenged

so no earthly offspring of Grendel's

need ever boast of that bout before dawn,

no matter how long the last of his evil

family survives.

When I first landed

I hastened to the ring-hall and saluted Hrothgar.

Once he discovered why I had come

the son of Halfdane sent me immediately

to sit with his own sons on the bench.

It was a happy gathering. In my whole life

I have never seen mead enjoyed more

in any hall on earth. Sometimes the queen

herself appeared, peace-pledge between nations,

to hearten the young ones and hand out

a torque to a warrior, then take her place.

Sometimes Hrothgar's daughter distributed

ale to older ranks, in order on the benches:

I heard the company call her Freawaru

as she made her rounds, presenting men

with the gem-studded bowl, young bride-to-be

to the gracious Ingeld, in her gold-trimmed attire.

He foresees the grim consequence of a proposed marriage

The friend of the Shieldings favours her betrothal:

the guardian of the kingdom sees good in it

and hopes this woman will heal old wounds

and grievous feuds.

But generally the spear

is prompt to retaliate when a prince is killed,

no matter how admirable the bride may be.

When the Danes appear at Freawaru's wedding, their hosts, the Heathobards, will be stirred to avenge an old defeat

“Think how the Heathobards will be bound to feel,

their lord, Ingeld, and his loyal thanes,

when he walks in with that woman to the feast:

Danes are at the table, being entertained,

honoured guests in glittering regalia,

burnished ring-mail that was their hosts' birthright,

looted when the Heathobards could no longer wield

their weapons in the shield-clash, when they went down

with their beloved comrades and forfeited their lives.

Then an old spearman will speak while they are drinking,

having glimpsed some heirloom that brings alive

memories of the massacre; his mood will darken

and heart-stricken, in the stress of his emotion,

he will begin to test a young man's temper

and stir up trouble, starting like this:

‘Now, my friend, don't you recognize

your father's sword, his favourite weapon,

the one he wore when he went out in his war-mask

to face the Danes on that final day?

After Wethergeld died and his men were doomed

the Shieldings quickly claimed the field,

and now here's a son of one or other

of those same killers coming through our hall

overbearing us, mouthing boasts,

and rigged in armour that by right is yours.'

And so he keeps on, recalling and accusing,

working things up with bitter words

until one of the lady's retainers lies

spattered in blood, split open

on his father's account. The killer knows

the lie of the land and escapes with his life.

Then on both sides the oath-bound lords

will break the peace, a passionate hate

will build up in Ingeld and love for his bride

will falter in him as the feud rankles.

I therefore suspect the good faith of the Heathobards,

the truth of their friendship and the trustworthiness

of their alliance with the Danes.

The tale of the fight with Grendel resumed

But now, my lord,

I shall carry on with my account of Grendel,

the whole story of everything that happened

in the hand-to-hand fight.

After heaven's gem

had gone mildly to earth, that maddened spirit,

the terror of those twilights, came to attack us

where we stood guard, still safe inside the hall.

There deadly violence came down on Handscio

and he fell as fate ordained, the first to perish,

rigged out for the combat. A comrade from our ranks

had come to grief in Grendel's maw:

he ate up the entire body.

There was blood on his teeth, he was bloated and furious,

all roused up, yet still unready

to leave the hall empty-handed;

renowned for his might, he matched himself against me,

wildly reaching. He had this roomy pouch,

a strange accoutrement, intricately strung

and hung at the ready, a rare patchwork

of devilishly fitted dragon-skins.

I had done him no wrong, yet the raging demon

wanted to cram me and many another

into this bag—but it was not to be

once I got to my feet in a blind fury.

It would take too long to tell how I repaid

the terror of the land for every life he took

and so won credit for you, my king,

and for all your people. And although he got away

to enjoy life's sweetness for a while longer,

his right hand stayed behind him in Heorot,

evidence of his miserable overthrow

as he dived into murk on the mere bottom.

Beowulf recalls the feast in Heorot

“I got lavish rewards from the lord of the Danes

for my part in the battle, beaten gold

and much else, once morning came

and we took our places at the banquet table.

There was singing and excitement: an old reciter,

a carrier of stories, recalled the early days.

At times some hero made the timbered harp

tremble with sweetness, or related true

and tragic happenings; at times the king

gave the proper turn to some fantastic tale,

or a battle-scarred veteran, bowed with age,

would begin to remember the martial deeds

of his youth and prime and be overcome

as the past welled up in his wintry heart.

He tells about Grendel's mother

“We were happy there the whole day long

and enjoyed our time until another night

descended upon us. Then suddenly

the vehement mother avenged her son

and wreaked destruction. Death had robbed her,

Geats had slain Grendel, so his ghastly dam

struck back and with bare-faced defiance

laid a man low. Thus life departed

from the sage Aeschere, an elder wise in counsel.

But afterwards, on the morning following,

the Danes could not burn the dead body

nor lay the remains of the man they loved

on his funeral pyre. She had fled with the corpse

and taken refuge beneath torrents on the mountain.

It was a hard blow for Hrothgar to bear,

harder than any he had undergone before.

And so the heartsore king beseeched me

in your royal name to take my chances

underwater, to win glory

and prove my worth. He promised me rewards.

Hence, as is well known, I went to my encounter

with the terror-monger at the bottom of the tarn.

For a while it was hand-to-hand between us,

then blood went curling along the currents

and I beheaded Grendel's mother in the hall

with a mighty sword. I barely managed

to escape with my life; my time had not yet come.

But Halfdane's heir, the shelter of those earls,

again endowed me with gifts in abundance.

“Thus the king acted with due custom.

I was paid and recompensed completely,

given full measure and the freedom to choose

from Hrothgar's treasures by Hrothgar himself.

These, King Hygelac, I am happy to present

to you as gifts. It is still upon your grace

that all favour depends. I have few kinsmen

who are close, my king, except for your kind self.”

Beowulf presents Hygelac with the treasures he has won

Then he ordered the boar-framed standard to be brought,

the battle-topping helmet, the mail-shirt grey as hoar-frost

and the precious war-sword; and proceeded with his speech.

“When Hrothgar presented this war-gear to me

he instructed me, my lord, to give you some account

of why it signifies his special favour.

He said it had belonged to his older brother,

King Heorogar, who had long kept it,

but that Heorogar had never bequeathed it

to his son Heoroweard, that worthy scion, speach

loyal as he was.

Enjoy it well.”

I heard four horses were handed over next.

Beowulf bestowed four bay steeds

to go with the armour, swift gallopers,

all alike. So ought a kinsman act,

instead of plotting and planning in secret

to bring people to grief, or conspiring to arrange

the death of comrades. The warrior king

was uncle to Beowulf and honoured by his nephew:

each was concerned for the other's good.

I heard he presented Hygd with a gorget,

the priceless torque that the prince's daughter,

Wealhtheow, had given him; and three horses,

supple creatures, brilliantly saddled.

The bright necklace would be luminous on Hygd's breast.