Back to the Beginning of the Woven Ring (ll.1-11) [Old English]

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Abstract
Translation
Recordings
A Turn of Fate
Setting a Tight Sequential Tone
Closing

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Abstract

The poem begins on a rollicking note, as the poet recalls the glory of Scyld Scefing.

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Translation

“What! We Spear-Danes had heard in days of yore
of the power of the king of a people,
how heroes accomplished valorous deeds.
Often did Scyld Scefing take away
the mead benches from troops of enemies,
terrified the Erola, afterwards that first was found
to become destitute; for that he experienced solace
grew up under a cloud, his honour prospered,
until each surrounding people from over
the whale road paid obeisance,
gave tribute: that was a good king!”
(Beowulf ll.1-11)

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Recordings

Old English:

{Forthcoming}

Modern English:

{Forthcoming}

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A Turn of Fate

Right in the middle of this excerpt, there’s a marked turn.

The poet notes that “the first was found/to become destitute” (“Syððan ærest wearð/feasceaft funden” (ll.6-7)). Rather than just saying that Scyld Scefing became prosperous, the time is taken to note that the powerful that he tore down were torn down before his rise is solidly mentioned in line 7.

This sequencing of events underlines, very early on, the importance of sequence in the Anglo-Saxon world. It also gives some insight into kingship and the belief in something like fortune’s wheel. Only one person can be a powerful king at any given time, and only on can be on the top of the wheel in any given arena at one time. It just so happened that Scyld was at the top of both at the same time.

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Setting a Tight Sequential Tone

That the poet makes a note of this power shift also sets the tone of the poem. It will be a story of changing fortunes, but it will be one in which there is no vacuum left for things to be pulled into. There will always be some definite succession of events, something will always happen at the end of something else.

Already, we’ve seen this in the death of Beowulf. The Geats lost a leader, and they will definitely be wiped out since they have none to replace Beowulf. Meanwhile the surrounding tribes will shortly be upon them.

In a sense, the open-endedness that we are left with at the end of the poem promises something that may have been considered a fate worse than death: exile. Scyld might have stolen mead benches, what people would recline on while enjoying themselves and socializing, but exile means that a person would have no mead bench at all – none to even win back.

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Closing

Next week, a batch of recordings will have been uploaded to this blog, and we’ll move onto Scefing’s further deeds.

You can find the next part of Beowulf here.

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Beowulf Boasts, the Dragon Roasts: Book XXXIV – Book XXXV

Beowulf is protected from dragon fire by his shield while treasure awaits.

An illustration of Beowulf fighting the dragon that appears at the end of the epic poem. Illustration in the children’s book Stories of Beowulf (H. E. Marshall). Published in New York in 1908 by E. P. Dutton & Company. Image found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beowulf_and_the_dragon.jpg.

XXXIV

Though the fall of the prince made Beowulf mindful,
worried for retribution as days dragged on, he turned to Eadgils,
a man destitute of friends. That people,
those of the sons of Ohthere, Eadgils helped
with warriors and weapons. The feud was settled after a chill cold,
a cruel campaign, when he bound old king Onela in death.

Thus Beowulf survived strife from all quarters,
savage battles and slaughter, that son of Ecgtheow,
brave doer of good deeds, until that day.
The day on which Beowulf was fated to war with the dragon.
Then it was that the scaled one, maddened with rage, knew the twelve;
the dragon recognized the Geatish lord.

Beowulf soon discovered the reason why that fiend arose,
brought adversity to his people. Into his lap fell the famed cup,
wrought of gold and set with stones, fresh from the finder’s hand.
That man made their party’s number thirteen,
he who had created this dire fate,
a captive of sorrowful heart. The thief agreed to serve
as guide for Beowulf and his men through the dragon’s place.
Against his will he went to the earthen hall which he alone knew.
The barrow beneath the earth, out by the sea billows,
where wave strove with wave, within, it was full of treasures,
both wrought and wound. But the horrible warden,
that eager ancient warrior, was bent on guarding his gold-treasures,
both as old as stones beneath the earth. It would not be easy
for Beowulf to bargain with that dragon for his people’s lives!

Sat then the veteran king upon the clifftop.
He wished his hearth companions luck,
the gold friend of the Geats. His mind was sorrowful,
he was restless and ready for death, fate had come immeasurably near,
he knew that soon he would fully face old age,
that it would soon seek his soul’s hoard, tear his life
from his body. Not long from then would that lord’s
flesh unravel from his spirit.

Beowulf spoke, the son of Ecgtheow:

“Countless were the skirmishes that I survived in youth,
numerous times of war. I can recall them all.
I was seven winters old when I fostered with our treasure lord,
the lord and friend of our people, at my father’s command.
The good king Hrethel kept me and cherished me,
he gave me treasure goods and solemn office, mindful of our kinship.
Indeed, while living in the stronghold as a boy I was not counted
less worthy than his own sons,
Herebeald and Hæthcyn, and my dear Hygelac.
The eldest son, by a deed of his brother,
was impiously spread on his deathbed,
Hæthcyn had hoisted his horn-tipped bow toward the boy,
and loosed the arrow that shattered his life.
He had aimed for a misted mark and shot his own kin,
bloodied his fatal dart with the life of his own brother.
That was a strife beyond recompense, transgression against sin itself,
a steeping of the heart in sadness. What else should be done but
to leave the offence the eldest carried out unavenged?”

“Then was the whole household like a sorrowful old man
who must live on, though his young son hangs on the gallows.
Such a man then makes a dirge, distressed singing,
while his son hangs at the mocking mercy of ravens,
birds gloating over their feast, and he can do nothing
to help his son, no water from his well of experience and age
will allow him to haul the boy down and lavish new life onto his lank body.
Reluctantly he is reminded each morning of
his son’s death. He does not care to wait
for another heir in his hall, since the
first has been found fettered, devoured, by death’s dire decree.
He looks on with tear-filled soul into his lost son’s chambers,
all hall joy now desolation, the resting place of winds,
a place bereft of all joy. The riders sleep.
The fighters lay in darkness. No harp sounds are there.
There are no men in the yard. Nothing is as it once was.”

XXXV

“Then Hrethel was in bed, chanting a dirge,
alone even with himself. To him it all seemed too huge,
the fields’ roll, the halls’ stretch. Thus the Geat’s protector,
his heart suffused with sorrow for Herebeald,
set out for that far country. He never knew how he might
wreak his feud on the slayer;
in no way could he hate that warrior
for his dolorous deed, though he was not loved.
Then Hrethel, amidst that sorrow, that which sorely concerned him,
gave up on the enjoyment of life, chose God’s light.
He left all he had on earth to his sons, as any prosperous man does,
lands and towns, when he left off this life.”

“After that, there was war and enmity between Swedes and Geats,
over the wide waters could be heard their cries of sorrow,
the noise of wall-hard warfare, after Hrethel perished.
From across that water came Ongeontheow’s sons,
warlike, they would not free those
they held in lamentation, they would not relent.
Near the hill of Hreosnburgh they often launched voracious
murderous attacks. My own close-kin avenged this,
feud and war-fire, as it was known,
though one of them bought it with his life,
at a hard price; Hæthcyn, Geatish lord,
was taken in the war’s assailing.
Then in the morning I heard that his kin
avenged him by the blade, laid its edge to end the slayer’s life,
where Eofor’s attack fell upon Ongeontheow.
His war-helm was split, the Swedish warlord
fell, mortally wounded, for Eofor’s hand held memory
enough of the feuding, Ongeontheow could not hold off the fatal blow.”

“The treasures that Hygelac granted me
were payment for my role in that war, all of which fortune allowed me,
I won it for him by flashing sword. For that he gave me land,
a place to be from, the joy of home. Thus, for Hygelac there was
no need, no reason to be required to seek someone from the Gifthas,
or the Spear-Danes, or the Swedes for worse war-makers, my worth was well-known.
Always would I go on foot before him,
first in the line, and so shall I do ‘til age takes me,
so shall I conduct war, as long as this sword survives,
that which has and will endure.
For this is the sword I held when I, for nobility’s sake,
became the hand-slayer of Day Raven the Frank.
No treasure at all did that warrior
bring back to the Frisian king.
No breastplate could he have carried,
for in the field he fell as standard bearer,
princely in courage. He was not slain by the sword,
but instead a hostile grip halted the surge of his heart,
broke his bone-house. Now shall the sword’s edge,
hand and hard blade, be heaved against the sentinel of the hoard.”

Beowulf spoke further after a pause, made a formal boast
for the final time.

          “In youth I
risked much in combat, yet I will once more.
Though I am now an old king of the people, I shall pursue this feud,
gain glory, if only the fiend to men
will come out from his earth-hall to face me!”

Addressed he then each warrior,
speaking true to each helm-wearer, for the last time,
every gathered dear companion:

          ‘I would not bear a sword,
bring the weapon to the wyrm, if I knew how
I might otherwise grapple gallantly against
that foe, as I once with Grendel did.
But there will be hot war-fires I expect,
stinking breath and venom. Thus I have on
both shield and byrnie. And I will not give
a foot’s length when I meet the barrow’s guard, but between us two
what is to happen later on the sea-wall, that is as fate.
The Measurer of Men is indeed to decide. I am firm of heart,
so that I may desist from boasting over this war-flyer.
Wait you all on the barrow, my armed men,
warriors ready in war-gear, while we see which
of we two can endure the wounds
after our deadly onslaught. This is not your fight,
nor any other man’s, but mine alone.
I must share my might with the foe,
indeed, I must share my courage. By that courage shall
I win the gold, or, in this battle, gain the peril of a violent death,
if the latter, may your lord be swept away!”

Arose then behind the shield that renowned warrior,
hard under helm, bore his battle shirt
beneath the stony cliffs. He trusted in the slaughter
one man alone was capable of. That was no cowardly course of action!

Then by the wall the one who had survived
with good manly virtue a great many battles,
the crash of colliding shields and spears, survived when bands on foot clashed,
saw standing a stone arch, a stream came out from there,
burst from the barrow, and soon exploded into
a raging flume of hot deadly fire. Beowulf could not be near
the hoard for any length of time without being burned up,
he could not survive in the depths of the dragon’s flame.
Standing there, watching, he allowed it from his breast, released his rage,
the lord of the Weder-Geats sent the word out,
fierce-hearted he shouted, his voice came in
clean as the clang of battle as it reverberated under the grey stone.
Hatred was aroused, the hoard guardian recognized
man speech. Then there was no more time
to ask for friendship. First came the breath
of the fierce assailant from out of the stones,
a hot vapour of battle. The earth resounded with the creature’s calling.

The warrior below the barrow, the lord of the Geats,
swung the rim of his shield against the dreadful stranger,
then the coiled creature’s heart ignited,
it became eager to seek battle. The good war-king
had already drawn his his sword, the ancient heirloom,
sharp of edges, each was in horror at the intent
to harm and rain destruction evident in the other’s eyes.

Yet, Beowulf stood firmly against the towering shield,
the lord of a dear people, when the serpent coiled himself
quickly together. Beowulf waited in arms.

Then the serpent went gliding along, still coiled and burning,
hastening toward his fate. The shield protected
Beowulf’s being and body for a lesser time
than that renowned prince required for his purpose,
that was the first time that day
that he learned he would have to prevail, though fate had not decreed
triumph for him. The lord of the Geats
swung up his hand, the one terrible in its varied colours was struck by
the mighty heirloom, yet its long-tested edge failed,
it gleamed dry, stopped by the beast’s bones, bit less strongly
just when the king of a people had need of it,
when it could have cut him free from his afflictions.

          Then was the barrow
guard, after that battle stroke, thrust into a fierceness of spirit –
it threw its deadly fire, wildly leapt
those battle lights. Of glorious victory the
gold-giving friend of the Geats could not boast then,
the war sword failed him while unsheathed in battle, as it should
not have, it became known as iron formerly excellent. That was no easy
journey, when the renowned kin of Ecgtheow
knew he must give up that ground,
that he should, against his wish, inhabit a dwelling place
elsewhere, but so shall each man
leave off his loaned days. Then not long was it
before the fierce warriors met each other again.

The hoard guard himself took heart — his breast began to heave
from strain — he lunged forth once again. Harsh straits were suffered,
the fires enveloped Beowulf, he who once had ruled the people.
Not any of the band of comrades were with him then.

Those sons of nobility stood around stupefied. Merely draped in martial virtues,
they fled into the woods at the sight below,
eager to save their own lives. In only one mind among them
surged sorrow. After all, kinship may never
for anything be turned away from if a man thinks rightly.

Beowulf Becomes King and Faces a Dragon-Sized Crisis: Book XXXI – Book XXXIII

The thief steals the cup from the treasure hoard of the dragon in Beowulf in translation on A Blogger's Beowulf.

The thief behind the Geats’ dragon crisis sneaking up to the dragon and reaching for the fateful treasure cup. Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stories_of_Beowulf_slave_stealing_golden_cup.jpg

XXXI

“These to you, oh noble king, I will bring
and point out the delicate points of each. After all,
all my grace still relies on you. I have few
kin — indeed there are none but you!”

Beowulf then commanded that the boar helm, head-topper for battle,
a war-steeped hat, the ancient mail shirt, and the precious war sword
be brought forth, saying thus after all this garb was brought out:

“Hrothgar gave me this battle-keened gear,
oh wise lord. And along with them he commanded me
to first tell of these treasures’ journey.
He said that they had been Heorogar’s, the king,
lord of the Scyldings, for a long while.
Yet Heorogar did not bequeath them to his son,
the one called Heremod, though he was loyal,
a true wanderer through his father’s heart. Enjoy each of them well!”

I heard that next four ornate horses were brought in,
quickly, each of them as beautiful as the last,
bay and brilliant. Beowulf gave unto his lord such gifts
in horses and treasures. And so shall all kinsmen do;
they should not scheme and lay out nets laced with malice for others
through deceitful craft, should not arrange death
for hand-companions. Hygelac proved a grand uncle
to Beowulf, a nephew who held fast to the bond,
and each was mindful of the other’s joy.

I heard that then Beowulf gave the gorget to Hygd,
Wealhtheow’s well-wrought wonder treasure, that which
the queen had given him, daughter of the prince, three horses as well,
each supple and with ornamented saddles.
The gorget shone like the sun upon Hygd’s breast.

So, boldly onward went the son of Ecgtheow,
a man known for war, known, too, for good deeds,
living according to justice, never slaying
any hearth companion while drinking, never was he rough minded.
Indeed, he was the strongest of the children of men.
So much so that he gained a great stronghold, which god granted him,
and he carried himself as a warrior ought. All of which was cause for surprise,
long had he been lowly, regarded as little good among sons of the Geats,
nor had he done any deeds of great renown or anything
to be recalled by the Weder lord while men were on the mead bench.
Yet he set out on the way of strength, though they believed him slack,
an ill-formed prince. But Beowulf’s persistence led to a reversal,
now every little deed of his further enriched his newfound fame.

After those gifts were given the protector of the earls,
the battle-famed king, ordered Hrethel’s heirloom be brought in.
It was a wondrous, gold-chased thing, there was no other
amid the whole Geat treasure hold to best that sword.
This Hygelac laid upon Beowulf’s lap,
and to him he gave seven thousand hides of land,
a hall and a throne. Both already owned land
by right of kin, though Hygelac of greater
hereditary right had more — lands were ample among
those of high rank — to him the best of the
earth was bequeathed.
After that came many days
full of the fury of battle. Hygelac fell,
Heardred’s protection proved useless,
it collapsed under the phalanx that brought his death
when they, the victorious people of the Heatho-Scylfings,
attacked with seasoned swordsmen.
That brought about fatal strife for his nephew Hereric.
Yet, after that strife, those lands turned to Beowulf’s hand.

He ruled the Geats well for fifty winters,
indeed Beowulf became a wise king,
an aged lord of the realm — until one began to trouble them:
in the dark of night a prowling dragon appeared.

The wyrm held a treasure in his high hall,
all beneath a steep stone roof, led to by a narrow footpath
unknown to men. There into the abyss stumbled
someone or other … who seized by hand from that heathen hoard …
a gleaming treasure that he afterward …
though the dragon slept he had outwitted
it with a thief’s wiles. Soon the people thereabouts,
those under the shield of the local lord, discovered
that the thief’s act unlocked the serpent’s rage.

XXXII

Though not at all with evil intent did the thief break into the dragon’s hoard,
it was not for his own greedy desire; he had been sorely oppressed.

For three nights that slave turned thief
had fled the blows of a prince of men,
he delved into the dragon’s den by need, then entering in
as a man ridden with guilt. Shortly he discovered
that … the man stood terror struck,
which the miserable …
… made … that fed his own fear, treasure piece
… there were many such pieces,
all ancient heirlooms, in that earthen house.
For there in earlier times some man or other,
had left a huge legacy of noble kin,
had thoughtfully buried the treasures there,
those precious pieces of their story. He and all his kin
had since been carried off by death in former times.
But the last one left of that noble people, he who was the eldest,
a barrow guard grieving for lost friends, buried them, knowing indeed
that he would little enjoy those grand and
beautiful treasures apart from all his kin.

          The barrow stood ready
in open ground near the sea-waves.
It was newly made at the headland, made secure with the art of secrecy.
Within there the keeper of the ancient earls’ ringed treasure
carried that share of worthy wrought and crafted goods,
the hoard of plated gold; these few words he spoke:

“Hold you now, oh earth, that which men and women cannot,
enjoy these warriors’ possessions! Indeed it was
obtained from you at the first, dug up
by worthy men. But death in battle bore those delvers away.
Now that terrible mortal harm has carried off each and every one of my people.
They have left this life where they knew and looked back longingly
at the joy had in the hall. I now have no-one to bear the sword
or bring the plated cup, that precious drinking vessel.
That group of tried warriors has since passed elsewhere.
Their hard helmets with gold adornment shall be bereft of their gold plate;
the burnishers sleep the sleep of death, those who should polish the battle mask.
So too the battle garbs, that had endured in battle
through the clash of shields and cut of swords,
they now decay upon the warriors’ husks. Nor may the mail-coats of rings
go with the war-leader on his long journey,
they may not be kept at their masters’ bloodied sides. No harp joy,
no delight of musical instruments, nor any good hawk
flies through the hall, nor any swift mare
stops in the flowered courtyard. Destructive death
has sent forth all others of my race, as it has with countless others.”

Just so, sad at heart, this final one followed his kin.
He expressed his sorrow, he moved about joyless,
for unlit days and for fevered nights, until death’s surging
reached his heart.

          The old ravager by night
later found that delightful hoard left open,
the burning one who seeks out barrows,
the slick, malicious dragon, flew into it by night,
enveloped in flame.

          The dwellers on the land thereabouts
greatly feared that drake. It delved deep
searching the earth for the depths of that hoard, which it guarded
through countless winters, kept watch over heathen gold,
useless treasure. That ravager of the people occupied the earth
hidden in the barricaded treasure house for three hundred years.

But then a man enraged that fire wyrm, stoked the fury of its heart.
To his lord the thief bore a gold-plated cup,
that man also offered a plea for peace with his lord —
a plea the lord heard as certainly as he saw the cup’s glint.
He had that hoard ransacked, the piles of rings and trinkets was diminished,
that wretched man’s request was granted. His lord leered at
the ancient work of long dead men for the first time.

When the dragon awoke to all this, strife stirred with him.
The drake moved quickly over the stones of his home, fierce-hearted.
He found the enemy’s track, the scent of he who had used stealth
and skill to creep close to his head, where the golden cup
had rested. Thus may he who is unfated to die easily survive
misery and exile, so it goes for the one who keeps
the Ruler’s favour. But the guardian of that hoard
searched eagerly along the ground, its fervent wish was to find
the one who had dealt so grievously with his cup as he slept.
Hot and fierce-hearted he often went all around
the outside of that barrow – yet not any man was there
in that deserted place. All the same, the dragon shook and postured
as if at war, as if he were in the midst of deeds of battle. At times he
took turns about the barrow, seeking that precious vessel. Immediately he
found that a man had tampered with his gold,
had his hands upon that rich treasure. The hoard guardian
waited with difficulty until evening came,
he was enraged and impatient, at last he decided
he would payback the precious drinking vessel
with hateful flames. As the day went by
the serpent seethed with desire; no longer could it
wait within the walls. Amidst its flames the wyrm burst forth,
ready with fire. That was but the beginning the terror the people
of that land suffered, and, just so,
it spelled a swift end to their quickly grieving treasure-giver.

XXXIII

Then the stranger among those lands started to spew forth flames,
it burned down all the bright dwellings thereabouts, the glow of fire
turned men stone-still in terror. That hateful sky-flier
left nothing there alive.
The serpent’s onslaught was widely seen,
its cruelly hostile malice was clear to all from near and far.
That war-like ravager of the Geatish people
hated and humiliated them. Afterward it hastened to its hoard,
escaped to the secret splendid hall before the sun summoned daytime.
But with that night of ruin the dragon had encircled the people of the land,
ringed them about in burning fire and bewildering fear. While it was emboldened in
the safety of its barrow, its fighting power, its walls. But by that hope he was deceived.

Then was Beowulf told of that terror,
in a voice trembling with speed and truth, he heard that his own home,
the best of buildings, had been melted in a surge of fire,
the gift seat of the Geats. That good man
was sorrowful at heart, sunken into great grief when he heard that news.
In that moment his thoughts turned to his past,
he wondered if he had acted contrary to the old laws of the Ruler,
the Eternal Lord, severely offended them; within his breast welled up
dark thoughts, as was not customary for him.

The fire dragon had destroyed all the people’s strongholds,
scourged all the land out to the coast, scorched all their earthen work walls
with its flames. For that flying beast the lord of the fray,
prince of the Weders, planned vengeance.
He commanded that a protector of warriors be made,
all of iron, quenched and tempered, so said the lord of earls,
he sought a wondrous war-board from his smiths. Beowulf knew well
that the forest wood warriors so often carried would be no help to him,
that the linden shield would crumble against flames. Beowulf also knew
that he must soon come to the end of his transitory days, the prince of excellence,
his loan of life would soon be due, and so, too, would the dragon’s,
though the wyrm had guarded that hoarded wealth long.

Further, Beowulf, the prince of rings,
was too proud to attack the far-flier with a band of men,
an overpowering army. Nor did he fear further attack from the drake,
he thought but little of the dragon’s strength and courage, since he
had already risked harsh circumstances, survived countless combats,
endured the crash of battle, since he had done so for Hrothgar.
Beowulf had indeed been blessed with victory, cleansed the Dane’s hall,
in combat he crushed to death the hateful kindred
of Grendel.

          Not the least of his deeds happened later,
the hand-to-hand encounter where one man slew Hygelac,
after the Geatish king was caught in the battle onslaught,
the lord and friend of the people fell in Friesland.
Hygelac, Hrethel’s son, had died in the blade brew,
struck by the sword. From there Beowulf
put his strength to use, swimming thence.
In his arm he held the battle gear of thirty men
with which he went to sea.
None of the Hetwares had reason to be exultant
in that battle on foot, with Beowulf against them on the front
bearing a shield. Few would later
return home from their meeting with that warrior.

Thanks to long practice he swam over the sea,
the son of Ecgtheow, a reclusive water treader heading
back to his people. There Hygd urged him to take
the treasure and the throne, rings and the power seat.
She trusted not her son. She doubted that he could hold
the royal seat against foreign foes, for Hygelac was dead.
Yet for nothing could that people find a means
to get Beowulf to accept such power, nothing whatever swayed him,
so long as Heardred was lord,
until the kingdom itself would choose.

Nonetheless, in that time Beowulf proved to be a well
of friendly counsel among the people, freely and with grace,
until he became mature in power, a ruler of the Weder-Geats.
But then miserable men sought for Heardred from over the sea,
Ohthere’s son. Those men had rebelled against the protector
of the Scylfings, the best among sea kings,
he who had dealt out treasure in the Swedish kingdom,
the greatly famed ruler. For Heardred that marked the end.
For his hospitality he gained a terrible wound,
the sting of a swung sword, that unfortunate son of Hygelac.
Afterwards Ongentheow’s son left,
headed for home, after Heardred was slain,
leaving the ruler’s seat for Beowulf to fill,
he was then called to rule the Geats. That was a good king!

Beowulf Tells Hygelac the Real (?) Story of Daneland and Grendel: Book XXVIII – Book XXX

A heavenly hall free from Grendel, home to Hygelac and Beowulf.

Emil Doepler’s vision of Valhalla, definitely an ideal of what Hygelac’s court of Geatish warriors could be like. Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valkyrie#/media/File:Walhall_by_Emil_Doepler.jpg

XXVIII

Went Beowulf then, along with his retinue,
down the beachhead, treading over the sandy seashore,
over the broad beach. The world candle shone overhead,
the sun strove from the south. They had endured,
bravely gone, to where stood that hall of lords,
the place where Ongentheow’s killer ruled,
went to where they had heard that the young king
was doling out rings. Hygelac was quickly told
of Beowulf’s journey there, in that word it was said
that Beowulf was in the burgh, that his lifelong
shield companion had come, that the stalwart
warrior walked within the hall, hale and hearty.
Space was cleared, as the king commanded,
those who had traveled far by foot came in.
Beowulf sat there among his own, a survivor of battle amidst veterans,
kin with kin, once the lord there
had graciously greeted him with singing tones
and great words. Bearing the mead jug
around the hall was Hygd, Haereth’s daughter,
loved by the people, filling the offered cups
with plenty. Hygelac then began
to ask fair questions of the man
in that high hall. He burst with curiosity,
sought to know how all the sea-going Geat’s journey went:

“How fared you on your journey, dear Beowulf,
when you suddenly strove to travel far
over the salt sea to seek strife,
battle, at Heorot? And were you a help
to the widely known best of men,
to that famed prince? I have had sorrow
sitting upon my heart since you left, I did not trust in your
journey, dear man. Long had I told you,
do not go to meet this monster at the hall,
let the South Danes work war against Grendel
themselves. Thus I say thanks to god,
that I am able to see you hale and whole here.”

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“That is all widely known, lord Hygelac,
that journey’s fame has spread to many among mankind,
how Grendel and I grappled
at the very place where he was used to
terrorizing the Victory-Shieldings with terrible sorrow,
where we battled for life with bare limb. There I avenged all,
so that no kin of Grendel’s would have need
to boast to any over earth when the crash of dawn came,
no matter how long any of his dark brood may last,
all that treacherous and trembling bunch. But when at first
I arrived at that ring hall I greeted Hrothgar.
Soon he trusted to my reputation, the son of Halfdane,
after he came to know the wish of my heart,
then he presented me with a seat between his own sons.
The company was wrapt in joy — never have I ever seen
such celebration over mead as was among those in that hall
in all my life. All the while that renowned queen,
a pledge of peace for her people, went all about the hall,
urging on the youths there. Often, on her rounds, she gave
circlets to the drinkers, until, at the last, she took her seat.

Also, but only at times, before that body of retainers,
Hrothgar’s daughter bore the ale cup to the men in turn.
From those sitting in the hall I learned
that this maiden’s name is Freawearu, she who there gave
those warriors studded and precious vessels. She is promised,
young and gold-adorned, to the gracious son of Froda.
The friend of the Scyldings has settled on this,
the protector of the kingdom, and he considers it wise policy
that his daughter will settle several deadly feuds,
that she will ease their many conflicts. But too often,
when so short a time has passed after a man’s fall,
it is rare for the deadly spear to rest, even though the bride be good.
It may be displeasing to the prince of the Heathobards
and to the thanes of the people of the prince Ingeld
when he with his new bride strides onto the hall floor
while the Danish wedding attendants are nobly entertained.
One will point to the shining of an old heirloom on them,
a time-hardened, ring-patterned treasure of the Heathobards,
recognized from the time when they were able to wield such weapons,
a time that ended when they came to destruction at the shield-play
that scarred their lives and laid low their dear companions.

XXIX

That pointing one will then speak, while beer-drinking, about that precious object,
the elder spear-warrior: He remembers all of that treasure’s history
and those that faced death at spear-point. His mind settles on the grim fates of the fallen,
then, sad of mind, he will test a young warrior’s
spirit with an assault on his heart-thought,
he will arouse the evil of war, and he will say these words:

‘Might you, my comrade, recognize that sword
which your father bore to the field,
wearing his battle mask on his last expedition,
that precious sword, lost on the campaign where the Danes slew him,
when they seized the Heathobards and made where they lay a place of slaughter,
when all our warriors were felled by the valiant Scyldings?
Now here the sons of those slayers go about
on the hall floor, exalting in the adornments of someone else.
They boast of murder, and bear about treasures
that you by right should possess.’

“Just so he urges and reminds each of that time
with bitter words, until the time comes
that one of the lady’s men sleeps in bloodstained furs,
is found sliced by a sword for his father’s deeds,
to avenge those who forfeited their lives. From there that slayer
will escape alive, for he knows the land well.
Then the oath swearing of men will be shattered
on both sides, and afterwards in Ingeld
will well up a deadly hate
and surging sorrow will cool his love for his wife.
Therefore, I consider the Heathobards of no loyalty,
their part of the peace to be made by marriage is not without deceit,
the fastness of their friendship is false.

          “I shall now speak
further about Grendel, so that you may know the matter well,
bestower of treasures, and so that you may learn of what happened after
the hand to hand struggle between warriors. After heaven’s gem
had glided out beyond the earth’s rim the enraged creature came,
that dreadful one sought us out for its evening hostilities,
while we stood guard, still unharmed, in the hall.
There battle proved fatal for Hondscio.
He had been fated to die by the deadly evil, he was the first laid low,
that girded warrior. Grendel swallowed him up,
took his whole body into his mouth and snapped
through mail and bone and sinew until that renowned thane was gone.

“Not eager to leave empty-handed,
that slayer with bloodied teeth, intent upon evil,
pressed on to get further into the hall.
But then he came against my great strength,
as he grabbed me with a readied hand. A grotesque glove hung,
broad and strange, secured with a cunning clasp,
from his hip, it was a thing concocted through ingenuity,
a work of devil’s craft made from dragon’s skin.
He wished to shove blameless me
into that sack, press me in among the many,
that fierce perpetrator of vile deeds. But it would not be so.
Not after I stood upright, completely enraged.

XXX

It would be too long to tell how I repaid that rapacious evil
for each of his crimes, each treachery of that ravager of a people.
Let it simply be known, my lord, that there I brought honour
to our people through my deeds. Yet he managed to squirm away,
he escaped to live a little while longer, to draw the dregs of mirth from his life,
though his lifeblood trailed behind him and he left his right hand with me at Heorot
as he ran from the hall, an abject creature. I can only guess that he,
sad at heart, bereft of strength, sank to the bottom of his mere that night.

“Golden ornaments were awarded to me then
by the friend of the Scyldings for that mortal conflict,
countless treasures, once the morning had come
and we had sat down to feast.
There was song and sonorous entertainment there,
an elder Scylding recounted tales of things learned long ago,
one brave in battle was in harp joy,
he struck the delightful wood while retelling
tales both true and tragic, the great-hearted king
correctly shared strange stories,
and an old warrior bound by age performed
a lament for his youth, the loss of strength in battle.
Within him his heart surged when
he recalled many things from the seasons of his past.
So we took pleasure in that place
all the day long until another night came upon men.

Late within that dark Grendel’s mother appeared,
ready for revenge for the injury she suffered;
she made a journey full of grief. Death had carried off her son,
death egged on by grim-faced Geats. Yet that monstrous woman
would avenge her son, schemed to boldly steal a hall dweller for her loss.
There on the floor was Æschere for the taking,
the wise old counselor departed from this life at her touch.
But, when the morning came, none could
burn up the dead of the Danish people by fire,
nor could that dear man be lain upon a pyre —
she had borne the body in her fiend’s embrace to her home beneath her mountain stream.
That was Hrothgar’s most grievous of those sorrows
that had long befallen him, that leader of a people.
Then that prince implored me while troubled in mind
to perform another heroic deed in the tumult
of the darkened waters, to venture my life:
in short, to perform a glorious deed. And for it he promised me proper reward.

I found in those surging waters, as it is well-known,
the grim and terrible guardian of the deep.
There we two were locked in hand-to-hand combat.
But soon the water seethed with blood, and I had cut off
the head of Grendel’s mother in her battle hall
with a mighty sword edge. With difficulty
I carried my life from that place, but it was not yet fated
for me to die, and so the protector of warriors gave me
a multitude of treasures, that most generous son of Halfdane.
Just so, that king of his people acted in accord with custom,
never had I any want for reward while with him,
he gave me great gains, granted me beautiful treasures,
the true son of Halfdane, and ever were they of my choosing.”

My History with Beowulf (Podcast)

Here is episode 3 of Fate Going As It Must: A Beowulf Talk Show! On the show I talk with people who are fans of Beowulf to try to understand how they discovered the poem and why they think it’s still important. This is a monthly show, but there are some special announcements in this episode that will disrupt that for a bit. You can find the previous episode here.

This is a solo version of the podcast, so I am interviewing myself. While going through my usual questions I talk about:

  • How I got into Beowulf
  • When and where my translation started
  • What kept me translating over the years
  • Why Grendel’s mother is the best monster
  • The awesomeness of Beowulf: A Musical Epic
  • How Beowulf is both simple and layered
  • How Beowulf reflects the humanity of stories and storytelling

Feel free to leave your thoughts on the show and on the topics covered in the comments. Or, go ahead and answer this question: What is the book or story that’s most influenced your life?

The theme music for the show is:

The Pyre by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Going from Hrothgar to Hygelac: Book XXV – Book XXVII

Beowulf and every Geat with him sail from Hrothgar to Hygelac.

Beowulf and the Geats sail across the “gannet-bath”. Image from http://www.mainlesson.com/display.php?author=marshall&book=beowulf&story=beowulf.

XXV

          “It is a wonder to say,
how mighty God distributes among us depths of wisdom,
land and rank; indeed It wields all power.
At times It lets the minds of men wander
toward dreams of fame to match their kin’s,
gives them a native country and earthly pleasures
to protect and enjoy, a fortified city to control and friends to help,
lets him hold sway over a region of the world,
to rule far and wide. Until, that is, unwisely, the man never thinks
of his own end or considers the limit of his life.
But a great man dwells in prosperity, not at all is he hindered
by sickness or age, neither does his mind go dark
with evil anxieties, nor does enmity bare its blade
to him anywhere, and he goes through all the world
according to his desires. He knows nothing is wrong,
but within him a measure of arrogance grows
and flourishes, while the guard sleeps,
his soul’s shepherd lounges. That sleep is too deep,
weighed down with a diet of worldly cares; the slayer then slinks near,
the psyche-dweller who wickedly notches an arrow to his bow and shoots.

“Then that sharp arrow slides beneath the great man’s defenses,
it bites into his heart — he knows no need to guard himself —
the perverse strange command of the evil in his spirit then has hold.
That man begins to think little of what he had long held:
going forth angry-minded he only covets, for pride he never gives
rings of hammered gold. What he had been destined for
is forgotten and neglected, what was shown in the Almighty’s past gifts,
God’s glory, all that was made clear in his share of honour.
Afterwards the common end comes to that man,
that prince’s transitory body declines,
what is fated to die always falls; then another takes what had been that man’s,
one who ungrudgingly shares that former prince’s ancient treasures
among their earls, fearing no retribution.

“Guard against such evil hostility, dear Beowulf,
best of men, and be sure to make the better choice:
eternal gain! Be not intent on pride,
oh renowned warrior! Now is your power prospering
for but a short while, soon will either
illness or the blade deprive you of that strength,
or the grip of flames, or the surging waters,
or an attack by sword, or the flight of spears,
or terrible old age, or the light of your eyes
will fail and grow dim. Presently such will come
upon you, oh lord of battle, and death will overpower you.

“Mindful of such I have ruled the Ring-Danes under the sky
for one hundred half-years, and have protected
them against war with many nations from across this world,
from both spears and swords, such that I see no other beneath the sky’s expanse as an adversary.

“But lo! A hard reversal came to my native land,
grief following joy, once Grendel appeared,
that ancient adversary, that invader of my peace.
At that arrival I continually bore persecution
and great sorrow of mind. Thus I now thank God,
the eternal Lord, that I might experience in my life,
after the struggle, the chance to gaze with my own eyes
upon the beast’s head blood-stained from battle.
Go now to the bench, joyously join the
mirth of feasting. We two shall share
a great many treasures when the morning comes.”

The Geat was glad-hearted at that, he descended the dais,
sought out a seat, as the wise one had commanded.
Then was it as it had been before for the bold,
the sitters in the hall spoke fairly with voices renewed.
The mantle of night fell to darken the world
outside the warriors’ hall. All that company arose,
the grey-haired one then sought his bed,
leader of the Scyldings. The Geat, renowned shield warrior,
was also eager for such rest. Soon to him,
the one wearied along the warrior’s way, a hall thane came,
one to guide the far-flung one on his way,
he who for etiquette’s sake waited on all
thane’s needs, such as should be had in those days
for far-flung seafaring warriors.

Then Beowulf rested his great heart. The hall towered,
gabled and gold-chased. Within the guests slept
until the black-plumed raven called out
heaven’s joy with a bright heart. Then came the shadow-shifting
morning light. The warriors hastened,
those nobles were eager to set out
for the lands of their own people; the strangers, bold in spirit,
sought out the prow of their ship.
Beowulf then commanded that hard Hrunting
be born to Ecglaf’s son, ordered that the man be given his sword,
that dear iron. He said his thanks to him for that gift,
went on with wise words to say it was a good war-friend,
a powerful battle companion, not a word was breathed
against the blade’s edge: all was said sincerely.

And those ready for a journey, they were skilfully
geared as warriors. The leader of those people went
openly to the Danish prince, to where that other worthy was.
The hale hero greeted Hrothgar.

XXVI

Beowulf spoke, the son of Ecgtheow:

“Now we seafarers must say,
we who have come from far off, that we are eager to go,
to return to our lord Hygelac. Here we were received as kin,
our desires were entertained; you have indeed treated us well.
If I may do anything on earth
to earn more of your heart’s affection,
oh lord of men, beyond what I have thus far done
by warlike deeds, I will quickly be ready.
If, while over the sea’s expanse I learn
that neighbouring peoples threaten you with terror,
as enemies formerly did to your people,
I shall bring the help of a thousand thanes,
the aid of warriors. Of Hygelac, lord of the Geats,
I know, though he is young, that,
as the protector of my people, he will support me
with words and with deeds, so that I may honour thee
and bear to you a forest of spears as help,
the strength of support, when you have need of men.
Then, if Hrethric decides to go to
the Geatish hall, your son, oh prince, he shall
find countless friends there; for far-flung countries
are most hospitable to those who are themselves worth meeting.”

Hrothgar spoke to him in answer:

“The Lord in Its wisdom sent those words
into your mind; never have I heard wiser words
from one so young in age.
You are of powerful strength and of wise mind,
with wit in your words. I consider it something to be expected,
that if it shall happen that the spear takes him,
if fierce battle seizes the son of Hrethel,
if illness or iron edge claims your lord,
the guardian of the people, and you still have your life,
then the Sea Geats will not have
anyone better to choose as king,
warrior of hoard guardians, if you will rule
the kingdom of your kin. The better I know you,
the more I like you, dear Beowulf.
You have brought it about so that by all people it shall be said,
by the Geatish people and by the spear Danes,
we have a shared peace and ceased strife,
ended the enmity that we once endured,
and that it was while I ruled over a wide kingdom,
over common treasures, while I greeted with gifts
many others from across the gannet’s bath.
Our ring-prowed ships shall ever bring
gifts and love-tokens across the heaving crests. I of your people
know that you are firm with friend or with foe alike,
steadfast in every respect in the old ways.”

Then the protector of warriors, son of Halfdane,
gave him twelve treasures,
then he commanded those dear ones to
go forth in safety, and to quickly come back.
The king then kissed that one of good and noble descent,
the lord of the Scyldings embraced that best of men,
with arms about his neck; then the
grey-haired one fell to tears. Two things were known to him,
the old one of great wisdom, one of the two was clearer:
that he would never afterward see Beowulf,
meet for a heart to heart. To him that man was so beloved
that he could not restrain his surging emotion,
his heartstrings were wound tight at that thought,
he keenly felt his fondness for the man whom
he now knew as his dearest friend. From him Beowulf then went,
the warrior now proudly wound in gold walked the green earth,
exulting in his treasure. He went to where his ship waited
for its owner and lord, where it had ridden at anchor.
Thereafter the gifts of Hrothgar were often praised
as the Geats went on their way. He was a true king,
blameless in all respects, until age deprived him
of the might of joy, as it has ever oppressed a host of others.

XXVII

Came they then to the sea, the very brave
and young company of Geats; they wore their ring-mail,
their shirts of interlocking rings. The coastguard observed
their coming, as he had earlier observed their arrival,
but he did not greet those guests of
the craggy promontory with insult from afar, he rode towards the band.
He said to them that they would be welcome by the Weder people,
those warriors in bright armour that went to their ship.
There on the spacious beach that craft was
laden with armour, the ring-prowed ship,
and with horses and with treasures; the mast towered
over the hoarded treasures from Hrothgar.
The lord of the Geats then gave that guard a sword
bound in gold, so that afterwards he was
honoured all the more among the mead-benches for that treasure,
the gilded heirloom. Then the ship of them plunged into the sea,
stirred up the deep waters. Thus they left Daneland.

Then the mast was dressed with its sea garb,
the sail bound with rope; the sea wood creaked.
The wave-floater’s journey was not hindered
by wind over waves, that sea-goer swept forth
riding onwards atop foamy necked waters.
The ship with the ring-bound prow went over the sea current
so swiftly that they soon saw the Geatish cliffs,
the familiar headlands appeared, as the ship came closer
until that wind-battered boat rested upon the sands.
Swiftly the harbour guard was ready at the water,
he who for a long time had eagerly looked
far out to sea for that dear man.
He moored that roomy ship on the beach,
fixed it there with anchor ropes, lest the force of the waves
drive that beautiful boat from shore.

Then it was commanded that the prince’s treasure be carried up,
ornaments and plated gold. It was not far from there
for Beowulf to go to the treasure bestower,
Hygelac, son of Hrethel, he who dwelled within
his own home, living near the sea-cliff with his companions.
The building there was magnificent, the king was of princely fame,
one exalted in the hall, along with Hygd, his young queen,
a woman wisely accomplished, though she had lived
within the enclosed stronghold for but a few winters,
daughter of Haereth. Yet she was not bent down by vanity,
she was not sparing in gifts to the Geatish people,
she gave a great many treasures.

          Not so Modthryth, the noble
people’s queen, she committed terrible crimes.
For not anyone of that brave, dear company,
save for her husband, would venture to look upon her
during the day or even meet her eye,
lest they be bound in deadly bonds
thorny and twisted by hand, then made to wait for the mercy
of a sword held tight in their tormentor’s hand,
a blade with branching patterns that must settle their debt,
must slake its thirst for public blood. Such acts cannot compare
to the true custom of queens, even if she be peerless in beauty.
For such women are peace-weavers, and must not steal away life
from dear men for imagined insults.
Indeed, Hemming’s kinsman put an end to that.

The ale drinkers in the hall told another tale:
that Modthryth caused much less trouble to her people,
favoured fewer malicious acts, as soon as she was
given to the young lord while gowned in gold,
a man of noble descent, as soon as she boarded a boat
to cross the pale waters to marry Offa
according to her father’s counsel. Once there
the woman worked well on the throne, renowned for goodness,
she made the most of her destined life-span while alive;
she maintained her deep love with the prince of warriors
among all kingdoms, as I have heard,
the best between the two seas
of all mankind. As such, Offa was foremost
in gifts and in wars, a spear-bold man,
one honoured widely, who ruled his nature
and lands with wisdom. Then Eomer was born,
a help to warriors, Hemming’s kinsman,
grandson of Garmund, powerful in battle.

Grendel and Grendel’s Mother Don’t Survive Beowulf’s Final Cut: Book XXIII – Book XXIV

Beowulf and his band of Geats carrying Grendel's head.

Beowulf and the Geats haul Grendel’s head back to Heorot. J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack.
Image found at: http://bit.ly/2frmbiU

XXIII

He saw then, in the sea-hag’s armoury, a sword blessed by victory,
a sword of giants’ craft from elder days, a sword strong of edge,
ready for a warrior’s glory; that was the best of weapons.
But it was more than any other man
would have strength to bear into the dance of battle,
superb and splendid, the handiwork of giants.
Beowulf seized that belted hilt, the Scylding warrior,
he was fierce and fatally grim, and when he drew that ring-patterned sword
Grendel’s mother had no hope of further life. He angrily struck her,
such that the sword caught slickly at the base of her neck,
slipped in to shatter her vertebra; indeed the sword passed through
her entire, doomed body. That she-monster crumpled to the floor,
the sword sweating blood, the man rejoicing in his work.
A light then shone, brightened the hall from within,
made it as bright as the great candle
set in the heavens. He looked about the hall;
turned toward the far wall, with weapon raised,
its hilt hard up against ambush, Hygelac’s thane,
emboldened and resolute. That edge had proven
all but useless to that fighter, and he sought to use it
to avenge all of Grendel’s awful attacks,
each of the monster’s missions against the West-Danes,
the many more than one occasion when he alone
slunk into Heorot to slay Hrothgar’s hearth-companions
who were all asleep, devoured clawed clutches of Danes
while all slept as if dead,
and made off with as many others,
a loathsome booty. Beowulf paid him his reward,
the fierce fighter, for there he saw laid out
the wounded body of Grendel,
now life-less, his grim energy drained through the injury
he bore from the fight in Heorot. His body was wide open
since he endured that death blow.
One hard sword-stroke severed his head from his body.

Soon those wise men saw,
those who were with Hrothgar watching the water,
that the surging waves were stirred up,
that the water was red with blood. The old ones,
the grey-haired, gathered to speak clearly together
of how that prince down in the deep would not return,
how he who went seeking to be victorious would not
come back to their glorious king; thus they decided
that the she-wolf of the lake had destroyed him.

Then came the ninth hour of the day. To a man
the brave Scyldings left the lake, and with them went
that generous gold-friend. But the strangers stayed to wait,
though sick at heart, and stared at those waters;
they wished and yet could not believe that they would see
their lord and friend in the flesh once more.

          Meanwhile,
back in the cave the sword began, after the blood of battle
spattered the war-icicle, to soften and wane. It was a wondrous sight,
all the blade melting away much like ice
when the Father looses the frost bonds,
unties the waters from their cold-cords, he who has power
over the sowing and the harvest; such is truly the Measurer’s might.
Nothing more did he take from that place, the lord of Weder-Geats,
any valuable things, though he there many did see,
only the head and the hilt both,
the shining treasure; the blade before it melted
was a fire-hardened, damascened edge, but the beast’s blood was too hot,
that alien spirit’s poison, the one which died there.
From there Beowulf was safe and swimming, he who in earlier strife
had called down defeat in his wrath, he climbed through the waters.
The churning waters had been purified,
likewise was the land thereabouts, when that alien spirit
left off her living days and lost her loaned life.
Then came the seafarer to the safety of land,
swimming stout-heartedly, joyous with his sea-spoils,
the amazing burden that he had with him then.
They all flocked to him, thanked god,
that mighty heap of thanes, took delight in their chief,
that they were able to see him safe again.
Then they were busied with the swift unbinding
of helm and byrnie. The lake’s surface stilled,
the sky was again visible within, though dappled in blood.

The troop of them then went forth on the footpath,
rejoicing in the wooded countryside, passing along the trail,
down familiar ways. Those royally brave men
carried the head from the cliffs around the lake,
struggling with it all together,
the very bold. Four of them
balanced the beast’s head on their spear-points
as they carried Grendel’s remains to the gold-hall.
Finally they could see the hall from the hill’s cusp,
the war-like fourteen turned from the road
and the Geats passed into the valley. The lord of battle
was at their heart as they strode through the mead hall’s yard.
Then that weathered warrior strode in,
the man bold in deeds had grown authoritative,
a war-fierce man, he greeted Hrothgar.
By the hair was Grendel’s head then borne
into the middle of the floor, where the warriors drank,
the terror dropped amidst the men and their queen;
a wondrous spectacle in the sight of men.

XXIV

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“Hear me now, son of Halfdane,
lord of the Scyldings, we who have been to the sea-lake
have brought back booty, a mark of fame, for all here to look upon.
I escaped that choppy conflict,
the war beneath the waters, ventured through
the risky deed; the fight was nearly taken from me,
but God was my shield.
In that struggle I could not bring Hrunting
to bear, though it is a noble weapon;
but the Lord of men allowed
that I might see hanging on the cave wall
a shining magnificent sword of elder-craft — often
will the wise aid the friendless — that I seized and brandished as my own.
Then I slew the she-wolf in that fight, as the hall began to glow around me,
a strangely fortified house. Than that battle blade
burned, the damascened sword, as the creature’s blood struck it,
hottest of battle bloods. I took the hilt out
from the fiend’s remains, the wicked deed avenged,
the death by violence of Danes, as was befitting.
Thence I swear this to you, that you may now
sleep without sorrow in Heorot hall with all your company,
and that each thane of your people,
old nobles and youths alike, they all now have no need to fear,
and nor do you, lord of the Scyldings, for your own portion,
the lives of your folk, as you did before.”

Then was the golden hilt given into the hand
of the old battle-chief, an ancient work of giants
for the aged ruler. It became the possession
of the Danish prince after those devils perished,
the craft of a skilled smith. When the hostile-hearted,
the enemies of God, gave up this world,
guilty of murder, he and his mother gave up that treasure as well.
Thus the hilt came into the power of the worldly king
judged to be the best between the two seas,
a treasure freely given to the Danes.

Hrothgar spoke, as he was shown the hilt,
that old treasure. On it was written the origins
of a great struggle, after the flood had slain many,
sloshed through in torrents, a struggle with giant-kind.
Peril was brought to all. That was a people
estranged from the eternal Lord; from the Almighty
came the final retribution of rising waters.
Thus was the pommel work written upon in gold
with runes properly inscribed,
inset and in-carved, by the one who worked that sword,
what had been the best of blades, first among weapons,
with wire-wound hilt and edge damascened like snakes. Then
the wise one spoke, the son of Halfdane — the hall hushed:

“Indeed, it may be said, by he who upholds
right and truth for his people, for all humanity,
even by the old realm lord, that this man
is born to greatness! Your success is wide-flung
over the sea-ways, my friend Beowulf,
your fame is spread over every people. All you do
is done with steadfastness, strength, and wisdom of heart.
To you I give my lasting honour, as we two had earlier agreed. You shall be
to your people an everlasting pillar and a help to warriors’ hands.

          “Heremod was not so
to the sons of Ecgwelan, the Ar-Scyldings;
he did not grow into joy, but to slaughter,
a death dealer to the Danish people.
With enraged heart he killed table companions
and shoulder comrades alike, until he was truly alone,
he of renown, of power, was away from human joy,
though mighty God had given him all,
raised him in strength, put him ahead of
all other men in all things. Yet in his heart he harboured
secret and cruel bloodthirsty thoughts; never gave he
any rings to the Danes who strove for fame. He lived joylessly,
such that his struggles made him suffer misery,
his life was a long-lasting affliction to his people. By this be taught,
see what is manly virtue! That is why I, wise from many winters,
tell you this tale.”

The Feud Isn’t Over Yet: Book XX – Book XXII

Grendel's mother menaces the pinned Beowulf with a knife.

Grendel’s mother has Beowulf pinned and raises her dagger over him, ready to finish the fight! By J. R. Skelton – Marshall, Henrietta Elizabeth (1908) Stories of Beowulf, T.C. & E.C. Jack, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11001837

XX

Hrothgar spoke, protector of the Scyldings:

“Ask ye not about the night’s joy; sorrow is renewed
to the Danish people. Æschere is dead,
Yrmenlaf’s elder brother,
my counsellor and confidant, my advisor,
my shoulder companion, when we at battle
were both at the fore, when we clashed with foes,
when the boar figures were struck. So should a man be,
a warrior who has proven his worth — so Æschere was!
A deadly creature came wandering to Heorot
to kill him by hand; I know not to what secret place
that terrible one slunk to turn him to carrion,
to make of him a gore-spattered feast. She carried on our feud,
that which you the other night inflamed by killing Grendel
in your violent manner with the might of your grip,
since he had for so long a time terrified my people,
ravaged and grieved them. He fell in that fight
and forfeited his life; and now another
wicked ravager has come, looking to avenge her kin,
she who has already done much for her vengeance,
so it may seem to many thanes,
after they have seen their ring-giver weeping from the heart,
submerged in his dire distress; now that his hand lay still,
the hand that proved generous to every desire.

“I have heard the dwellers in the land, my people,
and my hall counsellors say,
that they have seen two such
mighty prowlers of the murky moors, patrolling them,
alien creatures; there one of them,
they all can say with great certainty,
has a woman’s likeness; the other unfortunate
in a man’s form treads the path of exile,
but never had they seen a bigger man;
in earlier times the dwellers in the land named
him Grendel; they knew not their lineage,
their parentage was said to be hidden among
mysterious spirits. They occupy that
strange land, living along wolf-inhabited slopes, near wind-wracked cliffs,
up the perilous fen-path, where mountain streams
fall through mists from the headlands,
water creeping from underground. It is not many miles
hence that their mere can be found,
with frost-covered groves overhanging it;
tree roots overshadow those waters with their interlocking embrace.
Each night there you can see the oddest of wonders;
the water catches fire! None among the dear wise
children of humanity know of those waters’ bottom.
Even the stag, harassed by wolves,
that hart strong of horn, would seek security in the wood,
even if it was far off, would turn to offer its horns,
lose its life on the bank, before it would enter that water,
conceal his head. That is no pleasant place.
Thence rise up surging waves
to a darkened sky, there the winds stir
hateful storms, so much so that the air becomes gloomy,
and the sky weeps.

Now as before we depend
upon you alone for help. That region is not yet known,
that perilous place. There you may find
the creature carrying the guilt of killing; seek it out if you dare.
I will reward you with great wealth for ending this feud,
award you with ancient treasures, as I did already,
give works of twisted gold, if you seek out this wretch.”

XXI

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“Do not sorrow, wise lord! Better be it for each man
if he avenge his friend, than if he mourn long.
Each of us shall experience an end
to life in this world; achieve what glory you can
before death! That is the way to place among the best of warriors
after you are no longer living.
Arise, protector of the realm, head out quickly with me,
so that we can find the trail of Grendel’s kin!
I to thee promise this: it shall not escape into protection,
nor into the earth’s bosom, nor into the mountain wood,
nor to the depths of the sea, try as it might.
This day you shall have patience enough
for each misery, as I have come to expect you to.”

Then the old one leapt up, thanked God,
the mighty Lord, for what the man had said.
Hrothgar had his horse bridled,
the one with the braided hair; the wise king
rode out in fine array. His troop of shield-bearers
marched on. Tracks were widely seen
over the trails through the wood,
leading over earth, going straight
over to the darkened moor,
left by the lifeless body of the dear servant, drug along,
he who had watched over the home of Hrothgar.

The prince’s thanes then rode on
over steep rocky slopes, around narrowly winding paths,
through ways that fit just single file soldiers, up trails unknown,
over precipitous headlands, lined with the homes of water monsters.
Hrothgar went on ahead with a handful of the wise,
to see that strange place; they looked about
until suddenly they found a patch of mountain trees
all growing out over grey stones,
a joy-less forest, waters stood beneath them,
blood-stained and turbid. To all the Danes gathered there,
friends of the Scyldings, the sight caused harsh suffering
at heart, bringing the same heaviness to each of the many thanes,
striking each of them with grief, once they found
the head of Æschere on the cliff by the water’s side.
Amidst the waters blood surged — clear for the men there to see —
hot with gore. At times a thane sounded a horn,
sang an urgent war-song. Those on foot all sat down;
there through the water they saw many of the race of serpents,
strange sea-dragons knew those depths,
likewise, on the headlands lay water monsters,
those that often undertake to hijack ships as they
set out on fateful voyages down the sail-road in the morning,
dragons and beasts. They rushed about the waters,
fierce and enraged; they had heard that sound,
the resounding war-horn. One of the Geats
severed the life of one with an arrow from his bow,
than did it battle against the waves, since that war arrow stuck in
its side; it was then slower against the waters
in that sea, until death took its fight away.
That beast was quickly pulled from the waves,
assaulted with savagely barbed boar spears,
fiercely the thanes attacked it to tug that wondrous
wave-traverser to the shore; the men
all gazed upon that terrible stranger.

Beowulf geared himself
in warrior’s garb, he felt no anxiety for his life then.
His hand woven war-corselet, broad and skilfully decorated,
would soon know those depths,
he was confident in its ability to protect his bone-chamber,
so that no hand-grasp could crush his chest,
that no furious foe’s malicious hand could harm him.
And on his head a shining helmet he wore,
which would soon muddy the mere’s bottom,
would soon enter the surging waters, that treasure-embellished helm,
encircled by a lordly band, made as those in elder days,
wrought by a weapon smith, wondrously formed,
set all around with boar-images, so that the wearer
would not be bitten by blade or battle sword.
Next was an item of no little service,
such was the thing that Hrothgar’s man loaned him,
it was the hilted sword named Hrunting,
an ancient treasure beyond compare.
The sword’s edge was iron, decorated like an arm full of poison,
hardened in the blood of battle. Never in combat had it failed
any of its wielders, whoever fought with it in their grip,
those who dared do perilous deeds,
who entered the battlefield full of foes. Indeed this was not
the first time the sword had been called upon for heroic deeds.
For that son of Ecglaf, strong in might,
no longer thought of what that one had said before,
while drunk on wine, when he loaned that weapon
to the better swordsman; he himself dared not
to venture beneath the turmoil of those waves
and risk his life to do a heroic deed; there he lost
his fame, his reputation for courage. But the other
showed no fear, the one already well-girded for battle.

XXII

Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow:

“Now think upon it, son of Halfdane,
wise ruler, now that I am ready for this journey,
gold-giving friend of men, that which we two had spoken on:
that if I while in your service shall
lose my life, that you would go forth afterwards
always in a father’s place for me.
That you would be a preserver of my retainers,
my companions, if battle shall take me.
As for the treasure that you have given me,
dear Hrothgar, send it to Hygelac.
Thus, may the lord of the Geats gaze upon those riches,
thus the son of Hrethel will see, when he looks upon that treasure,
that I a liberal and great ring giver
had found, and enjoyed his generosity to the full.
And you, Unferth, are to have my own treasure,
my sword so forged its metal shows waves, you the wide-known
man are to have that hard edge. With Hrunting, I shall
wreak vengeance, or death shall take me.”

After those words the Geatish lord
was quickened by courage, no answer
would he wait for, into the sea-wave he
threw himself. It was nearly the length of a full day
before he could see the bottom of that lake.
Soon that one sensed him, she who that underwater expanse
had occupied for a fiercely ravenous fifty years,
grim and greedy, she knew that a man,
an alien being, one from above had come exploring.
With claw outstretched she grasped towards him, wrapped the warrior
in her terrible grip. Yet nowhere on his body
was he at all injured, his mail protected him all around,
she could not pierce through his war coat,
the linked mail shirt was locked against her loathsome fingers.
That she-wolf of the water bore him away, once they came to the bottom,
carried the ring mailed prince to her dwelling,
so that he was unable to wield his weapon,
though he had his fill of courage. A rushing horde of wondrous creatures
pressed upon him in those waters, many a sea-beast
tore with its tusks at his war-shirt,
gave a fierce pursuit. Than that prince perceived
that he was in some hostile hall,
a dry place where water harmed him not at all,
he saw that the roof of the place held back the current,
the sudden pull of the waters:
there a gleaming light shone bright within.
Then he saw that accursed woman of the deep clearly,
the strong sea-woman. A mighty blow he gave
with his battle blade, he held nothing back in his hand-stroke,
so that the ring patterned sword sang out upon her head,
howled its greedy battle dirge. Yet there that surface dweller discovered
that the flashing sword would not bite,
that it would not harm his target’s life: the sword failed
that prince in his time of need. Before it had endured many
hand to hand combats, had often shorn away helmets,
sliced through the fated ones’ war garments. That was the first time
that dear treasure failed to show its true glory.

But Beowulf was yet resolute, not at all did his courage wane,
mindful of the glorious deed at hand was that kin of Hygelac,
that angry warrior threw the sword with curved markings,
inlaid with ornamentation, so that it clattered, useless, on the ground,
hard and steel-edged. He then trusted to his own might,
the strength of his hand-grip. So shall a man do
when he thinks to gain long-lasting fame in the midst
of combat, not at all is he anxious about his own life.
He grabbed her by the shoulder — feeling no sorrow for his violent act —
the man of the warrior Geats pressed against Grendel’s mother,
then flung the fiend from where she stood, enraged
against the deadly foe, so that she fell to the floor.
She was quickly up and payed back that blow
with a fierce grip of her own, followed through with her forward grasp.
Stumbled then the wearied warrior, though the strongest,
a true foot-soldier, so that he fell to the floor.
She sat then on her hall-guest and drew a dagger,
broad of blade, bright of edge. She was ready to avenge her son,
her only offspring. But on Beowulf’s breast lay
the firm mail-coat, the protector of his life,
it prevented the dagger’s point and its edge from piercing.
The son of Ecgtheow would have perished
beneath the wide earth, that Geatish man,
if his war-corselet had not provided its help,
that tough mail-coat. And if holy God
had not controlled the victory in that battle, the wise Lord,
Ruler of Heaven; the Ruler easily decided
the right outcome for the fight, once that man stood up.