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.”

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!

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

  1. Pingback: Going from Hrothgar to Hygelac: Book XXV – Book XXVII | A Blogger's Beowulf

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