About NSCZach

A writer who translates Beowulf (and other things), freelances, reads voraciously, and plays adventure video games/J-RPGs.

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!

Advertisements

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.

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!

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.”

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!

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.

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!

Beowulf and Storytelling with Lex Fajardo (Podcast)

Here is episode 2 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. Since this is a monthly show, so far there are just two episodes. But I’m planning to release a new episode every month for the next 10 months. The previous episode is here.

My guest on this episode is Lex Fajardo, the creator of the Kid Beowulf comic series. You can find out more about his series at kidbeowulf.com. While chatting with Lex about Beowulf we covered:

  • How Beowulf handles (and mishandles) storytelling
  • Fate (especially fate through blood ties)
  • Beowulf and Grendel: more similar than different
  • The merits of the monsters
  • John Gardner’s Grendel
  • Beowulf as Marvel’s Captain America
  • Kid Beowulf as a way to get people interested in world mythology, world epics

Also, are you curious about the Burton Raffel translation of Beowulf that Lex cites as one of his favourites? If so, you can find some excerpts in a PDF here.

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 epic mythological story would you want to see Beowulf in?

The theme music for the show is:

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

Heorot at Peace, Heorot in Sorrow: Book XVII – Book XIX

The Lady of the Lake from the stories of King Arthur, another take on Grendel's mother from Beowulf?

If Wealhtheow is like Guinevere, then Grendel’s mother is like the Lady of the Lake: the more volatile and magical side of femininity. Image from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Arthur-Pyle_The_Lady_of_ye_Lake.JPG.

XVII

Departed then the warriors to go to their homes
deprived of friends, scattered across Frisia,
their homes and their strongholds. Hengest there yet
dwelt, through the slaughter-stained and all ill-fated winter
with Finn; filled with thoughts of home,
though they might not sail the sea upon
a ring-prowed ship; the sea heaved with storms,
winds fought upon it; the wintry waves were locked
tight with binding ice, and would be until came
another year to the world, as it yet does,
as the seasons are still observed,
bringing gloriously bright weather. Then would winter depart,
leave the earth’s fair bosom; the exiles were eager to go,
the strangers in the hall; but then they thought more
of revenge for their injury than of putting to sea,
if they might bring about a hostile encounter,
that the son of Jutes may have his crime etched in his heart.
So he could not refuse the law of the world,
when to him Hunlafing gave War-Radiance,
the best of swords, placed it into his lap,
that was amidst the Jutes a known weapon.
Just so, it later befell Finn, the bold in spirit,
that he was cruelly killed in his own home,
suffered the dire attack after Guðlaf and Oslaf
spoke of the sorrow of their sea voyage,
all blamed their share of woe on Finn, nor might the restless spirit
restrain itself at heart. Then was the hall made red,
red from the blood of their enemies, likewise was Finn slain,
king of the troop, and they seized the queen.
The Scyldings also bore away to their ships
all that had belonged to the lord of that land,
whatever within that hall they could find of
jewels, fine-worked gems. Then they left with that noble lady
on the sea voyage to Daneland,
lead her back to her people. Then the song was sung,
the entertainer’s tale. Revelry again arose,
the noise among the benches flashed as the cup bearer brought
joy from/the joy of the wondrous vessel. Then Wealhtheow came forth,
going under the weight of golden rings, over to where
the two sat, nephew and uncle; there yet were those kin together,
each to the other true. Also there sat spokesman Unferth
at the foot of the Scylding lord’s seat; each of them to his spirit trusted,
that he had great courage, though he to his own kin was not
merciful at the swordplay. Spoke then the Scylding lady:

“Take of this fullness, my noble lord,
treasure bestower while you are in joy,
gold giving friend of men, and to the Geats
speak mild words, as anyone shall do;
be with the Geats glad, be mindful of their gift
from near and far that you now have.
My man has said, that you for a son this
warrior would have. Heorot is cleansed,
the bright ring-hall; use, while you will,
your many joys, and to your kin leave
the folk and kingdom, when you shall go forth,
as fate foresees. I myself know
how gracious Hrothulf is, that he will defend
the honour of the youth, if you before him,
friend of the Scyldings, leave this world;
I believe that he will liberally repay
our two sons, if he recalls all the care we’ve given him,
the favour and honour* that we showed him
while he was a child** and still growing up.’
She turned then from the bench, there to where her sons were,
Hreðric and Hroðmund, and to the hero’s son,
all the youths together; for there the good man sat,
Beowulf the Geat, there between the two brothers.

XVIII

“To him the cup was carried and cordial invitations
offered in words, along with wound gold
bestowed with good will, armbands two,
garments and rings, the greatest neck-ring
in all the earth, as I have heard.
Not anywhere else under the sky have I heard of a finer
hero’s hoard treasure, not since Hama bore away to there
the magnificent necklace of Brosing,
jewels fixed in precious setting; when he fled
the cunning enmity of Eormenric; chose eternal gain.
Then the ring had Hygelac the Geat,
Swerting’s grandson, wore it on his final raid,
during that time he defended the treasure under his banner,
protected the spoils of the slain*; but he was carried off by fate,
since he for pride’s sake sought trouble,
bore feud to the Frisians. Yet he carried those adornments away,
took the precious stones over the wide waves,
that mighty man; he fell dead beneath his shield.
Then it passed from the king’s body into the grasp of the Franks,
his mail-coat and the circlet also;
the less worthy warriors plundered the slain,
after the battle carnage; the Geatish people
occupied a city of corpses. The hall swelled with sound.
Wealhtheow spoke, she before the throng said this:

“Enjoy these rings, dear Beowulf,
young warrior, be with health, and this garment use,
our people’s treasure, and prosper well;
show to these youths your strength, and to them
offer kind advice; I for this reward shall remember you.
You have brought it about, so that far and near
forever among men shall you be praised,
just as widely as the sea encompasses
the home of the wind, the jutting cliffs. Be, long as you live,
prince, blessed! I wish to you great
treasure. Be you to my sons
of kind deed and joyful!
Here each man is to the other true,
of mild heart, under our lord’s protection;
the warriors are united, a people fully prepared
these men all have drunken the pledge and do as I command.”

She went then to her seat. There was the greatest of feasts,
men drank great wine; none knew the fate that awaited,
a dolorous destiny, as it would again
and again befall the many, after evening came,
and Hrothgar had retired with his entourage to his chamber,
the ruler gone to rest. The hall was guarded
by warriors without number, as they had oft done before;
the bench boards were cleared; the floor was enlarged
with bedding and pillows. One reveller
was marked and doomed on that couch to depart.
They set at their heads their battle-shields,
the bright shield-wood. On the benches behind the
princes who’d watched the waves
were the helmets that towered in battle, ringed mail-shirts,
glorious spears. Such was their custom,
to be always ready for war,
whether at home or out plundering, or at any time
that their lord showed signs of
need for rallying; that was a brave people.

XIX

Sank they then to sleep. One man paid a dear price
for that evening’s rest, as they went to it as they would
in the gold hall before Grendel occupied it,
ruled with terror, until his end came,
death after such dire crimes. They then became manifest,
those deeds of the widely known man, that avenger then yet
lived after that hateful one, for a long time,
while he wallowed in war wounds. Grendel’s mother,
that hag, the one with a woman’s misery in mind,
who was made to inhabit fearsome waters,
who lives in cold streams, after Cain became
the slayer by the sword of his own brother,
kin by the same father; he fled as an outlaw for that,
marked with murder, fled from the joy of companionship,
occupied the wilderness. Thence was born
that terrible fate; that was hateful Grendel,
the savage outcast, then at Heorot he found
a watchful man waiting for war.
There that man seized the monster;
nevertheless he was mindful of his great might,
an ample allotment of strength, that which God granted him,
and he trusted in the Ruler’s favour,
comfort and support; through that he overcame the fiend,
laid the hell beast low. Then he humiliated went,
deprived of joy and seeking the dwelling of death,
thus went the enemy of men. And his mother would yet
come, gluttonous and gloomy in mind,
on her joyless journey, all to avenge the death of her son.
It came then to Heorot, where the ring-Danes
within that hall slept. There would soon be
a reversal among the warriors when
in came Grendel’s mother. The terror she inspired
was only lessened slightly, as a woman warrior’s might
may be against the great strength of an armed man
when with ornamented sword, hammer forged,
blade bloody and raised over the boar helm,
the sharp edge shears the opponent.
Then in the hall were swords drawn,
blades pulled over benches, many a broad shield
held firm in hand; but they paid no mind to helmets,
or the battle shirt, when terror returned to the hall.
She was in haste, she wished to be away from there,
to save her life, since she had been discovered.
Quickly, before she went, she seized one
man fast, as she fled to the fens.
That man was Hrothgar’s dearest warrior,
his closest companion of all people living between the seas,
a powerful shield-warrior, that was the man she killed while at rest,
that famed fighter. Beowulf was not there,
he had been assigned a different resting place earlier,
during the gift giving for that renowned Geat.

Uproar burst forth from Heorot — to pay the blood cost
the mere-woman had seized the best known hand. Sorrow was renewed;
it had happened again in that hall. Their trade was harsh,
both parties had to pay a steep price
with the lives of friends. Hrothgar was now an old king,
a grey-haired battle-ruler, troubled at heart,
when he had heard his chief retainer was lifeless,
when he learned his dearest follower was dead.
Quickly Beowulf was called from his chamber,
the man blessed with victory in battle. At daybreak
came the one man, that noble warrior,
himself among companions, to where the wise one was,
he who wondered whether the All-Ruler would ever
reverse his sorrowful fortunes in the future.
Went then over the floor the man renowned in battle
amidst his hand-picked troop — the hall’s timbers resounded —
so that he could address the wise one with words,
the lord of the Ingwins; asked him how he was,
if the night had fulfilled his wishes.

Want more Beowulf? Continue the poem here!