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Beowulf: Grappling with Grendel
(Beowulf, lines 702-836, translation by Allan Sullivan and Timothy Murphy, now in the Longmans Anthology of British Literature. This excerpt was published on this site in 1999 by permission of the authors)
Cunningly creeping,   a spectral stalker
slunk through the night.   The spearmen were sleeping
who ought to have held   the high-horned house,
all except one,   for the Lord's will
now became known:   no more would the murderer
drag under darkness   whomever he wished.
Wrath was wakeful,   watching in hatred;
hot-hearted Beowulf   was bent upon battle.
Girt with God's anger,   Grendel came gliding
over the moors   beneath misty mounds.
The man-scather sought   someone to snatch
from the high hall.   He crept under cloud
until he caught sight   of the king's court
whose gilded gables   he knew at a glance.
He had often haunted   Hrothgar's house;
but he never found   before or after,
hardier hall-thanes   or harder luck.
The joyless giant   drew near the door,
which swiftly swung back   at a fingertip's touch
though bound and fastened   with fire-forged bars.
The building's mouth   had been broken-open,
and Grendel entered   with ill intent.
Swollen with fury,   he stalked over flagstones
and looked round the manse   where many men lay.
An unlovely light   most like a flame
flashed from his eyes,   flaring through the hall
at young soldiers dozing   shoulder to shoulder,
comradely kindred.   The cruel creature laughed
in his murderous mind,   thinking how many
now living would die   before the day dawned,
how glutted with gore   he would guzzle his fill.
It was not his fate   to finish the feast
he foresaw that night.
Soon the Stalwart,
Hygelac's kinsman,   beheld how the horror,
not one to be idle,   went about evil.
For his first feat   he suddenly seized
a sleeping soldier, slashed at the flesh,
bit through bones   and lapped up the blood,
greedily gorging   on gigantic gobbets.
Swiftly he swallowed   those lifeless limbs,
hands and feet whole;   then he headed forward
with open palm   to plunder the prone.
One man angled   up on his elbow;
the fiend soon found   he was facing a foe
whose hand-grip was harder   than any other
he ever had met   in all Middle-Earth.
Cravenly cringing,   coward at heart,
he longed for a swift   escape to his lair,
his bevy of devils.   He never had known
from his earliest days   such awful anguish.
The captain, recalling   his speech to the king,
straightaway stood   and hardened his hold.
Fingers fractured.   The fiend spun round;
the soldier stepped closer.   Grendel sought
somehow to slip   that grasp and escape,
flee to the fens;   but his fingers were caught
in too fierce a grip.   His foray had failed;
he harm-wreaker rued   his raid on Heorot.
From the hall of the Danes   a hellish din
beset every stalwart   outside the stronghold,
louder than laughter   of ale-sharing earls.
A wonder it was   the wine-hall withstood
this forceful affray   without falling to earth.
That beautiful building   was firmly bonded
by iron bands   forged with forethought
inside and out.   As some have told it,
the struggle swept on   and slammed to the floor
many mead-benches   massive with gold.
No Scylding elders   ever imagined
that any would harm   their elk-horned hall,
raze what they wrought,   unless flames arose
to smother and swallow it.   Awful new noises
burst from the building,   unnerved the North Danes,
each one and all   who heard those outcries
outside the walls.   Wailing in anguish,
the hellish horror,   hateful to God,
sang his dismay,   seized the grip
of a man more mighty   than any then living.
That shielder of men   meant by no means
to let the death-dealer   leave with his life,
a life worthless   to anyone elsewhere.
Then the young soldiers   swung their old swords
again and again   to save their guardian,
their kingly comrade   however they could.
Engaging with Grendel   and hoping to hew him
from every side,   they scarcely suspected
that blades wielded   by worthy warriors
never would cut   to the criminal's quick.
The spell was spun   so strongly about him
that the finest iron   of any on earth,
the sharpest sword-edge   left him unscathed.
Still he was soon   to be stripped of his life
and sent on a sore   sojourn to Hell.
The strength of his sinews   would serve him no more;
no more would he menace   mankind with his crimes,
his grudge against God,   for the high-hearted kinsman
of King Hygelac   had hold of his hand.
Each found the other   loathsome while living;
but the murderous man-bane   got a great wound
as tendons were torn,   shoulder shorn open,
and bone-locks broken.   Beowulf gained
glory in war;   and Grendel went off
bloody and bent   to the boggy hills,
sorrowfully seeking   his dreary dwelling.
Surely he sensed   his life-span was spent,
his days upon days;   but the Danes rejoiced:
the wish was fulfilled   after fearsome warfare.
Wise and strong-willed,   the one from afar
had cleansed Heorot,   hall of Hrothgar.
Great among Geats,   he was glad of the work
he had done in darkness,   his fame-winning feat,
fulfilling his oath   to aid the East Danes,
easing their anguish,   healing the horror
they suffered so long,   no small distress.
As token of triumph,   the troop-leader hung
the shorn-off shoulder   and arm by its hand:
the grip of Grendel   swung from the gable!
Translated by Alan Sullivan & Timothy Murphy
Copyright © Alan Sullivan and Timothy Murphy, 1999