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Beowulf: Grappling with Grendel

Translation by Keith Moul


In the black night it came,
Wandering, the shadow-walker.     Warriors slept
Who should have held     the antlered hall--
All but one.     Men knew well enough
That if God willed it not,     no ghostly fiend
Might sweep them off     beneath the shadows:
But he waited moodily,     watching for a monster
To rise angrily up,     the issue of strife.
Then, under misty ridges,     from the moor, it came;
Bearing Godís ire,     Grendel prowled.
The hate-scather meant     to ensnare some one
Of the line of men     in the lofty hall;
It walked under clouds,     nearer to the wine-hall,
Until its glitter reached him,     the golden shining:
It knew it at once.     For other times
It had sought the home     of Hrothgar, the king;
but never in his life-days     had luck been harder,
Before nor since,     when it found these hall-thanes.
The creature came     journeying to the court
Empty of all joys.     Though fast with iron bands,
The door tore open     when touched by its hand;
Heaving it back     the hateful thing raged
There at the chamberís mouth.     Savage in mine it went,
The fiend trod forth     on the shining floor,
Lunging quickly.     A horrible light
Most like to fire flowed from its eyes.
By this it saw     many sleeping warriors,
A band of kinsmen     couched and bedded,
Youths lying still;     and in its heart it laughed.
Before the morning sun     it meant to suck
The blood of life     from every body
When the hope befell     of his fill of feasting,
The horrible monster.     Yet by no means was fate
To allow such ravage     of the race of men
After this night.     Ample in his strength,
Higelacís kinsman     saw how the hate-scather
Would press ahead     with sudden attacks.
The destroyer intended     no second of delay--
Rather at first chance     it clutched close
A sleeping warrior,     wrenched him greedily,
Bit in two the bone-locker,     speedily drank the blood,
And swallowed huge morsels;     this meal of the dead
Ended quickly     as all was eaten,
The feet and hands too.     The it stalked forth,
Seized with hands     the strong-hearted one,
The sleep-feigning warrior;     it reached with fingers
Toward the ready foe,     who quickly received
The vicious attack     and braced himself on his arm.
At once the ward of sins     knew that in all the world
Never had it met     in any man
A hand-grip stronger,     in the stretches of earth.
And its spirit fell     and fear grew in its heart
Until it scalded,     it could not escape.
Its spirit ached for freedom,     to flee to hiding
And seek the brotherhood of devils:     for its duty there
Had utterly altered     from what itíd met with earlier.
Then Higelacís kinsman     recalled his evening speech;
The sturdy one     stood upright
And seized the fiend firmly;     fingers burst;
The giant strove     as the warrior stepped closer.
The hateful monster     meant to flee wherever able,
Into the wide fens,     to fly the woeful grip
Into ferny bogs:     relentless fingers
Taught it their grasp.     That was a grievous journey
That the harm-wrecker     made to Heorot!
The splendid hall resounded;     terror struck the Danes,
The town-dwellers,     each of the doughty
And wary warriors.     Both were wrathful,
Raging house-guardians:     the hall rang out.
The wonder was     that the winehall stood
To the furious fight:     that it did not fall,
The artful stronghold:     but it stayed firm,
Within and without,     banded by irons
Skillfully made.     Many a mead-bench
Bent away from the door,     adorned with gold
As I have heard it,     where the hostile ones fought.
None of the Scyldings     thought to see,
Or ever expected     that any man
Might shatter the excellent hall,     decked in antler and bone,
Or cunningly gut it,     unless the fireís greed
Would lick and swallow it.     A sound rose up
Startling and sheer:     from the North-Danes shown
A terrible awe,     from each one aghast
Who heard from the wall     the wretchís weeping,
Godís enemy     issuing horrible screams,
Cries of defeat     from hellís captive
Moaning its agony.     The man of all men
Who in his time     was least timid
Held horror fast     in his fiercest grip.
The protector of men     never meant to release
The death-bringer alive;     nor were the days of its life
In any way     to any one
To be thought of worth.     There the warriors of Beowulf
Earnestly drew     time-honored heirlooms
To defend the life     of their lord at combat,
Their eminent prince,     if able to do so.
But the brave-hearted men,     byrny-warriors,
Saw no way with their skill     to seek the soul,
Though they slashed and hewed     on every side
In aid of their chief:     for nowhere on earth,
Not the choicest of swords     would sink into the flesh
Of the hate-scather,     nor the best of war-steel:
A spell on their edges     made each one useless,
Dire victory-weapons.     Death must reach it
In this life     on this day alone,
The spoil of misery;     and the alien spirit
Must range far     among the fiendish powers.
When it found that out,     who had formerly
Attacked and ravaged     the race of mankind
With a joyous heart--     he was hostile to God--
His lunging body     brought little benefit,
For the lord of courage,     Higelacís kinsman,
Held him by the hand:     hateful while living,
Each foe was to the other.     The ugly raider
Felt the searing pain     as its shoulder split,
Muscles and sinews     sundered and sprang
As the bones burst out.     To Beowulf alone
Was glory granted;     and Grendel fled thence
To the fen-slopes,     slowed by hurt,
To seek its joyless home--     for it knew most surely
That lifeís end     would overtake it,
That number of days.     All to the Danes,
After the storm of slaughter,     was exultant rejoicing,
For the strong and clever man     who had come from afar
Had cleansed Heorot,     Hrothgarís hall,
Loosed its affliction.     He laughed for his nightwork,
For his heroic deeds.     To the East-Danes
The man of the Geats     had made good his boast,
Remedied all     of his allliesí griefs,
The wicked sorrows     that they had suffered,
The dire hurts     they had had to endure,
Not a little torture.     The token was clear,
The arm and shoulder     afterward laid down
By the battle-brave man--     all bloody there together,
Grendelís riven claw--     under the vaulted roof.
                Translated by Keith Moul
                                             Copyright © Keith Moul, 2010