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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