The Haunted Mere

(Beowulf, lines 1308-1382, 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)

It was grim for the king,   gray with age,
to learn his old thane   was no longer living.
Swiftly he sent    servants to fetch
battle-blessed   Beowulf early from bed
together with all   the great-hearted Geats.
He marched in their midst,    went where wisdom
was wondering whether   the All-Wielder
ever would alter   this spell of ill-fortune.
That war-worthy soldier   strode up the floor
and timbers dinned   with the tread of his troop.
He spoke soberly   after the summons,
asking how soundly   the sovereign had slept.

Hrothgar answered,    head of his house.
"Ask not of ease!    Anguish has wakened
again for the Danes.    Aeschere is dead.
He was Yrmenlaf's   elder brother,
my rune-reader   and keeper of counsel,
my shoulder's shielder,    warder in war
when swordsmen struck   at boar-headed helms.
Whatever an honored   earl ought to be,
such was Aeschere.    A sleepless evil
has slipped into Heorot,    seized and strangled.
No one knows where   she will wander now,
glad of the gory   trophy she takes,
her fine fodder.    So she requites
her kinsman's killer   for yesterday's deed:
you grabbed Grendel   hard in your hand-grip.
He plagued and plundered   my people too long.
His life forfeit,    he fell in the fray;
but now a second    mighty man-scather
comes to carry   the feud further,
as many a thane   must mournfully think
seeing his sovereign   stricken with grief
at the slaying of one   who served so well.

"I have heard spokesmen    speak in my hall,
country-folk saying   they sometimes spotted
a pair of prodigies   prowling the moors,
evil outcasts,    walkers of wastelands.
One, they descried,    had the semblance of woman;
the other, ill-shapen,    an aspect of man
trudging his track,    ever an exile,
though superhuman   in stature and strength.
In bygone days   the border-dwellers
called him 'Grendel.'    What creature begot him,
what nameless spirit,    no one could say.
The two of them trek   untraveled country:
wolf-haunted heights   and windy headlands,
the frightful fen-path   where falling torrents
dive into darkness   stream beneath stone
amid folded mountains.    That mere is not far,
as miles are measured.    About it there broods
a forest of fir trees   frosted with mist.
Hedges of wood-roots   hem in the water
where each evening   fireglow flickers
forth on the flood,    a sinister sight.
That pool is unplumbed   by wits of the wise;
but the heath-striding hart   hunted by hounds,
the strong-antlered stag   seeking a thicket,
running for cover,    would rather be killed
than bed on its bank.    It is no pleasant place
where water-struck waves   are whipped into clouds,
surging and storming,    swept by the winds,
until Heaven is hidden   and the skies weep.
Now you alone   can relieve our anguish:
look, if you will,    at the lay of the land;
and seek, if you dare,    that dreadful dale
where the she-demon dwells.    Finish this feud,
and I shall reward you   with the wealth of ages,
twisted-gold treasures,    if you return."

Translated by Alan Sullivan & Timothy Murphy
Copyright © Alan Sullivan and Timothy Murphy, 1999