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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