Beowulf, lines 2510-2586. This passage was first published in The Hudson Review. Now in the Longmans Anthology of British Literature. This excerpt was published on this site in 1999 by permission of the authors
Now Beowulf spoke · his last battle-boast:"In boyhood I braved · bitter clashes;still in old age · I would seek out strifeand gain glory · guarding my folkif the man-bane comes · from his cave to meet me."
Then he turned to his troop · for the final time,bidding farewell · to bold helmet-bearers,fast in friendship: "I would wear no sword,no weapon at all · to ward off the wormif I knew how to fight · this fiendish foeas I grappled with Grendel · one bygone night.but here I shall find · fierce battle-fireand breath envenomed, therefore I bearthis mail-coat and shield. I shall not shyfrom standing my ground · when I greet the guardian,follow what will · at the foot of this wall.I shall face the fiend · with a firm heart.Let every man's Ruler · reckon my fate:words are worthless · against the war-flyer.Bide by the barrow, safe in your byrnies,and watch, my warriors, which of us twowill better bear · the brunt of our clash.This war is not yours; it is meted to me,matching my strength, man against monster.I shall do this deed · undaunted by deathand get you gold · or else get my ending,borne off in battle, the bane of your lord.
The hero arose, helmed and hardy,a war-king clad · in shield and corselet.He strode strongly · under the stone-cliff:no faint-hearted man, to face it unflinching!Stalwart soldier · of so many marches,unshaken when shields · were crushed in the clash,he saw between stiles · an archway where steamburst like a boiling · tide from the barrow,woeful for one · close to the worm-hoard.He would not linger long · unburned by the lurkeror safely slip · through the searing lair.Then a battle-cry broke · from Beowulf's breastas his rightful rage · was roused for the reckoning.His challenge sounded · under stark stonewhere the hateful hoard-guard · heard in his hollowthe clear-voiced call · of a man coming.No quarter was claimed; no quarter given.First the beast's breath · blew hot from the barrowas battle-bellows · boomed underground.The stone-house stormer · swung up his shieldat the ghastly guardian. Then the dragon's grim heartkindled for conflict. Uncoiling, he cameseeking the Stalwart; but the swordsman had drawnthe keen-edged blade · bequeathed him for combat,and each foe confronted · the other with fear.His will unbroken, the warlord waitedbehind his tall shield, helm and hauberk.With fitful twistings · the fire-drake hastenedfatefully forward. His fender held high,Beowulf felt · the blaze blister throughhotter and sooner · than he had foreseen.So for the first time · fortune was failingthe mighty man · in the midst of a struggle.Wielding his sword, he struck at the wormand his fabled blade · bit to the bonethrough blazoned hide: bit and bounced back,no match for the foe · in this moment of need.