Chapter XXI

BEOWULF, SON OF Ecgtheow, spoke: “Do not lament, wise sire! It seems better that each man avenge his friends than to mourn them to no end. Each of us must await the end of his path in this world, and he who can, should achieve renown before death! That is the best memorial when life is past and a warrior's days are recounted. Rise up, oh warden of the realm! We ride forth promptly to catch the trail of Grendel's mother. Mark my words—she shall find no shelter, neither in the earth of the fields, nor the mountainous woods, nor the ocean's depths—wherever she may flee! Have patience and endure your woes this day, as I suspect you shall.”

The gray-bearded king then rose quickly. He thanked God, the mighty Lord, for the man's brave words. A horse with curly mane was soon saddled for Hrothgar. The monarch rode forth nobly; the shielded foot-men followed. Tracks were clearly seen in the woodlands and over all the ground where she had passed on the dismal moors, carrying off the dead man-at-arms who was bravest and best, who helped to rule in Hrothgar's homestead. Then did he born of princes go over steep cliffs and narrow gullies, straight and lonely paths and unknown ways, bare headlands and the haunts of water-monsters. He went foremost with a few of his wiser men to explore the ground until he found in an instant those gloomy trees hanging over the icy rock—it was a dire wood, and the turbulent waters beneath were dyed with blood. The Danish men were shocked, and many heroes among the Scyldings were tormented when they encountered Æschere's head near the lake-cliff. The waters bubbled, and the warriors saw that it was hot with gore.

The horn sounded betimes with a bold battle-song. The company all sat down and watched many serpentine monsters and sea-drakes swimming in the deep. Water monsters such as those that wreak havoc on the sailing paths at morning were lying on the lake's edges, along with dragons and beasts. At that brazen horn's sound, they made away into the swells, enraged. The Geats' guardian separated one from life and from all swimming with an arrow from his bow; the sharp shaft of war stood fixed in its heart. The one whom death had seized swam no more; the wondrous wave-tosser was promptly dragged to the shore from the waters with boar-spears bristling with hooks and barbs. The warriors viewed this grisly beast.

Then Beowulf girded himself in the armor of battle; he was in no way fearful for his life. Now must the broad, brightly colored, and hand-crafted cuirass test the waters. It could well protect the warrior's body; the battle would break upon his breast in vain, and his heart would not be harmed by the foe's hand. Moreover, the white helmet that guarded his head was destined to dare the pool's depths and face the raging waves. It was encircled with royal wreaths and silver decorations, such as the smiths of old would wondrously craft; it was set about with boar figures so that no manner of swords brandished in battle could harm that helm.

Nor was that the least among the mighty aids which Hrothgar's orator offered: there was also a hilted sword named “Hrunting,” easily the foremost among the ancient heirlooms. Its edge was iron, and it shone with serpentine etchings; it was hardened with battle-blood and had never proved false to any hero who brandished it in hand—he who held it was prepared to walk the paths of peril into the den of foes. This was not the first time it had been used to accomplish heroic tasks. For Ecglaf's son, stalwart and strong, did not bear in mind the speech he had made of late when drunk with wine—he now loaned this weapon to a stouter swordsman. He himself did not dare to risk his life as a loyal liegeman beneath the waters' tumult, and so he fell short of glory and the honor of court. It was not so with the one who now girded himself for the grim encounter.

Footnotes

  1. When Beowulf chose to fight Grendel without weapons, he did so to further his reputation as a warrior. However, that battle was in Heorot, a human area where Beowulf had the advantage. His decision to wield a sword and wear armor demonstrates appropriate caution since the fight takes place in an unknown location which favors Grendel's mother.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. In a bit of irony, considering his earlier insults, Unferth lends Beowulf his famous sword, Hrunting--a weapon with a glorious battle history. Because Hrunting had been used in prior victories on the battlefield, it was assumed to be particularly valuable to Beowulf. Regardless of his offer, Unferth's unwillingness to enter the mere on his own with the sword is further indication of his cowardice.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. This is the part of Beowulf's armor that protects his torso and heart. Originally made of layers of cloth and leather (*cuir*), by Beowulf's time, it would have been made of a thin layer of metal. As part of his equipment, it adds to Beowulf's fearlessness by offering protection of his vital organs.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. This passage not only establishes the terrifying danger of the area, but it also reveals much of Grendel's mother's plan for revenge. Her leaving Aeschere's head is an indication that she intends to lure her son's killer further into her lair--where she has all the advantages.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Beowulf reaffirms his own values and the values of the culture at the time. Vengeance of a friend or loved one is the appropriate response, not mourning. He is not only reminding Hrothgar of this, but he is also consoling Hrothgar and vowing to kill Grendel's mother. Beowulf's values underscore a major theme in the play: the importance of being honorable through glory and valor.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Beowulf's speech to Hrothgar in this passage represents an important shift in his character. Whereas previously Hrothgar gave guidance and consolation, he has switched roles with Beowulf, emphasizing Beowulf's growing influence as a leader in his own right.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The poet is describing one of the most highly-prized types of steel that incorporates many layers of iron. Known as *Damascus* steel or *damascened* steel, the pattern on the sword edge looks like waves, and the result is an incredibly flexible, rather than brittle, blade.

    — Stephen Holliday