XI

ALL SLEEP SAVE ONE

          Then Hrothgar departed, his earl-throng attending him,
          Folk-lord of Scyldings, forth from the building;
          The war-chieftain wished then Wealhtheow to look for,
          The queen for a bedmate. To keep away Grendel
5       The Glory of Kings had given a hall-watch,
          As men heard recounted: for the king of the Danemen
          He did special service, gave the giant a watcher:
          And the prince of the Geatmen implicitly trusted
          His warlike strength and the Wielder's protection.
10      His armor of iron off him he did then,
          His helmet from his head, to his henchman committed
          His chased-handled chain-sword, choicest of weapons,
          And bade him bide with his battle-equipments.
          The good one then uttered words of defiance,
15      Beowulf Geatman, ere his bed he upmounted:
          "I hold me no meaner in matters of prowess,
          In warlike achievements, than Grendel does himself;
          Hence I seek not with sword-edge to sooth him to slumber,
          Of life to bereave him, though well I am able.
20      No battle-skill has he, that blows he should strike me,
          To shatter my shield, though sure he is mighty
          In strife and destruction; but struggling by night we
          Shall do without edges, dare he to look for
          Weaponless warfare, and wise-mooded Father
25      The glory apportion, God ever-holy,
          On which hand soever to him seemeth proper."
          Then the brave-mooded hero bent to his slumber,
          The pillow received the cheek of the noble;
          And many a martial mere-thane attending
30      Sank to his slumber. Seemed it unlikely
          That ever thereafter any should hope to
          Be happy at home, hero-friends visit
          Or the lordly troop-castle where he lived from his childhood;
          They had heard how slaughter had snatched from the wine-hall,
35      Had recently ravished, of the race of the Scyldings
          Too many by far. But the Lord to them granted
          The weaving of war-speed, to Wederish heroes
          Aid and comfort, that every opponent
          By one man's war-might they worsted and vanquished,
40      By the might of himself; the truth is established
          That God Almighty hath governed for ages
          Kindreds and nations. A night very lurid
          The trav'ler-at-twilight came tramping and striding.
          The warriors were sleeping who should watch the horned-building,
45      One only excepted. 'Mid earthmen 'twas 'stablished,
          Th' implacable foeman was powerless to hurl them
          To the land of shadows, if the Lord were unwilling;
          But serving as warder, in terror to foemen,
          He angrily bided the issue of battle.

Footnotes

  1. Given the circumstances of Grendel's expected attack, it may seem strange that anyone could sleep. However, despite their bravery, many of the Geats are likely too intoxicated to stay awake after the revelry in the hall. That Beowulf doesn't fall asleep either indicates that he also has a heroic constitution or that he didn't drink as much as his comrades.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The Geats express some of their doubts in this passage, knowing how many Danes have been slain by Grendel. For their struggle with Grendel to lead to glory and honor, it must be a battle between men and monster without a pre-determined outcome by divine intervention. The poet offers a comforting thought to his audience that probably wouldn't have occurred to the Geats but would have resonated with a Christian audience: God rules above all, and so good will triumph over evil.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. In another example of the Christian-Pagan tension, the poet has Beowulf appeal to God's will in the outcome of the fight. However, Beowulf would have likely appealed either to one of the Nordic gods of war—likely Odin, the All-Father—or to Fate instead, declaring that whatever happens will happen.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Beowulf fulfills his promise to battle Grendel without the aid of his “battle-equipments” (another kenning for weapons and armor). Beowulf justifies his choice by declaring that since Grendel doesn't use such equipment, he must fight Grendel on the same conditions. Considering what we later learn of Grendel, Beowulf's decision is viewed as extremely cunning.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. This is an interesting comment because it indicates that Grendel, though no longer part of God's world, is ultimately governed by the will of God. More importantly, Grendel cannot destroy Beowulf unless God wills it. In such instances, fate proves to be an important theme in the poem.

    — Owl Eyes Reader