XII

GRENDEL AND BEOWULF

          'Neath the cloudy cliffs came from the moor then
          Grendel going, God's anger bare he.
          The monster intended some one of earthmen
          In the hall-building grand to entrap and make way with:
5       He went under welkin where well he knew of
          The wine-joyous building, brilliant with plating,
          Gold-hall of earthmen. Not the earliest occasion
          He the home and manor of Hrothgar had sought:
          Ne'er found he in life-days later nor earlier
10      Hardier hero, hall-thanes more sturdy!
          Then came to the building the warrior marching,
          Bereft of his joyance. The door quickly opened
          On fire-hinges fastened, when his fingers had touched it;
          The fell one had flung then--his fury so bitter--
15      Open the entrance. Early thereafter
          The foeman trod the shining hall-pavement,
          Strode he angrily; from the eyes of him glimmered
          A lustre unlovely likest to fire.
          He beheld in the hall the heroes in numbers,
20      A circle of kinsmen sleeping together,
          A throng of thanemen: then his thoughts were exultant,
          He minded to sunder from each of the thanemen
          The life from his body, horrible demon,
          Ere morning came, since fate had allowed him
35      The prospect of plenty. Providence willed not
          To permit him any more of men under heaven
          To eat in the night-time. Higelac's kinsman
          Great sorrow endured how the dire-mooded creature
          In unlooked-for assaults were likely to bear him.
30      No thought had the monster of deferring the matter,
          But on earliest occasion he quickly laid hold of
          A soldier asleep, suddenly tore him,
          Bit his bone-prison, the blood drank in currents,
          Swallowed in mouthfuls: he soon had the dead man's
35      Feet and hands, too, eaten entirely.
          Nearer he strode then, the stout-hearted warrior
          Snatched as he slumbered, seizing with hand-grip,
          Forward the foeman foined with his hand;
          Caught he quickly the cunning deviser,
40      On his elbow he rested. This early discovered
          The master of malice, that in middle-earth's regions,
          'Neath the whole of the heavens, no hand-grapple greater
          In any man else had he ever encountered:
          Fearful in spirit, faint-mooded waxed he,
45      Not off could betake him; death he was pondering,
          Would fly to his covert, seek the devils' assembly:
          His calling no more was the same he had followed
          Long in his lifetime. The liege-kinsman worthy
          Of Higelac minded his speech of the evening,
50      Stood he up straight and stoutly did seize him.
          His fingers crackled; the giant was outward,
          The earl stepped farther. The famous one minded
          To flee away farther, if he found an occasion,
          And off and away, avoiding delay,
55      To fly to the fen-moors; he fully was ware of
          The strength of his grapple in the grip of the foeman.
          'Twas an ill-taken journey that the injury-bringing,
          Harrying harmer to Heorot wandered:
          The palace re-echoed; to all of the Danemen,
60      Dwellers in castles, to each of the bold ones,
          Earlmen, was terror. Angry they both were,
          Archwarders raging. Rattled the building;
          'Twas a marvellous wonder that the wine-hall withstood then
          The bold-in-battle, bent not to earthward,
65      Excellent earth-hall; but within and without it
          Was fastened so firmly in fetters of iron,
          By the art of the armorer. Off from the sill there
          Bent mead-benches many, as men have informed me,
          Adorned with gold-work, where the grim ones did struggle.
70      The Scylding wise men weened ne'er before
          That by might and main-strength a man under heaven
          Might break it in pieces, bone-decked, resplendent,
          Crush it by cunning, unless clutch of the fire
          In smoke should consume it. The sound mounted upward
75      Novel enough; on the North Danes fastened
          A terror of anguish, on all of the men there
          Who heard from the wall the weeping and plaining,
          The song of defeat from the foeman of heaven,
          Heard him hymns of horror howl, and his sorrow
80      Hell-bound bewailing. He held him too firmly
          Who was strongest of main-strength of men of that era.

Footnotes

  1. The nouns “might” and “main” here use a nuanced and older definition. The former refers to an ability or power to do something; the latter refers to the physical force or power itself. With this in mind, the poet means that the battle between Grendel and Beowulf is so fierce that the foundations of Hrothgar's Hall are shaken, something thought impossible by the Danes, who believed the hall to be able to withstand any assault except for fire.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Another kenning, “bone-prison” simply means one’s body. Hence, Grendel tears and bites into the sleeping soldier’s body, quickly devouring it.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Grendel slays one of the Geats when he first enters the hall—apparently in silence since only Beowulf is aware of the assault. The reason why Beowulf allows Grendel to kill one of his comrades can likely be attributed Beowulf's distance from the act or that Beowulf wishes to maintain the element of surprise.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. “The entrance” is often translated as house’s mouth, a kenning typical of Old Norse and Old English poetry. Other common kennings are banhus (“bone-house”) for the body and saewudu (“sea-wood”) to describe a ship.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  5. In Anglo-Saxon, Grendel com ("came… Grendel") is repeated three times for alliterative effect and suspense as the monster approaches Heorot. Many translators, however, have chosen to translate com as "journeyed," "approached," "trod," or other verbs indicating deliberate forward motion.

    — Owl Eyes Reader