Beowulf: Chapter 15

When he lent that blade to the better swordsman,
Unferth, the strong-built son of Ecglaf,
Could hardly have remember the ranting speech
He had made in his cups. He was not man enough
To face the turmoil of a fight under water
And the risk to his life. So there he lost
fame and repute. It was different for the other
Rigged out in his gear, ready to do battle.
Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:
“Wisest of kings, now that I have come
To the point of action, I ask you to recall
What we said earlier: that you, son of Halfdane
And gold-friend to retainers, that you, if I should fall
And suffer death while serving your cause,
Would act like a father to me afterwards.
If this combat kills me, take care
Of my young company, my comrades in arms.
And be sure also, my beloved Hrothgar,
To send Hygelac the treasures I received.
Let the lord of the Geats gaze on that gold,
Let Hrethel’s son take note of it and see
That I found a ring-giver of rare magnificence
And enjoyed the good of his generosity.
And Unferth is to have what I inherited:
To that far-famed man I bequeath my own
Sharp-horned, wave-sheened wonder blade.
With Hrunting I shall gain glory or die.
After these words, the prince of the Weather-Geats
Was impatient to be away and plunged suddenly:
Without more ado, he dived in to the heaving
Depths of the lake. It was the best part of a day
Before he could see the solid bottom.
Quickly the one who haunted those waters,
Who had scavenged and gone her gluttonous rounds
For a hundred seasons, sensed a human
Observing her outlandish lair from above.
So she lunged and clutched and managed to catch him
In her brutal grip; but his body, for all that,
Remained unscathed: the mesh of the chain-mail
Saved him on the outside. Her savage talons
Failed to rip the web of his war shirt.
Then once she touched bottom, the wolfish swimmer
Carried the ring-mailed prince to her court
So that for all his courage he could never use
The weapons he carried; and a bewildering horde
Came at him from the depths, droves of sea-beasts
Who attacked with tusks and tore at his chain-mail
In a ghastly onslaught. The gallant man
Could see he had entered some hellish turn-hole
And yet the water did not work against him
Because the hall-roofing held off
The force of the current; then he saw firelight,
A gleam and flare-up, a glimmer of brightness.
The hero observed that swamp-thing from hell,
The tarn-hag in all her terrible strength,
Then heaved his war-sword and swung his arm:
The decorated blade came down ringing
And singing on her head. But he soon found
His battle-torch extinguished: the shinning blade
Refused to bite. It spared her and failed
The man in his need. It had gone through many
Hand-to-hand fights, had hewed the armor
And helmets of the doomed, but here at last
The fabulous powers of that heirloom failed.
Hygelac’s kinsman kept thinking about
His name and fame: he never lost heart.
Then, in fury, he flung his sword away.
The keen, inlaid, worm-looped-patterned steel
Was hurled to the ground: he would have to rely
On the might of his arm. So must a man do
Who intends to gain enduring glory
In a combat. Life doesn’t cost him thought.
Then the prince of War-Geats, warming to his fight
With Grendel’s mother, gripped her shoulder
And laid about him in a battle frenzy:
He pitched his killer opponent to the floor
But she rose quickly and retaliated,
Grappled him tightly in her grim embrace.
The sure-footed fight fell daunted,
The strongest of warriors stumbled and fell.
So she pounced upon him and pulled out
A broad, whetted knife: now she could avenge
Her only child. But the mesh of chain-mail
On Beowulf’s shoulder shielded his life,
Turned the edge and tip of the blade.
The son of Ecgtheow would surely have perished
And the Geats lost their warrior under the wide earth
Had the strong links and locks of his war-gear
Not helped to save him: Holy God
Decided the victory. It was easy for the Lord,
The Ruler of Heaven, to redress the balance
Once Beowulf got back up on his feet.
Then he saw a blade that boded well,
A sword in her armory, an ancient heirloom
From the days of the giants, an ideal weapon,
One that any warrior would envy,
But so huge and heavy in itself
Only Beowulf could wield it in battle.
So the Shieldings’ hero, hard-pressed and enraged,
Took a firm hold of the hilt and swung
The blade in an arc, a resolute blow
That bit into her neck bone
And severed it entirely, toppling the doomed
House of her flesh; she fell to the floor.
The sword dripped blood, the swordsman was elated.