Beowulf: Chapter 16

A light appeared and the place brightened
The way the sky does when heaven’s candle
Is shinning clearly. He inspected the vault:
With sword held high, its hilt raised
To guard and threaten, Hygelac’s thane
Scouted by the wall in Grendel’s wake.
Now the weapon was to prove its worth.
The warrior determined to take revenge
For every gross act Grendel had committed–
And not only for that one occasion
When he’d come to slaughter the sleeping troops,
Fifteen of Hrothgar’s house-guards
Surprised on their benches and ruthlessly devoured,
And as many again carried away,
A brutal plunderer. Beowulf in his fury
Now settled that score: he saw the monster
In his resting place, war-weary and wrecked,
A lifeless corpse, a casualty
Of the battle in Heorot. The body gaped
At the stroke dealt to it after death:
Beowulf cut the corpse’s head off.
Immediately the counselors keeping a lookout
With Hrothgar, watching the lake water,
Saw a heave-up and surge of waves
And blood in the backwash. They bowed gray heads,
Spoke in their sage, experienced way
About the good warrior, how they never again
Expected to see that prince returning
In triumph to their king. It was clear to many
That the wolf of the deep had destroyed him forever.
The ninth hour of the day arrived.
The brave Shieldings abandoned their cliff-top
And the king went home; but sick at heart,
Staring at the mere, the strangers held on.
They wished, without hope, to behold their lord,
Beowulf himself.
Meanwhile, the sword
Began to wilt into gory icicles,
To slather and thaw. It was a wonderful thing,
The way it all melted as ice melts
When the father eases the fetters off the frost
And unravels the water-ropes. He who wields power
Over time and tide: He is the true Lord.
The Geat captain saw treasure in abundance
But carried no spoils from those quarters
Except for the head and the inlaid hilt
Embossed with jewels; its blade had melted
And the scrollwork on it burnt, so scalding was the blood
Of the poisonous fiend who had perished there.
Then away he swan, the one who had survived
The fall of his enemies, flailing to the surface.
The wide water, the waves and pools
Were no longer infested once the wandering fiend
Let go of her life and this unreliable world.
The seafarers’ leader made for land,
Resolutely swimming, delighted with his prize,
The mighty load he was lugging to the surface.
His thanes advanced in a troop to meet him,
Thanking God and taking great delight
In seeing their prince back safe and sound.
Quickly the hero’s helmet and mail-shirt
Were loosed and unlaced. The lake settled,
Clouds darkened above the bloodshot depths.
With high hearts they headed away
Along footpath and trails through the fields,
Roads that they knew, each of them wrestling
With the head they were carrying from the lakeside cliff,
Men kingly in their courage and capable
Of difficult work. It was a task for four
To hoist Grendel’s head on a spear
And bear it under strain to the bright hall.
But soon enough they neared the place,
Fourteen Geats in fine fettle,
Striding across the outlying ground
In a delighted throng around they leader.
In he came then, the thane’s commander,
The arch-warrior, to address Hrothgar:
His courage was proven, his glory was secure.
Grendel’s head was hauled by the hair,
Dragged across the floor where people were drinking,
A horror for both queen and company to behold.
They stared in awe. It was an astonishing sight.
Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:
“So, son of Halfdane, prince of the Shieldings,
We are glad to bring this booty from the lake.
It is a token of triumph and we tender it to you.
I barely survived the battle underwater.
It was hard-fought, a desperate affair
That could have gone badly; if God had not helped me,
The outcome would have been quick and fatal.
Although Hrunting is hard-edged,
I could never bring it to bear in battle.
But the Lord of Men allowed me to behold–
For he often helps the unbefriended–
An ancient sword shinning on the wall,
A weapon made for giants, there for the wielding.
Then my moment came in the combat and I struck
The dwellers in that den. Next thing the damascened
Sword blade melted; it bloated and it burned
In their rushing blood. I have wrested the hilt
From the enemies’ hand, avenged the evil
Done to the Danes; it is what was due.
And this I pledge, O prince of the Shieldings:
You can sleep secure with your company of troops
In Heorot Hall. Never need you fear
For a single thane of your sept or nation,
Young warriors or old, that laying waste of life
That you and your people endured of yore.”