Beowulf: Chapter 2

So, after nightfall, Grendel set out
For the lofty house, to see how the Ring-Danes
Were settling into it after their drink,
And there he came upon them, a company of the best
Asleep from their feasting, insensible to pain
And human sorrow. Suddenly then
The God-cursed brute was creating havoc:
Greedy and grim, he grabbed thirty men
From their resting places and rushed to his lair,
Flushed up and inflamed from the raid,
Blundering back with the butchered corpses.
Then as dawn brightened and the day broke
Grendel’s powers of destruction were plain:
Their wassail was over, they wept to heaven
And mourned under morning. Their mighty prince,
The storied leader, sat stricken and helpless,
Humiliated by the loss of his guard,
Bewildered and stunned, staring aghast
And the demon’s trail, in deep distress.
He was numb with grief, but got no respite
For one night later the merciless Grendel
Struck again with more gruesome murders.
Malignant by nature, he never showed remorse.
It was easy then to meet with a man
Shifting himself to a safer distance
To bed in the bothies, for who could be blind
To the evidence of his eyes, the obviousness
Of that hall-watcher’s hate? Whoever escaped
Kept a weather-eye open and moved away.
So Grendel ruled in defiance of right,
One against all, until the greatest house
In the world stood empty, a deserted wall stead.
For twelve winters, seasons of woe,
The lord of the Shieldings suffered under
His load of sorrow; and so, before long,
The news was known over the whole world.
Sad lays were sung about the beset king,
The vicious raids of Grendel,
His long and unrelenting feud,
Nothing but war; how he would never
Parley or make peace with any Dane
Nor stop his death-dealing nor pay the death-price.
No counsellor could ever expect
Fair reparation from those rabid hands.
All were endangered; young and old
Were hunted down by that dark death-shadow
Who lurked and swooped in the long nights
On the misty moors; nobody knows
Where these reavers from Hell roam on their errands.
So Grendel waged his lonely war,
Inflicting constant cruelties on the people,
Atrocious hurt. He took over Heorot,
Haunted the glittering hall after dark,
But the throne itself, the treasure-seat,
He was kept from approaching;; he was the Lord’s outcast.
These were hard times, heart-breaking
For the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counselors,
The highest in the land, would lend advice,
Plotting how best the bold defenders
Might resist and beat off sudden attacks.
Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
Offering to idols, swore oaths
That the killer of souls might come to their aid
And save the people. That was their way,
Their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts
They remembered Hell. The Almighty Judge
Of good deeds and bad, the Lord God,
Head of the Heavens and High King of the World,
Was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he
Who in time of trouble had to thrust his soul
In the fire’s embrace, forfeiting help;
He has nowhere to turn. But blessed is he
Who after death can approach the Lord
And find friendship in the Father’s embrace.
So that troubled time continued, woe
That never stopped, steady affliction
For Halfdane’s son, too hard an ordeal.
There was panic after dark, people endured
Raids in the night, riven by terror.
When he heard about Grendel, Hygelac’s thane
Was on home ground, over in Geatland.
There was no one else like him alive.
In his day, he was the mightiest man on earth,
High-born and powerful. He ordered a boat
That would ply the waves. He announced his plan:
To sail the swan’s roads and search out that king,
The famous prince who needed defenders.
Nobody tried to keep him from going,
No elder denied him, dear as he was to them.
Instead, they inspected omens and spurred
His ambition to go, whilst he moved about
Like the leader he was, enlisting men,
The best he could find; with fourteen others
The warrior boarded the boat as captain,
A canny pilot along coast and currents.
Time went by, the boat was on water,
In close under the cliffs.
Men climbed eagerly up the gangplank,
Sand churned in surf, shining war-gear
In the vessel’s hold, then heaved out,
Away with a will in their wood-wreathed ship.
Over the waves, with the wind behind her
And foam at her neck, she flew like a bird
Until her curved prow had covered the distance
And on the following day, at the due hour,
Those seafarers sighted land,
Sunlit cliffs, sheer crags
And looming headlands, the landfall they sought.
It was the end of their voyage and the Geats vaulted
Over the side, out on to the sand,
And moored their ship. There was a clash of mail
And a thresh of gear. They thanked God
For that easy crossing on a calm sea.