Beowulf: Chapter 20

Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke:
“What happened, lord Hygelac, is hardly a secret
Any more among men in this world–
Myself and Grendel coming to grips
On the very spot where he visited destruction
On the Victory-Shieldings and violated
Life and limb, loses I avenged
So no earthly offspring of Grendel’s
Need ever boast of that bout before dawn,
No matter know long the last of his evil
Family survives.
When I first landed
I hastened to the ring-hall and saluted Hrothgar.
Once he had discovered why I had come
The son of Halfdane sent me immediately
To sit with his own sons on the bench.
It was a happy gathering. In my whole life
I have never seen mead enjoyed more
In any hall on earth. Sometimes the queen
Herself appeared, peace-pledge between nations,
To hearten the young ones and hand out
A torque to a warrior, then take her place.
Sometimes Hrothgar’s daughter distributed
Ale to older ranks, in order on the benches:
I heard the company call her Freawaru
As she made her rounds, presenting men
With the gem-studded bowl, young bride-to-be
To the gracious Ingeld, in her gold-rimmed attire.
The friend of the Shieldings favors her betrothal:
The guardian of the kingdom sees good in it
And hoped this woman will heal old wounds
And grievous feuds.
But generally the spear
Is prompt to retaliate when a prince is killed,
No matter how admirable the bride may be.
“Think how the Heathobards will be bound to feel,
Their lord, Ingeld, and his loyal thanes,
When he walks in with that woman to the feast:
Danes are at the table, being entertained,
Honored guest in glittering regalia,
Burnished ring-mail that was their hosts’ birthright,
Looted when the Heathobards could no longer wield
Their weapons in the shield-clash, when they went down
With their beloved comrades and forfeited their lives.
Then an old spearman will speak while they are drinking,
Having glimpsed some heirloom that brings alive
Memories of the massacre; his mood will darken
And heart-stricken, in the stress of his emotion,
He will begin to test a young-man’s temper
And stir up trouble, starting like this:
“Now, my friend, don’t you recognize
Your father’s sword, his favorite weapon,
Then one he wore when he went out in his war-mask
To face the Danes on that final day?
After Wethergeld died and his men were doomed
The Shieldings quickly took the field,
And now here’s the son of one or other
Of those same killers coming through our hall
Overbearing us, mouthing boasts,
And rigged in armor that by right is yours.’
And so he keeps on, recalling and accusing,
Working things up with bitter words
Until one of the lady’s retainers lies
Spattered in blood, split open
On his father’s account. The killer knows
The lie of the land and escaped with his life.
Then on both sides the oath-bound lords
Will break the peace, a passionate hate
Will build up in Ingeld and love for his bride
Will falter in him as the feud rankles.
I therefore suspect the good faith of the Heathobards,
The truth of their friendship and the trustworthiness
Of their alliance with the Danes.
But now, my lord,
I shall carry on with my account of Grendel,
The whole story of everything that happened
In the hand-to-hand fight.
After heaven’s gem
Had gone mildly to earth, that maddened spirit,
The terror of those twilights, came to attack us
Where we stood guard, still safe inside the hall.
There deadly violence came down on Handscio
And he fell as fate ordained, the first to perish,
Rigged out for the combat. A comrade from our ranks
Had come to grief in Grendel’s maw:
He ate up the entire body.
There was blood on his teeth, he was bloated and furious,
All roused up, yet still unready
To leave the hall empty-handed;
Renowned for his might, he matched himself against me,
Wildly reaching. He had this roomy pouch,
A strange accoutrement, intricately strung
And hung at the ready, a rare patchwork
Of devilishly fitting dragon-skins.
I had done him no wrong, yet the raging demon
Wanted to cram me and many another
Into this bag–but it was not to be
Once I got to my feet in a blind fury.
It would take too long to tell how I repaid
The terror of the land for every life he took
And so won credit for you, my king,
And for all your people. And although he got away
To enjoy life’s sweetness for a while longer,
His right hand stayed behind him in Heorot,
Evidence of his miserable overthrow
As he dived into murk on the mere bottom.
“I got lavish rewards from the lord of the Danes
For my part in the battle, beaten gold
And much else, once morning came
And we took our places at the banquet table.
There was singing and excitement: an old reciter,
A carrier of stories, recalled the early days.
At times some hero made the timbered harp
Tremble with sweetness, or related true
And tragic happenings; at times the king
Gave the proper turn to some fantastic tale,
Or a battle-scarred veteran, bowed with age,
Would begin to remember the martial deeds
Of his youth and prime and be overcome
As the past welled up in his wintry heart.