Beowulf: Chapter 21

“We were happy there the whole day long
And enjoyed our time until another night
Descended upon us. Then suddenly
The vehement mother avenged her son
And wreaked destruction. Death had robbed her;
Geats had slain Grendel, so his ghastly dam
Struck back and with bare-faced defiance
Laid a man low. Thus life departed
From the sage Auschere, an elder wise in council.
But afterwards, on the morning following,
The Danes could not burn the dead body
Nor lay the remains of the man they loved
On his funeral pyre. She had fled with the corpse
And taken refuge beneath torrents on the mountain.
It was a hard blow for Hrothgar to bear,
Harder than any he had undergone before.
And so the heartsore king beseeched me
In your royal name to take my chances
Underwater, to win glory
And prove my worth. He promised me rewards.
Hence, as is well known, I went to my encounter
With the terror-monger at the bottom of the tarn.
For a while it was hand-to-hand between us,
Then blood went curdling along the currents
And I beheaded Grendel’s mother in the hall
With a mighty sword. I barely managed
To escape with my life; my time had not yet come.
But Halfdane’s heir, the shelter of those earls,
Again endowed me with gifts in abundance.
“Thus the king acted with due custom.
I was paid and recompensed completely,
Given full measure and the freedom to choose
From Hrothgar’s treasures by Hrothgar himself.
These, King Hygelac, I am happy to present
To you as gifts. It is still upon your grace
That all favor depends. I have few kinsman
Who are close, my king, except for your kind self.”
Then he order the boar-framed standard to be brought,
The battle-topping helmet, the mail-shirt gray as hoar-frost
And the precious war-sword; and proceeded with his speech.
“When Hrothgar presented this war-gear to me
He instructed, my lord, to give you some account
Of why it signifies his special favor.
He said it had belonged to his older brother,
King Heorogar, who had long kept it,
But that Heorogar had never bequeathed it
To his son Heoroweard, that worthy scion,
Loyal as he was.
Enjoy it well.”
I heard four horses were handed over next.
Beowulf bestowed four bay steeds
To go with the armor, swift gallopers,
All alike. So ought a kinsman act,
Instead of plotting and planning in secret
To bring people to grief, or conspiring to arrange
The death of comrades. The warrior king
Was uncle to Beowulf and honored by his nephew:
Each was concerned for the other’s good.
I heard he presented Hygd with a gorget,
The priceless torque that the prince’s daughter,
Wealhtheow, had given him; and three horses,
Supple creatures, brilliantly saddled.
The bright necklace would be luminous on Hygd’s breast.
Thus Beowuld bore himself with valor;
He was formidable in battle yet behaved with honor
And took no advantage: never cut down
A comrade who was drunk, kept his temper
And, warrior that he was, watched and controlled
His God-sent strength and his outstanding
Natural powers. He had been poorly regarded
For a long time, was taken by the Geats
For less than he was worth: and their lord too
Had never much esteemed him in the mead-hall.
They firmly believed that he lacked force,
That the prince was a weakling; but presently
Every affront to his deserving was reversed.
The battle-famed king, bulwark of his earls,
Ordered a gold-chased heirloom of Hrethel’s
To be brought in; it was the best example
Of a gem-studded sword in the Geat treasury.
This he laid on Beowulf’s lap
And then rewarded him with land as well,
Seven thousand hides, and a hall and a throne.
Both owned land by birth in that country,
Ancestral ground; but the greater right
And sway were inherited by the higher born.
A lot was to happen in later days
In the fury of battle. Hygelac fell
And the shelter of Heardred’s shield proved useless
Against the fierce aggression of the Shylfings:
Ruthless swordsmen, seasoned campaigners,
They came against him and his conquering nation,
And with cruel force cut him down
So that afterwards
The wide kingdom
Reverted to Beowulf. He ruled it well
For fifty winters, grew old and wise
As warden of the land
Until one began
To dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl
From the steep vaults of a stone-roofed barrow
Where he guarded a hoard; there was a hidden passage,
Unknown to men, but someone managed
To enter by it and interfere
With the heathen trove. He had handled and removed
A gem-studded goblet; it gained him nothing,
Though with a thief’s wiles he had outwitted
The sleeping dragon; that drove him into rage,
As the people of that country would soon discover.