Beowulf: Chapter 4

The man whose name was known for courage,
The Geat leader, resolute in his helmet,
Answered in return: “We are retainers
From Hygelac’s band. Beowulf is my name.
If your lord and master, the most renowned
Son of Halfdane, will hear me out
And graciously allow me to greet him in person,
I am ready and willing to report my errand.”
Wulfgar replied, a Wendel chief
Renowned as a warrior, well known for his wisdom
And the temper of his mind: “I will take this message,
In accordance with your wish, to our noble king,
Our dear lord, friend of the Danes,a
The giver of rings. I will go and ask him
About your coming here, then hurry back
With whatever reply it pleases him to give.”
With that he turned to where Hrothgar sat,
An old man among retainers;
The valiant follower stood four-square
In front of his king: he knew the courtesies.
Wulfgar addressed his dear lord:
“People from Geatland have put ashore.
They have sailed far over the wide sea.
They call the chief in charge of their band
By the name of Beowulf. They beg, my lord,
An audience with you, exchange of words
And formal greeting. Most gracious Hrothgar,
Do not refuse them, but grant them a reply.
From their arms and appointment, they appear well-born
And worthy of respect, especially the one
Who has led them this far: he is formidable indeed.”
Hrothgar, protector of Shieldings, replied:
“I used to know him when I was a young boy.
His father before him was called Ecgtheow.
Hrethel the Greath gave Ecgtheow
His daughter in marriage. This man is their son,
Here to follow up an old friendship.
A crew of seamen who sailed for me once
With a gift-cargo across to Geatland
Returned with marvelous tales about him:
A thane, they declared, with the strength of thirty
In the grip of each hand. Now Holy God
Has, in His Goodness, guided him here
To the West-Danes, to defend us from Grendel.
This is my hope; and for his heroism
I will recompense him with a rich treasure.
Go immediately, bid him and the Geats
He has is attendance to assemble and enter.
Say, moreover, when you speak to them,
That they are welcome in Denmark.”
At the door of the hall,
Wulfgar duly delivered the message:
“My lord, the conquering king of the Danes,
Bids me announce that he knows your ancestry;
Also that he welcomes you here to Heorot
And salutes your arrival from across the sea.
You are free now to move forward
To meet Hrothgar, in helmets and armor,
But shields must stay here and spears be stacked
Until the outcome of the audience is clear.”
The hero arose, surrounded closely
By his powerful thanes. A party remained
Under orders to keep watch on the arms;
The rest proceeded, lead by their prince
Under Heorot’s roof. And standing on the hearth
In webbed links that the smith had woven,
The fine-forged mesh of his gleaming mail shirt,
Resolute in his helmet, Beowulf spoke:
“Greetings to Hrothgar. I am Hygelac’s kinsman,
One of his hall-troop. When I was younger,
I had great triumphs. Then news of Grendel,
Hard to ignore, reached me at home:
Sailors brought stories of the plight you suffer
In this legendary hall, how it lies deserted,
Empty and useless once the evening light
Hides itself under Heaven’s dome.
So every elder and experience councilman
Among my people supported my resolve
To come here to you, King Hrothgar,
Because all knew of my awesome strength.
They had seen me boltered in the blood of enemies
When I battled and bound five beasts,
Raided a troll-nest and in the night-sea
Slaughtered sea-brutes. I have suffered extremes
And avenged the Geats (their enemies brought it
Upon themselves, I devastated them).
Now I mean to be a match for Grendel,
Settle the outcome in a single combat.
And so, my request, O king of Bright-Danes,
Dear prince pf the Shieldings, friend of the people
And their ring of defense, my one request
Is that you won’t refuse me, who have come this far,
The privilege of purifying Heorot,
With my own men to help me, and nobody else.
I have heard moreover that the monster scorns
In his reckless way to use weapons;
Therefore, to heighten Hygelac’s fame
And gladden his heart, I hereby renounce
Sword and the shelter of the broad shield,
The heavy war-board: hand-to-hand
Is how it will be, a life-and-death
Fight with the fiend. Whichever one death fells
Must deem it a just judgment by God.
If Grendel wins, it will be a gruesome day;
He will glut himself on the Geats in the war-hall,
Swoop without fear on that flower of manhood
As on others before. Then my face won’t be there
To be covered in death; he will carry me away
As he goes to ground, gorged and bloodied;
He will run gloating with my raw corpse
And feed on it alone, in a cruel frenzy,
Fouling his moor-nest. No need then
To lament for long or lay out my body:
If the battle takes me, send back
This breast-webbing that Weland fashioned
And Hrethel gave me, to Hygelac.
Fate goes ever as fate must.”