Beowulf: Chapter 6

“Time and again, foul things attacked me,
Lurking and stalking, but I lashed out,
Gave as good as I got with my sword.
My flesh was not for feasting on,
There would be no monsters gnawing and gloating
Over their banquet at the bottom of the sea.
Instead, in the morning, mangled and sleeping
The sleep of the sword, they slopped and floated
Like the ocean’s leavings. From now on
Sailors would the safe, the deep-sea raids
Were over for good. Light came from the East,
Bright guarantee of God, and the waves
Went quiet; I could see the headlands
And buffeted cliffs. Often, for undaunted courage,
Fate spares the man it has not already marked.
However it had occurred, my sword had killed
Nine sea monsters. Such night-dangers
And hard ordeals I have never heard of
Nor of a man so desolate in surging waves.
But worn out as I was, I survived,
Came through with my life. The ocean lifted
And laid me ashore, I landed safe
On the coast of Finland.
Now, I cannot recall
any fight you entered, Unferth,
That bears comparison. I don’t boast when I say
That neither you nor Breca ever were much
Celebrated for swordsmanship
Or for facing danger in the battlefield.
You killed your own kith and kin,
So for all your cleverness and quick tongue,
You will suffer damnation in the pits of hell.
The fact it, Unferth, if you were truly
As keen or courageous as you claim to be
Grendel would never have got away with
Such unchecked atrocity, attacks on your king,
Havoc in Heorot and horrors everywhere.
But he knows he need never be in dread
Of your blade making a mizzle of his blood
Or of vengeance arriving ever from this quarter—
From the Victory-Shieldings, the shoulderers of the spear.
He knows he can trample down you Danes
To his heart’s content, humiliate and murder
Without fear of reprisal. But he will find me different.
I will show him how Geats shape to kill
In the heat of battle. Then whoever wants to
May go bravely to morning mead, when morning light,
Scarfed in sun-dazzle, shines forth from the south
And brings another daybreak to the world.”
Then the gray-haired treasure-giver was glad;
Far-famed in battle, the prince of Bright-Danes
And keeper of his people counted on Beowulf,
On the warrior’s steadfastness and his word.
So the laughter started, the din got louder
And the crowd was happy. Wealhtheow came in,
Hrothgar’s queen, observing the courtesies.
Adorned in her gold, she graciously saluted
The men in the hall, then handed the cup
First to Hrothgar, their homeland’s guardian,
Urging him to drink deep and enjoy it,
Because he was dear to them. And he drank it down
Like the warlord he was, with festive cheer.
So the Helming woman went on her rounds,
Queenly and dignified, decked out in rings,
Offering the goblet to all ranks,
Treating the household and the assembled troop
Until it was Beowulf’s turn to take it from her hand.
With measured words she welcomed the Geat
And thanked God for granting her wish
That a deliverer she could believe in would arrive
To ease their afflictions. He accepted the cup,
A daunting man, dangerous in action
And eager for it always. He addressed Wealhtheow;
Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, said:
“I had a fixed purpose when I put out to sea.
As I sat in the boat with my band of men,
I meant to perform to the uttermost
What your people wanted or perish in the attempt,
In the fiend’s clutches. And I shall fulfill that purpose,
Prove myself with a proud deed
Or meet my death here in the mead-hall.”
This formal boast by Beowulf the Geat
Pleased the lady well and she went to sit
By Hrothgar, regal and arrayed with gold.
Then it was like old times in the echoing hall,
Proud talk and the people happy,
Loud and excited; until soon enough
Halfdane’s heir had to be away
To his night’s rest. He realized
That the demon was going to descend on the hall
That he had plotted all day, from dawn-light
Until darkness gathered again over the world
And stealthy night-shades came stealing forth
Under the cloud-murk. The company stood
As the two leaders took leave of each other:
Hrothgar wished Beowulf health and good luck,
Named him hall-warden and announced as follows:
“Never, since my hand could hold a shield
Have I entrusted or given control
Of the Dane’s hall to anyone but you.
Ward and guard it, for it is the greatest of houses.
Be on your mettle now, keep in mind your fame,
Beware of the enemy. There’s nothing you wish for
That won’t be yours if you win through alive.”