Beowulf: Chapter 7

Hrothgar departed then with his house-guard.
The lord of the Shieldings, their shelter in war,
Left the mead-hall to lie with Wealhtheow,
His queen and bedmate. The King of Glory
(as people learned) had posted a lookout
Who was a match for Grendel, a guard against monsters,
Special protection to the Danish prince.
And the Geat placed complete trust
In his strength of limb and the Lord’s favor.
He began to remove his iron breast-mail,
Took off the helmet and handed his attendant
The patterned sword, a smith’s masterpiece,
Ordering him to keep the equipment guarded.
And before he bedded down, Beowulf,
That prince of goodness, proudly asserted:
“When it comes to fighting, I count myself
As dangerous any day as Grendel.
So it won’t be a cutting edge I’ll wield
To mow him down, easily as I might.
He has no ideas of the arts of war,
Of shield or sword-play, though he does possess
A wild strength. No weapons, therefore,
For either this night: unarmed he shall face me
If face me he dares. And may the Divine Lord
In His wisdom grant victory
To whichever side He sees fit.”
Then down the brave man lay with his bolster
Under his head and his whole company
Of sea-rovers at rest beside him.
None of them expected he would ever see
His homeland again or get back
To his native place and the people who reared him.
They knew too well the way it was before,
How often the Danes had fallen prey
To death in the mead-hall. But the Lord was weaving
A victory on his war-loom for the Weather-Geats.
Through the strength of one they all prevailed;
They would crush their enemy and come through
In triumph and gladness. The truth is clear:
Almighty God rules over mankind
And always has.
Then out of the night
Came the shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift;
The hall-guards were slack, asleep at their posts,
All except one; it was widely understood
That as long as God disallowed it,
The fiend could not bear them to his shadow-bourne.
One man, however, was in a fighting mood,
Awake and on edge, spoiling for action.
In off the moors, down through the mist-bands
God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.
The bane of the race of men roamed forth,
Hunting for a prey in the high hall.
Under the cloud-murk he moved towards it
Until it shone above him, a sheer keep
Of fortified gold. Nor was that the first time
He had scouted the grounds of Hrothgar’s dwelling—
Although never in his life, before or since,
Did he find harder fortune or hall-defenders.
Spurned and joyless, he journeyed on ahead
And arrived at the bawn. The iron-braced door
Turned in its hinge when his hand touched it.
Then his rage boiled over, he ripped open
The mouth of the building, maddening for blood,
Pacing the length of the patterned floor
With his loathsome tread, while a baleful light,
Flame more than light, flared from his eyes.
He saw many men in the mansion, sleeping,
A ranked company of kinsmen and warriors
Quartered together. And his glee was demonic,
Picturing the mayhem: before morning
He would rip life from limp and devour them,
Feed on their flesh: but his fate that night
Was due to change, his days of ravening
Had come to an end.
Mighty and canny,
Hygelac’s kinsman was keenly watching
For the first move the monster would make.
Nor did the creature keep him waiting
But struck suddenly and started in;
He grabbed and mauled a man on his bench,
Bit into his bone-lappings, bolted down his blood
And gorged on him in lumps, leaving the body
Utterly lifeless, eaten up
Hand and foot. Venturing closer,
his talon was raised to attack Beowulf
Where he lay on the bed; he was bearing in
With open claw when the alert hero’s
Comeback and armlock forestalled him utterly.
The captain of evil discovered himself
In a handgrip harder than anything
He had ever encountered in any man
On the face of the earth. Every bone in his body
Quailed and coiled, but he could not escape.
He was desperate to flee to his den and hide
With the devil’s litter, for in all his days
He had never been clamped or cornered like this.
Then Hygelac’s trusty retainer recalled
His bedtime speech, sprang to his feet
And got a firm hold. Fingers were bursting,
The monster back-tracking, the man overpowering.
The dread of the land was desperate to escape,
To take a roundabout road and flee
To his lair in the fens. The latching power
In his fingers weakened; it was the worst trip
The terror-monger had taken to Heorot.
And now the timber trembled and sang,
A hall-session that harrowed every Dane
Inside the stockade: stumbling in fury,
The two contenders crashed through the building.