Beowulf: Chapter 8

The hall clattered and hammered, but somehow
Survived the onslaught and kept standing:
It was handsomely structured, a sturdy frame
Braced with the best of blacksmith’s work
Inside and out. The story goes
That as the pair struggled, mead benches were smashed
And sprung off the floor, gold fittings and all.
Before then, no Shielding elder would believe
There was any power or person on earth
Capable of wrecking their horn-rigged hall
Unless the burning embrace of fire
Engulf it in flame. Then an extraordinary
Wail arose, and bewildering fear
Came over the Danes. Everyone felt it
Who heard that cry as it echoed off the wall,
A God-cursed scream and strain of catastrophe,
The howl of the loser, the lament of the hell-serf
Keening his wound. He was overwhelmed,
Manacled tight by the man who of all men
Was foremost and strongest in the days of this life.
But the earl troop’s leader was not inclined
To allow his caller to depart alive:
He did not consider that life of much account
To anyone anywhere. Time and again,
Beowulf’s warriors worked to defend
Their lord’s life, laying about them
As best they could with their ancestral blades.
Stalwart in action, they kept striking out
On every side, seeking to cut
Straight to the soul. When they joined the struggle
There was something they could have not known at the time,
That not blade on earth, no blacksmith’s art
Could ever damage their demon opponent.
He had conjured the harm from the cutting edge
Of every weapon. But his going away
Out of the world and the days of his life
Would be agony to him, and his alien spirit
would travel far into fiends’ keeping.
Then he who had harrowed the hearts of men
With pain and affliction in former times
And had given offense also to God
Found that his bodily powers had failed him.
Hygelac’s kinsman kept him helplessly
Locked in a handgrip. As long as either lived
He was hateful to the other. The monster’s whole
Body was in pain, a tremendous wound
Appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split
And the bone-lappings burst. Beowulf was granted
The glory of winning; Grendel was driven
Under the fen banks, fatally hurt,
To his desolate lair. His days were numbered,
The end of his life was coming over him,
He knew it for certain; and one bloody clash
Had fulfilled the dearest wishes of the Danes.
The man who had lately landed among them,
Proud and sure, had purged the hall,
Kept it from harm; he was happy with his night-work
And the courage he had shown. The Geat captain
Had boldly fulfilled his boast to the Danes:
He had healed and relieved a huge distress,
Unremitting humiliations,
The hard fate they’d been forced to undergo,
No small affliction. Clear proof of this
Could be seen in the hand the hero displayed
High up near the roof: the whole of Grendel’s
Shoulder and arm, his awesome grasp.
Then morning came and many a warrior
Gathered, as I have heard, around the gift-hall,
Clan-chiefs flocking from far and near
Down wide-ranging roads, wondering greatly
At the monster’s footprint. His fatal departure
Was regretted by no one who witnessed his trail,
The ignominious marks of his flight
Where he’d sulked away, exhausted in spirit
And beaten in battle, bloodying the path,
Hauling his doom to the demons’ mere.
The bloodshot water wallowed and surged,
There were loathsome up throws and over turnings
Of waves and gore and would-slurry.
With his death upon him, he had dived deep
Into his marsh den, drowned out his life
And his heathen soul: hell claimed him there.
Then away they rode, the old retainers
With many a young man following after,
A troop on horseback, in high spirits
On their bay steeds. Beowulf’s doings
Were praised over and over again.
Nowhere, they said, north or south
Between the two seas or under the tall sky
On the broad earth was there anyone better
To raise a shield or to rule a kingdom.
Yet there was no laying of blame on their lord,
The noble Hrothgar; he was a good king.