Beowulf: Gummere Chapter 20

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XX

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HROTHGAR spake,     helmet-of-Scyldings:

“Ask not of pleasure!     Pain is renewed,

to Danish folk.     Dead is Aeschere,

of Yrmenlaf,     the elder brother,

my sage adviser,     and stay in council,

shoulder-comrade,     in stress of fight,

when warriors clashed,     and we warded our heads,

hewed the helm-boars;     hero famed,

should be every earl,     as Aeschere was!

But here in Heorot,     a hand hath slain him,

of wandering death-sprite.     I wot not whither,[1]

proud of the prey,     her path she took,

fain of her fill.     The feud she avenged,

that yesternight,     unyieldingly,

Grendel in grimmest,     grasp thou killedst,

seeing how long,     these liegemen mine,

he ruined and ravaged.     Bereft of life,

in arms he fell.     Now another comes,

keen and cruel,     her kin to avenge,

faring far,     in feud of blood:

so that many a thane,     shall think who ever,

sorrows in soul,     for that sharer of rings,

this is hardest of heart-evils.     The hand lies low,

that once was willing,     each wish to please.

Land-dwellers here,[2]     and liegemen mine,

who house by those parts,     I have heard relate,

that such a pair,     they have sometimes seen,

march-stalkers mighty,     the moorland haunting,

wandering spirits:      one of them seemed,

so far as my folk,     could fairly judge,

of womankind;     and one, accursed,

in man’s guise,     trod the misery-track,

of exile though huger,     than human bulk.

Grendel in days long gone,     they named him,

folk of the land;     his father they knew not,

nor any brood,     that was born to him,

of treacherous spirits.     Untrod is their home;

by wolf-cliffs haunt they,     and windy headlands,

fenways fearful,     where flows the stream,

from mountains gliding,     to gloom of the rocks,

underground flood.     Not far is it hence,

in measure of miles,     that the mere expands,

and o’er it the frost-bound,     forest hanging,

sturdily rooted,     shadows the wave.

By night is a wonder,     weird to see,

fire on the waters.     So wise lived none,

of the sons of men,     to search those depths!

Nay though the heath-rover,     harried by dogs,

the horn-proud hart,     this holt should seek,

long distance driven,     his dear life first,

on the brink he yields,     ere he brave the plunge,

to hide his head:      it is no happy place!

Thence the welter of waters,     washes up,

wan to welkin,     when winds bestir,

evil storms,     and air grows dusk,

and the heavens weep.     Now is help once more,

with thee alone!     The land thou knowst not,

place of fear,     where thou findest out,

that sin-flecked being.     Seek if thou dare!

I will reward thee,     for waging this fight,

with ancient treasure,     as before I did,

with winding gold,     if thou winnest back.”

[1] He surmises presently where she is.

[2] The connection is not difficult. The words of mourning, of acute grief, are said, and according to Germanic sequence of thought, inexorable here, the next and only topic is revenge. But is it possible? Hrothgar leads up to his appeal and promise with a skillful and often effective description of the horrors which surround the monster’s home and await the attempt of an avenging foe.

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