The Oldest English Epic/Chapter 1/Beowulf 14

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The Oldest English Epic by Unknown, translated by Francis Barton Gummere
Beowulf: XIV


925Hrothgar spake,—to the hall he went,
stood by the steps, the steep roof saw,
garnished with gold, and Grendel’s hand:—
“For the sight I see to the Sovran Ruler
be speedy thanks! A throng of sorrows
930I have borne from Grendel; but God still works
wonder on wonder, the Warden-of-Glory.
It was but now that I never more
for woes that weighed on me waited help
long as I lived, when, laved in blood,
935stood sword-gore-stained this stateliest house,—
widespread woe for wise men all,
who had no hope to hinder ever
foes infernal and fiendish sprites
from havoc in hall. This hero now,
940by the Wielder’s might, a work has done
that not all of us erst could ever do
by wile and wisdom. Lo, well can she say
whoso of women this warrior bore
among sons of men, if still she liveth,
945that the God of the ages was good to her
in the birth of her bairn. Now, Beowulf, thee,
of heroes best, I shall heartily love
as mine own, my son; preserve thou ever
this kinship new: thou shalt never lack
950wealth of the world that I wield as mine!
Full oft for less have I largess showered,
my precious hoard, on a punier man,
less stout in struggle. Thyself hast now
fulfilled such deeds, that thy fame shall endure
955through all the ages. As ever he did,
well may the Wielder reward thee still!”
Beowulf spake, bairn of Ecgtheow:—
“This work of war most willingly
we have fought, this fight, and fearlessly dared
960force of the foe. Fain, too, were I
hadst thou but seen himself, what time
the fiend in his trappings tottered to fall!
Swiftly, I thought, in strongest gripe
on his bed of death to bind him down,
965that he in the hent of this hand of mine
should breathe his last: but he broke away.[1]
Him I might not—the Maker willed not—
hinder from flight, and firm enough hold
the life-destroyer: too sturdy was he,
970the ruthless, in running! For rescue, however,
he left behind him his hand in pledge,
arm and shoulder; nor aught of help
could the curséd one thus procure at all.
None the longer liveth he, loathsome fiend,
975sunk in his sins, but sorrow holds him
tightly grasped in gripe of anguish,
in baleful bonds, where bide he must,
evil outlaw, such awful doom
as the Mighty Maker shall mete him out.”

980More silent seemed the son of Ecglaf[2]
in boastful speech of his battle-deeds,
since athelings all, through the earl’s great prowess,
beheld that hand, on the high roof gazing,[3]
foeman’s fingers,—the forepart of each
985of the sturdy nails to steel was likest,—
heathen’s “hand-spear,” hostile warrior’s
claw uncanny. ’Twas clear, they said,
that him no blade of the brave could touch,
how keen soever, or cut away
990that battle-hand bloody from baneful foe.

  1. Literally, “I intended . . . if his body had not slipped away.”
  2. Unferth, Beowulf’s sometime opponent in the flyting.
  3. That is, as Klaeber points out, Modern Philology, III, 256, the nobles look from outside “in the direction of the high roof, and behold the hand.” Beowulf, he says, “had placed Grendel’s hand . . . (on some projection perhaps) above the door (outside) as high as he could reach.” But ten Brink (Beowulf, p. 63) takes for granted that the hand was placed inside the hall. See vv. 836, 926, above.