25 June 2011

Fitt the Third (Grendel's Visits)

He set out to scout, when the sky darkened,
the lofty hall and learn how the Danes
after feasting and beer fell into sleep.
He noted inside the nobles together,
sleeping after the feast; they feared no sorrow
nor hardship in life. Unhallowed being, 120
grim and greedy, he grew ready soon,
savage and reckless, and seized from their rest
thirty thanesmen. From there he retreated
homeward again, happy with spoil,
laden with corpses, looking for cover.

In dawn’s dimness, as day was breaking,
Grendel’s power grew apparent.
After their breakfast, they broke into wails,
a morning roar. The mighty king,
the sage ruler, sat wretchedly, 130
deeply mourning the death of his men.
When they had found the footprints there
that Grendel had left, grief overwhelmed them,
loathsome and lasting. No long respite then,
but he started anew on the night after
with more foul slaughter, and felt no regret,
firm in the hold of fighting and horror.
They were easily found, those who fared elsewhere
and at a safe distance sought to find rest,
to bed in the country when they caught the news, 140
were truthfully told, with tokens to show
the hall-raider’s hatred. Not hiding but fleeing
quicker and farther would quit that fiend.
In this way he ruled and wronged justice,
one against all, till all had left
that lordliest house. Long seasons passed,
a dozen winters of desperate woe
for the Scyldings’ friend, shocks from all quarters,
immense miseries. So to men came word,
to the sons of men was sent the news, 150
in sorrowful songs of the ceaseless feud
of Grendel with Hrothgar, the grudges he held,
cruelty and crime across many seasons,
perpetual war. He wanted no peace,
no deal to be made with Danish men
to stop life-destruction, end strife with gold.
On the king’s council none counted on payment,
on rich amends from murdering hands,
but the wretch went on, reaved without pause,
an ominous reaper1 of old and young. 160
Watching and hunting, he held through the nights
the misty moors. Men do not know
where in their haunts the hellrunes2 wander.
So, many offences that foe of mankind,
that monstrous outlaw, often committed,
awful outrages. He occupied Heort,
the adorned hall in the dark of night.
He was not compelled to kneel at the Gift-Throne,
the treasure, by God. He gave it no love.

That was a shattering of spirit to the Scyldings’ friend, 170
a long misery. Many often sat,
the mighty in counsel, mooting what plan
was the better hope for brave soldiers
to test against the terror’s strike.

Sometimes they prayed in sacred places
left sacrifice, and sent out pleas
that the soul-killer would send relief
from the people’s pains. They practiced this,
the heathens’ hope. Hell was in their minds,
their heart of hearts, not hearing of the Lord, 180
the weigher of deeds, unaware of God.
The Wonder-Wielder went unhonoured,
Heaven’s Helmet. Hurt comes to the man
who in a panic pushes his soul
into Hellfire’s hold: no hope of relief
waits for him there, but well is the man
who past his death-day approaches the Lord
and finds refuge in the Father’s arms.

1The Old English term here means “death-shade”; I translated it as reaper because we now imagine the spirit of death as a grim reaper.
2Runes are letters that were used in northern Europe. Runes stood for more than just sounds, though; they had secret meanings that were used for fortune-telling. Saying that Grendel is a “hellrune,” then, means that he is both mysterious and evil.
Although the "Song of Creation" in the second fitt is compatible with Christianity (specifically, it retells part of Genesis), the last lines of this third fitt are the first clear mention of the poet's God, who is explicitly contrasted here to the pagan gods of old Scandinavia, who would be Odin, Thor, and the rest. Those who think that this poem came from pagan times believe that this part must be a late addition to the poem. If so, the Christian amenders must have been busy throughout the poem because many lines refer to the Father, the Lord, Heaven's Helm, Wyrd's Ruler, and so on, and many more to God's enemy, but no lines name the pagan gods.
If the poet were a Christian, though, it was a strange kind of Christianity. He makes no reference at all to Christ. That fact is a mystery I cannot begin to explain.

No comments:

Post a Comment