15 July 2011

XII. Grendel's Raid

Here it is! The past is prologue to this climax when Beowulf and Grendel meet. It is interesting how, in the Old English, almost all lines in this Fitt have three alliterations instead of two, probably to indicate a greater emotional intensity. I've tried to imitate that with a combination of lines with three alliterations and lines with two pairs of alliterations.



Then from the moor, under misty slopes 710
Grendel came walking, weighed with God’s wrath.
The monster meant to make away
with a human robbed from the rich hall.
He walked under sky till the wine-house,
the gilded palace, he plainly saw
glowing with gold. He had gone other times
to find the home where Hrothgar lived.
But never in life, later or before,
found as hard a fate or fighting men.

The wandering warrior walked to the hall, 720
exiled from joy. He jarred open the door,
though fastened with forgings, when his fingers touched.
He ripped it free, for he was filled with rage,
opened its mouth. Immediately after
the fiend was treading the floor’s bright tiles,
angrily striding. There streamed from his eyes
a lurid light much like a flame.
He beheld in the hall a host of soldiers,
a circled assembly of sleeping kin,
a horde of heroes. His heart laughed then. 730
The monster was minded, before morning came,
the cruel creature, to claw from each
life from the body, believing that
a feast would follow. Fate disallowed him
more of mankind to murder thereafter
to make his meals. The mighty one saw,
Hygelac’s kin, how the killer
was set to launch a swift attack.
He had no thought to hesitate.
His claws flashed out at his closest prey 740
and he slashed apart a sleeping guard,
savaged the bone-locks, swallowed the blood,
put meat in his maw. A moment later
the dead body was bolted down
to feet and hands. Then a forward step
to hold in his hands a hardy man,
a warrior at rest, reach towards him
a hellish hand; he hastily closed it
with ghastly thoughts and grasped the arm.
That shepherd of evils was instantly shocked 750
for he had never met in Middle Earth
to the edge of Earth another man
with as great a grip. There grew in his heart
fear for his life. To leave there fast
was his first feeling, flee into dark
to the fiends’ shelter, but his fated end
was unlike the life he had lived so far.

The hero recalled, Hygelac’s kin,
his evening oaths. Then up he stood
and fastened on the fiend till his fingers cracked 760
The ogre moved outward; the earl stepped in.
The monster meant to move where he could,
to find freedom far from that place,
flee to the fens. He felt his hands trapped
in his enemy’s grip. That was a grim outing
the harmer had to Heorot.
The mansion dinned. The Danish men
the fortress folk, fearless soldiers,
fed on ashes.1 Anger filled both
of the raging guards who rattled the house. 770

It was a wonder that the wine-hall
withstood the struggle instead of falling,
the beautiful structure, though sturdily built
inside and out with iron straps,
carefully crafted. There cracked from the floor
many a mead-bench, men have told me,
finely gilded, where the foes grappled.
Danish sages had scarcely dreamed,
that it ever by anyone,
bright and bone-set, be broken up, 780
cleverly unclasped, unless the clutch of fire
annihilate it. A noise lifted
new and nearby. The North-Danes stood
grey-faced and aghast in the group that could
hear from the wall weeping noises,
skin-crawling screams. The scather of God
sang not of triumph but sore injury,
the Hell-bound soul. He held him firm,
the man who was the mightiest
on that earlier day of earthly life.

1The line says that the earls did an action called “ealuscerwen,” which literally means they “served beer." That provides a very odd mental image of them sitting down to watch the show, like sports fans, with mugs of beer in their hands. An educated guess is that it means the earls felt grief and anguish. From the little I know of the rather earthy Anglo-Saxon sense of humour, it could just as easily mean that they wet themselves in fear, "serving" the beer they had stored in their bladders. However, my translation of the line is based on the idea that the guards felt shame and frustration that they could not participate in the defence of their own hall. In an image from the Bible (Isaiah 44:20, Psalm 102:9), they feed on bitter and unsustaining ashes. Whatever the original meaning may have been, the Old English word does imply, ironically, that the Danes are hosts and Grendel is a guest in their home.

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