20 August 2011

XX. Grendel's Mother Attacks

In this Fitt, everyone in Heorot falls asleep. Fate looms over them again in the person of Grendel's mother. Whereas Grendel was simply a monster, a fiend, Grendel's mother is described as a "formidable lady." Her ancestry is traced back to the first murderer, Cain. Nevertheless, her motivation for a raid on Heorot--revenge for her son's death--is entirely understandable and even laudable to the poem's original audience. She is also weaker and more vulnerable than Grendel was, so she has to flee from the hall's defenders. These do not include Beowulf, as he is sleeping in separate chambers that night. As she leaves, she snatches up and carries off a single person, the king's counsellor, Aeschere. This causes the king great grief. In the morning, he summons Beowulf.


They sank into sleep. Someone paid dearly
for his evening rest—as often happened
when the gold-hall was held by Grendel
who had caused evil till his end came,
killed for his crimes. It became well-known
that some avenger still survived him,
lived after the loss. For a long time past
her grim bereavement, Grendel’s mother
a formidable woman, mourned her woes.
She inhabited horrid waters, 1260
cold-flowing currents, for Cain had slaughtered,
put to the edge, his only brother,
his father’s son. The sinner fled,
marked by murder, from communal joys
and lived in the wilds. From him woke many
monstrous spirits, among them Grendel,
the hateful felon who found at Heort
a warrior watching, waiting for battle.
The great monster grappled the man,
but he remembered the might he had, 1270
the greatest gift that God had sent him,
and relied for his life on the Lord’s favour,
comfort and aid. So he overcame,
subdued the hell-fiend, who hurried in despair,
his pleasures done, to his dying place,
the foe of mankind.
                                           And his mother now
grieving and greedy grew in desire
for a sad journey to seek revenge.
She reached Heort, where Ring-Danes were
scattered, asleep. It soon happened: 1280
their fortunes altered when she first appeared,
Grendel’s mother, a menace less great
by the same amount a maiden’s strength,
a woman’s might, is weaker than an armed man’s
when a fine blade, forged by hammers,
a blood-fouled sword, slices through a boar-crest
and its keen edge cuts into a helmet.
They hastily hauled hard edges out,
blades from the benches, and broad-rimmed shields
held firm in their hands. Helmets were left 1290
and heavy hauberks when the horror struck.

She turned her attention to taking flight,
once she was sighted, to save her life.
She swiftly seized a single noble
and held him hard, then headed to the fen.
He was the hero Hrothgar loved best
of any who served him by either sea,
a strong shieldbearer, destroyed as he rested,
the best of men. Beowulf was absent,
in a stateroom outside assigned for his use 1300
after the mighty Geat was given treasures.
As turmoil grew, she retrieved from its gore
a familiar arm.
                                Anguish was admitted
back to their homes—a harsh bargain
with a dear one dead on each side
as the settled price. The sage king felt,
the grey-haired fighter, frustrated grief
when he realized the warrior lord,
his closest friend, was claimed by death.

Beowulf was called to the king’s chamber, 1310
the victorious man, as morning broke.
That noble went; the well-born knight
and his comrades walked to the waiting king
whose mind wondered if the Almighty would,
after sad news, set things aright.
The warrior then went over the floor
with his hand-picked men. The hall’s wood boomed.
Wishing to greet the wise monarch,
he asked if the ruler had rested well.
Had the night passed, as he hoped, in peace? 1320

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