**Lines 1-65 (Prologue)
The generations before the reign Hrothgar, the great King of the Danes and
builder of the mead-hall Heorot
- Shield Sheafson, the first Christian ruler (see l.17)
- The Viking Funeral of Shield Sheafson (25-53)
- Beow, Halfdane and finally Hrothgar
These warriors carved out a kingdom in these icy, northern lands through
conquest. They are fighters who other warriors will stand beside and hold the
Shield was still thriving when his time came
and he crossed over into the Lord's keeping.
His warrior band did what he bade them
when he laid down the law among the Danes:
shouldered him out to the sea's
the chief they revered who had long ruled them.
A ring-whorled prow rode in the harbour,
ice-clad, outbound, a craft for a prince.
They stretched their beloved lord in his boat,
laid out by the mast, amidships,
the great ring-giver. Far-fetched treasures
were piled upon him, and precious gear.
I never heard before of a ship so well furbished
with battle tackle, bladed weapons
coats of mail. The massed
was loaded on top of him: it would travel far
on out into the ocean's sway.
They decked his body no less bountifully
with offerings than those first ones did
who cast him away when he was a child
and launched him alone out over the waves.
And they set a gold standard up
high above his head and let him drift
to wind and tide, bewailing him
mourning their loss. No man can
no wise man in hall or weathered veteran
knows for certain who salvaged that load.
**Lines 65-88 The
Construction of Heorot: the wooden lodge, mead hall built for reveling
through the deep northern winter.
three generations of war under Beow and Halfdane, Hrothgar achieves peace. He
builds Heorot as a place where peace can be celebrated: honoring his allies
and subjects with feasts, gifts, and entertainments (heroic poems!).
Happy as the singer is to speak of Heorot's magnificence, he still laments
that the hall will someday burn; it's doom abides.
Heorot was the name
he had settled on it, whose utterance was law.
Nor did he renege, but doled out rings
and torques at the table. The hall towered,
its gables wide and high and awaiting
a barbarous burning. That doom abided,
but in time it would come: the killer instinct
unleashed among in-laws, the blood-lust rampant.
but in time it would come: the killer instinct
unleashed among in-laws, the blood-lust rampant.
Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
nursed a hard grievance. (79-86)
What kind of Christianity is this? Which religion still predominates in
the early days of the Christianity in Europe’s north country?
Grendel's bitter anger: the clan of Cain
is Grendel? Where does he come from? The writer identifies him as one of
Cain's clan, but it sounds almost as if he is applying the Bible to an entity
far older than Cain. Who did the villagers think Grendel was before
the coming of the Christians?
What infuriates Grendel about Heorot Hall?
So times were pleasant for the people there
finally one, a fiend out of
began to work his evil in the world.
Grendel was the name of this grim demon
haunting the marches, marauding round the heath
and the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time
in misery among the banished monsters,
Cain's clan, whom the Creator had outlawed
and condemned as outcasts.
**Lines 115-145 Grendel's
is uncanny about the nature of Grendel's raids? When do they take place? Why
are the results undiscovered until morning? Where does Grendel really reside?
So, after nightfall, Grendel set out
for the lofty house, to see how the Ring-Danes
were settling into it after their drink,
and there he came upon them, a company of the best
asleep from their feasting, insensible to pain
human sorrow. Suddenly
the God-cursed brute was creating havoc;
greedy and grim, he grabbed thirty men
from their resting places and rushed to his lair,
flushed up and inflamed from the raid,
blundering back with the butchered corpses.
Then as dawn brightened and the day broke
Grendel's powers of destruction were plain:
their wassail was over, they wept to heaven
and mourned under morning. Their mighty prince,
storied leader, sat stricken and
humiliated by the loss of his guard,
bewildered and stunned, staring aghast
at the demon's trail, in deep distress.
monster will meet no civilized method of redressing his wrong: no
reparations, no payment for hostages, no end to the blood feud. (151) For
twelve winters, the Danes suffer Grendel’s raids. In despair, the
people turn again to their pagan gods and pray that the killer of souls
might come to their aid. (175) The people endure 'panic after dark' as the
So Grendel ruled in defiance of right,
one against all, until the greatest house
in the world stood empty, a deserted wallstead.
For twelve winters, seasons of woe,
the lord of the Shieldings suffered under
his load of sorrow; and so, before long,
news was known over the whole
Sad lays were sung about the beset king,
the vicious raids and ravages of Grendel,
his long and unrelenting feud,
nothing but war; how he would never
parley or make peace with any Dane
nor stop his death-dealing nor pay the death-price.
No counsellor could ever expect
fair reparation from those rabid hands.
All were endangered; young and old
hunted down by that dark
who lurked and swooped in the long nights
on the misty moors; nobody knows
where these reavers from hell roam on their errands.
So Grendel waged his lonely war,
inflicting constant cruelties on the people,
atrocious hurt. He took over Heorot,
haunted the glittering hall after dark,
**Lines 195-230 (Heaney Reading his Translation) Beowulf
from another country across the seas (Geatland) hears tell of Hrothgar's
troubles at the great hall of Heorot, and he vows to come to their aid. Why?
When he heard about Grendel, Hygelac's thane
was on home ground, over in Geatland.
There was no one else like him alive.
In his day, he was the mightiest man on earth,
high-born and powerful. He ordered a boat
that would ply the waves. He announced his plan:
sail the swan's road and search out that
the famous prince who needed defenders.
Nobody tried to keep him from going,
no elder denied him, dear as he was to them.
The symbolism that accompanies his voyage
over the sea and his arrival in the Dane land: the coming of a Christian
went by, the boat was on
in close under the cliffs.
Men climbed eagerly up the gangplank,
sand churned in surf, warriors loaded
a cargo of weapons, shining war-gear
in the vessel's hold, then heaved out,
away with a will in their wood-wreathed ship.
Over the waves, with the wind behind her
and foam at her neck, she flew like a bird
until her curved prow had covered the distance
on the following day, at the due
those seafarers sighted land,
sunlit cliffs, sheer crags
and looming headlands, the landfall they sought.
It was the end of their voyage and the Geats vaulted
over the side, out on to the sand,
and moored their ship. There was a clash of mail
and a thresh of gear. They thanked God
for that easy crossing on a calm sea.
Lines 230-300 The
watchman on guard at the coastal bluff is amazed at the open and fearless way
that this war-like party has arrived on Hrothgar's lands. He questions the
leader Beowulf with courtesy but firmness. Beowulf
responds directly. He announces that he has come to do what the
Danes could not: fight and defeat this corpse-maker.
The leader of the troop unlocked his word-hoard;
the distinguished one delivered this answer:
belong by birth to the Geat
and owe allegiance to Lord Hygelac.
In his day, my father was a famous man,
a noble warrior-lord named Ecgtheow.
He outlasted many a long winter
and went on his way. All over the world
men wise in counsel continue to remember him.
We come in good faith to find your lord
and nation's shield, the son of Halfdane.
Give us the right advice and direction.
have arrived here on a great
to the lord of the Danes, and I believe therefore
there should be nothing hidden or withheld between us.
So tell us if what we have heard is true
about this threat, whatever it is,
this danger abroad in the dark nights,
this corpse-maker mongering death
in the Shieldings' country. I come to proffer
my wholehearted help and counsel.
I can show the wise Hrothgar a way
defeat his enemy and find
if any respite is to reach him, ever.
I can calm the turmoil and terror in his mind.
Otherwise, he must endure woes
and live with grief for as long as his hall
stands at the horizon, on its high ground."
Lines 300-330 The march
to Heorot and arrival in the great hall.
Lines 330-355 The
Courteous Welcome: Wulfgar asks Beowulf of the reasons for his visit
in such war-like garb.
Hrothgar agrees to meet with this warrior, saying that he has heard marvelous
tales of the strength in the grip of his hand.
Lines 400-455 Beowulf's
speech to Hrothgar: he vows to fight Grendel in single combat, hand to hand.
Hrothgar remembers times in the past when he and Beowulf's father had come to
each other's aid. He agrees to allow Beowulf to do battle for the honor of
his hall and for his own renown, and promises rich payment in treasure if he
succeeds in killing the monster. None of his warriors have been successful.
Unferth, a Dane, insults Beowulf by questioning the truth of one of his
legendary feats, the swimming contest with Breca.
"Are you the Beowulf who took on Breca
in a swimming match on the open sea,
risking the water just to prove that you could win?
It was sheer vanity made you venture out
the main deep. And no matter who
friend or foe, to deflect the pair of you,
neither would back down: the sea-test obsessed you.
You waded in, embracing water,
taking its measure, mastering currents,
riding on the swell. The ocean swayed,
winter went wild in the waves, but you vied
for seven nights; and then he outswam you,
came ashore the stronger contender.
He was cast up safe and sound one morning
the Heathoreams, then made his
to where he belonged in Bronding country,
home again, sure of his ground
in strongroom and bawn. So Breca made good
his boast upon you and was proved right.
No matter, therefore, how you may have fared
in every bout and battle until now,
this time you'll be worsted; no one has ever
outlasted an entire night against Grendel."
Beowulf corrects Unferth, telling the tale of the swimming match and his own
defeat of the sea monsters that had preyed on the ships in the North Seas. He
concludes by reminding the Danes that none of their champions have survived a
night in the hall with Grendel on the prowl, but he will face the monster
Beowulf, Ecgtheow's son, replied:
friend Unferth, you have had your
about Breca and me. But it was mostly beer
that was doing the talking. The truth is this:
when the going was heavy in those high waves,
I was the strongest swimmer of all.
We'd been children together and we grew up
daring ourselves to outdo each other,
boasting and urging each other to risk
our lives on the sea. And so it turned out.
Each of us swam holding a sword,
naked, hard-proofed blade for
against the whale-beasts. But Breca could never
move out farther or faster from me
than I could manage to move from him.
Shoulder to shoulder, we struggled on
for five nights, until the long flow
and pitch of the waves, the perishing cold,
night falling and winds from the north
drove us apart. The deep boiled up
and its wallowing sent the sea-brutes wild.
armour helped me to hold
my hard-ringed chain-mail, hand-forged and linked,
a fine, close-fitting filigree of gold,
kept me safe when some ocean creature
pulled me to the bottom. Pinioned fast
and swathed in its grip, I was granted one
final chance: my sword plunged
and the ordeal was over. Through my own hands,
the fury of battle had finished off the sea-beast.
**Lines 605-660 Queen
Wealhtheow calms the tension by entering the hall and passing the ale-cup for
all to drink from. Beowulf makes a formal boast when he has drunk from the
cup that he will free Heorot from Grendel or die in the attempt.
Hrothgar and his Queen retire for the night, confident that the King of Glory
has brought them a champion who will be a match for Grendel.
**Lines 688-730 (Grendel's Approach) Beowulf and the Geat
warriors bed down for the night in the hall. Grendel makes his uncanny
springing locks, doors bursting open, the sleeping warriors at his mercy- all
except Beowulf who remains vigilant, silently eyeing the monster's approach.
Then down the brave man lay with his bolster
under his head and his whole company
sea-rovers at rest beside
None of them expected he would ever see
his homeland again or get back
to his native place and the people who reared him.
They knew too well the way it was before,
how often the Danes had fallen prey
to death in the mead-hall. But the Lord was weaving
a victory on His war-loom for the Weather-Geats.
Through the strength of one they all prevailed;
they would crush their enemy and come through
triumph and gladness. The truth is
Almighty God rules over mankind
and always has.
Then out of the night
came the shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift;
the hall-guards were slack, asleep at their posts,
all except one; it was widely understood
that as long as God disallowed it,
the fiend could not bear them to his shadow-bourne.
One man, however, was in fighting mood,
awake and on edge, spoiling for action.
off the moors, down through the mist
God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.
The bane of the race of men roamed forth,
hunting for a prey in the high hall.
Under the cloud-murk he moved towards it
until it shone above him, a sheer keep
of fortified gold. Nor was that the first time
he had scouted the grounds of Hrothgar's dwelling—
although never in his life, before or since,
did he find harder fortune or hall-defenders.
and joyless, he journeyed on
and arrived at the bawn. The iron-braced door
turned on its hinge when his hands touched it.
Then his rage boiled over, he ripped open
the mouth of the building, maddening for blood,
pacing the length of the patterned floor
with his loathsome tread, while a baleful light,
flame more than light, flared from his eyes.
He saw many men in the mansion, sleeping,
a ranked company of kinsmen and warriors
together. And his glee was
picturing the mayhem: before morning
he would rip life from limb and devour them,
feed on their flesh; but his fate that night
was due to change, his days of ravening
had come to an end.
Grendel kills one of Beowulf's men, but the hero waits for the perfect moment
to strike, and when he does he latches on to the monster's arm and holds him
with his grip. The Hall quakes and booms with the violence of their struggle.
Beowulf's men try to aid their champion, but their swords are of no use
against the monster's charmed hide.
Mighty and canny,
Hygelac's kinsman was keenly watching
for the first move the monster would make.
Nor did the creature keep him waiting
but struck suddenly and started in;
grabbed and mauled a man on his
bit into his bone-lappings, bolted down his blood
and gorged on him in lumps, leaving the body
utterly lifeless, eaten up
hand and foot. Venturing closer,
his talon was raised to attack Beowulf
where he lay on the bed; he was bearing in
with open claw when the alert hero's
comeback and armlock forestalled him utterly.
The captain of evil discovered himself
a handgrip harder than
he had ever encountered in any man
on the face of the earth. Every bone in his body
quailed and recoiled, but he could not escape.
He was desperate to flee to his den
and hide with the devil's litter, for in all his days
he had never been clamped or cornered like this.
Then Hygelac's trusty retainer recalled
his bedtime speech, sprang to his feet
and got a firm hold. Fingers were bursting,
monster back-tracking the man
The dread of the land was desperate to escape,
to take a roundabout road and flee
to his lair in the fens. The latching power
in his fingers weakened; it was the worst trip
the terror-monger had taken to Heorot.
And now the timbers trembled and sang,
a hall-session that harrowed every Dane
inside the stockade: stumbling in fury
the two contenders crashed through the building.
hall clattered and hammered, but
survived the onslaught and kept standing:
it was handsomely structured, a sturdy frame
braced with the best of blacksmith's work
inside and out. The story goes
that as the pair struggled, mead-benches were smashed
and sprung off the floor, gold fittings and all.
Before then, no Shielding elder would believe
there was any power or person upon earth
capable of wrecking their horn-rigged hall
the burning embrace of a
engulf it in flame. Then an extraordinary
wail arose, and bewildering fear
came over the Danes. Everyone felt it
who heard that cry as it echoed off the wall,
a God-cursed scream and strain of catastrophe,
the howl of the loser, the lament of the hell-serf
keening his wound. He was overwhelmed,
manacled fight by the man who of all men
was foremost and strongest in the days of this life.
the earl-troop's leader was not
to allow his caller to depart alive:
he did not consider that life of much account
to anyone anywhere. Time and again,
Beowulf's warriors worked to defend
their lord's life, laying about them
as best they could with their ancestral blades.
Stalwart in action, they kept striking out
on every side, seeking to cut
straight to the soul. When they joined the struggle
was something they could not have known at the
that no blade on earth, no blacksmith's art
could ever damage their demon opponent.
He had conjured the harm from the cutting edge
of every weapon. But his going away
out of this world and the days of his life
would be agony to him, and his alien spirit
would travel far into fiends' keeping.
**Lines 810-851 Beowulf
finally wrenches Grendel's arm from his shoulder, and the monster flees into
the night, mortally wounded.
Then he who had harrowed the hearts of men
with pain and affliction in former times
had given offence also to
found that his bodily powers failed him.
Hygelac's kinsman kept him helplessly
locked in a handgrip. As long as either lived,
he was hateful to the other. The monster's whole
body was in pain, a tremendous wound
appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split
and the bone-lappings burst. Beowulf was granted
the glory of winning; Grendel was driven
under the fen-banks, fatally hurt,
his desolate lair. His days were
the end of his life was coming over him,
he knew it for certain; and one bloody clash
had fulfilled the dearest wishes of the Danes.
The man who had lately landed among them,
proud and sure, had purged the hall,
kept it from harm; he was happy with his nightwork
and the courage he had shown. The Geat captain
had boldly fulfilled his boast to the Danes:
he had healed and relieved a huge distress,
the hard fate they'd been forced to undergo,
no small affliction. Clear proof of this
could be seen in the hand the hero displayed
high up near the roof: the whole of Grendel's
shoulder and arm, his awesome grasp.
Then morning came and many a warrior
gathered, as I've heard, around the gift-hall,
clan-chiefs flocking from far and near
down wide-ranging roads, wondering greatly
the monster's footprints. His fatal
was regretted by no-one who witnessed his trail,
the ignominious marks of his flight
where he'd skulked away, exhausted in spirit
and beaten in battle, bloodying the path,
hauling his doom to the demons' mere.
The bloodshot water wallowed and surged,
there were loathsome upthrows and overturnings
of waves and gore and wound-slurry.
With his death upon him, he had dived deep
his marsh-den, drowned out his
and his heathen soul: hell claimed him there.