Great American Novels, Ranked by How Much We Hate Them
THEN from the moorland, by misty crags,
with God’s wrath laden, Grendel came.
The monster was minded of mankind now
sundry to seize in the stately house.
Under welkin he walked, till the wine-palace there,
gold-hall of men, he gladly discerned,
flashing with fretwork. Not first time, this,
that he the home of Hrothgar sought,—
yet ne’er in his life-day, late or early,
such hardy heroes, such hall-thanes, found!
To the house the warrior walked apace,
parted from peace; the portal opended,
though with forged bolts fast, when his fists had
and baleful he burst in his blatant rage,
the house’s mouth. All hastily, then,
o’er fair-paved floor the fiend trod on,
ireful he strode; there streamed from his eyes
fearful flashes, like flame to see.
|Night fell. The one who walks in shadows was coming to them. All of the hall guards were asleep except for one. The one who was awake was ready for the fiend. Grendel stalked through the misty swamps, making his way to the great hall. He walked in the shadows until at last he arrived. He had come here many times, but never had he faced such powerful enemies. He tore open the door and strode in, his eyes aflame with rage.|
He spied in hall the hero-band,
kin and clansmen clustered asleep,
hardy liegemen. Then laughed his heart;
for the monster was minded, ere morn should dawn,
savage, to sever the soul of each,
life from body, since lusty banquet
waited his will! But Wyrd forbade him
to seize any more of men on earth
after that evening. Eagerly watched
Hygelac’s kinsman his cursed foe,
how he would fare in fell attack.
Not that the monster was minded to pause!
Straightway he seized a sleeping warrior
for the first, and tore him fiercely asunder,
the bone-frame bit, drank blood in streams,
swallowed him piecemeal: swiftly thus
the lifeless corse was clear devoured,
e’en feet and hands. Then farther he hied;
for the hardy hero with hand he grasped,
felt for the foe with fiendish claw,
for the hero reclining,—who clutched it boldly,
prompt to answer, propped on his arm.
Soon then saw that shepherd-of-evils
that never he met in this middle-world,
in the ways of earth, another wight
with heavier hand-gripe; at heart he feared,
sorrowed in soul,—none the sooner escaped!
Fain would he flee, his fastness seek,
the den of devils: no doings now
such as oft he had done in days of old!
Then bethought him the hardy Hygelac-thane
of his boast at evening: up he bounded,
grasped firm his foe, whose fingers cracked.
The fiend made off, but the earl close followed.
The monster meant—if he might at all—
to fling himself free, and far away
fly to the fens,—knew his fingers’ power
in the gripe of the grim one. Gruesome march
to Heorot this monster of harm had made!
Din filled the room; the Danes were bereft,
castle-dwellers and clansmen all,
earls, of their ale. Angry were both
those savage hall-guards: the house resounded.
Wonder it was the wine-hall firm
in the strain of their struggle stood, to earth
the fair house fell not; too fast it was
within and without by its iron bands
craftily clamped; though there crashed from sill
many a mead-bench—men have told me—
gay with gold, where the grim foes wrestled.
So well had weened the wisest Scyldings
that not ever at all might any man
that bone-decked, brave house break asunder,
crush by craft,—unless clasp of fire
in smoke engulfed it.—Again uprose
din redoubled. Danes of the North
with fear and frenzy were filled, each one,
who from the wall that wailing heard,
God’s foe sounding his grisly song,
cry of the conquered, clamorous pain
from captive of hell. Too closely held him
he who of men in might was strongest
in that same day of this our life.
|He saw the Geats asleep on the floor and he laughed to himself. Before morning he planned to kill and eat them all. Fate, however, had other plans for Grendel. Beowulf was carefully watching the monster, waiting for him to attack. He didn’t have to wait long. Grendel grabbed a sleeping man and broke him open. He crushed the man’s bones and drank his blood. When he was finished, he turned towards Beowulf and raised his terrible claw to strike. But Beowulf struck first, grabbing the monster’s claw in his powerful hand. Grendel had never felt such strength in a man before. For the first time, he was afraid. He wanted to return to his foul den and hide there. Beowulf remembered the promise he had made, so he lept up and grabbed Grendel tighter, breaking the beast’s fingers. Grendel pulled free and tried to run, but Beowulf followed. Everyone was awake now and the hall was in chaos. Grendel and Beowulf crashed around the room, turning over benches and smashing into the walls. The hall shook, but it stood. The Danes could hardly believe their eyes-they thought only fire could cause this much damage to their hall. A terrifying wail echoed through the hall. The Danes could feel the scream in their bones. It was Grendel’s cry. He was wounded and Beowulf had him firmly in his grip.|