Great American Novels, Ranked by How Much We Hate Them
’MID the battle-gear saw he a blade triumphant,
old-sword of Eotens, with edge of proof,
warriors’ heirloom, weapon unmatched,
—save only ’twas more than other men
to bandy-of-battle could bear at all—
as the giants had wrought it, ready and keen.
Seized then its chain-hilt the Scyldings’ chieftain,
bold and battle-grim, brandished the sword,
reckless of life, and so wrathfully smote
that it gripped her neck and grasped her hard,
her bone-rings breaking: the blade pierced through
that fated-one’s flesh: to floor she sank.
Bloody the blade: he was blithe of his deed.
Then blazed forth light. ’Twas bright within
as when from the sky there shines unclouded
heaven’s candle. The hall he scanned.
By the wall then went he; his weapon raised
high by its hilts the Hygelac-thane,
angry and eager. That edge was not useless
to the warrior now. He wished with speed
Grendel to guerdon for grim raids many,
for the war he waged on Western-Danes
oftener far than an only time,
when of Hrothgar’s hearth-companions
he slew in slumber, in sleep devoured,
fifteen men of the folk of Danes,
and as many others outward bore,
his horrible prey. Well paid for that
the wrathful prince! For now prone he saw
Grendel stretched there, spent with war,
spoiled of life, so scathed had left him
Heorot’s battle. The body sprang far
when after death it endured the blow,
sword-stroke savage, that severed its head.
Soon, then, saw the sage companions
who waited with Hrothgar, watching the flood,
that the tossing waters turbid grew,
blood-stained the mere. Old men together,
hoary-haired, of the hero spake;
the warrior would not, they weened, again,
proud of conquest, come to seek
their mighty master. To many it seemed
the wolf-of-the-waves had won his life.
The ninth hour came. The noble Scyldings
left the headland; homeward went
the gold-friend of men. But the guests sat on,
stared at the surges, sick in heart,
and wished, yet weened not, their winsome lord
again to see.
|Armor and swords from previous victims were scattered around the den. Beowulf saw the sword of Eotens, said to be the greatest blade ever forged, a weapon made by and for giants. Ordinary men couldn’t even lift it. Beowulf snatched it up and swung wildly, catching Grendel’s mother across the neck. It cut through her skin and shattered her bones. She collapsed on the floor, doomed. Beowulf was happy with his bloody work. Suddenly, the hall filled with light. Beowulf looked around and saw that Grendel’s body was resting there. He decided to take revenge for all the men had killed. He strode up to the body and, using his new sword, severed the monster’s head. Meanwhile, the men on shore saw that the waters were running with blood. Some said that Beowulf must be dead. It had been nine hours and they were growing sure that Grendel’s mother must have won the battle. Some of them, including Hrothgar, began to make their way home. The Geats, however, waited for their leader to return from the bloody deep.|
Now that sword began,
from blood of the fight, in battle-droppings,
war-blade, to wane: ’twas a wondrous thing
that all of it melted as ice is wont
when frosty fetters the Father loosens,
unwinds the wave-bonds, wielding all
seasons and times: the true God he!
Nor took from that dwelling the duke of the Geats
save only the head and that hilt withal
blazoned with jewels: the blade had melted,
burned was the bright sword, her blood was so hot,
so poisoned the hell-sprite who perished within there.
Soon he was swimming who safe saw in combat
downfall of demons; up-dove through the flood.
The clashing waters were cleansed now,
waste of waves, where the wandering fiend
her life-days left and this lapsing world.
Swam then to strand the sailors’-refuge,
sturdy-in-spirit, of sea-booty glad,
of burden brave he bore with him.
Went then to greet him, and God they thanked,
the thane-band choice of their chieftain blithe,
that safe and sound they could see him again.
Soon from the hardy one helmet and armor
deftly they doffed: now drowsed the mere,
water ’neath welkin, with war-blood stained.
Forth they fared by the footpaths thence,
merry at heart the highways measured,
well-known roads. Courageous men
carried the head from the cliff by the sea,
an arduous task for all the band,
the firm in fight, since four were needed
on the shaft-of-slaughter strenuously
to bear to the gold-hall Grendel’s head.
So presently to the palace there
foemen fearless, fourteen Geats,
marching came. Their master-of-clan
mighty amid them the meadow-ways trod.
Strode then within the sovran thane
fearless in fight, of fame renowned,
hardy hero, Hrothgar to greet.
And next by the hair into hall was borne
Grendel’s head, where the henchmen were drinking,
an awe to clan and queen alike,
a monster of marvel: the men looked on.
|Down below, the blood of the monsters caused the great sword to melt like ice that’s been heated. This showed God’s great power. Though the monster’s den was full of treasure, Beowulf decided to take only Grendel’s head and the jewel covered hilt of the now-melted sword. He swam for the surface. The water was growing lighter as the evil influence of Grendel’s mother wore off. Beowulf surfaced and made his way to the shore. His men were overjoyed to see him and thanked God for saving their brave leader. They helped Beowulf pull off his armor, and they started back on the footpaths they had taken from Heorot. Grendel’s head was so heavy that it took four of them to carry it. They all marched together, with Beowulf in the middle. They strode into the hall, dragging Grendel’s head by the hair. The people inside, including the queen, were eating and drinking, and they looked up in astonishment.|