Great American Novels, Ranked by How Much We Hate Them
HROTHGAR answered, helmet of Scyldings:—
“I knew him of yore in his youthful days;
his aged father was Ecgtheow named,
to whom, at home, gave Hrethel the Geat
his only daughter. Their offspring bold
fares hither to seek the steadfast friend.
And seamen, too, have said me this,—
who carried my gifts to the Geatish court,
thither for thanks,—he has thirty men’s
heft of grasp in the gripe of his hand,
the bold-in-battle. Blessed God
out of his mercy this man hath sent
to Danes of the West, as I ween indeed,
against horror of Grendel. I hope to give
the good youth gold for his gallant thought.
Be thou in haste, and bid them hither,
clan of kinsmen, to come before me;
and add this word,—they are welcome guests
to folk of the Danes.”
[To the door of the hall
Wulfgar went] and the word declared:—
“To you this message my master sends,
East-Danes’ king, that your kin he knows,
hardy heroes, and hails you all
welcome hither o’er waves of the sea!
Ye may wend your way in war-attire,
and under helmets Hrothgar greet;
but let here the battle-shields bide your parley,
and wooden war-shafts wait its end.”
Uprose the mighty one, ringed with his men,
brave band of thanes: some bode without,
battle-gear guarding, as bade the chief.
Then hied that troop where the herald led them,
under Heorot’s roof: [the hero strode,]
hardy ’neath helm, till the hearth he neared.
Beowulf spake,—his breastplate gleamed,
war-net woven by wit of the smith:—
“Thou Hrothgar, hail! Hygelac’s I,
kinsman and follower. Fame a plenty
have I gained in youth! These Grendel-deeds
I heard in my home-land heralded clear.
Seafarers say how stands this hall,
of buildings best, for your band of thanes
empty and idle, when evening sun
in the harbor of heaven is hidden away.
So my vassals advised me well,—
brave and wise, the best of men,—
O sovran Hrothgar, to seek thee here,
for my nerve and my might they knew full well.
Themselves had seen me from slaughter come
blood-flecked from foes, where five I bound,
and that wild brood worsted. I’ the waves I slew
nicors by night, in need and peril
avenging the Weders, whose woe they sought,—
crushing the grim ones. Grendel now,
monster cruel, be mine to quell
in single battle! So, from thee,
thou sovran of the Shining-Danes,
Scyldings’-bulwark, a boon I seek,—
and, Friend-of-the-folk, refuse it not,
O Warriors’-shield, now I’ve wandered far,—
that I alone with my liegemen here,
this hardy band, may Heorot purge!
More I hear, that the monster dire,
in his wanton mood, of weapons recks not;
hence shall I scorn—so Hygelac stay,
king of my kindred, kind to me!—
brand or buckler to bear in the fight,
gold-colored targe: but with gripe alone
must I front the fiend and fight for life,
foe against foe. Then faith be his
in the doom of the Lord whom death shall take.
Fain, I ween, if the fight he win,
in this hall of gold my Geatish band
will he fearless eat,—as oft before,—
my noblest thanes. Nor need’st thou then
to hide my head; for his shall I be,
dyed in gore, if death must take me;
and my blood-covered body he’ll bear as prey,
ruthless devour it, the roamer-lonely,
with my life-blood redden his lair in the fen:
no further for me need’st food prepare!
To Hygelac send, if Hild should take me,
best of war-weeds, warding my breast,
armor excellent, heirloom of Hrethel
and work of Wayland. Fares Wyrd as she must.”
|Hrothgar answered, “I remember him when he was young. His father was Ecgtheow, who was married to the daughter of Hrethel the Geat. And now their brave son comes to help his loyal friend. I once sent some sailors to the Geats to deliver some gifts, and they returned with wonderful tales about this man. They say he is as strong as thirty men. Merciful God has sent him to save us from Grendel’s horrors. I will reward him for his bravery. Tell them to come forward and let them know that they are most welcome here.” Wulfgar went to the door of the hall and said, “My master sends you this message. He knows your family well and welcomes you here. You may approach him in your armor, but leave your shields and weapons behind.” Beowulf gathered several of his warriors and followed Wulfgar, leaving some men behind to guard the weapons. Approaching Hrothgar in his shining armor, Beowulf spoke. “Hail, Hrothgar! I am Hygelac’s loyal subject and kinsman, and I have earned respect in his lands. Even there I have heard of Grendel’s evil deeds. Sailors talk about how your great hall stands empty at night. So my wise men suggested that I come to you, Hrothgar, in hopes that my strength and bravery may help you. They have seen me return from battle covered in the blood of my enemies. I have captured and killed monsters on land and in the sea, and have avenged and defended my people against foes who got what they deserved. And now I come to destroy Grendel. I ask for your permission to rid your hall of this fiend using only my men. I have heard that Grendel does not use weapons, so I intend to kill him with my bare hands and earn more glory in Hygelac’s name. The Lord will decide who will live and who will die. If Grendel wins, it will be an awful sight. He will gorge himself on my brave men. My body will not be here to be buried. He will take it back to his lair and eat it there. If this happens, send my armor back to Hygelac. Fate works as it must.”|