from Beowulf


Beowulf No Biography

BEOWULF was composed by an unknown poet who lived more than twelve hundred years ago, Beowulf marks the beginning of English literature. Minstrels called scops recited this poem to audiences in England for about three hundred years before it was first written down, Only one original manuscript of the complete 3128-line poem survives, but Beowulf is in no danger of becoming extinct. Not only does it have lasting historical importance as a record of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in England, but it also tells a hair-raising tale that has electrified readers and listeners through the centuries.
Beowulf, a Geat from a region that is today southern Sweden, sets sail from his homeland to try to free Danish King Hrothgar's great banquet hall, Herot, of a monster that has been ravaging it for twelve years. This monster, Grendel, is a terrifying swampland creature of enormous size whose eyes burn "with a gruesome light." The struggle between Beowulf, a young adventurer eager for fame, and Grendel, a fierce and bloodthirsty foe, is the first of three mortal battles in the long poem. The first battle is the one described in this book. The second struggle pits Beowulf against Grendel's "water- hag" mother, and the third, fifty years later, against a dragon.
Although the action takes place in sixth century Scandinavia, the poem is unmistakably English. Recited originally in Old English, Beowulf is based on legends and chronicles of the various Northern Europeans who migrated to England.
An epic is a long narrative poem, sometimes developed orally, that celebrates the deeds of a legendary or heroic figure, A few epics predate the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, Well-known epics from earlier times include the Greek Iliad and Odyssey by Homer and the Roman Aeneid by Virgil. Typically, an epic, featuring a hero who is larger than life, concerns eternal human problems such as the struggle between good and evil. An epic is presented in a serious way, often through the use of elevated language. The hero of an epic represents widespread national, cultural, or religious values.
Beowulf is one of the oldest European epics, Its hero, Beowulf, embodies the highest ideals of his time and place: loyalty, valor, unselfishness, and a sense of justice. He represents good, while Grendel represents evil. Throughout Beowulf there is a prevailing yet somewhat uneasy blend of Christian ethics and pagan morality. Against a backdrop of gloom that reflects the Anglo-Saxons' stoic acceptance of fate, the story applauds the highest virtues of human nature-courage, generosity, faithfulness. Despite its blood and horror, Beowulf is a deeply idealistic narrative.

The selection opens during an evening of celebration 
at Herot, the banquet hall of the Danish king Hrothgar. 
Outside in the darkness, however, lurks the monster 
Grendel, a murderous creature who poses a great danger
to the people inside the banquet hall.

Grendel Attacks the Danes

A powerful monster, living down In the darkness, growled in pain, impatient As day after day the music rang Loud In that hall, the harp's rejoicing Call and the poet's clear songs, sung Of the ancient beginnings of us all, recalling The Almighty making the earth, shaping These beautiful plains marked off by oceans, Then proudly setting the sun and moon To glow across the land and light it; The corners of the earth were made lovely with trees And leaves, made quick with life, with each Of the nations who now move on its face. And then As now warriors sang of their pleasure: So Hrothgar's men lived happy In his hall Till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend, Grendel, who haunted the moors, the wild Marshes, and made his home in a hell Not hell but earth. He was spawned in that slime, ConceIved by a pair of those monsters born Of Cain, murderous creatures banished By God, punished forever for the crime Of Abel's death. The Almighty drove Those demons out, and their exile was bitter, Shut away from men: they split Into a thousand forms of evil-spirits And fiends, goblins, monsters, giants, A brood forever opposing the Lord's
Will, and again and again defeated. Then, when darkness had dropped, Grendel Went up to Herot, wondering what the warriors Would do in that hall when their drinking was done. He found them sprawled in sleep, suspecting Nothing, their dreams undisturbed. The monster's Thoughts were as quick as his greed or his claws: He slipped through the door and there in the silence Snatched up thirty men, smashed them Unknowing in their beds and ran out with their bodies, The blood dripping behind him, back To his lair, delighted with his night's slaughter.
At daybreak, with the sun's first light, they saw How well he had worked, and in that gray morning Broke their long feast with tears and laments For the dead. Hrothgar, their lord, sat joyless In Herot, a mighty prince mourning The fate of his lost friends and companions, Knowing by its tracks that some demon had torn His followers apart. He wept, fearing The beginning might not be the end. And that night Grendel came again, so set On murder that no crime could ever be enough, No savage assault quench his lust For evil. Then each warrior tried To escape him, searched for rest in different Beds, as far from Herot as they could find, Seeing how Grendel hunted when they slept. Distance was safety; the only survivors Were those who fled him. Hate had triumphed.
So Grendel ruled, fought with the righteous, One against many, and won; so Herot Stood empty, and stayed deserted for years, Twelve winters of grief for Hrothgar, king Of the Danes, sorrow heaped at his door By hell-forged hands. His misery leaped The seas, was told and sung in all Men's ears: how Grendel's hatred began, How the monster relished his savage war On the Danes, keeping the bloody feud Alive, seeking no peace, offering No truce, accepting no settlement, no price In gold or land, and paying the living For one crime only with another. No one Waited for reparation from his plundering claws: That shadow of death hunted In the darkness, Stalked Hrothgar's warriors, old And young, lying in waiting, hidden In mist, invisibly following them from the edge Of the marsh, always there, unseen.
So mankind's enemy continued his crimes, Killing as often as he could, coming Alone, bloodthirsty and horrible. Though he lived In Herot, when the night hid him, he never Dared to touch king Hrothgar's glorious Throne, protected by God-God....

The Coming of Beowulf

So the living sorrow of Healfdane 's son Simmered, bitter and fresh, and no wisdom Or strength could break it: that agony hung On king and people alike, harsh And unending, violent and cruel, and evil.
In his far-off home Beowulf, Higlac's Follower and the strongest of the Geats -greater And stronger than anyone anywhere in this world- Heard how Grendel filled nights with horror And quickly commanded a boat fitted out, Proclaiming that he'd go to that famous king, Would sail across the sea to Hrothgar, Now when help was needed. None Of the wise ones regretted his going, much As he was loved by the Geats: the omens were good, And they urged the adventure on. So Beowulf Chose the mightiest men he could find, The bravest and best of the Geats, fourteen In all, and led them down to their boat; He knew the sea, would point the prow Straight to that distant Danish shore.
Then they sailed, set their ship Out on the waves, under the cliffs. Ready for what came they wound through the currents, The seas beating at the sand, and were borne In the lap of their shining ship, lined With gleaming armor, going safely In that oak-hard boat to where their hearts took them. The wind hurried them over the waves, The ship foamed through the sea like a bird Until, in the time they had known it would take, Standing in the round-curled prow they could see Sparkling hills, high and green, Jutting up over the shore, and rejoicing In those rock-steep cliffs they quietly ended Their voyage. Jumping to the ground, the Geats Pushed their boat to the sand and tied it In place, mail shirts and armor rattling As they swiftly moored their ship. And then They gave thanks to God for their easy crossing.
High on a wall a Danish watcher Patrolling along the cliffs saw The travelers crossing to the shore, their shields Raised and shining; he came riding down, Hrothgar's lieutenant, spurring his horse, Needing to know why they'd landed, these men In armor. Shaking his heavy spear In their faces he spoke:
"Whose soldiers are you, You who've been carried in your deep-keeled ship Across the sea-road to this country of mine? Listen! I've stood on these cliffs longer Than you know, keeping our coast free Of pirates, raiders sneaking ashore From their ships, seeking our lives and our gold. None have ever come more openly- And yet you've offered no password, no sign From my prince, no permission from my people for your landing Here. Nor have I ever seen, Out of all the men on earth, one greater Than has come with you; no commoner carries Such weapons, unless his appearance, and his beauty, Are both lies. You! Tell me your name, And your father's; no spies go further onto Danish Soil than you've come already. Strangers, From wherever it was you sailed, tell it, And tell it quickly, the quicker the better, I say, for us all. Speak, say Exactly who you are, and from where, and why."
Their leader answered him, Beowulf unlocking Words from deep in his breast:
"We are Geats, Men who follow Higlac. My father Was a famous soldier, known far and wide As a leader of men. His name was Edgetho. His life lasted many winters; Wise men all over the earth surely Remember him still. And we have come seeking Your prince, Healfdane's son, protector Of this people, only in friendship: instruct us, Watchman, help us with your words! Our errand Is a great one, our business with the glorious king Of the Danes no secret; there's nothing dark Or hidden in our coming. You know (if we've heard The truth, and been told honestly) that your country Is cursed with some strange, vicious creature That hunts only at night and that no one Has seen. It's said, watchman, that he has slaughtered Your people, brought terror to the darkness. Perhaps Hrothgar can hunt, here in my heart, For some way to drive this devil out- If anything will ever end the evils Afflicting your wise and famous lord. Here he can cool his burning sorrow. Or else he may see his suffering go on Forever, for as long as Herot towers High on your hills."
The mounted officer Answered him bluntly, the brave watchman: "A soldier should know the difference between words And deeds, and keep that knowledge clear In his brain. I believe your words, I trust in Your friendship. Go forward, weapons and armor And all, on into Denmark. I'll guide you Myself-and my men will guard your ship, Keep it safe here on our shores, Your fresh tarred boat, watch it well, Until that curving prow carries Across the sea to Geatland a chosen Warrior who bravely does battle with the creature Haunting our people, who survives that horror Unhurt, and goes home bearing our love."
Then they moved on. Their boat lay moored, Tied tight to its anchor. Glittering at the top Of their golden helmets wild boar heads gleamed, Shining decorations, swinging as they marched, Erect like guards, like sentinels, as though ready To fight. They marched, Beowulf and his men And their guide, until they could see the gables Of Herot, covered with hammered gold And glowing In the sun-that most famous of all dwellings, Towering majestic, its glittering roofs Visible far across the land. Their guide reined in his horse, pointing To that hall, built by Hrothgar for the best And bravest of his men; the path was plain, They could see their way...
Beowulf arose, with his men Around him, ordering a few to remain With their weapons, leading the others quickly Along under Herot's steep roof into Hrothgar's Presence. Standing on that prince's own hearth, Helmeted, the silvery metal of his mail shirt Gleaming with a smith's high art, he greeted
"Hail, Hrothgar! Higlac is my cousin and my king; the days Of my youth have been filled with glory. Now Grendel's Name has echoed in our land: sailors Have brought us stories of Herot, the best Of all mead-halls, deserted and useless when the moon Hangs in skies the sun had lit, Light and life fleeing together. My people have said, the wisest, most knowing And best of them, that my duty was to go to the Danes' Great king. They have seen my strength for themselves, Have watched me rise from the darkness of war, Dripping with my enemies' blood. I drove Five great giants into chains, chased All of that race from the earth. I swam In the blackness of night, hunting monsters Out of the ocean, and killing them one By one; death was my errand and the fate They had earned. Now Grendel and I are called Together, and I've come. Grant me, then, Lord and protector of this noble place, A single request! I have come so far, Oh shelterer of warriors and your people's loved friend, That this one favor you should not refuse me- That I, alone and with the help of my men, May purge all evil from this hall. I have heard, Too, that the monster's scorn of men Is so great that he needs no weapons and tears none. Nor will I. My lord Higlac Might think less of me if I let my sword Go where my feet were afraid to, if I hid Behind some broad linden shield: my hands Alone shall fight for me, struggle for life Against the monster. God must decide Who will be given to death's cold grip. Grendel's plan, I think, will be What it has been before, to invade this hall And gorge his belly with our bodies. If he can, If he can. And I think, if my time will have come, There'll be nothing to mourn over, no corpse to prepare For Its grave: Grendel will carry our bloody Flesh to the moors, crunch on our bones And smear torn scraps of our skin on the walls Of his den. No, I expect no Danes Will fret about sewing our shrouds, if he wins. And if death does take me, send the hammered Mail of my armor to Higlac, return The inheritance I had from Hrethel, and he From Wayland. Fate will unwind as it must!"

The Battle with Grendel

Out from the marsh, from the foot of misty Hills and bogs, bearing God's hatred, Grendel came, hoping to kill Anyone he could trap on this trip to high Herot. He moved quickly through the cloudy night, Up from his swampland, sliding silently Toward that gold-shining hall. He had visited Hrothgar's Home before, knew the way- But never, before nor after that night, Found Herot defended so firmly, his reception So harsh. He journeyed, forever joyless, Straight to the door, then snapped it open, Tore Its iron fasteners with a touch And rushed angrily over the threshold. He strode quickly across the inlaid Floor, snarling and fierce: his eyes Gleamed in the darkness, burned with a gruesome Light. Then he stopped, seeing the hall Crowded with sleeping warriors, stuffed With rows of young soldiers resting together. And his heart laughed, he relished the sight, Intended to tear the life from those bodies By morning; the monster's mind was hot With the thought of food and the feasting his belly Would soon know. But fate, that night, intended Grendel to gnaw the broken bones Of his last human supper. Human Eyes were watching his evil steps, Waiting to see his swift hard claws. Grendel snatched at the first Geat He came to, ripped him apart, cut His body to bits with powerful jaws, Drank the blood from his veins and bolted Him down, hands and feet; death And Grendel's great teeth came together, Snapping life shut. Then he stepped to another Still body, clutched at Beowulf with his claws, Grasped at a strong-hearted wakeful sleeper --And was instantly seized himself, claws Bent back as Beowulf leaned up on one arm.
That shepherd of evil, guardian of crime, Knew at once that nowhere on earth Had he met a man whose hands were harder; His mind was flooded with fear-but nothing Could take his talons and himself from that tight Hard grip. Grendel's one thought was to run From Beowulf, flee back to his marsh and hide there: This was a different Herot than the hall he had emptied. But Higlac's follower remembered his final Boast and, standing erect, stopped The monster's flight, fastened those claws In his fists till they cracked, clutched Grendel Closer. The infamous killer fought For his freedom, wanting no flesh but retreat, Desiring nothing but escape; his claws Had been caught, he was trapped. That trip to Herot Was a miserable journey for the writhing monster!
The high hall rang, its roof boards swayed, And Danes shook with terror. Down The aisles the battle swept, angry And wild. Herot trembled, wonderfully Built to withstand the blows, the struggling Great bodies beating at its beautiful walls; Shaped and fastened with Iron, inside And out, artfully worked, the building Stood firm. Its benches rattled, fell To the floor, gold-covered boards grating As Grendel and Beowulf battled across them. Hrothgar's wise men had fashioned Herot To stand forever; only fire, They had planned, could shatter what such skill had put Together, swallow in hot flames such splendor Of ivory and iron and wood. Suddenly The sounds changed, the Danes started In new terror, cowering in their beds as the terrible Screams of the Almighty's enemy sang In the darkness, the horrible shrieks of pain And defeat, the tears torn out of Grendel's Taut throat, hell's captive caught in the arms Of him who of all the men on earth Was the strongest.
That mighty protector of men Meant to hold the monster till its life Leaped out, knowing the fiend was no use To anyone in Denmark. All of Beowulf's Band had jumped from their beds, ancestral Swords raised and ready, determined To protect their prince if they could. Their courage Was great but all wasted: they could hack at Grendel From every side, trying to open A path for his evil soul, but their points Could not hurt him, the sharpest and hardest iron Could not scratch at his skin, for that sin-stained demon Had bewitched all men's weapons, laid spells That blunted every mortal man's blade. And yet his time had come, his days Were over, his death near; down To hell he would go, swept groaning and helpless To the waiting hands of still worse fiends. Now he discovered-once the afflictor Of men, tormentor of their days-what it meant To feud with Almighty God: Grendel Saw that his strength was deserting him, his claws Bound fast, Higlac's brave follower tearing at His hands. The monster's hatred rose higher, But his power had gone. He twisted in pain, And the bleeding sinews deep in his shoulder Snapped, muscle and bone split And broke. The battle was over, Beowulf Had been granted new glory: Grendel escaped, But wounded as he was could flee to his den, His miserable hole at the bottom of the marsh, Only to die, to wait for the end Of all his days. And after that bloody Combat the Danes laughed with delight. He who had come to them from across the sea, Bold and strong-minded, had driven affliction Off, purged Herot clean. He was happy, Now, with that night's fierce work; the Danes Had been served as he'd boasted he'd serve them; Beowulf, A prince of the Geats, had killed Grendel, Ended the grief, the sorrow, the suffering Forced on Hrothgar's helpless people By a bloodthirsty fiend. No Dane doubted The victory, for the proof, hanging high From the rafters where Beowulf had hung It, was the monster's Arm, claw and shoulder and all.
And then, in the morning, crowds surrounded Herot, warriors coming to that hall From faraway lands, princes and leaders Of men hurrying to behold the monster's Great staggering tracks. They gaped with no sense Of sorrow, felt no regret for his suffering, Went tracing his bloody footprints, his beaten And lonely flight, to the edge of the lake Where he'd dragged his corpselike way, doomed And already weary of his vanishing life. The water was bloody, steaming and boiling In horrible pounding waves, heat Sucked from his magic veins; but the swirling Surf had covered his death, hidden Deep in murky darkness his miserable End, as hell opened to receive him.
Then old and young rejoiced, turned back From that happy pilgrimage, mounted their hard,hooved Horses, high-spirited stallions, and rode them Slowly toward Herot again, retelling Beowulf's bravery as they jogged along. And over and over they swore that nowhere On earth or under the spreading sky Or between the seas, neither south nor north, Was there a warrior worthier to rule over men.

The night after Grendel's defeat, his mother, a monster who lives at the bottom of a cold, dark lake, goes to Herot to avenge her son's death. She kills Hrothgar's closest friend, retrieves Grendel's arm from the rafters where Beowulf had hung it, and returns to her lake. When Beowulf hears of this, he pursues her.

....He leaped into the lake, would not wait for anyone's Answer; the heaving water covered him Over. For hours he sank through the waves; At last he saw the mud of the bottom. And all at once the greedy she-wolf Who'd ruled those waters for half a hundred Years discovered him, saw that a creature From above had come to explore the bottom Of her wet world. She welcomed him in her claws, Clutched at him savagely but could not harm him, Tried to work her fingers through the tight Ring-woven mail on his breast. but tore And scratched in vain. Then she carried him, armor And sword and all, to her home; he struggled To free his weapon, and failed. The fight Brought other monsters swimming to see Her catch, a host of sea beasts who beat at His mail shirt, stabbing with tusks and teeth As they followed along. Then he realized, suddenly, That she'd brought him into someone's battle-hall And there the water's heat could not hurt him, Nor anything in the lake attack him through The building's high-arching roof. A brilliant Light burned all around him, the lake Itself like a fiery flame.
Then he saw The mighty water witch and swung his sword. His ring-marked blade, straight at her head; The iron sang its fierce song, Sang Beowulf's strength. But her guest Discovered that no sword could slice her evil Skin, that Hruntlng could not hurt her, was useless Now when he needed it. They wrestled, she ripped And tore and clawed at him. bit holes in his helmet, And that too failed him; for the first time in years Of being worn to war it would earn no glory; It was the last time anyone would wear it. But Beowulf Longed only for fame, leaped back Into battle. He tossed his sword aside. Angry; the steel-edged blade lay where He'd dropped it. If weapons were useless he'd use His hands, the strength In his fingers. So fame Comes to the men who mean to win it And care about nothing else! He raised His arms and seized her by the shoulder; anger Doubled his strength. he threw her to the floor. She fell, Grendel's fierce mother, and the Geats' Proud prince was ready to leap on her. But she rose At once and repaid him with her clutching claws, Wildly tearing at him. He was weary, that best And strongest of soldiers; his feet stumbled And in an instant she had him down, held helpless Squatting with her weight on his stomach. she drew A dagger, brown with dried blood, and prepared To avenge her only son. But he was stretched On his back, and her stabbing blade was blunted By the woven mail shirt he wore on his chest. The hammered links held; the point Could not touch him. He'd have traveled to the bottom of the earth, Edgetho's son, and died there, if that shining Woven metal had not helped-and Holy God, who sent him victory, gave judgment For truth and right, Ruler of the Heavens, Once Beowulf was back on his feet and fighting.
Then he saw, hanging on the wall, a heavy Sword, hammered by giants, strong And blessed with their magic, the best of all weapons But so massive that no ordinary man could lift Its carved and decorated length. He drew it From its scabbard, broke the chain on its hilt, And then, savage, now, angry And desperate, lifted it high over his head And struck with all the strength he had left, Caught her in the neck and cut it through, Broke bones and all. Her body fell To the floor, lifeless, the sword was wet With her blood, and Beowulf rejoiced at the sight.
The brilliant light shone, suddenly, As though burning in that hall, and as bright as Heaven's Own candle, lit in the sky. He looked At her home, then following along the wall Went walking, his hands tight on the sword, His heart still angry. He was hunting another Dead monster, and took his weapon with him For final revenge against Grendel's vicious Attacks, his nighttime raids, over And over, coming to Herot when Hrothgar's Men slept, killing them in their beds, Eating some on the spot, fifteen Or more, and running to his loathsome moor With another such sickening meal waiting In his pouch. But Beowulf repaid him for those visits, Found him lying dead in his corner, Armless, exactly as that fierce fighter Had sent him out from Herot, then struck off His head with a single swift blow. The body Jerked for the last time, then lay still.
The wise old warriors who surrounded Hrothgar, Like him staring Into the monsters' lake, Saw the waves surging and blood Spurting through. They spoke about Beowulf, All the graybeards, whispered together And said that hope was gone, that the hero Had lost fame and his life at once, and would never Return to the living, come back as triumphant As he had left: almost all agreed that Grendel's Mighty mother, the she-wolf, had killed him. The sun slid over past noon, went further Down. The Danes gave up, left The lake and went home, Hrothgar with them. The Geats stayed, sat sadly, watching, Imagining they saw their lord but not believing They would ever see him again.
---Then the sword Melted, blood-soaked, dripping down Like water, disappearing like ice when the world's Eternal Lord loosens invisible Fetters and unwinds icicles and frost As only He can, He who rules Time and seasons, He who is truly God. The monsters' hall was full of- - Rich treasures, but all that Beowulf took Was Grendel's head and the hilt of the giants' Jeweled sword; the rest of that ring-marked Blade had dissolved in Grendel's steaming Blood, boiling even after his death. And then the battle's only survivor Swam up and away from those silent corpses; The water was calm and clean, the whole Huge lake peaceful once the demons who'd lived in it Were dead.
Then that noble protector of all seamen Swam to land, rejoicing in the heavy Burdens he was bringing with him. He And all his glorious band of Geats Thanked God that their leader had come back unharmed; They left the lake together. The Geats Carried Beowuif's helmet, and his mail shirt. Behind them the water slowly thickened As the monsters' blood came seeping up. They walked quickly, happily, across Roads all of them remembered, left The lake and the cliffs alongside it, brave men Staggering under the weight of Grendel's skull, Too heavy for fewer than four of them to handle- Two on each side of the spear jam med through it- Yet proud of their ugly load and determined That the Danes, seated in Herot, should see It. Soon, fourteen Geats arrived At the hall, bold and warlike, and with Beowulf, Their lord and leader, they walked on the mead-hall Green. Then the Geats' brave prince entered Herot, covered with glory for the daring Battles he had fought; he sought Hrothgar To salute him and show Grendel's head. He carried that terrible trophy by the hair, Brought it straight to where the Danes sat, Drinking, the queen among them. It was a weird And wonderful sight, and the warriors stared.

The Battle with the Dragon

Beowulf presents Hrothgar with the jeweled hilt of the magic sword. In recognition of Beowulf's heroic service to Denmark, Hrothgar proclaims the Danes and Geats to be allies. The following morning, Beowulf sets sail for Geatland After he arrives in his homeland, he meets with his uncle, Higlac, the king, to recound the slayings of the monsters and to convey Hrothgar's pledge of friendship.

Afterwards, in the time when Higlac was dead And Herdred, his son, who'd ruled the Geats After his father, had followed him into darkness- Killed in battle with the Swedes, who smashed His shield, cut through the soldiers surrounding Their king-then, when Higd's one son Was gone, Beowulf ruled in Geatland, Took the throne he'd refused, once, And held it long and well. He was old With years and wisdom, fifty winters A king, when a dragon awoke from its darkness And dreams and brought terror to his people. The beast Had slept in a huge stone tower, with a hidden Path beneath; a man stumbled on The entrance, went in, discovered the ancient Treasure, the pagan jewels and gold The dragon had been guarding, and dazzled and greedy Stole a gem-studded cup, and fled. But now the dragon hid nothing, neither The theft nor itself; it swept through the darkness, And all Geatland knew its anger.
But the thief had not come to steal; he stole, And roused the dragon, not from desire But need. He was someone's slave, had been beaten By his masters, had run from all men's sight, But with no place to hide; then he found the hidden Path, and used it. And once inside, Seeing the sleeping beast, staring as it Yawned and stretched, not wanting to wake it, Terror-struck, he turned and ran for his life, Taking the jeweled cup.
That tower Was heaped high with hidden treasure, stored there Years before by the last survivor Of a noble race, ancient riches Left in the darkness as the end of a dynasty Came. Death had taken them, one By one, and the warrior who watched over all That remained mourned their fate, expecting, Soon, the same for himself, knowing The gold and jewels he had guarded so long Could not bring him pleasure much longer. He brought The precious cups, the armor and the ancient Swords, to a stone tower built Near the sea, below a cliff, a sealed Fortress with no windows, no doors, waves In front of it, rocks behind. Then he spoke: "Take these treasures, earth, now that no one Living can enjoy them. They were yours, in the beginning; Allow them to return. War and terror Have swept away my people, shut Their eyes to delight and to living, closed The door to all gladness. No one is left To lift these swords, polish these jeweled Cups: no one leads, no one follows. These hammered Helmets, worked with gold, will tarnish And crack; the hands that should clean and polish them Are still forever. And these mail shirts, worn In battle, once, while swords crashed And blades bit into shields and men, Will rust away like the warriors who owned them. None of these treasures will travel to distant Lands, following their lords. The harp's Bright song, the hawk crossing through the hall On its swift wings, the stallion tramping In the courtyard-all gone, creatures of every Kind, and their masters, hurled to the grave!"
And so he spoke, sadly, of those Long dead, and lived from day to day, Joyless, until, at last, death touched His heart and took him too. And a stalker In the night, a flaming dragon, found The treasure unguarded; he whom men fear Came flying through the darkness, wrapped in fire, Seeking caves and stone- split ruins But finding gold. Then it stayed, buried Itself with heathen silver and jewels It could neither use nor ever abandon.
So mankind's enemy, the mighty beast, Slept in those stone walls for hundreds Of years; a runaway slave roused it, Stole a jeweled cup and bought His master's forgiveness, begged for mercy And was pardoned when his delighted lord took the present He bore, turned it in his hands and stared At the ancient carvings. The cup brought peace To a slave, pleased his master, but stirred A dragon's anger. It turned, hunting The thief's tracks, and found them, saw Where its visitor had come and gone. He'd survived, Had come close enough to touch its scaly Head and yet lived, as it lifted its cavernous Jaws, through the grace of almighty God And a pair of quiet, quick-moving feet. The dragon followed his steps, anxious To find the man who had robbed it of silver And sleep; it circled around and around The tower, determined to catch him, but could not, He had run too fast, the wilderness was empty. The beast went back to its treasure, planning A bloody revenge, and found what was missing, Saw what thieving hands had stolen. Then it crouched on the stones, counting off The hours till the Almighty's candle went out, And evening came, and wild with anger It could fly burning across the land, killing And destroying with its breath. Then the sun was gone, And its heart was glad: glowing with rage It left the tower, impatient to repay Its enemies. The people suffered, everyone Lived in terror, but when Beowulf had learned Of their trouble his fate was worse, and came quickly.
Vomiting fire and smoke, the dragon Burned down their homes. They watched in horror As the flames rose up: the angry monster Meant to leave nothing alive. And the signs Of its anger flickered and glowed in the darkness, Visible for miles, tokens of its hate And its cruelty, spread like a warning to the Geats Who had broken its rest. Then it hurried back To its tower, to its hidden treasure, before dawn Could come. It had wrapped its flames around The Geats; now it trusted in stone Walls, and its strength, to protect it. But they would not.
Then they came to Beowulf, their king, and announced That his hall, his throne, the best of buildings, Had melted away in the dragon's burning Breath. Their words brought misery, Beowulf's Sorrow beat at his heart: he accused Himself of breaking God's law, of bringing The Almighty's anger down on his people. Reproach pounded in his breast, gloomy And dark, and the world seemed a different place. But the hall was gone, the dragon's molten Breath had licked across it, burned it To ashes, near the shore it had guarded. The Geats Deserved revenge; Beowulf, their leader And lord, began to plan it, ordered A battle-shield shaped of iron, knowing that Wood would be useless, that no linden shield Could help him, protect him, in the flaming heat Of the beast's breath. That noble prince would end his days on earth, soon, Would leave this brief life, but would take the dragon With him, tear it from the heaped-up treasure It had guarded so long. And he'd go to it alone, Scorning to lead soldiers against such An enemy: he saw nothing to fear, thought nothing Of the beast's claws. or wings, or flaming Jaws--he had fought, before, against worse Odds, had survived, been victorious in harsher Battles, beginning in Herot, Hrothgar's Unlucky hall.
And Beowulf uttered his final boast: "I've never known fear, as a youth I fought In endless battles. I am old, now, But I will fight again, seek fame still, If the dragon hiding in his tower dares To face me." Then he said farewell to his followers, Each in his turn, for the last time: "I'd use no sword, no weapon, if this beast Could be killed without it, crushed to death Like Grendel, gripped in my hands and torn Limb from limb. But his breath will be burning Hot, poison will pour from his tongue. I feel no shame, with shield and sword And armor, against this monster: when he comes to me I mean to stand, not run from his shooting Flames, stand till fate decides Which of us wins. My heart Is firm, My hands calm: I need no hot Words. Wait for me close by, my friends. We shall see, soon, who will survive This bloody battle, stand when the fighting Is done. No one else could do What I mean to, here, no man but me Could hope to defeat this monster. No one Could try. And this dragon's treasure, his gold And everything hidden in that tower, will be mine Or war will sweep me to a bitter death!"
Then Beowulf rose, still brave, still strong, And with his shield at his side, and a mail shirt on his breast, Strode calmly, confidently, toward the tower, under The rocky cliffs: no coward could have walked there! And then he who'd endured dozens of desperate Battles, who'd stood boldly while swords and shields Clashed, the best of kings, saw Huge stone arches and felt the heat Of the dragon's breath, flooding down Through the hidden entrance, too hot for anyone To stand, a streaming current of fire And smoke that blocked all passage. And the Geats' Lord and leader, angry, lowered His sword and roared out a battle cry, A call so loud and clear that it reached through The hoary rock, hung in the dragon's Ear. The beast rose, angry, Knowing a man had come-and then nothing But war could have followed. Its breath came first. A steaming cloud pouring from the stone, Then the earth itself shook. Beowulf Swung his shield into place, held it In front of him, facing the entrance. The dragon Coiled and uncoiled, its heart urging it Into battle. Beowulf's ancient sword Was waiting, unsheathed, his sharp and gleaming Blade. The beast came closer; both of them Were ready, each set on slaughter; The Geats' Great prince stood firm, unmoving, prepared Behind his high shield, waiting in his shining Armor. The monster came quickly toward him, Pouring out fire and smoke, hurrying To its fate. Flames beat at the iron Shield, and for a time it held, protected Beowulf as he'd planned; then it began to melt, And for the first time in his life that famous prince Fought with fate against him, with glory Denied him. He knew it, but he raised his sword And struck at the dragon's scaly hide. The ancient blade broke, bit into The monster's skin, drew blood, but cracked And failed him before it went deep enough, helped him Less than he needed. The dragon leaped With pain, thrashed and beat at him, spouting Murderous flames, spreading them everywhere. And the Geats' ring-giver did not boast of glorious Victories in other wars: his weapon Had failed him, deserted him, now when he needed It Most, that excellent sword. Edgetho's Famous son stared at death, Unwilling to leave this world, to exchange it For a dwelling in some distant place-a journey Into darkness that all men must make, as death Ends their few brief hours on earth.
Quickly, the dragon came at him,encouraged As Beowulf fell back; its breath flared, And he suffered, wrapped around in swirling Flames-a king; before, but now A beaten warrior: None of his comrades Came to him, helped him, his brave and noble Followers; they ran their lives, fled Deep in a wood. And only one of them Remained, stood there, miserable, remembering, As a good man must, what kinship should mean.
His name was Wiglaf, he was Wexstan's son And a good soldier; his family had been Swedish, Once. Watching Beowulf, he could see How his king was suffering, burning. Remembering Everything his lord and cousin had given him, Armor and gold and the great estates Wexstan's family enjoyed, Wiglaf's Mind was made up; he raised his yellow Shield and drew his sword-an ancient Weapon that had once belonged to Onela's Nephew, and that Wexstan had won, killing The prince when he fled from Sweden, sought safety With Herdred, and found death. And Wiglaf's father Had carried the dead man's armor, and his sword, To Onela, and the king had said nothing, only Given him armor and sword and all, Everything his rebel nephew had owned And lost when he left this life. And Wextan Had kept those shining gifts, held them For years, waiting for his son to use them, Wear them as honorably and well as once And Wiglaf was his heir, inherited treasures And weapons and land. He'd never worn That armor, fought with that sword, until Beowulf Called him to his side, led him into war. But his soul did not melt, his sword was strong: The dragon discovered his courage, and his weapon, When the rush of battle brought them together.
And Wiglaf, his heart heavy, uttered The kind of words his comrades deserved: "I remember how we sat In the mead-hall, drinking And boasting of how brave we'd be when Beowulf Needed us, he who gave us these sword~ And armor: all of us swore to repay him, When the time came, kindness for kindness With our lives, if he needed them. He allowed us to join him, Chose us from all his great army, thinking Our boasting words had some weight, believing Our promises, trusting our swords. He took us For soldiers, for men. He meant to kill This monster himself, our mighty king, Fight this battle alone and unaided, As in the days when his strength and daring dazzled Men's eyes. But those days are over and gone And now our lord must lean on younger Arms. And we must go to him, while angry Flames burn at his flesh, help Our glorious king! By almighty God, I'd rather burn myself than see Flames swirling around my lord. And who are we to carry home Our shields before we've slain his enemy And ours, to run back to our homes with Beowulf So hard-pressed here? l swear that nothing He ever did deserved an end Like this, dying miserably and alone, Butchered by this savage beast: we swore That these swords and armor were each for us all!"
Then he ran to his king, crying encouragement As he dove through the dragon's deadly fumes. "Beloved Beowulf, remember how you boasted, Once, that nothing in the world would ever Destroy your fame: fight to keep it, Now, be strong and brave, my noble King, protecting life and fame Together. My sword will fight at your side!" The dragon heard him, the man,hating monster, And was angry; shining with surging flames It came for him, anxious to return his visit. Waves of fire swept at his shield And the edge began to burn. His mail shirt Could not help him, but before his hands dropped The blazing wood Wiglaf jumped Behind Beowulf's shield; his own was burned To ashes. Then the famous old hero, remembering Days of glory, lifted what was left Of Nagling, his ancient sword, and swung it With all his strength, smashed the gray Blade into the beast's head. But then Nagling Broke to pieces, as iron always Had in Beowulf's hands. His arms Were too strong, the hardest blade could not help him, The most wonderfully worked. He carried them to war . But fate had decreed that the Geats' great king Would be no better for any weapon.
Then the monster charged again, vomiting Fire, wild with pain, rushed out Fierce and dreadful, its fear forgotten. Watching for its chance it drove its tusks Into Beowulf's neck; he staggered, the blood Came flooding forth, fell like rain.
And then when Beowulf needed him most Wiglaf showed his courage, his strength And skill, and the boldness he was born with. Ignoring The dragon's head, he helped his lord By striking lower down. The sword Sank in; his hand was burned, but the shining Blade had done its work, the dragon's Belching flames began to flicker And die away. And Beowulf drew His battle-sharp dagger: the blood, stained old king Still knew what he was doing. Quickly, he cut The beast in half, slit it apart. It fell, their courage had killed it, two noble Cousins had joined in the dragon's death. Yet what they did all men must do When the time comes! But the triumph was the last Beowulf would ever earn, the end Of greatness and life together. The wound In his neck began to swell and grow; He could feel something stirring, burning In his veins, a stinging venom, and knew The beast's fangs had left it. He fumbled Along the wall, found a slab Of stone and dropped down; above him he saw Huge stone arches and heavy posts, Holding up the roof of that giant hall. Then Wiglaf's gentle hands bathed The blood-stained prince, his glorious lord, Weary of war, and loosened his helmet.
Beowulf spoke, in spite of the swollen, Livid wound, knowing he'd unwound His string of days on earth, seen As much as God would grant him; all worldly Pleasure was gone, as life would go, Soon: "I'd leave my armor to my son, Now, if God had given me an heir, A child born of my body, his life Created from mine. I've worn this crown For fifty winters: no neighboring people Have tried to threaten the Geats, sent soldiers Against us or talked of terror. My days Have gone by as fate willed, waiting For its word to be spoken, ruling as well As I knew how, swearing no unholy oaths, Seeking no lying wars. I can leave This life happy; I can die, here, Knowing the Lord of all life has never Watched me wash my sword in blood Born of my own family. Beloved Wiglaf, go, quickly, find The dragon's treasure: we've taken its life, But its gold is ours, too. Hurry, Bring me ancient silver, precious Jewels, shining armor and gems, Before I die. Death will be softer, Leaving life and this people I've ruled So long, if I look at this last of all prizes."
Then Wexstan's son went in, as quickly As he could, did as the dying Beowulf Asked, entered the inner darkness Of the tower, went with his mail shirt and his sword. Flushed with victory he groped his way, A brave young warrior, and suddenly saw Piles of gleaming gold, precious Gems, scattered on the floor, cups And bracelets, rusty old helmets, beautifully Made but rotting with no hands to rub And polish them. They lay where the dragon left them: It had flown In the darkness, once, before fighting Its final battle. (So gold can easily Triumph, defeat the strongest of men, No matter how deep it is hidden!) And he saw, Hanging high above, a golden Banner, woven by the best of weavers And beautiful. And over everything he saw A strange light, shining everywhere, On walls and floor and treasure. Nothing Moved, no other monsters appeared: He took what he wanted, all the treasures That pleased his eye, heavy plates And golden cups and the glorious banner, Loaded his arms with all they could hold. Beowulf's dagger, his iron blade, Had finished the fire-spitting terror That once protected tower and treasures Alike: the gray-bearded lord of the Geats Had ended those flying, burning raids Forever.
Then Wiglaf went back, anxious To return while Beowulf was alive, to bring him Treasure they'd won together. He ran, Hoping his wounded king, weak And dying, had not left the world too soon. Then he brought their treasure to Beowulf, and found His famous king bloody, gasping For breath. But Wiglaf sprinkled water Over his lord, until the words Deep in his breast broke through and were heard. Beholding the treasure he spoke, haltingly:
"For this, this gold, these jewels, I thank Our Father in Heaven, Ruler of the Earth- For all of this, that His grace has given me, Allowed me to bring to my people while breath Still came to my lips. I sold my life For this treasure, and I sold it well. Take What I leave, Wiglaf, lead my people, Help them; my time is gone. Have The brave Geats build me a tomb, When the funeral flames have burned me, and build it Here, at the water's edge, high On this spit of land, so sailors can see This tower, and remember my name, and call it Beowulf's tower, and boats in the darkness And mist, crossing the sea, will know it."
Then that brave king gave the golden Necklace from around his throat to Wiglaf, Gave him his gold-covered helmet, and his rings, And his mail shirt, and ordered him to use them well:
"You're the last of all our far-flung family. Fate has swept our race away, Taken warriors in their strength and led them To the death that was waiting. And now I follow them." The old man's mouth was silent, spoke No more, had said as much as it could; He would sleep in the fire, soon. His soul Left his flesh, flew to glory.
And when the battle was over Beowulf's followers Came out of the wood, cowards and traitors, Knowing the dragon was dead. Afraid, While it spit its fires, to fight in their lord's Defense, to throw their javelins and spears, They came like shamefaced jackals, their shields In their hands, to the place where the prince lay dead, And waited for Wiglaf to speak. He was sitting Near Beowulf's body, wearily sprinkling Water in the dead man's face, trying To stir him. He could not. No one could have kept Life in their lord's body, or turned Aside the Lord's will: world And men and all move as He orders, And always have, and always will.
Then Wiglaf turned and angrily told them What men without courage must hear. Wexstan's brave son stared at the traitors, His heart sorrowful, and said what he had to: "I say what anyone who speaks the truth Must say. Your lord gave you gifts, Swords and the armor you stand in now; You sat on the mead-hall benches, prince And followers, and he gave you, with open hands, Helmets and mail shirts, hunted across The world for the best of weapons. War Came and you ran like cowards, dropped Your swords as soon as the danger was real. Should Beowulf have boasted of your help, rejoiced In your loyal strength? With God's good grace He helped himself, swung his sword Alone, won his own revenge. The help I gave him was nothing, but all I was able to give; I went to him, knowing That nothing but Beowulf's strength could save us, And my sword was lucky, found some vital Place and bled the burning flames Away. Too few of his warriors remembered To come, when our lord faced death, alone. And now the giving of swords, of golden Rings and rich estates, is over, Ended for you and everyone who shares Your blood: when the brave Geats hear How you bolted and ran none of your race Will have anything left but their lives. And death Would be better for them all, and for you, than the kind Of life you can lead, branded with disgrace!'

The Funeral Fire

A huge heap of wood was ready, Hung around with helmets, and battle Shields, and shining mail shirts, all As Beowulf had asked. The bearers brought Their beloved lord, their glorious king, And weeping laid him high on the wood. Then the warriors began to kindle that greatest Of funeral fires; smoke rose Above the flames, black and thick, And while the wind blew and the fire Roared they wept, and Beowulf's body Crumbled and was gone. The Geats stayed, Moaning their sorrow, lamenting their lord: A gnarled old woman, hair wound Tight and gray on her head, groaned A song of misery, of infinite sadness And days of mourning, of fear and sorrow To come, slaughter and terror and captivity. And Heaven swallowed the billowing smoke.
Then the Geats built the tower, as Beowulf Had asked, strong and tall, so sailors Could find it from far and wide; working For ten long days they made his monument, Sealed his ashes in walls as straight And high as wise and willing hands Could raise them. And the riches he and Wiglaf Had won from the dragon, rings, necklaces, Ancient, hammered armor-all The treasures they'd taken were left there, too, Silver and jewels buried in the sandy Ground, back in the earth, again And forever hidden and useless to men. And then twelve of the bravest Geats Rode their horses around the tower, Telling their sorrow, telling stories Of their dead king and his greatness, his glory, Praising him for heroic deeds, for a life As noble as his name. So should all men Raise up words for their lords, warm With love, when their shield and protector leaves His body behind, sends his soul On high. And so Beowulf's followers Rode, mourning their beloved leader, Crying that no better king had ever Lived, no prince so mild, no man So open to his people, so deserving of praise.

from Beowulf Discussion Questions

1. Describe where Grendel lives and the nature of his origins.
2. What reasons does Beowulf give for wanting to fight Grendel? How doeshe intend to fight the beast?
3. Summarize what happens during the battle between Grendel and Beowulf at Herot.
4. Why does Grendel's mother try to kill Beowulf? Describe their struggle and its outcome.
5. Briefly describe the dragon. Then describe the incident that causes the dragon to attack Geatland.

6. What do the details of Grendel's origins and dwelling place add to yourimpression of him?
7. What do Beowulf's words and actions tell you about his personality?
8. During the battle between Beowulf and Grendel, the reader learns Grendel's thoughts and feelings. How does hearing about his fears and feelings affect your impression of the monster?
9. After the struggle with Grendel's mother, why does Beowulf search for Grendel? Why does he feel as he does?
10. Why does Beowulf feel that he must fight the dragon? Why does Wiglaf come to Beowulfs aid? In what ways are the two men similar? In what ways are they different?

Evaluate and Connect
11. For which character-human or otherwise-did you feel the most sympathy? What strategies did the poet use to create sympathy for that character?
12. A symbol is a person, thing, or event that stands for something else, often an idea or concept. What might Beowulf and Grendel symbolize? What might the dragon represent?
13. Based on the character of Beowulf, identity three qualities that the early Anglo-Saxons might have valued. In your opinion, does our culture value these character traits?
14. Theme Connections Based on Beowulf's behavior, what traits did Anglo-Saxons consider heroic? What do people today consider heroic? Compare modern-day heroes with Beowulf.
15. In a brief essay, describe some of the "monsters" and "heroes" that arepopular today. What, in your opinion, makes these "monsters" and"heroes" popular?