Beowulf: Translations by Robert Nye (1968)

Click for a larger version (900 pixels high) Beowulf: A New Telling. Bantam-Doubleday-Dell (Random House), New York, 1968. ISBN: 0-440-90560-5.
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[lines 194-224a in section III and 8th line from the bottom of folio 134r to 4th line from the bottom of folio 134v on Kevin S. Kiernan's Electronic Beowulf CD] Images of the original manuscript text of this section, and an mp3 file of Ben Slade reading it in Old English, are here.

    {Beowulf hears about Grendel and decides to travel from his home in Geatland (southern Sweden) to Heorot (in northeast Denmark) to see if he can help out. }

   When Beowulf had heard all the stories about the dreadful deeds of the demon Grendel, he determined to go and help Hrothgar, if he could. His ship was made ready, a fine seaworthy craft with a great curved prow. He chose fourteen men to go with him. They were brave indomitable fellows, well tested in battle and willing to follow their hero wherever he went. However, it was not merely for their skill as warriors that Beowulf picked them. he had heard enough about Grendel to know that the monster could not be killed by strength alone.

   Wind filled the sails, and the ship sped forward. The second day, they came in sight of the land of the Danes.

[lines 791-819a in section XII and 8th line from the top of folio 147r to 13th line from the top of folio 147v on Kevin S. Kiernan's Electronic Beowulf CD] Images of the original manuscript text of this section, and an mp3 file of Ben Slade reading it in Old English, are here.

    {At this moment Beowulf and Grendel are fighting and Grendel is howling and screaming and wishing to escape but Beowulf has grabbed Grendel's arm and is using his incredible hand-strength to hold on to him. }

   But all at once the light had caught him. It had him by the claw. It was beowulf!

   The creature gave a dreadful squeal as Beowulf touched him. Ten strong fingers locked about his hairy wrist. To Grendel, it was as if the sun itself had caught him in its clutch. Made of wickedness as he was, the good in this man burned him. The mortal fingers were like ten red-hot nails driven into his skin. Grendel had never known strength like this. He roared and shook to be free, to crawl away, to escape into the ruins of the night. But Beowulf would not let him go.

   Now Beowulf began to talk. His voice was quiet, and there was hullabaloo in the hall, what with the soldiers rushing about confusedly in the dark, and Unferth screaming, and the monster threshing about to get loose-- yet Grendel heard every word like thunder in his brain. He did not know what was worse: Beowulf's grip or what Beowulf said.

   Beowulf said: "Light holds you, Grendel, Light has you in its power. You who have shunned the sun, meet me, once stung by bees that drank the sun. There's honey in my veins, Grendel, a liquid sunlight that can kill you quite. These fingers that you feel are ten great stars. Stars have no fear. I do not fear you, Grendel. I do not fear, therefore I do not fight. I only hold you, child of Cain. I only fix you fast in your own evil, so that you cannot turn it out on any other. It is your own evil, Grendel, that undoes you. You must die, creature of night, because the light has got you in a last embrace."

   Grendel was in a fury. He bellowed and lashed. He wanted above all else to get away from this thing that was so contrary to himself. He tried every vicious trick he knew. But Beowulf stood firm, holding the monster in a grip so tight that it almost made his own big fingers crack and the bones poke out of the straining flesh. Hall Heorot rocked down to its roots with the rage of the demon's struggling.

   Somewhere deep in Grendel's hellish heart a memory stirred. It grew and spread and flooded his whole being with despair. Something to do with light and another of these children of day-- one who had flung herself between him and his food, and by her love had thwarted him, so that he had felt powerless to approach and had slunk away, abashed by mystery. Grendel did not know the word "love" or the word "good." To him, they were part of the light he hated. There had been such light about that woman in the blue cloak. He had to get away from it. But the light in the woman was as nothing to the light in this man Beowulf. And try as he would, he could not get away.

   Grendel grew angrier and angrier. He shook his arm about and dashed it against the wall. Beowulf, badly bruised, refused to relinquish his hold. When shaking did not work, Grendel tried jerking his arm. But Beowulf wound his own legs round a pillar. He took the full force of the monster's pull-- and still held on.

   There was a fearful snapping of bones and tearing of sinews and muscles.

   Then hot stinking blood fountained everywhere.

   Bewoulf had pulled Grendel's arm out of its socket!

[lines 1537-1569 in sections XXII and XXIII and 5th line from the bottom of folio 163v, through folio 164r to 4th line from the top of folio 164v on Kevin S. Kiernan's Electronic Beowulf CD] Images of the original manuscript text of this section, and an mp3 file of Ben Slade reading it in Old English, are here. Note: there is a discussion of the word eaxle in line 1537a on my page on Shoulder Grabbing vs. Hair Pulling

    {At this moment Beowulf has just failed to hurt Grendel's mother with the sword Hrunting and he tries to wrestle her as he had done with Grendel. }

   She was waiting. She made no noise. Her tentacle arms were a part of the sucking, obsequious water.

   Beowulf fell into them, as into a seaweed trap.

   They closed about him tenderly. For a moment he succumbed, seduced by gentleness. Then struggling to free himself, he found he could not. He kicked. Her grip tightened. She dragged him down.

   Beowulf experienced a few seconds of sheer panic. There was no escaping, none,from these spongy intangible fingers that pulled him on, on, irresistably insistent, coaxing, maternal. He could drown this way. She could choke him. She could squeeze the life from him. His face turned blue. Stars swan and spun in his brain.

   Then he was gulping great lungfuls of air. Air! She had dragged him into Her den. The current loomed behind him, a liquid wall of black and green. Apparently, by some freak or witchcraft, it could not penetrate here. The cave went back a long way. Her arms stretched all along it, alive, like lichen.

   Slowly she began to draw him down into the heart of the cave.

   Beowulf snatched at his sword. Its jewels were sticky from Her vile embrace. It was difficult to hold. The hilt slipped in his hand. Nevertheless, he managed to swing at the tentacles that gripped him. The blade bounced off. Her skin was too tough and scaly. He threw the sword away. It clattered against the wall. He could hear Her laughter, soft, malevolent, bloodthirsty.

   He tried to get a grip on the rock floor, drag his heels, dig in with his toes, anything, but it was no good, no use; She kept on drawing him down into the dark, sucking at his skin, making kissing and swallowing noises. Her arms winding and unwinding about him like sinewy, swollen snakes.

   Bewoulf screamed with fright.

   And the scream saved him. It brought him to his senses. It reminded him what he must do if he was not to be destroyed. He stopped shaking. He ceases his struggling. He let himself go dead in Her clammy grasp.

   Grendel's Mother did not laugh now. She pulled him on more urgently. Some of his quiet strength communicated itself to Her terrible touch, and She sensed danger. But just what that danger was, and the doom it held in store for Her, She did not know until Beowulf began to speak, easily, boldly, in a voice that made the whole cave ring.

   Beowulf said: "I am Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow. I am Beowulf, the one sun-seeker. I am Beowulf, who killed Grendel. I did not fear the child of Cain. No more do I now fear You, who were once Cain's bride. No, nor would I fear the hideous Cain himself, if he had not been punished with lightning for the deed he did with You. Listen, She-evil, and I will tell You why this heart does not blush or blanch at the wicked worst You can do. It is because I, Beowulf, know myself. It is because I hold Cain in me, but do not let him out. That man is truly brave who, feeling fear, yet puts his fear to use and plucks new courage from the fear itself. That man is truly good who knows his own dark places."

   Grendel's Mother still dragged him down, but more slowly now, much more slowly. Her arms were losing power over him. She could feel Her magic going.

   Beowulf said: "There is a power. You are powerless against. That power is in me. You see it shining in the golden collar about my neck. You feel it creeping through Your flesh, leaving You numb and cold. You think You hold me, she-evil, but in truth I hold You!"

   So saying, he wound his square-tipped fingers firmly round one of the tentacles that gripped him. He felt the creature shudder as though suddenly touched by fire.

   Her arms continued to draw him down, sluggishly.

   He was nearing the deepest part of the cave.

   He could make out the looming shape of Her.

   He could see the eyes that glittered in Her breasts.

   Beowulf stared into those terrible eyes. He did not blink or falter. His short sight helped him.

   His strong hands tightened around the slimy tentacle.

   Grendel's Mother sighed. A fetid breath of air passed through the chamber. Now that Beowulf was so close to Her the smell of sticky mother's milk was almost overwhelming. But he refused to be overwhelmed. He kept on tightening his grip. He kept on staring into the green corroding sea of Her eyes.

   When he spoke again he put an equal emphasis on each word, so that it sounded like an incantation.

   He said: "I am Beowulf, son of Beowulf."

   The monster's eyes went cloudy.

   He said: "I am Beowulf, father of himself."

   The eyes were helpless. They flickered with sleep.

   He said: "I am Beowulf, who am myself."

   The eyes shut.

   "Sleep," said Beowulf softly. "Sleep deep and never wake again."

   She slept.

   Gently, carefully, with a stroking softness that was nearly pity, Beowulf put his hands about Her neck, and strangled Her.

   She did not fight. The tentacles went loose. They fell to the floor like useless ropes. Her body was melting. She was dead.

[lines 1584b-1590 in section XXIII and 7th line from the bottom of folio 164v to first half of the last line of folio 164v on Kevin S. Kiernan's Electronic Beowulf CD] Images of the original manuscript text of this section, and an mp3 file of Ben Slade reading it in Old English, are here.

    {At this moment Beowulf has just discovered Grendel's lifeless body lying in the cave. }

   Gradually his eyes began to see into the thick dark that lay beyond the pool of what had once been Grendel's Mother. There was treasure there, but he did not want it. Only a huge sword caught his interest. It hung from a knob of rock. It was curved and terrible, far too heavy for mortal fighting, plainly the work of giants. He took it down with both hands, rested it between his knees, and ran his finger along its biting edge.

   The sword made a sound like singing.

   Deep in the underwater hall he heard another noise. A voice, as if in answer to the sword. A voice, but not forming words or syllables or any other kind of intelligible sound. It was a voice that spoke as ice speaks when it breaks on a winter tarn, or as men's bones speak when a killer cracks them. It was Grendel!

   But Grendel was dead....

   Grendel was dead, and it was his lifeless corpse, one arm torn out, that reared up quick in answer to the song of the sword and sprang at Beowulf now!

   Beowulf did not hesitate.

   He lifted the giant sword in two hands and swung it. The sword flashed. Beowulf slashed. Grendel's dead head was severed from the shoulders of his dead body.

[lines 2672b-2708a in sections XXXVI and XXXVII and 8th line from the bottom of folio 189A197r, through folio 189A197v to 3rd line from the top of folio 189r on Kevin S. Kiernan's Electronic Beowulf CD] Images of the original manuscript text of this section, and an mp3 file of Ben Slade reading it in Old English, are here.

    {At this moment, Wiglaf has just run into the flames to be by Beowulf's side and the dragon has charged at them both, incinerating Wiglaf's shield. }

Beowulf halted his men when they came to the crack that led to the Firedrake's den. He had them set the hives down in the entrance. Then he sat for a while, muttering to the bees in each hive. No one could make out what he said. It sounded like nonsense.

   At last, just as the sinking sun came level with the crags behind them, he motioned for Wiglaf to go forward.

   The lad, acquainted with his master's plan, slipped into the crack. He carried the white stake in his left hand. In his right hand, and very carefully, as though it contained something infinitely precious, he carried the giant glove.

   The others were too puzzled to protest. They noticed that the bees in each hive buzzed busily as Wiglaf wriggled past them. Beowulf stooped and murmured soothingly and the noise subsided.

   Once inside the narrow passageway, Wiglaf moved on tiptoe, deftly. He was a small person, slim and agile, which was partly why Beowulf had chosen him for the job. When he came to the bright treasure-chamber he skipped into it like a shadow. As it happened, the Firedrake was asleep-- worn out by its night's havoc-- and did not see him hide himself amid the gold.

   Beowulf was watching the sun. When he judged that enough time had elapsed for Wiglaf to have performed the first part of the plan successfully, he crept into the crack himself. He set his horn to his lips and blew a loud, rude blast.

   "Halloo," he cried. "Halloo, old fire-belcher! I am Beowulf, come to quench you!"

   The Firedrake's golden eyes snapped open. It could not believe that anyone would be so foolhardy as to shout at it inside the mountain.

   Beowulf sounded another mocking note on his horn. "Ho, you, old smoky-guts! Where are you hiding?"

   The Firedrake hissed with rage. No one had ever spoken to it like this before. Its tail began to flog the rock. Its body started to swell in the usual way.

   Peeping from his hiding-place, little Wiglaf waited anxiously for the right moment. He could hear the grumbling fire beginning in the creature's belly. Smoke was whistling from its nostrils. It was getting bigger every moment. Wiglaf crouched, ready to pounce.

   "Call yourself a dragon?" shouted Beowulf. "You look more like a glowworm!"

   The Firedrake had reached full size. When it heard this final insult, it swallowed hard in its fury.

   Wiglaf seized his chance. He leapt.

   Quick as lightning he thrust the big stake into the Firedrake's jaws, jamming them open even as the creature gaped wide to let loose the first foul gust of flame. The golden eyes glared at this new surprise. The barbed tail thrashed and twisted to be at him. But Wiglaf dodged, danced, flitted out of range. And as he went threw the giant glove into the open mouth.

   The firedrake coughed. A hail of cinders flew out. For a terrible moment Wiglaf that the glove had come out too-- but, no, it was still there, caught on a tooth that looked like a scythe.

   As Wiglaf watched, the glove flapped and bulged.

   Beowulf made a high-pitched buzzing sound.

   The Firedrake took a deep breath...

   ... And swallowed a big Queen Bee that emered from the glove as in in answer to Beowulf's call!

   "They follow the Queen Bee anywhere!" This, whispered to Wiglaf on the way up the mountain, was the essence of Beowulf's plan. Now, in response to another noise he made, sawing at his lips with his square-tipped fingers, all the twelve hives came alive. The bees poured out, a singing angry stream, orange, brown, black, yellow. They buzzed into the crack in the mountain.

   They whirled past Beowulf. And on into the brightness of the treasure-chamber.

   The Firedrake saw them coming. Its gold eyes bulged with fright. It tried to shut its mouth, but the stake between its jaws prevented this.

   The bees poured down the monster's throat like a stream of honey, in pursuit of their queen. But when they reached the Firedrake's stomach their effect was like no honey in the world.

   The began to sting!

   Hundreds of bees, stinging it from the inside!

    The Firedrake roared with pain and fury.

   It tried to spit out bees. But there were too many.

   It tried to spew up fire. But its own insides were burning.

   Little Wiglaf danced with glee.

   But Beowulf had collapsed in the entrance to the treasure-chamber. His armor came undone. It was all too big and heavy for him.

    Some men said, long afterward, that Beowulf was killed by the burning breath of the Firedrake. But, in truth, the monster managed only the merest tiny little cough of smoke before turning over on its side and giving up the ghost. Beowulf's bees had stung it to death. --