Beowulf: Translations by Frederick Rebsamen (1971)

Click for a larger version (900 pixels high) Beowulf Is My Name (and selected translations of other Old English poems). Rinehart Press, San Francisco, 1971. ISBN: 03-084555-6. ...not the same as Frederick Rebsamen's 1991/2004 book Beowulf: A Verse Translation.
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-- Frederick Rebsamen also published a translation in 1991/2004 --

[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. }

     "He heard at his home about the ravages of Grendel," says the poet, "a good man among the Geats. He was the strongest alive in those days, a noble and powerful man."

     I could no longer sit in Hygelac's hall drinking and talking the days away when such a great King had need of my hands. I asked that a good boat be prepared, long but broad in the middle with shallow draft and strong sail, a supple craft of good oak and pine with tall mast and high, coiled prow. I announced that I would sail straight across to the Danish shore as the swan flies.

     Though they loved me well, the elders did not discourage me. They studied the signs of sea and weather, nodded, and urged me on. Hygelac was not so eager, for he was friend and uncle as well as king: he asked me not to go, to stay at home where I belonged and let the Danes attend to their own problems. But I reminded him that they had tried their best for twelve years without any luck -- then I asked for his blessing and prepared to leave. To sail with me I chose fourteen of the best young men of the nation, and ordered them to sharpen swords and spears and burnish corselets and helmets so that we might step forth into the court of the Danes as clear evidence of the splendor of Hygalac's hall.

     I led the way down to the sea where the shore guard waited to see us off. The tide came swirling in as we stowed our weapons and armor by the mast; we shoved out into the sea and stroked away from the cliffs of Götland until the big four-cornered sail was hoisted and the wind snatched at the ship and pulled it away.

     We sailed smoothly on in good bright weather, skimming like a huge bird across the top of the water, and the next morning in good time caught sight of the steep shining cliffs of Zealand, center of the Danish kingdom.

     The wind drove our ship upon the sand and we lowered sail, leapt into the shallow water and moored our boat to the shore.

[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. }

     I could feel the surprise moving into his mind as I tightened my grip. He pulled away towards the door and tried to twist his hand free, and I used that motion to stand up straight and get a good lock around his arm. He gave a great tug then and a deep moan rose in his throat. I tightened my grip. I could feel the fingers cracking under my fist. Grendel jerked frantically towards the door, pulling me along with him. He hissed and tugged, yearning towards the dark fens and meres beyond the world of men, afraid now that he might never return to that region.

     He summoned up the last reserves of his strength then and howled to shake the timbers of Heorot. I howled back at him with all the rage in my heart and we rolled jerked, bounced and careened about the hall breaking the guilded benches and sending them crashing against the walls, ripping the tapestries and scattering the stones of the hearth, setting up such a dense din of awful sound that the Danes huddled together outside the walls in cringing terror at the sound of it. We smashed against the walls until I thought they must surely come down, but the great forged bands of iron held them together. Now Grendel's howling grew higher and more frightened, a horrible sound, and he fought with the added strength of terror, lunging ever towards the doors as I tried to brace my heels to hold him back, knocking pillars from beneath the roof and jerking beams down upon our heads.

     All this time my men, very much awake now and ready for battle, kept hacking away when they could get a chance at the lunging fiend -- but none of us knew at that time how Grendel had cast a spell upon all battle-weapons so that none of them could touch him with harm, no sword could bite that flesh. And so we tumbled and twisted and banged against the walls as swords came ringing down upon the impervious head.

     Then something began to give. As Grendel pulled towards the door his arm seemed to grow longer and longer and then I could feel the sinews snapping and the tendons shredding and the ligaments pulling loose as the huge arm bone broke loose from the shoulder, leaving me with the great arm like a log in my embrace as Grendel, a horrible hole where his right shoulder had been, was free at last to lurch bleeding his life out across the moor to find his home again before he died.

[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. }

     Anger seized me then and I trusted once again in my strength. I flung the good sword across the floor and grabbed at her shoulders, threw her down on her back -- but then she grappled my arms and slipped me over, pinned me down, snatched a dagger from her waist and drove it at my heart. Agains Weland's wondrous ring-mail held off the sharp point, but it came again and again with terrible force and I wondered if my hour had come.

     God had not willed it that way, and with a great effort I threw her off and leapt to my feet. I saw then a marvelous sword against the wall, a sword for giants that no other man could have wielded, with broad biting edges and a great golden hilt. This was a sword that would heed no charms against it. I heaved it high with a fury for vengeance and felt the strength of rage in my arms, brought it down in a sweeping crash against the huge neck and felt the blade hack through muscle and bone, straight through the doomed flesh. The head fell to the floor, and the battle was done.

[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. }

     I looked around and saw not far away the huge mained body of Grendel lying in miserable death, and the memory of all that he had done brought a burning anger into my heart. I remembered poor Hondscioh, and the head of Aeschere upon the bank of the mere, and the sight of Grendel lying there with his head still upon his shoulders was too much to bear. I moved to where he lay and heaved the mighty sword a second time, brought it down upon the monster's neck and cut it through.

[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. }

     After these words the great serpent came lunging out of his den with such a blast of great enveloping heat that he drove us back from the entrance, in one breath burning the shield of Wiglaf right down to the boss. The light lime wood withered and vanished like a dead leaf dropped into the hearth fire. Wiglaf stepped closer then and ducked beneath my broad iron shield, and we waited for a chance to strike.

     The head came lunging towards us, the sharp teeth parted, and I swung Naegling above the shield with what strength I had left. The sword broke in two -- as good a patterned sword as I had ever seen -- but that had happened to me before. The strength in my arms was too much for the blade.

     Then came the dragon for the last time and made such an angry rush that the shield was no help. The great beast sank his long teeth into the back of my neck and I could feel the hot poison moving into my body as the blood gushed forth from the wound. But Wiglaf at the same moment leapt in under the dragon's head, burning his hand as he drove his sword deep into the soft underbody. At once the fiery breath diminished and the dragon moved more slowly; then I drew the battle knife at my waist and cut the body in two. Between us, we had killed him. --