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ALSO BY S E A M U S HEANEY POETRY ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ Death of a Naturalist I S E ^ Door into the Dark Wintering Dick Ringler’s deceptively simple translation captures the rhythm, movement, and power of the original Old English poem Orlando Furioso: A New Verse Translation.
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My flesh was not for feasting on, there would be no monsters gnawing and gloating over their banquet at the bottom of the sea. Instead, in the morning, mangled and sleeping the sleep of the sword, they slopped and floated like the ocean's leavings. From now on sailors would be safe, the deep-sea raids were over for good. Light came from the east, bright guarantee of God, and the waves went quiet; I could see headlands and buffeted cliffs.

Often, for undaunted courage, fate spares the man it has not already marked. However it occurred, my sword had killed nine sea-monsters. Such night-dangers and hard ordeals I have never heard of nor of a man more desolate in surging waves. But worn out as I was, I survived, came through with my life. The ocean lifted and laid me ashore, I landed safe on the coast of Finland. I don't boast when I say that neither you nor Breca were ever much J determination to celebrated for swordsmanship or for facing danger on the field of battle. You killed your own kith and kin, so for all your cleverness and quick tongue, you will suffer damnation in the depths of hell.

The fact is, Unferth, if you were truly as keen or courageous as you claim to be Grendei would never have got away with such unchecked atrocity, attacks on your king, havoc in Heorot and horrors everywhere. But he knows he need never be in dread of your blade making a mizzle of his blood or of vengeance arriving ever from this quarter— from the Victory-Shieldings, the shoulderers of the spear.

He knows he can trample down you Danes to his heart's content, humiliate and murder without fear of reprisal. But he will find me different.

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I will show him how Geats shape to kill in the heat of battle. Then whoever wants to may go bravely to mead, when morning light, scarfed in sun-dazzle, shines forth from the south and brings another daybreak to the world. So the laughter started, the din got louder and the crowd was happy. Weaihtheow came in, Hrothgar's queen, observing the courtesies.

Adorned in her gold, she graciously saluted B E O W U L F 41 the men in hall, then handed the cup first to Hrothgar, their homeland's guardian, urging him to drink deep and enjoy it because he was dear to them. And he drank it down like the warlord he was, with festive cheer. So the Helming woman went on her rounds, queenly and dignified, decked out in rings, offering the goblet to all ranks, treating the household and the assembled troop until it was Beowulf's turn to take it from her hand.

With measured words she welcomed the Geat and thanked God for granting her wish that a deliverer she could believe in would arrive to ease their afflictions. He accepted the cup, a daunting man, dangerous in action and eager for it always. As I sat in the boat with my band of men, I meant to perform to the uttermost what your people wanted or perish in the attempt, in the fiend's clutches.

And I shall fulfil that purpose, prove myself with a proud deed or meet my death here in the mead-hall. He realized that the demon was going to descend on the hall, that he had plotted all day, from dawn-light until darkness gathered again over the world and stealthy night-shapes came stealing forth under the cloud-murk. The company stood as the two leaders took leave of each other: Hrothgar wished Beowulf health and good luck, named him hall-warden and announced as follows: "Never, since my hand could hold a shield have I entrusted or given control of the Danes' hall to anyone but you.

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Ward and guard it, for it is the greatest of houses. Be on your mettle now, keep in mind your fame, beware of the enemy. There's nothing you wish for that won't be yours if you win through alive. The lord of the Shieldings, their shelter in war, left the mead-hall to lie with Wealhtheow, his queen and bedmate. The King of Glory as people learned had posted a lookout who was a match for Grendel, a guard against monsters, special protection to the Danish prince. And the Geat placed complete trust in his strength of limb and the Lord's favour.

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He began to remove his iron breast-mail, took off the helmet and handed his attendant the patterned sword, a smith's masterpiece, ordering him to keep the equipment guarded. And before he bedded down, Beowulf, that prince of goodness, proudly asserted: B E O W U L F Beowulf renounces the use ofwmpons 45 "When it comes to fighting, I count myself as dangerous any day as Grendel. So it won't be a cutting edge I'll wield to mow him down, easily as I might. He has no idea of the arts of war, of shield or sword-play, although he does possess a wild strength. No weapons, therefore, for either this night: unarmed he shall face me if face me he dares.

And may the Divine Lord in His wisdom grant the glory of victory to whichever side He sees fit. None of them expected he would ever see his homeland again or get back to his native place and the people who reared him. But the Lord was weaving a victory on His war-loom for the Weather-Geats. Through the strength of one they all prevailed; they would crush their enemy and come through in triumph and gladness. The truth is clear: Almighty God rules over mankind and always has. Then out of the night came the shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift; the hall-guards were slack, asleep at their posts, all except one; it was widely understood that as long as God disallowed it, the fiend could not bear them to his shadow-bourne.

The bane of the race of men roamed forth, hunting for a prey in the high hall. Under the cloud-murk he moved towards it until it shone above him, a sheer keep of fortified gold.


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Nor was that the first time he had scouted the grounds of Hrothgar's dwelling— although never in his life, before or since, did he find harder fortune or hall-defenders. Spurned and joyless, he journeyed on ahead and arrived at the bawn. The iron-braced door turned on its hinge when his hands touched it. Then his rage boiled over, he ripped open the mouth of the building, maddening for blood, pacing the length of the patterned floor with his loathsome tread, while a baleful light, flame more than light, flared from his eyes.

He saw many men in the mansion, sleeping, a ranked company of kinsmen and warriors quartered together. And his glee was demonic, picturing the mayhem: before morning he would rip life from limb and devour them, feed on their flesh; but his fate that night was due to change, his days of ravening had come to an end. Mighty and canny, Hygelac's kinsman was keenly watching for the first move the monster would make.

Nor did the creature keep him waiting B E O W U L F Grendei strikes A Gmt warrior pms es 49 but struck suddenly and started in; he grabbed and mauled a man on his bench, bit into his bone-lappings, bolted down his blood and gorged on him in lumps, leaving the body utterly lifeless, eaten up hand and foot. Venturing closer, his talon was raised to attack Beowulf where he lay on the bed; he was bearing in with open claw when the alert hero's comeback and armlock forestalled him utterly.

The captain of evil discovered himself in a handgrip harder than anything he had ever encountered in any man on the face of the earth. Every bone in his body quailed and recoiled, but he could not escape. He was desperate to flee to his den and hide with the devil's litter, for in all his days he had never been clamped or cornered like this.

Then Hygelac's trusty retainer recalled his bedtime speech, sprang to his feet and got a firm hold. Fingers were bursting, the monster back-tracking, the man overpowering. The dread of the land was desperate to escape, to take a roundabout road and flee to his lair in the fens. The latching power in his fingers weakened; it was the worst trip the terror-monger had taken to Heorot.

And now the timbers trembled and sang, a hall-session that harrowed every Dane inside the stockade: stumbling in fury, the two contenders crashed through the building. The hall clattered and hammered, but somehow survived the onslaught and kept standing: B E O W U L F Beowulf's fight with rm e 51 it was handsomely structured, a sturdy frame braced with the best of blacksmith's work inside and out.

The story goes that as the pair struggled, mead-benches were smashed and sprung off the floor, gold fittings and all. Before then, no Shielding elder would believe there was any power or person upon earth capable of wrecking their horn-rigged hall unless the burning embrace of a fire engulf it in flame. Then an extraordinary wail arose, and bewildering fear came over the Danes.

Everyone felt it who heard that cry as it echoed off the wall, a God-cursed scream and strain of catastrophe, the howl of the loser, the lament of the hell-serf keening his wound. He was overwhelmed, manacled tight by the man who of all men was foremost and strongest in the days of this life. But the earl-troop's leader was not inclined to allow his caller to depart alive: he did not consider that life of much account to anyone anywhere. Time and again, Beowulf's warriors worked to defend their lord's life, laying about them as best they could with their ancestral blades.

Stalwart in action, they kept striking out on every side, seeking to cut straight to the soul. When they joined the struggle there was something they could not have known at the time, that no blade on earth, no blacksmith's art could ever damage their demon opponent.

But his going away out of this world and the days of his life would be agony to him, and his alien spirit would travel far into fiends' keeping.


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Then he who had harrowed the hearts of with pain and affliction in former times men 1 Grendel is defeated, Be0wuiffulfils his boast and had given offence also to God found that his bodily powers failed him. Hygelac's kinsman kept him helplessly locked in a handgrip.

As long as either lived, he was hateful to the other. The monster's whole body was in pain, a tremendous wound appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split and the bone-lappings burst. Beowulf was granted the glory of winning; Grendel was driven under the fen-banks, fatally hurt, to his desolate lair.

His days were numbered, the end of his life was coming over him, he knew it for certain; and one bloody clash had fulfilled the dearest wishes of the Danes.

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The man who had lately landed among them, proud and sure, had purged the hall, kept it from harm; he was happy with his nightwork and the courage he had shown. The Geat captain had boldly fulfilled his boast to the Danes: he had healed and relieved a huge distress, unremitting humiliations, the hard fate they'd been forced to undergo, no small affliction.

Clear proof of this could be seen in the hand the hero displayed high up near the roof: the whole of Grendel's B E O W U L F 55 shoulder and arm, his awesome grasp. His fatal departure was regretted by no-one who witnessed his trail, the ignominious marks of his flight where he'd skulked away, exhausted in spirit and beaten in battle, bloodying the path, hauling his doom to the demons' mere. The bloodshot water wallowed and surged, there were loathsome upthrows and overturnings of waves and gore and wound-slurry.

With his death upon him, he had dived deep into his marsh-den, drowned out his life and his heathen soul: hell claimed him there. The morning after: rdiefand reioicings Then away they rode, the old retainers with many a young man following after, a troop on horseback, in high spirits on their bay steeds. Beowulf's doings were praised over and over again.

Nowhere, they said, north or south between the two seas or under the tall sky on the broad earth was there anyone better to raise a shield or to rule a kingdom. Yet there was no laying of blame on their lord, the noble Hrothgar; he was a good king. At times the war-band broke into a gallop, letting their chestnut horses race B E O W U L F 57 wherever they found the going good on those well-known tracks.

Meanwhile, a thane of the king's household, a carrier of tales, a traditional singer deeply schooled in the lore of the past, linked a new theme to a strict metre.

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The man started to recite with skill, rehearsing Beowulf's triumphs and feats in well-fashioned lines, entwining his words. He told what he'd heard repeated in songs about Sigemund's exploits, r o o -r Hrothgar's minstrel sings about Beowulf The tale of tgemun , t e dragon-slayer. They killed giants, their conquering swords had brought them down. Under grey stone he had dared to enter all by himself to face the worst without Fitela.