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Then down the brave man lay with his bolster
Under his head and his whole company
Of sea-rovers at rest beside him.
None of them expected he would ever see
His homeland again or get back
To his native place and the people who reared him.
They knew too well the way it was before,
How often the Danes had fallen prey
To death in the mead-hall. 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.
One man, however, was in a fighting mood,
Awake and on edge, spoiling for action.
In off the moors, down through the mist-bands
God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.
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. 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 in its hinge when his hand 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 limp 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
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 coiled, 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 timber 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:
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 on earth
Capable of wrecking their horn-rigged hall
Unless the burning embrace of 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 have not known at the time,
That not blade on earth, no blacksmith’s art
Could ever damage their demon opponent.
He had conjured the harm from the cutting edge
Of every weapon. But his going away
Out of the world and the days of his life
Would be agony to him, and his alien spirit
would travel far into fiends’ keeping.
Then he who had harrowed the hearts of men
With pain and affliction in former times
And had given offense also to God
Found that his bodily powers had 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.
The man who had lately landed among them,
Proud and sure, had purged the hall,
Kept it from harm; he was happy with his night-work
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
Shoulder and arm, his awesome grasp.
The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer
“The General Prologue” (excerpt)
When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.
And specially from every shire’s end
Of England they to Canterbury wend,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek
Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak.
Befell that, in that season, on a day
In Southwark, at the Tabard, as I lay
Ready to start upon my pilgrimage
To Canterbury, full of devout homage,
There came at nightfall to that hostelry
Some nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry persons who had chanced to fall
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all
That toward Canterbury town would ride.
The rooms and stables spacious were and wide,
And well we there were eased, and of the best.
And briefly, when the sun had gone to rest,
So had I spoken with them, every one,
That I was of their fellowship anon,
And made agreement that we’d early rise
To take the road, as you I will apprise.

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