The Battle with Grendel 
from Beowulf 
translated by Burton Raffel 

            Epic 4


            Out from the marsh, from the foot of misty 
            Hills and bogs, bearing God’s hatred, 
            Grendel came, hoping to kill 
395     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— 
400     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, 
405      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 
410     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 
415     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, 
420     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 
425     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 
430     —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; 
435     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. 
440     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 
445     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, 
450     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; 
455     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. 
460     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 
465     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 
470     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 
475     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 
480     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 
485      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. 
490     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 
495     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 
500     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 
505     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 
510     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 
515     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 
520     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 
525     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 
530     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 
535     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 
540     On earth or under the spreading sky 
            Or between the seas, neither south nor north, 
            Was there a warrior worthier to rule over men. 
            (But no one meant Beowulf’s praise to belittle 
            Hrothgar, their kind and gracious king!) . . . 


545     . . . “They live in secret places, windy 
            Cliffs, wolf-dens where water pours 
            From the rocks, then runs underground, where mist 
            Steams like black clouds, and the groves of trees 
            Growing out over their lake are all covered 
550     With frozen spray, and wind down snakelike 
            Roots that reach as far as the water 
            And help keep it dark. At night that lake 
            Burns like a torch. No one knows its bottom, 
            No wisdom reaches such depths. A deer, 
555     Hunted through the woods by packs of hounds, 
            A stag with great horns, though driven through the forest 
            From faraway places, prefers to die 
            On those shores, refuses to save its life 
            In that water. It isn’t far, nor is it 
560     A pleasant spot! When the wind stirs 
            And storms, waves splash toward the sky, 
            As dark as the air, as black as the rain 
            That the heavens weep. Our only help, 
            Again, lies with you. Grendel’s mother 
565     Is hidden in her terrible home, in a place 
            You’ve not seen. Seek it, if you dare! Save us, 
            Once more, and again twisted gold, 
            Heaped-up ancient treasure, will reward you 
            For the battle you win!” 

Click here to navigate through the epics: epic 1, epic 2, epic 3, and Homework1,

epic 5, epic 6, and Homework2.


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