Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race

Page: 16

“Truly I say to thee, O son of Ecglaf bold,
Grendel the grisly fiend ne’er dared have wrought
So many miseries, such shame and anguish dire,
To thy lord, Hrothgar old, in his bright Heorot,
Hadst thou shown valiant mood, sturdy and battle-fierce,
As thou now boastest.”

Beowulf replies haughtily to Hunferth

Very wroth was Hunferth over the reminder of his former wrongdoing and the implied accusation of cowardice, but he had brought it on himself by his unwise belittling of Beowulf’s feat, and the applause of both Danes and Geats showed him that he dared no further attack the champion; he had to endure in silence Beowulf’s boast that he and his Geats would that night await Grendel in the hall, and surprise him terribly, since the fiend had ceased to expect any resistance from the warlike Danes. The feast continued, with laughter and melody, with song and boast, until the door from the women’s bower, in the upper end of the hall, opened suddenly, and Hrothgar’s wife, the fair and gracious Queen Wealhtheow, entered. The tumult lulled for a short space, and the queen, pouring mead into a goblet, presented it to her husband; joyfully he received and drank it. Then she poured mead or ale for each man, and in due course came to Beowulf, as to the guest of honour. Gratefully Wealhtheow greeted the lordly hero, and thanked him for the friendship which brought him to Denmark to risk his life against Grendel. Beowulf, rising respectfully and taking the cup from the queen’s hand, said with dignity:

[Pg 15] “This I considered well when I the ocean sought,
Sailed in the sea-vessel with my brave warriors,
That I alone would win thy folk’s deliverance,
Or in the fight would fall fast in the demon’s grip.
Needs must I now perform knightly deeds in this hall,
Or here must meet my doom in darksome night.”

Well pleased, Queen Wealhtheow went to sit beside her lord, where her gracious smile cheered the assembly. Then the clamour of the feast was renewed, until Hrothgar at length gave the signal for retiring. Indeed, it was necessary to leave Heorot when darkness fell, for the fiend came each night when sunlight faded. So the whole assembly arose, each man bade his comrades “Good night,” and the Danes dispersed; but Hrothgar addressed Beowulf half joyfully, half sadly, saying:

“Never before have I since I held spear and shield
Given o’er to any man this mighty Danish hall,
Save now to thee alone. Keep thou and well defend
This best of banquet-halls. Show forth thy hero-strength,
Call up thy bravery, watch for the enemy!
Thou shalt not lack gifts of worth if thou alive remain
Winner in this dire strife.”