Beowulf: A Dramatic Translation
Excerpt: Grendel approaches Heorot

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Beowulf: A Dramatic Translation

. . . Grendel presents a new definition of the monstrous. Outwardly indistinguishable from other bogeymen, his is a spiritual portrait: His isolation and envy embody evil in its purest form. Equally compelling is the poet’s response to the joyless moor-stalker, the object of a compassion no Cyclops ever received. Here is a man standing always outside the circle of joy and kinship. Nor is the poet’s compassion mere contrivance; but it derives fully rooted from a theology that accommodates the purest innocence of humanity with its most sordid aspects. Theology is anything but auxiliary in Beowulf: It is the wellspring of the poem’s power to arouse—the source of its humanity, and also of its macabre, nearly slapstick humor. Read this section aloud to feel the “jump” element and the humor of the comic asides.

[Wordplay is marked by a preceding dot °]

Out of the moors he came.
Up through marsh
and mist-shroud
Grendel shifted closer.
He bore the awful wrath of God!

He meant, the
ravager of
to trap one of man’s kin
in that hall so
°high, so °doomed.

He glided through the gloom,
toward the gleaming wine-hall,
the gold-coated
treasure house of men.
How well he knew it:
their fine, fancy hall!

xxx Nor was this his first visit—
xxx to Hrothgar!
xxx Never would he in all his days
xxx ever encounter
xxx a harder welcome
xxx from any hall thane.

He came to the wall;
the warrior
ventured forth, the one
bereft of joy
xxxxx xxxxxthe door
—though bolted iron-fast!—
twisted at the touch of his hand.
Swollen with rage, he ripped
the hall-mouth open,
rushed across their °fancy floor
and doomed).
His eyes flared with a fearsome light:
a light like fire!

He saw in the hall
many soldiers asleep,
a troop of young warriors
all sleeping as brothers—
a mighty band of men.
How his heart laughed then!
How he meant
before ever day came
(the hideous marauder!)
to divide with them all
life from the living.

He was ready then—
eager for his fill of the feast!

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