Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fighting in the Mead Hall

"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 wish of the Danes."

From Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney

This is a classic example of what I love about Beowulf, of what is so prevalent throughout the poem. We go from a naked succession of details (Sinews split/and the bone-lappings burst) straight to a more intangible concept (Beowulf was granted/the glory of winning;) without the slightest disparity or incongruence: it is neither superfluous nor niggardly to suddenly introduce the outcome of the present situation. Then, I love how we get the horrid, shuddering feeling that Grendel must feel, knowing that the wound he has received is his death sentence (His days were numbered,/the end of his life was coming over him,/he knew it for certain;). And then to make it even more certain and solid, comes: "and one bloody clash/had fulfilled the dearest wish of the Danes." And the poem doesn't stop there, but continues throughout, here and there, to reiterate Grendel's death, the finality, the certainty of it - and it all goes into making Grendel that much more real of a monster.

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