I have been spending idle moments this year translating the great Old English epic Beowulf.  Here is a little sample for your festive delight.

Heorot, the seat of Danish King Hrothgar, has been troubled by a murderous demonic creature which raids the mead-hall at night and makes off with the warriors. Beowulf has come over the sea from Sweden and has fatally wounded the creature by tearing off its arm, which now hangs over the doorway. Now its mother seeks revenge. The remains of Æschere have just been found; he was Hrothgar’s rúnwita and rǽdbora (confidante and counsellor). The following morning, Beowulf, unaware of what has happened, asks Hrothgar if he slept well; Hrothgar replies:

 

“Ask not after pleasure: pain is renewed
for the Danish people; Æschere is dead,
the elder brother of Yrmenlaf,
my confidant and my counsellor,
brother at my shoulder, when we in battle
covered our heads, when the foot-soldiers clashed,
bashed boar-helms; so it behoves a man
to be tested of ages; so Æschere was.
There was for him in Heorot a slayer-by-hand,
a wandering death-ghast, I know not whither,
rejoicing in terrible carrion, she made her return,
replete from her feasting.  She wrought her revenge
in which you yesternight by unyielding means
quelled Grendel in your harsh grasp,
because he over-long cast down and looted
my people.  Having paid with his life,
he fell in the contest, and now comes that other,
mighty man-scathe.  She would avenge her kinsman
and very far has visited her vengeance,
so must it be thought by many a thegn
who grieves in his mind for the gift-giver,
harsh heart-sorrow, now that hand is fallen,
which for nigh each one of you had granted wishes.
I have heard it said by my hall-people,
the country-dwellers, court-counsellors,
that they had seen two such
mighty marsh-steppers haunting the moors,
outlandish spirits. One of them was,
as definitely as they might determine,
in the likeness of a woman, the other weakly shaped
in a man’s outline trod an outcast’s path,
and yet he was more than any other man.
In the days of old the earth-dwellers
had named him ‘Grendel;’ they knew not of a father,
nor whether any such had been begotten before,
of obscure spirits. A secret land they
inhabited, wolf-hillsides, windswept headlands,
perilous marsh-causeways, where the mountain stream
dived downwards beneath the cliff-darkness,
the flood beneath the earth. It is not that far hence
measured in miles, that the mere lies:
rime-frosted groves reach over it,
root-fast woods over-shade the water;
there every night one can see an eerie-wonder: 1365
fire-light on the lake; there lives none so wise
of the sons of men who can sound its depths.
Though the heath-stepper, harried by hounds,
the strong-horned hart, seeks the holt-wood
put to flight from afar, he would sooner forfeit his life,
his breath on the bank, before he will
plunge in his head; it is not a pleasant place.
Thence a wave-storm, when the wind stirs,
spirals upwards, dark to the skies,
dire tempest, until the air grows dense,
the heavens weep.  Now help depends
once again on you alone; you know not yet the region,
fearful place, where you might find
that most sinning creature: seek her if you dare.
I shall repay you for this revenge with riches,
with ancient treasures and twisted gold
as I did before, if you come back alive.”

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