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Preface vii

Bibliography of Translations xi

Glossary of Proper Names xiii

List of Words and Phrases not in General Use xviii

The Life and Death of Scyld (I.)1

Scyld’s Successors (II.)3

Hrothgar’s Great Mead-Hall

Grendel, the Murderer (III.)5

Beowulf Goes to Hrothgar’s Assistance (IV.)8

The Geats Reach Heorot (V.)10

Beowulf Introduces Himself at the Palace (VI.)12

Hrothgar and Beowulf (VII.)14

Hrothgar and Beowulf (continued) (VIII.)17

Unferth Taunts Beowulf (IX.)19

Beowulf Silences Unferth (X.)21

Glee is High

All Sleep save One (XI.)24

Grendel and Beowulf (XII.)26

Grendel is Vanquished (XIII.)28

Rejoicing of the Danes (XIV.)30

Hrothgar’s Gratitude (XV.)33

Hrothgar Lavishes Gifts upon his Deliverer (XVI.)35

Banquet (continued) (XVII.)37

The Scop’s Song of Finn and Hnæf

The Finn Episode (continued) (XVIII.)39

The Banquet Continues

Beowulf Receives Further Honor (XIX.)41

The Mother of Grendel (XX.)44

Hrothgar’s Account of the Monsters (XXI.)46

Beowulf Seeks Grendel’s Mother (XXII.)48

Beowulf’s Fight with Grendel’s Mother (XXIII.)51

Beowulf is Double-Conqueror (XXIV.)53

 Beowulf Brings his Trophies (XXV.)57

Hrothgar’s Gratitude

Hrothgar Moralizes (XXVI.)60

Rest after Labor

Sorrow at Parting (XXVII.)62

The Homeward Journey (XXVIII.)64

The Two Queens

Beowulf and Higelac (XXIX.)67

Beowulf Narrates his Adventures to Higelac (XXX.)69

Gift-Giving is Mutual (XXXI.)73

The Hoard and the Dragon (XXXII.)75

Brave Though Aged (XXXIII.)78


Beowulf Seeks the Dragon (XXXIV.)81

Beowulf’s Reminiscences

Reminiscences (continued) (XXXV.)83

Beowulf’s Last Battle

Wiglaf the Trusty (XXXVI.)88

Beowulf is Deserted by Friends and by Sword

The Fatal Struggle (XXXVII.)91

Beowulf’s Last Moments

Wiglaf Plunders the Dragon’s Den (XXXVIII.)93

Beowulf’s Death

The Dead Foes (XXXIX.)95

Wiglaf’s Bitter Taunts

The Messenger of Death (XL.)97

The Messenger’s Retrospect (XLI.)99

Wiglaf’s Sad Story (XLII.)103

The Hoard Carried Off

The Burning of Beowulf (XLIII.)106

Addenda 109



The present work is a modest effort to reproduce approximately,

in modern measures, the venerable epic, Beowulf. Approximately, I

repeat; for a very close reproduction of Anglo-Saxon verse would, to

a large extent, be prose to a modern ear.

The Heyne-Socin text and glossary have been closely followed.

Occasionally a deviation has been made, but always for what

seemed good and sufficient reason. The translator does not aim to be

an editor. Once in a while, however, he has added a conjecture of his

own to the emendations quoted from the criticisms of other students

of the poem.

This work is addressed to two classes of readers. From both of

these alike the translator begs sympathy and co-operation. The

Anglo-Saxon scholar he hopes to please by adhering faithfully to the

original. The student of English literature he aims to interest by giving

him, in modern garb, the most ancient epic of our race. This is a bold

and venturesome undertaking; and yet there must be some students

of the Teutonic past willing to follow even a daring guide, if they may

read in modern phrases of the sorrows of Hrothgar, of the prowess of

Beowulf, and of the feelings that stirred the hearts of our forefathers

in their primeval homes.

In order to please the larger class of readers, a regular cadence

has been used, a measure which, while retaining the essential

characteristics of the original, permits the reader to see ahead of him

in reading.

Perhaps every Anglo-Saxon scholar has his own theory as to how

Beowulf should be translated. Some have given us prose versions of

what we believe to be a great poem. Is it any reflection on our

honored Kemble and Arnold to say that their translations fail to show

a layman that Beowulf is justly called our first epic? Of those

translators who have used verse, several have written


from what would seem a mistaken point of view. Is it proper, for

instance, that the grave and solemn speeches of Beowulf and

Hrothgar be put in ballad measures, tripping lightly and airily along?

Or, again, is it fitting that the rough martial music of Anglo-Saxon

verse be interpreted to us in the smooth measures of modern blank

verse? Do we hear what has been beautifully called “the clanging

tread of a warrior in mail”?

Of all English translations of Beowulf, that of Professor Garnett

alone gives any adequate idea of the chief characteristics of this

great Teutonic epic.

The measure used in the present translation is believed to be as

near a reproduction of the original as modern English affords. The

cadences closely resemble those used by Browning in some of his

most striking poems. The four stresses of the Anglo-Saxon verse are

retained, and as much thesis and anacrusis is allowed as is

consistent with a regular cadence. Alliteration has been used to a

large extent; but it was thought that modern ears would hardly

tolerate it on every line. End-rhyme has been used occasionally;

internal rhyme, sporadically. Both have some warrant in Anglo-Saxon

poetry. (For end-rhyme, see 1 53, 1 54; for internal rhyme, 2 21, 6 40.)

What Gummere1 calls the “rime-giver” has been studiously kept; viz. , the first accented syllable in the second half-verse always carries

the alliteration; and the last accented syllable alliterates only

sporadically. Alternate alliteration is occasionally used as in the

original. (See 7 61, 8 5.)

No two accented syllables have been brought together, except

occasionally after a cæsural pause. (See 2 19 and 12 1.) Or, scientifically speaking, Sievers’s C type has been avoided as not

consonant with the plan of translation. Several of his types, however,

constantly occur; e.g. A and a variant (/ x | / x) (/ x x | / x); B and a variant (x / | x / ) (x x / | x / ); a variant of D (/ x | / x x); E (/ x x | / ).

Anacrusis gives further variety to the types used in the translation.

The parallelisms of the original have been faithfully preserved.

( E.g. , 1 16 and 1 17: “Lord” and “Wielder of Glory”; 1 30, 1 31, 1 32;

2 12 and 2 13; 2 27 and 2 28; 3 5 and 3 6.) Occasionally, some loss has been sustained; but, on the other hand, a gain has here and

there been made.

The effort has been made to give a decided flavor of archaism to

the translation. All words not in keeping with the spirit of the poem

have been


avoided. Again, though many archaic words have been used,

there are none, it is believed, which are not found in standard modern


With these preliminary remarks, it will not be amiss to give an

outline of the story of the poem.


Hrothgar, king of the Danes, or Scyldings, builds a great mead-

hall, or palace, in which he hopes to feast his liegemen and to give

them presents. The joy of king and retainers is, however, of short

duration. Grendel, the monster, is seized with hateful jealousy. He

cannot brook the sounds of joyance that reach him down in his fen-

dwelling near the hall. Oft and anon he goes to the joyous building,

bent on direful mischief. Thane after thane is ruthlessly carried off

and devoured, while no one is found strong enough and bold enough

to cope with the monster. For twelve years he persecutes Hrothgar

and his vassals.

Over sea, a day’s voyage off, Beowulf, of the Geats, nephew of

Higelac, king of the Geats, hears of Grendel’s doings and of

Hrothgar’s misery. He resolves to crush the fell monster and relieve

the aged king. With fourteen chosen companions, he sets sail for

Dane-land. Reaching that country, he soon persuades Hrothgar of his

ability to help him. The hours that elapse before night are spent in

beer-drinking and conversation. When Hrothgar’s bedtime comes he

leaves the hall in charge of Beowulf, telling him that never before has

he given to another the absolute wardship of his palace. All retire to

rest, Beowulf, as it were, sleeping upon his arms.

Grendel comes, the great march-stepper, bearing God’s anger.

He seizes and kills one of the sleeping warriors. Then he advances

towards Beowulf. A fierce and desperate hand-to-hand struggle

ensues. No arms are used, both combatants trusting to strength and

hand-grip. Beowulf tears Grendel’s shoulder from its socket, and the

monster retreats to his den, howling and yelling with agony and fury.

The wound is fatal.

The next morning, at early dawn, warriors in numbers flock to the

hall Heorot, to hear the news. Joy is boundless. Glee runs high.

Hrothgar and his retainers are lavish of gratitude and of gifts.

Grendel’s mother, however, comes the next night to avenge his

death. She is furious and raging. While Beowulf is sleeping in a room

somewhat apart


from the quarters of the other warriors, she seizes one of

Hrothgar’s favorite counsellors, and carries him off and devours him.

Beowulf is called. Determined to leave Heorot entirely purified, he

arms himself, and goes down to look for the female monster. After

traveling through the waters many hours, he meets her near the sea-

bottom. She drags him to her den. There he sees Grendel lying dead.

After a desperate and almost fatal struggle with the woman, he slays

her, and swims upward in triumph, taking with him Grendel’s head.

Joy is renewed at Heorot. Congratulations crowd upon the victor.

Hrothgar literally pours treasures into the lap of Beowulf; and it is

agreed among the vassals of the king that Beowulf will be their next


Beowulf leaves Dane-land. Hrothgar weeps and laments at his


When the hero arrives in his own land, Higelac treats him as a

distinguished guest. He is the hero of the hour.

Beowulf subsequently becomes king of his own people, the

Geats. After he has been ruling for fifty years, his own neighborhood

is wofully harried by a fire-spewing dragon. Beowulf determines to kill

him. In the ensuing struggle both Beowulf and the dragon are slain.

The grief of the Geats is inexpressible. They determine, however, to

leave nothing undone to honor the memory of their lord. A great

funeral-pyre is built, and his body is burnt. Then a memorial-barrow is

made, visible from a great distance, that sailors afar may be

constantly reminded of the prowess of the national hero of Geatland.

The poem closes with a glowing tribute to his bravery, his

gentleness, his goodness of heart, and his generosity.

It is the devout desire of this translator to hasten the day when the

story of Beowulf shall be as familiar to English-speaking peoples as

that of the Iliad. Beowulf is our first great epic. It is an epitomized

history of the life of the Teutonic races. It brings vividly before us our

forefathers of pre-Alfredian eras, in their love of war, of sea, and of


My special thanks are due to Professors Francis A. March and

James A. Harrison, for advice, sympathy, and assistance.


[1] Handbook of Poetics, page 175, 1st edition.