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This enrages him, and he begins incinerating the Geatish countryside.
Beowulf has not lost his touch: “he ripped up the serpent.” That’s the end of the dragon—the Geatish knights unceremoniously dump the body over a cliff—but it’s also the end of Beowulf.
Wiglaf unclasps the King’s helmet, and bathes his wounds, to no avail.
He has become the King of the Geats and ruled them for fifty years. Still, to protect his people he must eliminate this menace. One young knight, Wiglaf, stayed and, unbeknownst to the King, followed him close behind.
He sets out, but “heavy was his mood.” Speaking to his knights, he reviews his great deeds. In what is probably the poem’s most iconic image, he goes and sits on a promontory that juts out over the sea. Beowulf will soon be part of nature—the land, the sea.) As always, he insists on going into the contest alone. The dragon emerges from the cave, “blazing, gliding in loopéd curves.” Beowulf brings his huge sword down on the monster’s body, but, as with Grendel’s mother, it doesn’t make a dent. His blood “welled forth in gushing streams.”Will he lose the fight? Seeing Beowulf wounded, Wiglaf rushes forth and stabs the dragon “a little lower down.” As the poet is too polite to say, Wiglaf took better aim than Beowulf did, and thus weakened the dragon to the point where the old man could go in for the kill.
The poet describes one of Grendel’s visits: The door at once sprang back, barred with forgéd iron, when claws he laid on it.
He wrenched then wide, baleful with raging heart, the gaping entrance of the house; then swift on the bright-patterned floor the demon paced.(Tolkien describes how, after the fight with Beowulf, Grendel, “sick at heart,” dragged himself home, “bleeding out his life.”) He is also a bit childlike.It is no surprise that John Gardner, in his 1971 novel “Grendel,” portrays the monster as a boy.This unself-consciousness gives that world a sparkling vividness.Here are Beowulf and his men, after a journey, sailing back to Geatland (this and all uncredited translations are by Tolkien): Forth sped the bark troubling the deep waters and forsook the land of the Danes.Normally, the poet says, it would have taken four men to pick up that head.But Beowulf carries it alone, to the surface, and hands it to his knights. He has wings—he can fly—and he doesn’t live in a nasty fen. He had learned Old English and started reading the poem at an early age. Anyone could have told him that he should translate “Beowulf.” How this would have advanced his reputation! He finished the translation in 1926, at the age of thirty-four. Now, forty years after his death, his son Christopher has brought it out (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). (He did the same, later, as a professor, at the beginning of Old English classes. He needed money—by now he had a wife and children—and he supplemented his income by marking examination papers.But outside the hall there lurks a monster, Grendel.Grendel hates music, and for twelve years he has been coming to Hearot after dark, to prey on the Danish knights.