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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Grendel’s Complaint; Atonement

By: Benjamin Rose

Grendel's Complaint

Begotten son of the murderer’s mark,

Cursed fen-dweller, and warden of the mere

Dragging his distended and horrent limbs

To gorge himself on a ruined king’s thanes,

I go about my business, and conceive

No greater plan than severing the strings

Of that mellifluous honey-toned harp

Whose melody mends the hearts of the hall

When, after the din of warfare is past,

With abundant mead, and festival joy

The Danes assume their wonted revelry

With honor and pride to the song of skalds.

But I, from light of the Father shut out

Entirely, hellspawn, orphan, and beast

Have no mutual league in merriment

With Hrothgar’s kinsmen, nor aught of my own

But endure an outcast, at once at home

And exiled foreigner in my own land,

Nameless and hearthless, exiled from myself,

Riven at heart between shame and fury

Expressed in depredation, hateful war

Leveled against all who turn me away

From tables of fellowship with strong spears

Keen to lance my liver like a boil.

And on the grim moors my agony grows,

Howling in pain through the soul-shrouding mists

That cloud my lurid and demonic sight

In iron obscurities without end

So that the horizon seems to collapse

In a veil of iron and flatten the earth

Till all my days in crushing recurrence

Hammer like the stroke of a mail-garbed fist

Into my ken an unending expanse

Of leaden land forlorn, and barren earth

Where no green thing save for jealousy thrives

In living realms where the lonely soul dies.


Under the foliage passion was bled

By light of the Mayfire into measure,

While the infant sound of the Reed awoke

From the icy tomb of antique horrors

The specter of my brother smeared with blood,

He, whose wanton error in poesy

Was a dimly felt and imagined dream

When the stars were white and the world was young:

A windless meadow overswept with hymns

Without lyric, blessed by the evergreen

Bloom of ears of grain and pastoral hills,

Where yeomen spend their days in merriment

Not overvital, savoring pipeweed.

And though allegorical, it is true

No sound has rent my heart nor shall ever

Recall to me the loveliness of youth’s

Unbridled hope, liberty, and delight

Than that heartsick recorder, he whose joy

Carries the beauty of loss in its strain

As if the boy held in his mother’s arms

Who wept to hear it knew he must weep more

(And not so lovingly) everafter

With the turn of the calendar, aware,

Even then (for I was a weeping child)

That grass withers, flowers fade, and all these

Kind and admiring faces must sooner

Than later ruin and waste to nothing.

In the dark, four A.M. in the morning,

The middle of April, during the Spring

Quarantine, when first the rampant pathogen

Took unelegied myriads in maw,

You came to me scrolling through Spotify

In an image of Frodo wielding Sting–

The official soundtrack, you know the sight–

And in the heavy strings of the Breaking,

And the call of the Reed, stood before me

In a hospital gown, arms bleeding

As never at that age, breath belabored

With gushing tears, and wailed in agony;

Begged and stuttered, as a child will, pleading

Some better tomorrow than abuse and

Silence, self-made invisible; riven

From the flock; mutilated; tongue-tied;

A Reek among boys, a bitch among men,

Expecting nothing of life but a gray

Sky sloping down to an iron horizon

Where no God mends us our infirmities,

Or reunites us with the ones we lose.

And I, who would not lie to you, said “No.”

Then I held you as you choked and stuttered,

Weeping tears as your body wept crimson,

Offering my desperate apologies till

Your pulse failed and I shut your leaden eyes

O Child Of Scorn, My Lost One, My Brother.

And, for in this was no consolation,

I wept and cursed myself pathetically,

I who could make no atonement to you

For what we are now and what we had been.


Benjamin Rose is a poet born and raised in the D.C. area. His work has appeared in The Dillydoun Review, The Button Eye Review, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, Cathexis Northwest Press, and Last Resort Literary Review, as well as the self-published collection The Road Of Glass. He studies creative writing and Islamic civilization at The Catholic University Of America.

Behind the Scenes:

"'Grendel’s Complaint' is of course based on the antagonist of Beowulf, particularly Tolkien’s understanding of Grendel as Man existing in a state of alienation from God. This theme is secularized in my work to speak of my own history of social isolation and alienation, and the dysregulated rage it has occasionally produced. More generally, the poem is about the blunt fact that human beings are inherently social creatures. In community, we thrive; in isolation, we die.

'Atonement' is the third and final piece of a sequence I call 'the Reed poems' narrating the most significant event of my life in the previous decade. These are called the 'Reed' poems in reference to the famous 'Shire Theme' of The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy played on recorder, and were inspired more generally by the piece 'The Road Goes Ever On/The Breaking Of The Fellowship' which plays through the final six minutes of The Fellowship Of The Ring. In April 2020, while living in my parents’ basement during the start of the Covid-19 quarantine, I was confronted for the first time in my life with the realistic possibility of death and, entirely by accident, rencountered 'The Breaking Of the Fellowship' after listening to film scores for an hour on autoplay early one morning to ease my sadness and fear. It had been thirteen years since I last listened to the piece as a twelve year old, and to hear it again at 25, after eight years of debilitating depression that had left me all but disabled, was like being torn in half. For the first time, I felt the grief of nearly two decades of isolation and abuse. I saw myself as I had been happy at six years old when I watched The Fellowship Of The Ring for the first time on Christmas Day 2001, and I held that child I had been as, confronting the enormity of what awaited him, he begged me for a deliverance I could not give him, and died in my arms. I could not undo the harm that awaited him, nor the guilt he would carry over the harm he would do to others in his desperation. All I could do was weep, and mourn."


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