Canto XV

Up through the dark and echoing gloom
as ghosts from many-tunnelled tomb,
up from the mountains' roots profound
and the vast menace underground,
their limbs aquake with deadly fear,(5)
terror in eyes, and dread in ear,
together fled they, by the beat
affrighted of their flying feet.
At last before them far away
they saw a glimmer, faint and grey,(10)
of ghostly light that shivering fell
down from the yawning gates of Hell.
Then hope awoke, and strightway died -
the doors were open, gates were wide;
but on the threshold terror walked.(15)
The wolf awake there watchful stalked
and in his eyes the red fire glowered;
there Carcharoth in menace towered,
a waiting death, a biding doom:
his jaws were gaping like a tomb,(20)
his teeth were bare, his tongue aflame;
aroused he watched that no one came,
no flitting shade nor hunted shape,
seeking from Angband to escape.
Now past that guard what guile or might(25)
could thrust from death into the light?
He heard afar their hurrying feet,
he snuffed an odour strange and sweet;
he smelled their coming long before
they marked the waiting threat at door.(30)
His limbs he stretched and shook off sleep,
then stood at gaze. With sudden leap
upon them as they sped he sprang,
and his howling in the arches rang.
Too swift for thought his onset came, (35)
too swift for any spell to tame;
and Beren in despair then strode
past Lúthien to bar the road,
unarmed, defenceless, to defend
the elven-maid until the end.(40)
He held aloft the Silmaril
and Carcharoth, one moment still
was halted, daunted and afraid -
one moment only was he stayed:
the right hand thrust before his eyes(45)
he took in sudden swift surprise –
the right, from which the radiance welled
of the holy Silmaril it held.
As gleam of swords in fire there flashed
the fangs of Carcharoth, and crashed(50)
together like a trap, that tore
the hand about the wrist, and shore
through brittle bone and sinew nesh,
devouring the frail mortal flesh;
and in that cruel mouth unclean(55)
engulfed the jewel's holy sheen.
Against the wall then Beren reeled
but still with his left he sought to shield
fair Lúthien, who cried aloud
to see his pain, and down she bowed(60)
in anguish sinking to the ground.