THE OLD POETIC

FOREWORDHome_Foreword.html
INTRODUCTIONIntroduction.html
CONTACTContact.html

TRANSLATIONS OF OLD ENGLISH POETRY

By Rupert Granville Glover  |  M.A. (Hons), LL.B. Hons (Cantuar)

 

The Poems

The Battle of Maldon

……………………… was broken,

Then Byrhtnoth ordered a certain young man

to abandon the horses, to drive them afar

and go forth, intent upon his arms and

his good spirit.


                                     When he saw that

the earl would not tolerate cowardice, Offa's

kinsman allowed his beloved hawk to fly from

his hand to the wood, and strode to the battle;

from that it could be seen that the warrior would

not weaken in the battle when he grasped weapons.

Eadric also wished to obey his lord

in the fight; he proceeded to bear

his spear into battle. And while he could

still hold his shield and broad-sword in his hand

his mind was valiant; he carried out his boast

that he would fight before his lord.


Then Byrhtnoth began to call up his warriors,

rode and instructed, told the men how

they had to stand and keep their ground, and

bade them hold their shields firmly in their hands

and have no fear. When he had them organised well

he dismounted among the people where he loved best

to be, where his most loyal and familiar retainers were.



Then on the bank stood a messenger from

the vikings, who called out sternly and spoke

these words, announcing threateningly the message

of the pirates to the earl where he stood on the shore.

"Bold seamen have sent me to you with orders

to say that you must quickly send bracelets

for your own protection, and that it will be

better for you to buy off this battle with tribute

than for us to join in bitter conflict.

We need not destroy each other if you are

wealthy enough to meet our demand.

We wish to establish a truce in return for the gold.

If you determine upon that, you who are in command

here, you will ransom your people by giving

the seamen wealth in exchange for friendship,

according to their stipulation, and receive

peace from us; then we shall go to the ship

with the tribute, put to sea, and keep peace with you."


Byrhtnoth lifted up his shield and spoke.

Brandishing his slender ash-spear he spoke

angry and resolute words, answering him:

"Do you hear, seaman, what this people says?

They will give you spears as tribute, and the deadly

spear-point and ancient swords. But the

war-gear will be of no use to you in battle.

Messenger of the seamen, take word back

and tell your people news far more hateful.

Tell them that an earl who will

protect this country, the land of Ethelred

my lord, the people and the place, stands uncowered

here with his troops. The heathens shall fall

in the battle. It seems too humiliating to me

that you should go unopposed to your ship

with our treasure now that you have come so far

into our land. Nor shall you carry off treasure

so easily: the spear and the sword's edge shall

decide the terms between us in fierce battle

before we shall give tribute."


                                             He ordered the warriors

to bear their shields forth so that they all stood

on the river-bank. But because of the water, one army

could not reach the other; after the ebb

the high-tide came flowing in and the tidal streams

joined up.


                                      It seemed an age to them

that they bore spears together.


                                                By Panta Stream

they stood in an array, the battle-line of

the East Saxons and the viking force.

No man could reach to injure another but some

met death from the flight of an arrow.


The tide went out. The seamen stood ready,

many vikings were eager for battle.

The protector of the warriors ordered a stern

fighter - he was called Wulfstan - to hold

the causeway. He came from valiant stock.

It was the son of Ceola who felled with his javelin

the first man to step boldly there on the causeway.

Two bold and fearless warriors Ælfere and Maccus,

stood with Wulfstan; they would not take

to flight at the ford but defended themselves

vigorously against the enemy for as long as

they could wield their weapons. And when

they understood at last that they faced

fierce guardians on that causeway, the hateful

enemy proceeded to use guile and begged for

a landing, for a passage over the ford with their troops.


Then in his pride the earl began to yield

too much land to the hostile people. Byrhtelm's son

began to shout over the cold water - the warriors

listened:

                      "The way is open to you now:

come quickly to us, warriors. God alone

knows who may have control of the battle-field."


The wolfish force of viking warriors advanced,

untroubled by the water; west over the shining water

of Panta went the men from the ship, bearing

their linden shields to land. There, ready

for the enemy, stood Byrhtnoth with his warriors.

He ordered the troop to form the shield-wall and

to hold fast against the enemy. The fighting

and the glory of battle was at hand. The time

had come when the doomed men should fall.


Clamour was raised up there. Ravens circled,

the eagle was eager for carrion. The earth was

in an uproar.


                         They let fly from their hands

spears hard as files, cruelly ground spears.

Bows were busy, shield received spear-point.

The onslaught was a bitter one. Warriors fell

on both sides, young men lay dead.


Wulfmaer was wounded, Byrhtnoth's kinsman

chose death on the battle-field: his sister's son

was cruelly hewn down with swords. Requital

was given to the vikings there: I have heard

that Eadweard slew one of them cruelly with his

sword, and did not withhold the blow, so that

a doomed warrior fell at his feet; and

his prince thanked the thane for this when

he had the opportunity.


                                        Thus the stout-hearted

warriors stood firm in the battle, eagerly intent upon

who could first win the life of an armed warrior

with a spear, a fated man there. The dying fell

to the earth. They stood steadfast, Byrhtnoth

exhorted them, and bade each young warrior

who wished to win glory fighting against the Danes

to think of battle.


                              Then a battle-hard Dane

raised up his weapon, and shielding himself,

stepped forth against the warrior.


Just as resolutely the earl went for the churl:

each intended harm to the other. The sea-warrior

threw a southern spear so that the warriors' lord was

wounded. But he thrust his shield down onto the spear

so that the shaft broke and the spear-head fell away

from him. The warrior was enraged: with his spear

he pierced the proud viking who had inflicted the wound.

The warrior was battle wise; he drove his Frankish spear

through the neck of this young warrior, guiding

his hand so that he pierced the viking fatally.

Then he speedily lunged at another and burst

his corselet: he was wounded in the breast

through his ringed corselet; the deadly spear-point

stood in his heart. The earl was the better pleased:

he laughed courageously and gave thanks to God

the Creator for the day's work He had granted him.


Then one of the viking warriors let fly a spear

from his hand which penetrated too far into

the noblewarrior of Ethelred. Beside him

stood a stripling warrior, the son of Wulfstan,

Wulfmaer the younger, a youth in battle,

who very boldly drew the bloody spear out of

the fighting-man; he flung it back again

exceedingly hard. The point went in, so that

the one who had just struck his lord fell to

the ground. Then an armed warrior made for

the earl; he wished to carry off the warrior's

bracelets, treasure, rings, and decorated sword.


But Byrhtnoth drew his sword from its sheath,

with its broad gleaming blade, and struck him

on the corselet. All too swiftly one of the seamen

prevented him, and wounded the earl's arm.

The golden-hilted sword fell to the ground:

he could not hold the hard sword, or wield

the weapon. But still the old and grey warrior

spoke, encouraging the young warriors, urging

his good comrades forward. He could no longer

stand firmly on his feet; he looked up

to heaven:

                         "I thank you, Lord of Hosts,

for all the joys I have experienced in the world.

But now, gentle Lord, I need most that

you grant grace to my spirit, that my soul

may journey to you, into your dominion,

Lord of the angels, may depart in peace;

I beseech you that devils may not harm it."

Then the heathen warriors killed him, and both

the men who stood by him; Ælfnoth and Wulfmaer

lay slain, gave up their lives close by their lord.


Then those who did not wish to be there

fled from the battle: the sons of Odda were

the first to flee. Godric ran from the battle

deserting him who had given him many horses.

He leapt onto his lord's war-horse, onto those trappings

which it was not right for him to mount upon,

and both his brothers galloped with him,

Godwin and Godwig, and not caring for battle,

turned from the fight and sought the woods,

fled to safety and saved their lives, and more men

did this than was fitting if they remembered

all the kindness and benefits he had accorded them.

It was just as Offa had told him once before

at the meeting-place, when he was holding a council,

that many were speaking proudly there who, later,

in a time of need, would not endure.


Thus fell the lord of the people, Ethelred's earl.

All his hearth-companions saw that their lord

lay dead. Then proudly the retainers went forth,

the undaunted men hastened eagerly: all had

just two wishes - to lay down their lives,

or to avenge their dear lord.


Ælfwine, the son of Ælfric, a young warrior,

shouted words of encouragement, exhorted them

valiantly:

                  "Remember the speeches we often gave

over the mead, when, heroes in the hall, we shouted

boasts at the bench about fierce battle. Now we shall

see who is valiant. I shall declare my line

to one and all, for I belong to a great Mercian

family: my grandfather was called Ealhelm,

a wise earl, prosperous in worldly riches.

No thane in this company shall reproach me

for desiring to desert this army, to seek

my home, now that my lord lies cut down in battle.

This is my greatest sorrow: he was both my kinsman

and my lord."


Then, remembering the fight, he went

forward and pierced one of the seamen with his sword,

so that he fell to the ground, killed by his weapon.

Again he urged his friends and companions to go forward.

Offa spoke, brandishing his spear:

                                                          “Ælfwine!

you have urged all the retainers in our best interest.

Now that our prince, the earl, lies dead on the ground

each and every warrior must encourage the others

to fight for as long as he can use his weapons,

his spear and his good hard sword. Godric,

the cowardly son of Odda, has betrayed us all.

When he rode off on horseback, on that proud steed,

many men thought that it was our lord himself.

Because of that, people on the field here were

divided, and the shield-wall was broken.

May he be cursed for this, for putting so many

men here to flight."


                                        Leofsunu spoke,

and raised up his linden-shield for protection;

he replied to that warrior:

                                          "I swear to you

that I will not retreat one step, but will

advance to avenge my lord in battle.

No steadfast warrior from Sturmere need

reproach me, now my friend has perished,

that I came home lordless, having turned from

the battle; but weapons shall take me -

the spear and the iron blade." He advanced

in a fury, fighting resolutely and scorning flight.

Then Dunnere spoke, brandishing his spear;

a simple yeoman, he shouted above all, calling

on every warrior to avenge Byrhtnoth:

"Whoever in the company intends to avenge our prince

must not flinch or care about his own life."

Then they advanced, heedless of their lives.

The retainers proceeded to fight ferociously,

the fierce spear-wielding warriors, and they

prayed to God that they might avenge their dear lord

by doing to death all his enemies.

The hostage helped them eagerly, the son of Ecglaf.

He belonged to the bold line of Northumbria.

His name was Æschferth. He did not flinch in the

battle-play, but fired arrow after arrow; sometimes

he penetrated a shield, sometimes he maimed a warrior,

time after time he inflicted wounds for as long as

he could draw his bow.


                                          Constantly at the forefront

of the battle stood the tall, alert, and eager Eadweard;

he boasted that he would not flee or retreat

so much as a foot now that his lord lay dead.

He smashed through the shield-wall and grappled

with the seamen, and he avenged worthily the death

of his treasure-giver on those seafarers before

he was cut down.


                                         And so too did Ætheric

the noble retainer and brother of Sibyrht, eager to

advance and fight in earnest, and many others as well,

split the bossed shield and defended themselves valiantly.

The rim of the shield was smashed, and the corselet

sang a terrible song. Offa struck a seafarer

in the fight and he fell to the ground, but

the kinsman of Gadd was also laid low: Offa

was quickly cut down in that battle. Yet he carried

out his sworn promise to his lord and ring-giver

that they would both ride home unscathed

to the settlement, or perish in combat,

die from their wounds on the battle-field. He lay,

as befits a retainer, nearby his lord.

Then shields were shattered. The seamen, enraged

by the slaughter, advanced. The spear plunged

into many a fated body. Then Wistan, the son

of Thurstan advanced to fight the vikings

and killed three of them before the son of Wigelm

succumbed. That was a savage fight. The warriors

stood fast in the struggle. Fighting-men collapsed,

exhausted by their wounds. The slain dropped

to the ground.


                           The brothers Oswold and Eadwold

both encouraged the warriors, constantly urging

their beloved kinsmen that they must endure in the

conflict and wield their weapons without weakening.


Byrhtwold, a companion of long-standing,

raised his shield, brandished his spear, and spoke.

He exhorted the warriors very boldly:

"Our pride shall be the fiercer and our hearts braver,

as our power decreases our courage shall grow.

Here, chopped to pieces, our good lord lies on

the earth. Anyone who thinks of leaving this battle now

will feel eternal shame. I am an old man,

but I shall not go, for I intend to fall at the side

of my lord, the man so dear to me."

Likewise Godric, the son of Æthelgar,

gave them all courage to go on fighting.

He drove spear after deadly spear at the vikings,

killing and injuring, as he led the way among

that army, until he was killed in battle.

That was not the Godric who fled from the fight.