Sunday, November 30, 2008

Old English Poetry

The Battle of Brunanburh

Then Aethelstan, king, Thane of eorls,
ring-bestower to men, and his brother also,
the atheling Edmund, lifelong honour
struck in battle with sword's edge
at Brunanburh. Broke the shieldwall,
split shields with swords.
Edward's sons, the issue of princes
from kingly kin, oft on campaign
their fatherland from foes defended,
hoard and home.Hammered Crushed the hated ones,
Scots-folk and ship-men
fated fell. The field flowed with blood,
I have heard said, from sun-rise
in morningtime, as mighty star
glided up overground, God's bright candle,
- the eternal Lord's - till that noble work
sank to its setting. There lay scores of men
destroyed by darts, Danish warrior
shot over shield. So Scots also
wearied of war. West-Saxons went forth
from morn till night the mounted warriors
pursued enemy people,
the fleeing forces were felled from behind
with swords new-sharpened. The Mercians spurned not
hard hand-play with heroes
that escorted accompanied Anlaf over sea's surge,
in ship's shelter sought land,
came fated to fight. Five lay dead
on the killing field, young kings
put to sleep with the sword; so also seven
of Anlaf's eorls, and unnumbered slain
among sea-men and Scots. So was routed
the Northmen's lord, by need forced
to take ship with few troops.
compelled to sea , the king set out
on fallow flood, saved his life.
So also the wise one fled away
to his northern country, Constantine,
hoary battle-man; he need not boast
of that meeting of swords. He was severed from kin,
forfeiting friends on that field,
slain at war, and his son left
on the death-ground, destroyed by his wounds,
young warrior. He need not brag,
the white-haired warrior, about sword-wielding,
the artful one, nor Anlaf either;
With their army smashed they need not sneer
that their battle-work was better
on the battlefield where banners crashed
and spears clashed in that meeting of men,
that weapon-wrestle, when on the death-field
they sported played with Edward's offspring.
The Northmen went off in nail-bound ships,
sad survivors of spears, on Ding's mere,
over deep water seeking Dublin,
Ireland again, ashamed in their hearts.
So both brothers together,
king and atheling, their country sought,
the land of Wessex, in war exulting.
They left behind them sharing the lifeless
the dusk-dressed one, the dark raven,
with hard beak of horn, and the hoar-coated one,
white-tailed eagle, enjoying the carrion,
greedy war-hawk, and that grey beast,
the wolf of the wood. Nor was more slaughter
on this isle ever yet,
so many folk felled, before this
sword battle, as say the books,
the old wise men, since from the east
Angle and Saxon arrived together
over broad briny seeking Britain,
proud warriors who worsted the Welsh,
eager for glory, and gained a land.

photo North Sea: gb

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