The Battle of Maldon Pages

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Robert Diamond's Translation
Kevin Crossley -Holland's Translation
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The Battle of Maldon    

Translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland


. . . it was shattered.

Then Byrhtnoth ordered every warrior to dismount,

drive off his horse and go forward into battle

with faith in his skills and with bravery.

Thus Offa’s young son could see for himself

that the earl was no man to suffer cowardice.

He sent his best falcon flying from his wrist

to the safety of the forest and strode into the fight;

thereby one could well see that the youth

would not be weak in the turmoil of battle. ~

Eadric too was firmly resolved to follow his leader

into the fight. At once he hurried forward

with his spear. He feared no foe

for as long as he could lift his shield

and wield a sword: he kept his word

that he would pierce and parry before his prince.

Then Byrhtnoth began to marshal his men.

He rode about and advised, he told his men

how they should stand firm, not yielding an inch,

he bade them grasp their shields in their hands

tightly and upright, and not be afraid. -

After he had urged on his army to the utmost,

he dismounted with his escort at a carefully chosen place

where he knew his most faithful men were waiting.

Then a Viking spokesman stood on the river bank

and bellowed a message from the seafarers

to Byrhtnoth, the earl, on the opposite bank.

‘The brave seafarers have sent me to say to you

that they will be so good as to let you give gold rings

in return for peace. It is better for you

to buy off our raid with tribute than that we,

so cruel, should cut you down in battle. We need not

destroy one another. If you agree to this,

we’ll settle for peace in exchange for gold.

If you, most mighty over there, '

wisely decide to disband your men,

giving money for peace to the seafarers

on their own terms, and make a truce,

we’ll take to the sea with the tribute you pay

and keep our promise of peace.’

Then Byrhtnoth spoke. He grasped his shield

and brandished his slender ashen spear,

resentful and resolute he shouted his reply:

‘Can you hear, you pirate, what these people say? i

They will pay you a tribute of whistling spears,

of deadly darts and proven swords, ,

weapons to pay you, pierce, slit

and slay you in the storm of battle.

Listen, messenger! Take back this reply:

break the bitter news to your people

that a noble earl and his troop stand over here - p

guardians of the people and of the country, the home T

of Ethelred, my prince — who will defend this land ~

to the last ditch. We’ll sever the heathens’ heads 5

from their shoulders. We would be shamed greatly

if you took our tribute and embarked without battle ~ j

since you’ve barged so far and brazenly into this country.

No! You’ll not get your treasure so easily.

The spear’s point and sword’s edge, savage battle-play,

must teach us first that we have to yield tribute.’

Then Byrhtnoth gave word that all his warriors

should walk with their shields to the river bank.

The troop on either side could not get at the other

for there the flood flowed after the turn of the tide;

the Water streams ran together. They thought it

too long before they were able to clash their spears.

The East-Saxons and the Ship-army. _

beset the River Panta in proud array.

And yet no warrior could injure another

except by the flight of a feathered arrow.

The tide ebbed; the pirates stood ready,

many bold Vikings eager for battle.

Then Byrhtnoth, guardian of his men, ordered

a warrior to defend the ford; he was Wulfstan -

Ceola’s son — the bravest of brave kin;

with his spear he pierced the first seafarer

who stepped, unflinching, on to the ford.

Two proven warriors stood with Wulfstan,

Elfere and Maccus, both brave men.

Nothing could have forced them to take flight

at the ford. They would have defended it

for as long as they could wield their weapons.

When they saw that, and found the guardians

of the ford too fierce for their liking,

the hateful strangers began to use guile

. and asked if they could cross,

leading their warriors over the water.

Then, in foolhardy pride, the earl allowed

those hateful people access to the ford.

The son of Byrhthelm began to call out

across the cold water (the warriors listened):

‘Now the way is clear for you. Come over to us quickly,

warriors to the slaughter. God alone can say

who will control the field of battle.’

Then the slaughter-wolves, the horde of Vikings,

waded to the west across the River Panta;

the seafarers hoisted their shields on high

and carried them over the gleaming water.

Byrhtnoth and his warriors awaited them,

ready for battle: he ordered his men

to form a shield-wall and to stand firm

against the enemy. Then the battle,

with its chance of glory, was about to begin.

The time had come for all the doomed men

to fall in the fight. The clamour began;

the ravens wheeled and the eagle circled overhead,

craving for carrion; there was shouting on earth.

They sent their spears, hard as files,

and darts, ground sharp, flying from their hands. s

Bow strings were busy, shield parried point,

bitter was the battle. Brave men fell

on both sides, youths choking in the dust.

Byrhtnoth’s sister’s son, Wulfmair, was wounded;

slashed by the sword, he chose to sleep

on the bed of death. His slaughter

was avenged, the Vikings were repaid in kind.

I was told that Eadweard swung his sword

so savagely —- a full-blooded blow —

that a fated warrior fell lifeless at his feet.

Byrhtnoth shouted out his thanks to him,

his chamberlain, as soon as he had a chance to do so.

Thus the brave men stood firm in battle,

each sought eagerly to be first in

with his spear, winning the life and weapons

of a doomed warrior; the dead sank to the earth. _

But the rest stood unshaken and Byrhtnoth spurred them on,

bade each of the warriors give thought to brave deeds

who wished to gain glory against the Danes.

Then the brave warrior raised his spear,

gripped his shield and stepped towards a seafarer; T

thus the brave earl advanced on the churl;

each had evil designs on the other.

The Viking was the quicker - he hurled his foreign spear

wounding the lord of the warriors.

Byrhtnoth broke the shaft on the edge of his shield;

the imbedded spear-head sprang out of his wound.

Then he flung his spear in fury at the proud Viking

who dared inflict such pain. His aim was skilful.

The spear split open the warrior’s neck.

Thus Byrhtnoth put paid to his enemy’s life.

Then he swiftly hurled a second spear

which burst the Viking’s breastplate, wounding him cruelly

in the chest; the deadly point pierced his heart.

The brave earl, Byrhtnoth, was delighted at this;

he laughed out loud and gave thanks to the Lord

that such good fortune had been granted to him.

But one of the seafarers sent a sharp javelin

speeding from his hand; it pierced the body

of earl Byrhtnoth, Ethelred’s brave thane.

By his side stood a young warrior,

Wulfmzer by name, \Vulfstan’s son,

a stripling in the fight, who full boldly

drew out the blood-red javelin from Byrhtnoth’s side;

he sent the tempered weapon flying back again;

the sharp point struck home; the Viking who had injured

his prince so grievously sank to the ground.

Then a seafarer bore down on the earl,

"he had it in mind to snatch away his treasures -

his armour and rings and ornamented sword.

Byrhtnoth drew out his sword from its sheath,

broad—faced and gleaming, and slashed at his corselet,

but one of the seafarers stopped him all too soon,

he destroyed the earl Byrhtnoth’s arm. .

The golden-hilted sword dropped from his hand.

He could hold it no longer, nor wield

a weapon of any kind. Then still the old warrior

spoke these words, encouraged the warriors,

called on his brave companions to do battle again.

He no longer stood firmly on his feet

but swayed, and raised his eyes to heaven:

‘O Guardian of the people, let me praise and thank you

for all the joys I have known in this world.

Now, gracious Lord, as never before, '

I need Your grace, that my soul may set out

on its journey to You, O Prince of Angels,

' that my soul may depart into Your power in peace.

I pray that the devils may never destroy it.’

Then the heathens hewed him down

and the two men who stood supporting him;

lfnoth and Wulfmwr fell to the dust,

both gave their lives in defence of their lord.

Then certain cowards beat a hasty retreat:

the sons of Odda were the first to take flight;

Godric fled from the battle, forsaking Byrhtnoth.

Forgetting how often his lord had given him

the gift of a horse, he leaped into the saddle

of his lord’s own horse, most unlawfully,

and both his brothers, Godwine and Godwig,

galloped beside him; forgetting their duty 4

they turned from the fight and headed for the forest,

they fled to that fastness and saved their lives.

And more men followed than was at all right

had they remembered the former rewards

that the prince had given them, generous gifts. —

It was just as Offa once said to Byrhtnoth

at an open council in the meeting place,

that many who spoke proudly of their prowess

would prove unworthy of their words under battle-stress. i

So Ethelred’s earl, the prince of those people,

fell; all his hearth-companions could see

for themselves that their lord lay low.

Then the proud thanes went forth there,

the brave men hastened eagerly:

they all wished, then, for one of two things -

to avenge their lord or to leave this world.

Then the son of lfric, a warrior young in winters,

chose his words and urged them on;

lfwine said (and he spoke bravely):

‘Think of all the times we boasted

at the mead-bench, heroes in the hall

predicting our own bravery in battle.

Now we shall see who meant what he said.

I will make known my ancestry to one and all:

I come from a mighty family of Mercian stock;

my grandfather was Ealhelm, a wise ealdorman,

well endowed with worldly riches.

No thanes shall ever reproach me amongst the people

with any desire to desert this troop

and hurry home, now that my prince has been hewn down

in battle. This is the most bitter sorrow of all.

He was my kinsman and my lord.’

Then he went forward into the fight

and pierced a pirate’s body with his spear.

The man keeled over, dead, killed

by lfwine’s weapon. Again he urged

T. his friends and companions to go forward.

Offa spoke and brandished his ash-spear:

H ‘You, lfwine, have spurred all the thanes

as is needed. Now that our prince

is slain, the earl on the earth,

we must all incite one another

to fight, for as long as we can wield

our weapons, pierce with our spears,

and lunge and parry with our swords.

Godric, the cowardly son of Odda, has betrayed us all.

When he rode on the horse, the proud steed,

all too many men thought it was our lord;

and so they followed him, and here on the field

the shield-wall was broken: may fortune frown on him

whose cowardice has caused this catastrophe.’

Then Leofsunu spoke. He raised his shield

for protection, and replied to Offa:

‘I give you my word that I will not retreat

so much as one foot, but I will go forward

and avenge my lord in battle.

Now that he has fallen in the fight

no loyal warrior living at Sturmere

need reproach me for returning home lordless

in unworthy retreat, for the weapon shall take me,

the iron sword.’ He strode forward angrily,

and fought bravely; he spurned escape.

Then Dunnere spoke and shook his spear;

a lowly churl, he cried out loud

and asked every man to avenge Byrhtnoth’s death:

‘Whoever intends to avenge our prince

must not flinch, nor care for his own life.’

Then they hurried forward, heedless of their lives;

the brave followers, fiercely carrying spears,

fought with great courage and prayed

to God that they should be allowed to avenge

their lord by killing all his enemies.

The hostage helped them with all his might -

his name was scferth, the son of Ecglaf;

he came of a brave family in Northumbria.

He did not flinch in the battle-play

but fired arrows as fast as he could.

Sometimes he hit a shield, sometimes he pierced a man,

again and again he inflicted wounds

for as long as he could hold a bow in his hands.

Eadweard the tall, eager and ready,

did not stray from the line of battle. He boasted

that he would not shrink so much as a footstep,

or seek safety by flight, now that his lord lay dead.

He smashed the shield-wall, and attacked the seafarers

until he worthily avenged his ring-giver’s death.

He sold his life dearly in the storm of battle.

So did theric, a stalwart companion;

eager and thrusting, he fought fiercely.

The brother of Sibyrht, both he and many others -

split the hollow shields and warded off the seafarers.

The corner of the shield broke and the corselet sang

a terrible song. Then in the fight

Offa struck a seafarer; he fell to the earth.

But the kinsman of Gadd was killed there too,

Offa was quickly brought down in the battle.

Yet he had kept his promise to his prince

just as he once boasted to his ring-giver,

that they should both ride to the stronghold,

return home uninjured, or both fall in battle,

bleeding from wounds on the field of slaughter.

He lay near his lord as befits a thane.

Then shields were shattered; the seafarers surged forward,

embittered by bloodshed. Often a spear

sank into the body of a fated warrior. Then Wistan advanced,

the son of Thurstan; he fought with the Vikings,

slew three in the struggling throng

before he, Wigelm’s brave son, was himself brought down.

That was a savage fight; the warriors stood firm

in the struggle. Strong men fell,

drained by wounds; the dead dropped to the earth.

The brothers Oswold and Eadweard

continuously encouraged the companions;

they urged their kinsmen to use

their weapons without slackening

and endure the stress to the best of their strength. \

Byrhtwold grasped his shield and spoke.

  He was an old companion. He brandished his ash-spear

and most boldly urged on the warriors:

‘Mind must be the firmer, heart the more fierce,

courage the greater, as our strength diminishes.

Here lies our leader, hewn down,

an heroic man in the dust.

He who now longs to escape will lament for ever.

I am old. I will not go from here,

but I mean to lie by the side of my lord,

lie in the dust with the man I loved so dearly.’

Godric, too, the son of thelgar, gave them heart

to continue the fight. Often he let fly his spear,

his deadly javelin, at the Vikings

as he advanced at the head of the host.

He humbled and hewed down until at last he fell himself;

he was not the Godric who escaped from the fight. . . .