Rachel Hadas reads

Maxims II

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A king must reign over his realm.
From a distance cities loom,
Built by giants, hewn from stone.
Wind is fleetest; thunder roars
When it is thunder’s time of year.
 Chris’s power is great;
 Strongest is Fate.
Winter is coldest. Spring brings rime
And stays chill for the longest time.
Summer is rich with the sun’s heat;
Bounteous autumn pours forth fruit,
The harvest that God sends to men.
On truth do not at all depend.
Treasure is precious, costly gold;
The man who knows the most is old,
Schooled by years now in the past.
Grief clutches us and holds us fast.
Clouds roll on. A fledgling prince
Must learn two things from his good friends:
How to make war and how to share
Out his wealth. A warrior
Must have courage; a sword must seek
Battle, and clash against a helm.
The hawk, wild creature, has to learn
To perch on a glove. The wolf, alone,
Must lurk within a forest glade.
Safe in the strength his tusks provide,
The boar must dwell within the wood. 
A good man in his own land
Must win his honor. IN the hand
The javelin fits, spear rich with gold.
A gem on a ring stands bright and bold.
A river must flow into the sea;
On a ship a mast must stay
Upright. A sword in the lap must lie,
As in its barrow the dragon, sly,
Guarding its hoard. Fish must spawn.
In his high hall the king must share
Out rings to all. The aged bear
Must live on the heath, a thing to fear.
Gushing with foam, downhill the river
Must flow. Men must stick together, 
Each in the band a glory seeker.
To the truth the warrior must cleave,
Mortals to wisdom. Trees must bear leaves
And flowers. Green the hill must stand,
Firmly rooted in the land.
 Heaven is God’s house
 Who judges us.
Every hall must have a door,
Mouth of the building. A shield must bear
A boss to keep the fingers safe.
A bird must freely fly aloft.
Deep in a pool salmon must swim, 
Glide with the trout. Wind stirs a storm
Out of the welkin down to earth.
The thief must walk in dirty weather.
In lonely mashes dwells the monster.
A maid must see her lover on the sly,
Lest people pay her dowry
With rings. Salt swells the roiling sea.
Everywhere might streams must flow
With tide and cloud and winds that blow.
Cattle must breed and multiply;
The star must shine bright in teh sky
As God ordained. Evil fights good;
Youth struggles with decrepitude;
Life against death, light against gloom,
One army against another one.
Enemy with enemy contends,
Struggling together over land,
Blaming each other for spilt blood.
On these wars a sage must brood.
The criminal must expiate his crime,
Hanged for the damage he has done.
Where do souls go? The Lord alone
Knows the destination
Of those who die and go to God,
Awaiting judgment’s final word.
Of God’s creation none can tell,
Where the conquering heroes dwell,
And God dwells too. No man comes back
To tell us here what Heaven’s like.

Listen to John Niles read “Maxims II” 
in its original Old English