X. J. Kennedy reads

The Battle of Finnsburh: a fragment

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…”Are this hall’s gables burning?”
Then King Hnaef answered,      though callow in battle,
“That glow is not dawn,      nor a dragon in flight,
nor are this hall’s horns,       its high gables burning.
It’s our foes in bright armor       preparing attack
Birds shall scream, gray wolf howl,      and war’s wooden spears rattle,
shield shall stand up to shaft.      Now behold:  the moon shines
as it wanders through coulds.      Deadly deeds are to follow
from this host who hate us.      Hard struggle impends,
Awake!  Take up linden-wood shields,      my good soldiers!
Now muster your bravery,      gird up your minds
to be dauntless today      at the forefront of battle.”
Then up rose those thanes clad in gold,      strapped on sword-belts.
great Eaha and Sigeferth      strode to the door
with drawn swords, to the other door      Ordlaf and Guthlaf
did spring, and with Hengest      himself close behind.

At the sight of their foes      Guthere pled with Garulf,
“Do not rush to the fore      in the very first onslaught
on the doors of the hall      at the cost of your life,
from which powerful Sigeferth      means to undo you.”
Yet Garulf the gallant      to the hall-holders boldly
called out his demand,      “What man holds the door?”
“I am Sigeferth,” said he,      “a prince of the Secgan,
a wandering warrior      known the world wide
for my many fierce combats.      Your fate now awaits you,
my hand shall deliver      whatever you want.”
Then in the hall burst      clash and clatter of battle,
with shields shaped like ships      that a warrior wields.
The sound of swords clanging      shook planks in the floor.
Then at the door Garulf      was first man to fall,
Garulf, son of Guthlaf,      the foremost of Frisians
died surrounded by good men      while dark overheard
you would think from their flash      Finnsburh were all aflame.
I have never heard tell      of warriors more worthy
than that band sixty strong      who so bravely bore
war’s brunt, nor of any      who so well repaid
those cups of sweet mead      Hnaef gave to his guards.
For five days they fought,      not a man of them toppled
but fearless, united,      held fast at the doors.
Then one warrior, wounded,      withdrew to the sidelines,
his armor in tatters,      breastplate split apart,
his helmet impaled.      And the folk’s stout defender
asked that weary warrior      how the wounded fared
and which of the young men…

Listen to John HIll read “The Battle of Finnsburh” 
in its original Old English
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