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”
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