David Slavitt reads

from The Battle of Maldon

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The bold one, Byrhtnoth,     raised up his weapon
and set his shield     to stride toward a soldier,
the earl to the churl     and each meaning evil.
That seaman marauder     hurled his southern spear
and wounded was     the warriors’ lord.
Byrhtnoth banged the shaft,     shaking it free
and stabbed with the spear-point     its Viking owner,
giving him back     the bite of its wound.
Skillful was Byrhtnoth     and he struck with his lance,
hitting the Viking     and piercing his-neck
and in that quick thrust     reaching his life.
He turned to another     and hurled at this Viking
that lance that landed     and pierced through his chain mail
the hard point     hitting his heart.
Elated, the earl,     the valiant victor,
laughed aloud     and gave thanks to his God.
for the work of the day,     the deitys grant.
But one Viking then     loosed from his hand
a javelin striking    Aethelred’s noble thane,
Byrhtnoth, and biting     into his body.
Hard by his side     a fledgling fighter,
Wulfstane’s son     the young Wulfmaer
drew from his lord     the bloodied spear
and flung it forward    back at that Viking
to get him for getting     the lad’s -lord.
This strike was successful     and the Viking lay down dying.
Came then another     Viking marauder
up to the earl     to harvest rich pickings,
rings and armor     and patterned sword.
But Byrhtnoth could draw     his blade from its scabbard
to strike at that sailor     and would have, but one
of the cutthroat’s comrades     hit the earl’s arm
and rendered it useless.     His biting blade then
fell to the earth,     for Byrhtnoth could no more
hold the weapon’s weight.     Still, he could speak,
that white-haired war man,     to encourage his people
and urge them onward.     His legs were unsteady
and footing uncertain,     as the hero to heaven
spoke his last words:     “I give you my thanks,
O King of Kings,     for all my achievements
in this life I have lived.     Now, my king Maker,
I ask a last favor,     that you may admit me
into your high domain.     Lord of the Angels,
grant peaceful passage     and hear my petition
that the demons of hell     not snare my spirit.”
Then heathen men hacked him     and his two companions,
Ælfnoth and Wulfmaer     who had stood beside him
and, along with their lord,     they too gave their lives.

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