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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Fight at Maldon

By Anglo-Saxon Literature

Translation of James Mercer Garnett

[The Anglo-Saxons under Byrhtnoth are drawn up on one side of Panta stream, the Northmen on the other. The herald of the Northmen demands tribute. Byrhtnoth replies.]

THEN stood on the stathe, stoutly did call,

The wikings’ herald, with words he spake,

Who boastfully bore from the brine-farers

An errand to th’ earl, where he stood on the shore:—

“To thee me did send the seamen snell,

Bade to thee say, thou must send to them quickly

Bracelets for safety; and ’tis better for you

That ye this spear-rush with tribute buy off

Than we in so fierce a fight engage.

We need not each spill, if ye speed to this:

We will for the pay a peace confirm.

If thou that redest, who art highest in rank,

If thou to the seamen at their own pleasure

Money for peace, and take peace from us,

We will with the treasure betake us to ship,

Fare on the flood, and peace with you confirm.”

Byrhtnoth replied, his buckler uplifted,

Waved his slim spear, with words he spake,

Angry and firm gave answer to him:—

“Hear’st thou, seafarer, what saith this folk?

They will for tribute spear-shafts you pay,

Poisonous points and trusty swords,

Those weapons that you in battle avail not.

Herald of seamen, hark back again,

Say to thy people much sadder words:—

Here stands not unknown an earl with his band,

Who will defend this father-land,

Æthelred’s home, mine own liege lord’s,

His folk and field; ye’re fated to fall,

Ye heathen, in battle. Too base it me seems

That ye with our scats to ship may go

Unfought against, so far ye now hither

Into our country have come within;

Ye shall not so gently treasure obtain;

Shall spear and sword sooner beseem us,

Grim battle-play, ere tribute we give.”

[The Northmen, unable to force a passage, ask to be allowed to cross and fight it out on an equal footing. Byrhtnoth allows this.]

“Now room is allowed you, come quickly to us,

Warriors to war; wot God alone

Who this battle-field may be able to keep.”

Waded the war-wolves, for water they recked not,

The wikings’ band west over Panta,

O’er the clear water carried their shields,

Boatmen to bank their bucklers bore.

There facing their foes ready were standing

Byrhtnoth with warriors: with shields he bade

The war-hedgel work, and the war-band hold

Fast ’gainst the foes. Then fight was nigh,

Glory in battle; the time was come

That fated men should there now fall.

Then outcry was raised, the ravens circled,

Eagle eager for prey; on earth was uproar.

Then they let from their fists the file-hardened spears,

The darts well-ground, fiercely fly forth:

The bows were busy, board point received,

Bitter the battle-rush, warriors fell down,

On either hand the youths lay dead.