Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"The Battle of Finnsburh," translated by X. J. Kennedy

The Battle of Finnsburh: a fragment

Original text in Old English:

                        . . . “næs byrnað?”
Hnaef hleoþrode ða,           heaþogeong cyning:
“Ne ðis ne dagað eastan,             ne her draca ne fleogeð,
ne her ðisse healle             hornas ne byrnað.
Ac her forþ berað;             fugelas singað,              5
gylleð græghama,             guðwudu hlynneð,
scyld scefte oncwyð.             Nu scyneð þes mona
waðol under wolcnum.             Nu arisað weadæda
ðe ðisne folces nið             fremman willað.
Ac onwacnigeað nu,             wigend mine,              10
habbað eowre linda,             hicgeaþ on ellen,
winnað on orde,             wesað onmode!”
ða aras mænig goldhladen ðegn,             gyrde hine his swurde.
ða to dura eodon             drihtlice cempan,
Sigeferð and Eaha,             hyra sword getugon,             15
and æt oþrum durum            Ordlaf and Guþlaf,
and Hengest sylf             hwearf him on laste.
ða git Garulf            Guðere styrde
ðæt he swa freolic feorh            forman siþe
to ðære healle durum            hyrsta ne bære,              20
nu hyt niþa heard            anyman wolde,
ac he frægn ofer eal            undearninga,
deormod hæleþ,             hwa ða duru heolde.
“Sigeferþ is min nama,” cweþ he,             “ic eom Secgena leod,
wreccea wide cuð;             fæla ic weana gebad,              25
heardra hilda.             ðe is gyt her witod
swæþer ðu sylf to me             secean wylle.”
ða wæs on healle            wælslihta gehlyn;
sceolde cellod bord             cenum on handa,
banhelm berstan             (buruhðelu dynede),              30
oð æt ðære guðe             Garulf gecrang,
ealra ærest            eorðbuendra,
Guðlafes sunu,             ymbe hyne godra fæla,
hwearflicra hræw.             Hræfn wandrode,
sweart and sealobrun.             Swurdleoma stod,              35
swylce eal Finnsburuh             fyrenu wære.
Ne gefrægn ic næfre wurþlicor            æt wera hilde
sixtig sigebeorna             sel gebæran,
ne nefre swetne medo            sel forgyldan
ðonne Hnæfe guldan             his hægstealdas.             40
Hig fuhton fif dagas,             swa hyra nan ne feol
drihtgesiða,             ac hig ða duru heoldon.
ða gewat him wund hæleð             on wæg gangan,
sæde þæt his byrne            abrocen wære,
heresceorp unhror,             and eac wæs his helm ðyrel.              45
ða hine sona frægn             folces hyrde,
hu ða wigend hyra             wunda genæson,
oððe hwæþer ðæra hyssa

Modern English translation by X. J. Kennedy:

               . . . “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 clouds.      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 overhead
the black ravens circled.      Men’s blades blazed so brightly
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 . . .

Source of the text - The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation, edited by Greg Delanty and Michael Matto.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011, pp. 126-129.

TJB: Portal combat. Attuned to dialogue, battle-sound similes & the glint on arms & armor, the poet elevates his matter with pitch-perfect lines.

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