Eddic poem about the Battle of Hastings.
Hwaet! His fair name Harold do we hail, highest of the hlafords, our heahcyning.
Honored the oath-keepers all, offered rings to bind the oath.
Wyrd wove him into those ways; War and weeping were his lot.
Edward had no aetheling, Left no lord to the land.
No cyning, that Confessor, flooding the fords with fighting.
Too sound was his sleeping, that no sunu was seen.
Aefaest at the altar, lifeless in his loins.
What honor has an ealdor, A king without his kinsmen?
Edward's realm, the ring-giver Rising strength, the ruler
Harold held his army As enemies swarmed in.
Harold called Hardrada, Hailed from the giant's home.
Set his sight across the sea, on wave-steed came to Wodensland.
Tostig turned the traitor to take his brother's title.
Sword's sweat dripped where land met sea, Struck swift and true for Sigurdsson.
Flanks were secured at Fulford, Flanked to the right of Fordlands.
From the South, the Saxons Swung first, striking their swordsmen.
The line loosened, but let none through Harold held hope, huscarls at hand.
Regrouped to the river as ravens rushed in for the rebels.
More men murdered, meant nothing As Godwinson gave ground.
The third front thirsted for their blood. The defenders were defeated.
Silent as a shadow, Harold took Hardrada.
Hanged god, from his gallows, Gave Harold his headland of swords.
The Saxons were circled, surrounded, but butchered Norse until they crossed the bridge.
Their trailing was tempered. There, an ax-man turned to tarry.
Flooded the fields with the wound-sea. Forty men he fought and slayed.
Beneath the bridge, a blood-worm Broke the brave man's boldness.
To Tostig and his new thane The true king took his battle.
Sigurdsson held a shield-wall Standing against the Saxons.
The lines clashed, collided, Locking shields, striking with spears,
Thinning out their troops. Traitors taken without armor,
Tossed to the field for ravens. For hours they fought.
So many slain, Sigurdsson among them.
And the traitor, Tostig, Slain in the spear-din.
Mead for their mettle, his men, Made to meet in battle.
Cauldron-liquid filled their cups; In their cups, found courage.
Harold held his head high, heard tales of the heroes.
Men, so many, filled with mead Make oaths without meaning.
Wine was their fill, their weregild, like water for the war hawks.
Heaven's wheel had yet to hail When Harold heard the horn-call.
Bold men, battle-worn, battered, blood-soaked,
Hilt in hand, held the ridge, their home.
Swords shine in sunlight, slaying past sundown.
bucklers between them, bound to the breaker of rings.
Came forward, clashed, for crows to feast.
Dawn brought the dew, called battle-sweat,
Flowing freely silent as the sunrise.
we waited for the war-horn Together to the apple tree.
Not whole, our number, sent notice: “Fearless fighters, to the fore.
Sun's span twice past, twice came twilight.
So spanned the stillness, Before the bloodshed.
First to the field, to the fore, Fearless, fighting the frenzy.
Shield wall stayed solid, Swords swung by strongest arms.
Bold was their behavior; boldly they bled.
The words were wind as William, Rode up the ridge, his claim be reaped.
Fearless until fallen, Fortune not their favor,
Shattering spears, Saxons, swinging swords,
In faith to their ealdor, experts with their axes.
Ridge's roadway they retained There, by the trees, teeth ruddy tinted
Firmly held spears, crafted finely Shoulder to shoulder, single-minded,
Valor unmatched, courageous champions.
Without fear, their wall, without weakness
Holding as the hounds came, Stallions dead for show.
First to the field, Golden-haired and glory-bound,
Huscarls with helmets, hauberks, for Harold,
Skilled with their shields Rushing blood like rain.
Few were their years; vicious their fight. Pressing hard, their line planted.
Deep in their defenses, drenched in the dew,
Slaying past the sunset, swan's song under the stars.
Breaking spears and shields to bits, Before they were cut down like beasts.
First to the field, songs for the blood you spilled.
Quiet and kind; courage without cost;
Your heart, fearless and young, Filled with Harold's love.
Slaying for a song, dying for distinction,
So close they stood; no swords would swing.
Arrows from above, even this endured.
Man and mare metal murdered.
Honor the highest, Bold clashing in battle,
sinking into silence. The sortie slipped, was seen;
soldiers sought them, soon were slain.
Right flank ran to them, rushed to the hills.
Unseen by armies, in the hills, red marked their graves.
Fierce hearts are foolish, sure to fail.
North now, the ridge was naked, bare.
Still they stood, shields busted, spears shattered; Still they stood, under the stars, still fighting.
Diademed, deemed worthy of duty,
loss became his lot, our lord, our leader.
Fallen from arrow fire, faced by his foes,
Fair flower picked from the field, From the field into the fire.
Long live his praise, his legacy, Lost in long-forgotten lands.
Hwaet: (Old English) listen
Harold Godwinson: The last of the Anglo-Saxon kings before the Norman Conquest.
Edward: Edward the Confessor. He died without having a son, leaving men to fight over who had the right to rule.
Harold Sigurdsson/Hardrada: A Norse king and one of the men contesting Harold Godwinson's rule.
Tostig: Harold Godwinson's brother. He teamed up with Hardrada but ultimately died in the fight to take his brother's throne.
Hlafords: (Old English) lords
heahcyning: (Old English) high king.
Wyrd: (Anglo-Saxon) Fate.
Aetheling: (Old English) prince.
Cyning: (Old English) king
sunu: (Old English) son
Aefaest: (Old English) holy; righteous
ealdor: (Old English) king
giant's home: Norway
Wodensland: England. Woden is the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Odin.
Sword's sweat: blood
Hanged god: Odin.
headland of swords: shield; protection.
weregild: (Old English) blood payment. Usually a fine a man pays after killing another man's family.
war hawks: ravens
Heaven's wheel: the Sun
breaker of rings: king
swan's song: battle
Edith de Brereton
This work is eddic poetry, a type of Germanic poetry. Its theme is a heroic retelling of a historical battle, with praise elements directed at a historical leader who perished in the battle. The theme and devices in the poem are consistent with period pieces, though I wrote the poem in modern English.
Skaldic poetry, though there are several forms, follows a set of rules which are shared across all forms of Germanic poetry.
Alliteration: Also called “initial rhyme”. This is a requirement of Germanic verse. Important words in the half-line will alliterate, and half-lines, the basic unit of Germanic verse, are paired together by alliteration. Any vowel alliterates with any other vowel. For a period example of this, take lines 2 and 3 from “Cædmon's Hymn”, written in England in the 7th century:
“Metodes meahta and his modgeþanc / weorc Wuldor-Fæder, swa he wundra gehwæs.”
Here we see that line 2 is paired together by alliteration of the letter m, while line 3 is paired by the letter w.
Stress: In Germanic poetry, the half-lines tend to have a certain number of stressed and unstressed syllables. More complex forms like drottkvaett have rules about which syllables are stressed and which are unstressed, as well as how many syllables can go in each line, but the majority of poems we find both in Snorri's Prose Edda and eddic poetry are not so strict. There are still different types of meter which may act as a guideline. Old Lore Meter, or Fornyrdislag, has two to three unstressed syllables per half-line. Speech Meter, or Malahattr, has four to five unstressed syllable per half-line. For this reason, poems written in strictly speech meter would have longer lines than those using strictly lore meter. Many poems will use both.
Stress becomes a challenge, especially when writing more restrictive forms like drottkvaett, when we write them in modern English. Old Norse and Old English both stressed the first syllables of the words they used, whereas we tend to stress the second (which is why iambic pentameter can flow so nicely). Therefore, the natural flow of a poem written in modern English may be different than if the same poem were translated into Old Norse.
Stanzas: Not all Germanic verse was divided into stanzas. Eddic poetry like Beowulf was not stanzaic, but Norse poetry is. Being a longer poem with multiple stanzas means that a poem is either a flokkur or a drapa. The difference is that a drapa has a refrain and a flokkur has none. My poem is a flokkur. I like the feel of the drapa because I feel that the refrain ties the poem together well and brings the reader (or, in period, the listener) back to a consistent theme, but I didn't have a suitable refrain, so I chose a flokkur.
When I began writing this poem, I wanted to write a heroic piece. I had been reading two pieces of heroic (though not necessarily skaldic) poetry, The Battle of Maldon and Y Gododdin. The Battle of Maldon is an Old English poem that focuses on the Anglo-Saxons battling the Vikings. The poem is a battle poem to the core, and it makes numerous mentions of men fighting bravely against the foe. Here are some examples:
“They heard him shout,
Send o'er the tide the taunt of the pirates;
Hailing the earl, he hurled this challenge...”
“Strode the battle-wolves bold through the water;
West over Panta waded the pirates;
Carried their shields o'er the shining waves;
Safely their lindenwoods landed the sailors.”
From this I took my theme. I wondered which battle I might write about, and settled on the Battle of Hastings, where the English were defeated by the Normans. I wrote about the men fighting, about how, despite being outnumbered, they held out through the night against men mounted on horses until they were overwhelmed. Later I added in earlier events, from the beginning of Harold's rule to the end.
There are many similarities between The Battle of Maldon and my poem. The most basic one is the theme; both focus on a battle that was fought bravely by the Saxons and still ended in defeat. Both mention battle with the Vikings. The battle against the Vikings in The Battle of Maldon even features a bridge:
“Defended the bridge, and fought with the boldest,
As long as their hands could lift a sword.”
Beyond that, this verse is a testament to what the men in the poem – the heroes – achieved. They were bold. They fought as long as they were physically able to fight. While the style is different (I was hoping to mimic the shorter lines of Old Lore Meter), I hoped to do the same thing when I wrote lines like this:
“Bold men, battle-worn,
Hilt in hand,
retained the ridge.”
“Still they stood, shields busted, spears shattered;
Still they stood, under the stars, still fighting.”
There were verses in The Battle of Maldon that mentioned the intensity of the fighting.
“ Shield against shield, to shatter the enemy.
Near was the battle, now for the glory,
Now for the death of the doomed in the field.
Swelled the war-cry, circled the ravens.”
This really feels vivid, and it takes you into the battle and makes you ever more aware of the bravery these men had. I tried to add in details about the battle.
“So close they stood; no swords would swing.
Arrows from above,
even this endured.
Man and mare metal murdered.”
“Sigurdsson held a shield-wall
Standing against the Saxons.
The lines clashed, collided,
Locking shields, striking with spears,
Thinning out their troops.
Traitors taken without armor,
Tossed to the field for ravens.
For hours they fought.
So many slain,
Sigurdsson among them.”
Both poems make mention of ravens. This is not exclusive to these poems, as ravens were commonly associated with death in battle. They were a common symbol, and so it would be inappropriate to not mention ravens feasting on the fallen.
I feel that The Battle of Maldon focuses less on a single man than my poem, but I notice that there are signs of loyalty to a thane and grief when the heroic leaders fall:
“Killed in conflict and covered with wounds;
He lay by his lord, a loyal thane.”
“Here lies in his blood our leader and comrade,
The brave on the beach. Bitter shall rue it
Who turns his back on the battle-field now.
Here I stay; I am stricken and old;
My life is done; I shall lay me down
Close by my lord and comrade.”
When I wrote about Harold, I was going off of the period assumption that he was cut down savagely in battle. There was a poem written within a few years of the Battle of Hastings, called Carmen De Hastingae Proelio (“The Song of the Battle of Hastings”) which said that all William did was “remove the heads of the flowers”. And so I took that sentiment, which I'm sure was common at the time after the battle, and incorporated it into my own poem:
“Fair flower picked from the field,
From the field into the fire.”
While I've mostly mentioned The Battle of Maldon, there are plenty of poems with a historical focus. Konunga sogur was a collection of about 1270 stanzas about Icelandic kings. Landnamabok was a saga about bishops; Islendingadrapa is about Icelanders; Jomsvikingadrapa is about Jomsvikingar. In addition, kings would often commission skalds to write poems to praise their great deeds. In Old English mead halls, heroic tales were passed around by scops. I feel confident when I say that my subject matter is period.
I tried to add in additional Norse/Old English ideas to give the poem a more period feel. For starters, I put in a few Old English words. Then, I took the idea that the king was favored by the gods and mentioned Odin, the “Hanged god, from his gallows,” in reference to the days Odin spent hanging from a tree. A medieval Norse audience would clue into this. I also called England “Wodensland”, in reference to the Saxon god Woden. I introduced the English idea of destiny and wrote things like “Wyrd had woven his last thread” and “fortune was not their favor”. One way of thinking of wyrd (or fate) was as a thread being woven into a tapestry, so I thought I would incorporate it in.
I made sure to use kennings in my poem. Many of them were period. For example, “battle sweat” was used in Beowulf; “headland of swords” is used in Glymdrápa; “hanged god” and “lord of the gallows” are common names of Odin; “battle sweat” was used in Beowulf. Since these were written down, I thought that they would be familiar to a medieval audience and therefore used them.
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