The Project Gutenberg eBook, Old English Poems, by Various, Translated by Cosette Faust Newton and Stith Thompson

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: Old English Poems

Translated into the Original Meter Together with Short Selections from Old English Prose

Author: Various

Release Date: February 3, 2010 [eBook #31172]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8



E-text prepared by Carla Foust, Stephen Hutcheson,
and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team













Copyright, 1918
By Scott, Foresman and Company




Widsith 15
Deor’s Lament 26
Waldhere 29
The Fight at Finnsburg 34
1. Charm for Bewitched Land 38
2. Charm for a Sudden Stitch 42
1. A Storm 44
2. A Storm 45
3. A Storm 46
5. A Shield 48
7. A Swan 49
8. A Nightingale 49
14. A Horn 50
15. A Badger 51
23. A Bow 52
26. A Bible 52
45. Dough 54
47. A Bookworm 54
60. A Reed 54
Exeter Gnomes 56
The Fates of Men 58
The Wanderer 62
The Seafarer 68
The Wife’s Lament 72
The Husband’s Message 75
The Ruin 78
Cædmon’s Hymn 83
Bede’s Death Song 84
Selection From Genesis—The Offering of Isaac 85
Selection From Exodus—The Crossing of the Red Sea 90
a. Cynewulf
(1) Selections from Christ 95
1. Hymn to Christ 96
2. Hymn to Jerusalem 96
3. Joseph and Mary 97
4. Runic Passage 100
(2) Selections from Elene 103
1. The Vision of the Cross 103
2. The Discovery of the Cross 105
b. Anonymous Poems of the Cynewulfian School
(1) The Dream of the Rood 108
(2) Judith 116
(3) The Phœnix 132
(4) The Grave 157
The Battle of Brunnanburg 159
The Battle of Maldon 163
Account of the Poet Cædmon 179
Alfred’s Preface to His Translation of Gregory’s “Pastoral Care” 183
Conversion of Edwin 187
Voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan 189


These selections from Old English poetry have been translated to meet the needs of that ever-increasing body of students who cannot read the poems in their original form, but who wish nevertheless to enjoy to some extent the heritage of verse which our early English ancestors have left for us. Especially in the rapid survey of English literature given in most of our colleges, a collection of translations covering the Anglo-Saxon period and reflecting the form and spirit of the original poems should add much to a fuller appreciation of the varied and rich, though uneven, literary output of our earliest singers.

In subject-matter these Old English poems are full of the keenest interest to students of history, of customs, of legend, of folk-lore, and of art. They form a truly national literature; so that one who has read them all has learned much not only of the life of the early English, but of the feelings that inspired these folk, of their hopes, their fears, and their superstitions, of their whole outlook on life. They took their poetry seriously, as they did everything about them, and often in spite of crudity of expression, of narrow vision, and of conventionalized modes of speech, this very “high seriousness” raises an otherwise mediocre poem to the level of real literature. Whatever may [6] be said of the limitations of Old English poetry, of its lack of humor, of the narrow range of its sentiments, of the imitativeness of many of its most representative specimens, it cannot be denied the name of real literature; for it is the direct expression of the civilization that gave it birth—a civilization that we must understand if we are to appreciate the characteristics of its more important descendants of our own time.

Although the contents of these poems can be satisfactorily studied in any translation, the effect of the peculiar meter that reinforces the stirring spirit of Old English poetry is lost unless an attempt is made to reproduce this metrical form in the modern English rendering. The possibility of retaining the original meter in an adequate translation was formerly the subject of much debate, but since Professor Gummere’s excellent version of Beowulf and the minor epic poems,[1] and other recent successful translations of poems in the Old English meter, there can be no question of the possibility of putting Anglo-Saxon poems into readable English verse that reproduces in large measure the effect of the original. To do this for the principal Old English poems, with the exception of Beowulf, is the purpose of the present volume.

Except for the subtlest distinctions between the types of half verse, strict Old English rules for the alliterative meter have been adhered to. These rules may be stated as follows:


1. The lines are divided into two half-lines, the division being indicated by a space in the middle.

2. The half-lines consist of two accented and a varying number of unaccented syllables. Each half-line contains at least four syllables. Occasional half-lines are lengthened to three accented syllables, possibly for the purpose of producing an effect of solemnity.

3. The two half-lines are bound together by beginning-rime or alliteration; i.e., an agreement in sound between the beginning letters of any accented syllables in the line. For example, in the line

Guthhere there gave me a goodly jewel

the g’s form the alliteration. The third accent sets the alliteration for the line and is known as the “rime-giver.” With it agree the first and the second accent, or either of them. The fourth accent must not, however, agree with the rime-giver. Occasionally the first and third accents will alliterate together and the second and fourth, as,

The weary in heart against Wyrd has no help;

or the first and fourth may have the alliteration on one letter, while the second and third have it on another, as,

Then heavier grows the grief of his heart.

These two latter forms are somewhat unusual. The standard line is that given above:

Guthhere there gave me a goodly jewel,



A hundred generations; hoary and stained with red,


With rings of gold and gilded cups.

All consonants alliterate with themselves, though usually sh, sp, and st agree only with the same combination. Vowels alliterate with one another.

In the following passage the alliterating letters are indicated by italics:

Then a band of bold knights busily gathered,

Keen men at the conflict; with courage they stepped forth,

Bearing banners, brave-hearted companions,

And fared to the fight, forth in right order,

Heroes under helmets from the holy city

At the dawning of day; dinned forth their shields

A loud-voiced alarm. Now listened in joy

The lank wolf in the wood and the wan raven,

Battle-hungry bird, both knowing well

That the gallant people would give them soon

A feast on the fated; now flew on their track

The deadly devourer, the dewy-winged eagle,

Singing his war song, the swart-coated bird,

The horned of beak.

Judith, vv. 199-212.

Besides the distinctive meter in which the Old English poems are written, there are several qualities of [9] style for which they are peculiar. No one can read a page of these poems without being struck by the parallel structure that permeates the whole body of Old English verse. Expressions are changed slightly and repeated from a new point of view, sometimes with a good effect but quite as often to the detriment of the lines. These parallelisms have been retained in the translation in so far as it has been possible, but sometimes the lack of inflectional endings in English has prevented their literal translation.

Accompanying these parallelisms, and often a part of them, are the frequent synonyms so characteristic of Old English poetry. These synonymous expressions are known as “kennings.” They are not to be thought of as occasional metaphors employed at the whim of the poet; they had, in most cases, already received a conventional meaning. Thus the king was always spoken of as “ring giver,” “protector of earls,” or “bracelet bestower.” The queen was the “weaver of peace”; the sea the “ship road,” or “whale path,” or “gannet’s bath.”

Old English poetry is conventionalized to a remarkable degree. Even those aspects of nature that the poets evidently enjoyed are often described in the most conventional of words and phrases. More than half of so fine a poem as The Battle of Brunnanburg is taken bodily from other poems. No description of a battle was complete without a picture of the birds of prey hovering over the field. Heroes were always assembling for banquets and receiving rewards of [10] rings at the hand of the king. These conventional phrases and situations, added to a thorough knowledge of a large number of old Germanic myths, constituted a great part of the equipment of the typical Old English minstrel or scop, such as one finds described in Widsith or Deor’s Lament.

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that the poems are convention and nothing more. A sympathetic reading will undoubtedly show many high poetic qualities. Serious and grave these poems always are, but they do express certain of the darker moods with a sincerity and power that is far from commonplace. At times they give vivid glimpses of the spirit of man under the blighting influence of the “dark ages.” After reading these poems, we come to understand better the pessimistic mood of the author of The Wanderer when he says,

All on earth is irksome to man.

And we see how the winsome meadows of the land of the Phœnix must by their contrast have delighted the souls of men who were harassed on every side as our ancestors were.

All of these distinguishing features of Old English poetry—the regular alliterative meter, the frequent parallelisms, the “kennings,” and the general dark outlook on life will be found illustrated in the poems selected in this book. They cover the entire period of Old English literature and embrace every “school.”

The order in which the poems are printed is in no [11] sense original, but is that followed in most standard textbooks. Naturally such artificial divisions as “Pagan” and “Christian” are inexact. The “pagan” poems are only largely pagan; the “Christian” predominatingly Christian. On the whole, the grouping is perhaps accurate enough for practical purposes, and the conformity to existing textbooks makes the volume convenient for those who wish to use it to supplement these books.

In addition to the poems, four short prose passages referred to by most historians of the literature have been included so as to add to the usefulness of the volume.

In the translation of the poems the original meaning and word-order has been kept as nearly as modern English idiom and the exigencies of the meter would allow. Nowhere, we believe, has the possibility of an attractive alliteration caused violence to be done to the sense of the poem.

The best diction to be used in such a translation is difficult to determine. The temptation is ever present to use the modern English descendant of the Anglo-Saxon word, even when it is very archaic in flavor. This tendency has been resisted, for it was desired to reproduce the effect of the original; and, though Old English poetry was conventional, it was probably not archaic: it was not out of date at the time it was written. Since the diction of these poems was usually very simple, it has been the policy of the translators to exclude all sophisticated expressions, and to retain [12] words of Germanic origin or simple words of Latin derivation that do not suggest subtleties foreign to the mind of the Old English poet.

The texts used as a standard for translation are indicated in the introductory notes to the different poems. Whenever a good critical edition of a poem has been available, it has been followed. Variations from the readings used in these texts are usually indicated where they are of any importance. In the punctuation and paragraphing of the poems, the varying usage of the different editors has been disregarded and a uniform practice adopted throughout.

Following these principles, the translators have attempted to reproduce for modern English readers the meaning and movement of the Old English originals. It is their earnest hope that something of the fine spirit that breathes through much of this poetry will be found to remain in the translation.

Cosette Faust.
Stith Thompson.

March, 1918.

[1]The Oldest English Epic, New York, 1909.




[Critical edition: R. W. Chambers, Widsith: a Study in Old English Heroic Legend. Cambridge, 1912.

Date: Probably late sixth or early seventh century.

Alliterative translation: Gummere, Oldest English Epic (1910), p. 191.

“Widsith—‘Farway’—the ideal wandering minstrel, tells of all the tribes among whom he has sojourned, of all the chieftains he has known. The first English students of the poem regarded it as autobiographical, as the actual record of his wanderings written by a scop; and were inclined to dismiss as interpolations passages mentioning princes whom it was chronologically impossible for a man who had met Ermanric to have known. This view was reduced to an absurdity by Haigh.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“The more we study the growth of German heroic tradition, the more clear does it become that Widsith and Deor reflect that tradition. They are not the actual outpourings of actual poets at the court of Ermanric or the Heodenings. What the poems sung in the court of Ermanric were like we shall never know: but we can safely say that they were unlike Widsith.... The Traveller’s tale is a fantasy of some man, keenly interested in the old stories, who depicts an ideal wandering singer, and makes him move hither and thither among the tribes and the heroes whose stories he loves. In the names of its chiefs, in the names of its tribes, and above all in its spirit, Widsith reflects the heroic age of the migrations, an age which had hardly begun in the days of Ermanric.”—Chambers, p. 4.

Lines 75, 82-84 are almost certainly interpolated. With these rejected “the poem leaves upon us,” says Chambers, “a very definite impression. It is a catalogue of the tribes and heroes of Germany, and many of these heroes, though they may have been half legendary already to the writer of the poem, are historic characters who can be dated with accuracy.”]

Note.—In the footnotes, no attempt is made to discuss peoples or persons mentioned in this poem unless they are definitely known and are of importance for an understanding of the meaning of the lines.


Widsith now spoke, his word-hoard unlocked,

He who traveled the widest among tribes of men,

Farthest among folk: on the floor he received

The rarest of gifts. From the race of the Myrgings

5 His ancestors sprang. With Ealhhild the gracious,

The fair framer of peace, for the first time

He sought the home of the Hræda king,

From the Angles in the East —of Eormanric,

Fell and faithless. Freely he spoke forth:

10 “Many a royal ruler of a realm I have known;

Every leader should live a life of virtue;

One earl after the other shall order his land,

He who wishes and works for the weal of his throne!

Of these for a while was Hwala the best,


15 But Alexander of all of men

Was most famous of lords, and he flourished the most

Of all the earls whom on earth I have known.

Attila ruled the Huns, Eormanric the Goths,

Becca the Banings, the Burgundians Gifica.

20 Cæsar ruled the Greeks and Cælic the Finns,

Hagena the Holm-Rugians and Heoden the Glommas.


Witta ruled the Swabians, Wada the Hælsings,

Meaca the Myrgings, Mearchealf the Hundings,

Theodoric ruled the Franks, Thyle the Rondings,

25 Breoca the Brondings, Billing the Wernas.

Oswine ruled the Eowas and the Ytas Gefwulf;

Finn Folcwalding ruled the Frisian people.

Sigehere ruled longest the Sea-Dane’s kingdom.

Hnæf ruled the Hocings, Helm the Wulfings,

30 Wald the Woings, Wod the Thuringians,

Sæferth the Secgans, the Swedes Ongentheow.

Sceafthere ruled the Ymbrians, Sceafa the Lombards,

Hun the Hætweras and Holen the Wrosnas.

Hringweald was called the king of the pirates.

35 Offa ruled the Angles, Alewih the Danes:


Among these men he was mightiest of all,

But he equalled not Offa in earl-like deeds.

For Offa by arms while only a child,

First among fighters won the fairest of kingdoms;

40 Not any of his age in earlship surpassed him.

In a single combat in the siege of battle

He fixed the frontier at Fifeldore

Against the host of the Myrgings, which was held thenceforth

By Angles and Swabians as Offa had marked it.

45 Hrothwulf and Hrothgar held for a long time

A neighborly compact, the nephew and uncle,

After they had vanquished the Viking races

And Ingeld’s array was overridden,

Hewed down at Heorot the Heathobard troop.

50 So forth I fared in foreign lands

All over the earth; of evil and good

There I made trial, torn from my people;

Far from my folk I have followed my travels.

Therefore I sing the song of my wanderings,


55 Declare before the company in the crowded mead-hall,

How gifts have been given me by the great men of earth.

I was with the Huns and with the Hræda-Goths,

With the Swedes and with the Geats and with the southern Danes,

With the Wenlas I was and with the Vikings and with the Wærna folk.

60 With the Gepidæ I was and with the Wends and with the Gefligas.

With the Angles I was and with the Swæfe and with the Ænenas.

With the Saxons I was and with the Secgans and with the Suardones.

With the Hronas I was and with the Deanas and with the Heatho-Raemas.

With the Thuringians I was and with the Throwendas;

65 And with the Burgundians, where a bracelet was given me.


Guthhere there gave me a goodly jewel,

As reward for my song: not slothful that king!

With the Franks I was and with the Frisians and with the Frumtingas.

With the Rugians I was and with the Glommas and with the Roman strangers.

70 Likewise in Italy with Ælfwine I was:

He had, as I have heard, a hand the readiest

For praiseworthy deeds of prowess and daring;

With liberal heart he lavished his treasures,

Shining armlets —the son of Eadwine.

75 I was with the Saracens and with the Serings;

With the Greeks I was and with the Finns and with far-famed Cæsar,

Who sat in rule over the cities of revelry—

Over the riches and wealth of the realm of the Welsh.

With the Scots I was and with the Picts and with the Scride-Finns.


80 With the Lidwicingas I was and with the Leonas and with the Longobards,

With the Hæthnas and with the Hærethas and with the Hundings;

With the Israelites I was and with the Assyrians,

And with the Hebrews and with the Egyptians and with the Hindus I was,

With the Medes I was and with the Persians and with the Myrging folk,

85 And with the Mofdings I was and against the Myrging band,

And with the Amothingians. With the East Thuringians I was

And with the Eolas and with the Istians and with the Idumingas.

And I was with Eormanric all of the time;

There the king of the Goths gave me in honor

90 The choicest of bracelets —the chief of the burghers—

On which were six hundred pieces of precious gold,

Of shining metal in shillings counted;

I gave over this armlet to Eadgils then,

To my kind protector when I came to my home,


95 To my beloved prince, the lord of the Myrgings,

Who gave me the land that was left by my father;

And Ealhhild then also another ring gave me,

Queen of the doughty ones, the daughter of Eadwine.

Her praise has passed to all parts of the world,

100 Wherever in song I sought to tell

Where I knew under heavens the noblest of queens,

Golden-adorned, giving forth treasures.

Then in company with Scilling, in clear ringing voice

’Fore our beloved lord I uplifted my song;

105 Loudly the harp in harmony sounded;

Then many men with minds discerning

Spoke of our lay in unsparing praise,

That they never had heard a nobler song.

Then I roamed through all the realm of the Goths;

110 Unceasing I sought the surest of friends,

The crowd of comrades of the court of Eormanric.

Hethca sought I and Beadeca and the Harlungs,

Emerca sought I and Fridla and East-Gota,

Sage and noble, the sire of Unwen.

115 Secca sought I and Becca, Seafola and Theodoric,


Heathoric and Sifeca, Hlithe and Incgentheow.

Eadwine sought I and Elsa Ægelmund and Hungar

And the worthy troop of the With-Myrgings.

Wulfhere sought I and Wyrmhere: there war was seldom lacking

120 When the host of the Hrædas with hardened swords

Must wage their wars by the woods of Vistula

To hold their homes from the hordes of Attila.

Rædhere sought I and Rondhere, Rumstan and Gislhere,

Withergield and Freotheric, Wudga and Hama:

125 These warriors were not the worst of comrades,

Though their names at the last of my list are numbered.

Full oft from that host the hissing spear

Fiercely flew on the foemen’s troopers.

There the wretches ruled with royal treasure,

130 Wudga and Hama, over women and men.

So I ever have found as I fared among men

That in all the land most beloved is he


To whom God giveth a goodly kingdom

To hold as long as he liveth here.

135 Thus wandering widely through the world there go

Minstrels of men through many lands,

Express their needs and speak their thanks.

Ever south and north some one they meet

Skillful in song who scatters gifts,

140 To further his fame before his chieftains,

To do deeds of honor, till all shall depart,

Light and life together: lasting praise he gains,

And has under heaven the highest of honor.

4. Myrging. Nothing is known with any degree of certainty about this tribe. Chambers concludes that they dwelt south of the River Eider, which is the present boundary between Schleswig and Holstein, and that they belonged to the Suevic stock of peoples. See vv. 84, 85, below.
5. Ealhhild. See notes to vv. 8 and 97, below. Much discussion has taken place as to who Ealhhild was. Summing up his lengthy discussion, Chambers says (Widsith, p. 28): “For these reasons it seems best to regard Ealhhild as the murdered wife of Eormanric, the Anglian equivalent of the Gothic Sunilda and the Northern Swanhild.”
7. Hræda king. That is, the Gothic king.
8. Angles. One of the Low Germanic tribes that later settled in Britain, and from whom the name England is derived. Their original home was in the modern Schleswig-Holstein. Eormanric. See v. 88, below, and Deor’s Lament, v. 21. He was a king of the Goths. After his death, about 375 A.D., he came to be known as the typical bad king, covetous, fierce, and cruel. According to the Scandinavian form of the story, the king sends his son and a treacherous councillor, Bikki (the Becca of v. 19) to woo and bring to the court the maiden Swanhild. Bikki urges the son to woo her for himself and then betrays him to his father, who has him hanged and causes Swanhild to be trampled to death by horses. Her brothers revenge her death and wound the king. At this juncture the Huns attack him, and during the attack Eormanric dies.
11. The proverb, or “gnomic verse,” is very common in Old English poetry.
14. Hwala appears in the West Saxon genealogies as son of Beowi, son of Sceaf (see Beowulf, vv. 4, 18).
15. Alexander [the Great]. The writer speaks of many celebrities who were obviously too early for him to know personally. This passage is usually considered to be an interpolation.
18. Becca. See note to v. 8. The Banings are not definitely identified. The Burgundians were originally an East Germanic tribe. During the second and third centuries they were neighbors of the Goths and lived in the modern Posen. Later they moved west, and finally threatened Gaul, where in the middle of the fifth century they were defeated by the Roman general, Aetius. Shortly afterward they were defeated by the Huns. The remnant settled in Savoy, where they gradually recovered, and by the middle of the sixth century became an important nation. Gifica (or Gibica) was traditionally spoken of as an early king who ruled over the Burgundians while they were still in the east, living as neighbors of the Goths on the Vistula.
20. Cæsar, was the name given to the Emperor of the East—the “Greek Emperor.” The Finns were at that time located in their present home in Finland.
21, 22. Hagena, Heoden, Wada. These heroes all belong to one myth-cycle, which was told in Europe for many centuries. It is difficult to reconstruct the story as it was known at the time Widsith was written, for it has received many additions at the hands of subsequent writers. The essential parts of the tale seem to be these: Heoden asks his servant, the sweet-singing Heorrenda, for help in wooing Hild, the daughter of Hagena. Heorrenda, enlisting the services of Wada, the renowned sea-monster (or sea-god) goes to woo Hild. By means of Wada’s frightful appearance and skill in swordsmanship they attract Hild’s attention, and Heorrenda then sings so that the birds are shamed into silence. They then woo Hild and flee with her from her father’s court. Hagena pursues, and Heoden, after marrying Hild, engages him in battle. Each evening Hild goes to the battlefield and by magic awakens the warriors who have fallen, and they fight the same battle over day after day without ceasing. Heorrenda, the sweet singer of the Heodenings (i.e., of the court of Heoden) is mentioned in Deor’s Lament, vv. 36 and 39. Wada is a widely-known legendary character. He had power over the sea. He was the father of Weland, the Vulcan of Norse myth (see Deor’s Lament, and Waldhere, A, v. 2). The Holm-Rugians and the Hælsings were in the fourth century on the Baltic coast of Germany. The Glommas are unknown.
24. Theodoric, son of Chlodowech, king of the Franks, is meant, and not the famous Gothic king. Cf. v. 115, below.
25. Breoca: the same as Breca, prince of the Brondings, the opponent of Beowulf in his famous swimming match (Beowulf, vv. 499-606).
27, 28. Finn Folcwalding was the traditional hero of the Frisians. For fragments of the stories connected with him, see Beowulf, vv. 1068-1159, and the fragmentary poem, The Fight at Finnsburg (p. 34, below). Hnæf, son of Hoc (hence ruler of the Hocings) also figures in the Finn story. Hnæf’s sister marries Finn. For a summary of the story see the Introduction to The Fight at Finnsburg.
30. Thuringians. These people dwelt near the mouths of the Rhine and the Maas.
31. Ongentheow, the king of Sweden, is frequently mentioned in Beowulf (e.g., vv. 2476 and 2783). The Secgans are unknown, but they are mentioned in v. 62, below, and in The Fight at Finnsburg, v. 26.
32. The ancient home of the Longobards (or Lombards) was between the Baltic and the Elbe.
35. Offa: a legendary king of the Angles, while they still lived on the continent toward the end of the fourth century. Legends of him are found in Denmark and in England. Chambers concludes that the Danish form is perhaps very near that known to the author of Widsith. Offa, the son of the king, though a giant in stature, is dumb from his youth, and when the German prince from the south challenges the aged king to send a champion to defend his realm in single combat, Offa’s speech is restored and he goes to the combat. The fight was held at Fifeldore, the River Eider, which was along the frontier between the Germans and the Danes. Here Offa fought against two champions and defeated them both, thus establishing the frontier for many years. Note that the author of Widsith, who is of the Myrging race, is here celebrating the defeat of his own people.
44. Swabians probably refers to the Myrgings, who were of the stock of the Suevi.
45. Hrothwulf and Hrothgar. See Beowulf, vv. 1017 and 1181 ff. Hrothgar is Hrothwulf’s uncle, and they live on friendly terms at Heorot (Hrothgar’s hall). Later it seems that Hrothwulf fails to perform his duties as the guardian of Hrothgar’s son, thus bringing to an end his years of friendliness to Hrothgar and his sons. The fight referred to is against Ingeld, Hrothgar’s son-in-law who invaded the Danish kingdom. (See Beowulf, vv. 84, 2024 ff.)
58. The Geats were probably settled in southern Sweden. They were the tribe to which Beowulf belonged.
60. The Gepidæ were closely related to the Goths and were originally located near them at the mouth of the Vistula River. The Wends were a Slavonic tribe who finally pressed up into the lands vacated in the great migrations by the Germans between the Elbe and the Vistula.
61. Angles. See vv. 8 and 44, above. Swæfe. See line 44, above.
62. The Saxons, who with the Angles and Jutes settled Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries, lived originally near the mouth of the Elbe.
63. The Heatho-Raemas dwelt near the modern Christiania in Norway. See Beowulf, line 518, in which Breca in the swimming match reaches their land.
65. Burgundians. See v. 19.
66. Guthhere was a ruler of the Burgundians (v. 19). He was probably at Worms when he gave the jewel to Widsith. Guthhere, because of his great battle with Attila and his tragic defeat, became a great legendary hero. (See Waldhere, B, v. 14.)
67. The Franks and the Frisians are spoken of together in Beowulf (vv. 1207, 1210, 2917), where they together repulse an attack made by Hygelac. The Frisians probably dwelt west of the Zuider Zee.
68. The Rugians and the Glommas. See note to v. 21, above.
70. Ælfwine: (otherwise known as Alboin), the Lombard conqueror of Italy. He was the son of Audoin (Eadwine).
75-87. Most scholars agree that these lines are interpolated, since they do not fit in with the rest of the poem.
75. Serings: possibly Syrians.
78. Welsh: a term applied to the Romans by the Old English writers.
79. The Scride-Finns were settled in northern Norway—not in Finland, where the main body of Finns were found. They are perhaps to be identified with the modern Lapps.
80. Lidwicingas: the inhabitants of Armorica. Longobards. See v. 32.
81. The Hundings are also mentioned in line 23.
84, 85. Myrging. See line 4.
86. East Thuringians. Probably those Thuringians dwelling in the sixth century east of the Elbe.
87. Istians. Probably the Esthonians mentioned in the Voyage of Wulfstan. (See p. 194, line 151, below.) The Idumingas were neighbors of the Istians. Both were probably Lettish or Lithuanian tribes.
88. Eormanric. See note to v. 8, above.
93. Eadgils was king of the Myrgings.
97. Ealhhild. See note to v. 5, above. She was (v. 98) daughter of Eadwine, King of the Lombards (v. 74). The meaning here is not absolutely clear, but Chambers makes a good case for considering her the wife of Eormanric. He thinks that she followed her husband’s gift to Widsith by a gift of another ring, in return for which Widsith sings her praises.
112, 113. Emerca and Fridla, the Harlungs, were murdered by their uncle, Eormanric. East-Gota, or Ostrogotha, the king of the united Goths in the middle of the third century, was a direct ancestor of Eormanric.
115. Becca. See note to v. 8. Seafola and Theodoric: probably Theodoric of Verona and his retainer, Sabene of Ravenna. On the other hand, the references may be to Theoderic the Frank. (See v. 24.)
116. Sifeca: probably the evil councillor who brought about the murder by Eormanric of his nephews, the Harlungs. (See vv. 112, 113, note.)
117-119. These names are all very obscure.
120. Hrædas: the Goths.
121. The struggle between the Goths and the Huns did not actually occur in the Vistula wood, but after the Goths had left the Vistula.
124, 130. Wudga and Hama. The typical outlaws of German tradition. Hama appears in Beowulf (v. 1198) as a fugitive who has stolen the Brising necklace and fled from Eormanric. Wudga, the Widia of Waldhere (B, vv. 4, 9) came finally to be known for his treachery. He was connected with the court of Theodoric and received gifts from him, but he is later represented as having betrayed the king. The traditions about both of these men are badly confused.
135-143. One of the passages that give us a definite impression of the scop, or minstrel, and his life. It serves very well for the conclusion of a poem descriptive of the life of a minstrel.


[Critical text and translation: Dickins, Runic and Heroic Poems, Cambridge University Press, 1915, p. 70.

Alliterative translation: Gummere, Oldest English Epic (1910), p. 186.

The metrical arrangement of this poem into strophes with a constant refrain is very unusual in the poetry of the Anglo-Saxons, though it is common among their Scandinavian kinsmen. This fact has led some scholars to believe that we have here a translation from the Old Norse. Professor Gummere, however, makes a good case against this assumption.

The first three strophes refer to the widely known story of Weland, or Wayland, the Vulcan of Norse myth. The crafty king, Nithhad, captures Weland, fetters him (according to some accounts, hamstrings him), and robs him of the magic ring that gives him power to fly. Beadohild, Nithhad’s daughter, accompanied by her brothers, goes to Weland and has him mend rings for her. In this way he recovers his own ring and his power to fly. Before leaving he kills the sons of Nithhad, and, stupefying Beadohild with liquor, puts her to shame.]

To Weland came woes and wearisome trial,

And cares oppressed the constant earl;

His lifelong companions were pain and sorrow,

And winter-cold weeping: his ways were oft hard,

5 After Nithhad had struck the strong man low,

Cut the supple sinew-bands of the sorrowful earl.

That has passed over: so this may depart!

Beadohild bore her brothers’ death

Less sorely in soul than herself and her plight


10 When she clearly discovered her cursed condition,

That unwed she should bear a babe to the world.

She never could think of the thing that must happen.

That has passed over: so this may depart!

Much have we learned of Mæthhild’s life:

15 How the courtship of Geat was crowned with grief,

How love and its sorrows allowed him no sleep.

That has passed over: so this may depart!

Theodoric held for thirty winters

The town of the Mærings: that was told unto many.

20 That has passed over: so this may depart!

We all have heard of Eormanric

Of the wolfish heart: a wide realm he had

Of the Gothic kingdom. Grim was the king.

Many men sat and bemoaned their sorrows,

25 Woefully watching and wishing always


That the cruel king might be conquered at last.

That has passed over: so this may depart!

Sad in his soul he sitteth joyless,

Mournful in mood. He many times thinks

30 That no end will e’er come to the cares he endures.

Then must he think how throughout the world

The gracious God often gives his help

And manifold honors to many an earl

And sends wide his fame; but to some he gives woes.

35 Of myself and my sorrows I may say in truth

That I was happy once as the Heodenings’ scop,

Dear to my lord. Deor was my name.

Many winters I found a worthy following,

Held my lord’s heart, till Heorrenda came,

40 The skillful singer, and received the land-right

That the proud helm of earls had once promised to me!

That has passed over: so this may depart!

1. Weland, or Wayland; the blacksmith of the Norse gods. He is represented as being the son of Wada (see Widsith, v. 22, note).
8. Beadohild was violated by Weland, and this stanza refers to the approaching birth of her son Widia (or Wudga). (See Widsith, vv. 124, 130, and Waldhere, B, vv. 4-10.)
14. The exact meaning of the third strophe as here translated is not clear. To make it refer to the story of Nithhad and Weland, it is necessary to make certain changes suggested by Professor Tupper (Modern Philology, October, 1911; Anglia, xxxvii, 118). Thus amended, this stanza would read: “Of the violation of (Beadu)hild many of us have heard. The affections of the Geat (i.e., Nithhad) were boundless, so that sorrowing love deprived him of all sleep.” This grief of Nithhad would be that caused by the killing of his sons and the shame brought on his daughter. Thus the first three stanzas of the poem would refer to (1) Weland’s torture, (2) Beadohild’s shame, and (3) Nithhad’s grief.
18. Strophe four refers to Theodoric the Goth (see Widsith, v. 115, and Waldhere, B, v. 4, note). He was banished to Attila’s court for thirty years.
19. Mærings: a name applied to the Ostrogoths.
21. Eormanric was king of the Goths and uncle to Theodoric. He died about 375 A.D. He put his only son to death, had his wife torn to pieces, and ruined the happiness of many people. For an account of his crimes see the notes to Widsith, v. 8.
36. See, for the connection of the Heodenings and the sweet-singing Heorrenda, the note to Widsith, v. 21.


[Critical text and translation: Dickins, Runic and Heroic Poems, p. 56.

Date: Probably eighth century.

Information as to the story is found in a number of continental sources. Its best known treatment is in a Latin poem, Waltharius, by Ekkehard of St. Gall, dating from the first half of the tenth century. Ekkehard’s story is thus summarized in the Cambridge History of English Literature: “Alphere, king of Aquitaine, had a son named Waltharius, and Heriricus, king of Burgundy, an only daughter named Hiltgund, who was betrothed to Waltharius. While they were yet children, however, Attila, king of the Huns, invaded Gaul, and the kings seeing no hope in resistance, gave up their children to him as hostages, together with much treasure. Under like compulsion treasure was obtained also from Gibicho, king of the Franks, who sent as hostage a youth of noble birth named Hagano. In Attila’s service, Waltharius and Hagano won great renown as warriors, but the latter eventually made his escape. When Waltharius grew up, he became Attila’s chief general; yet he remembered his old engagement with Hiltgund. On his return from a victorious campaign he made a great feast for the king and his court, and when all were sunk in their drunken sleep, he and Hiltgund fled laden with much gold. On their way home they had to cross the Rhine near Worms. There the king of the Franks, Guntharius, the son of Gibicho, heard from the ferryman of the gold they were carrying and determined to secure it. Accompanied by Hagano and eleven other picked warriors, he overtook them as they rested in a cave in the Vosges. Waltharius offered him a large share of the gold in order to obtain peace; but the king demanded the whole, together with Hiltgund and the horses. Stimulated by the promise of great rewards, the eleven warriors now attacked Waltharius one after another, but he slew them all. Hagano had tried to dissuade Guntharius from the attack; but now, since his nephew was among the slain, he formed a plan with the king for surprising Waltharius. On the following day they both fell upon him after he had quitted his stronghold, and, in the struggle that ensued, all three were maimed. Waltharius, however, was able to proceed on his way with Hiltgund, and the story ends happily with their marriage.”

Both our fragments, which are found on two leaves in the Royal Library at Copenhagen, refer to a time immediately before the final encounter. The first is spoken by the lady; the second by the man. We cannot tell how long this poem may have been. What we have may be leaves from a long epic, or a short poem, or an episode in a long epic.]



.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   . she eagerly heartened him:

“Lo, the work of Weland shall not weaken or fail

For the man who the mighty Mimming can wield,

The frightful brand. Oft in battle have fallen

5 Sword-wounded warriors one after the other.

6 Vanguard of Attila, thy valor must ever

Endure the conflict! The day is now come,

9 When fate shall award you one or the other:

10 To lose your life or have lasting glory,

Through all the ages, O Ælfhere’s son!

No fault do I find, my faithful lover,

Saying I have seen thee at sword-play weaken,

Yield like a coward to a conqueror’s arms,

15 Flee from the field of fight and escape,

Protect thy body, though bands of the foemen

Were smiting thy burnies with broad-edged swords;

But unfalt’ring still farther the fight thou pursuedst

Over the line of battle; hence, my lord, I am burdened

20 With fear that too fiercely to the fight thou shalt rush

To the place of encountering thy opponent in conflict,

To wage on him war. Be worthy of thyself


In glorious deeds while thy God protects thee!

Have no fear as to sword for the fine-gemmed weapon

25 Has been given thee to aid us: on Guthhere with it

Thou shalt pay back the wrong of unrighteously seeking

To stir up the struggle and strife of battle;

He rejected that sword and the jewelled treasure,

The lustrous gems; now, leaving them all,

30 He shall flee from this field to find his lord,

His ancient land, or lie here forever

Asleep, if he   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .”

1. The speaker is Hildegyth (the Old English form for Hiltgund).
2. Weland: the blacksmith of Teutonic myth. See Deor’s Lament, introductory note, and notes to vv. 1 and 8.
3. Mimming was the most famous of the swords made by Weland.
28. Waldhere had offered Guthhere a large share of the treasure as an inducement for him to desist from the attack, and Guthhere had refused it.


“ .   .   .   .   .   .   .   . a better sword

Except that other, which also I have

Closely encased in its cover of jewels.

I know that Theodoric thought that to Widia


5 Himself he would send it, and the sword he would join

With large measure of jewels and many other brands,

Worked all with gold. This reward he would send

Because, when a captive, the kinsman of Nithhad,

Weland’s son, Widia, from his woes had released him—

10 Thus in haste he escaped from the hands of the giants.”

Waldhere spoke, the warrior brave;

He held in his hand his helper in battle,

He grasped his weapon, shouting words of defiance:

“Indeed, thou hadst faith, O friend of the Burgundians,

15 That the hand of Hagena had held me in battle,

Defeated me on foot. Fetch now, if thou darest,

From me weary with war my worthy gray corselet!

It lies on my shoulder as ’twas left me by Ælfhere,

Goodly and gorgeous and gold-bedecked,

20 The most honorable of all for an atheling to hold

When he goes into battle to guard his life,

To fight with his foes: fail me it will never

When a stranger band shall strive to encounter me,

Besiege me with swords, as thou soughtest to do.


25 He alone will vouchsafe the victory who always

Is eager and ready to aid every right:

He who hopes for the help of the holy Lord,

For the grace of God, shall gain it surely,

If his earlier work has earned the reward.

30 Well may the brave warriors then their wealth enjoy,

Take pride in their property! That is   .   .   .   .”

1. The opening of the second fragment finds the two champions ready for the final struggle. Guthhere is finishing his boast, in which he praises his equipment.
3. The meaning of this passage is obscure, but the translation here given seems to be the most reasonable conjecture. He probably refers to a sword that he has at hand in a jewelled case ready for use.
4. Stopping thus to give a history of the weapon calls to mind many similar passages in the Homeric poems. The particular story in mind here is the escape of Theodoric from the giants. He loses his way and falls into the hands of one of the twelve giants who guard Duke Nitger. He gains the favor of Nitger’s sister, and through her lets his retainers, Hildebrand, Witige, and Heime know of his plight. They defeat the giants and release him. Witige and Heime are the Middle High German forms for the old English Widia (see Deor’s Lament, v. 8, note), or Wudga and Hama (see Widsith, vv. 124, 130, note).
14. Friend of the Burgundians: a usual old English expression for “king.” Guthhere was king of the Burgundians in the middle of the fifth century (see Widsith, vv. 19, 66, notes).
15. Hagena is now the only one of Guthhere’s comrades that has not been killed by Waldhere. Cf. Widsith, v. 21.


[Edition used: Chambers, Beowulf, p. 158. See also Dickins, Runic and Heroic Poems, p. 64.

Alliterative translation, Gummere, Oldest English Epic, p. 160.

The manuscript is now lost. We have only an inaccurate version printed by Hickes at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Many difficulties are therefore found in the text. For a good discussion of the text, see an article by Mackie in The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, xvi, 250.

This fragment belongs to the epic story of Finn which is alluded to at some length in Beowulf (vv. 1068-1159). The saga can be reconstructed in its broad outlines, though it is impossible to be sure of details. One of the most puzzling of these details is the position in which the “Fight” occurs. In the story are two fights, either one of which may be the one described in the fragment. The weight of opinion seems to favor the first conflict, that in which Hnæf is killed. As summarized by Möller, the Finn story is briefly as follows:

“Finn, king of the Frisians, had carried off Hildeburh, daughter of Hoc (Beowulf, v. 1076), probably with her consent. Her father Hoc seems to have pursued the fugitives, and to have been slain in the fight which ensued on his overtaking them. After the lapse of some twenty years, Hoc’s sons Hnæf and Hengest, were old enough to undertake the duty of avenging their father’s death. They make an inroad into Finn’s country and a battle takes place in which many warriors, among them Hnæf and a son of Finn (1074, 1079, 1115), are killed. Peace is therefore solemnly concluded, and the slain warriors are burnt (1068-1124).

“As the year is too far advanced for Hengest to return home (1130 ff.), he and those of his men who survive remain for the winter in the Frisian country with Finn. But Hengest’s thoughts dwell constantly on the death of his brother Hnæf, and he would gladly welcome any excuse to break the peace which had been sworn by both parties. His ill concealed desire for revenge is noticed by the Frisians, who anticipate it by themselves taking the initiative and attacking Hengest and his men whilst they are sleeping in the hall. This is the night attack described in the “Fight.” It would seem that after a brave and desperate resistance Hengest himself falls in this fight at the hands of Hunlafing (1143), but two of his retainers, Guthlaf and Oslaf, succeed in cutting their way through their enemies and in escaping to their own land. They return with fresh troops, attack and slay Finn, and carry his queen, Hildeburh, off with them (1125-1159).”—Wyatt, Beowulf, (1901), p. 145.


Professor Gummere finds in the fragment an example bearing out his theory of the development of the epic. “The qualities which difference it from Beowulf,” he says, “are mainly negative; it lacks sentiment, moralizing, the leisure of the writer; it did not attempt probably to cover more than a single event; and one will not err in finding it a fair type of the epic songs which roving singers were wont to sing before lord and liegeman in hall and which were used with more or less fidelity by makers of complete epic poems.”]

“.   .   .   .   .   .   .   . Are the gables not burning?”

Boldly replied then the battle-young king:

“The day is not dawning; no dragon is flying,

And the high gable-horns of the hall are not burning,

5 But the brave men are bearing the battle line forward,

While bloodthirsty sing the birds of slaughter.

Now clangs the gray corselet, clashes the war-wood,

Shield answers shaft. Now shineth the moon,

Through its cover of clouds. Now cruel days press us

10 That will drive this folk to deadly fight.

But wake at once, my warriors bold,

Stand now to your armor and strive for honor;

Fight at the front unafraid and undaunted.”

Then arose from their rest, ready and valiant,

15 Gold-bedecked soldiers, and girded their swords.

The noble knights went now to the door


And seized their swords, Sigeferth and Eaha,

And to the other door Ordlaf and Guthlaf,

And Hengest who followed to help the defense.

20 Now Guthere restrained Garulf from strife,

Lest fearless at the first of the fight he rush

To the door and daringly endanger his life,

Since now it was stormed by so stalwart a hero.

But unchecked by these words a challenge he shouted,

25 Boldly demanding what man held the door.

“I am Sigferth,” he said, “the Secgan’s prince;

Wide have I wandered; many woes have I known

And bitter battles. Be it bad or good

Thou shalt surely receive what thou seekest from me.”

30 At the wall by the door rose the din of battle;

In the hands of heroes the hollow bucklers

Shattered the shields. Shook then the hall floor

Till there fell in the fight the faithful Garulf,

Most daring and doughty of the dwellers on earth,

35 The son of Guthlaf; and scores fell with him.

O’er the corpses hovered the hungry raven,


Swarthy and sallow-brown. A sword-gleam blazed

As though all Finnsburg in flames were burning.

Never heard I of heroes more hardy in war,

40 Of sixty who strove more strongly or bravely,

Of swains who repaid their sweet mead better

Than his loyal liegemen to their loved Hnæf.

Five days they fought, but there fell not a one

Of the daring band, though the doors they held always.

45 Now went from the warfare a wounded chief.

He said that his burnie was broken asunder,

His precious war-gear, and pierced was his helmet.

Then questioned their chief and inquired of him

How the warriors recovered from the wounds they received,

50 Or which of the youths .   .   .   .   .   .   .

1. The fragment begins in the middle of a word.
2. The “battle-young king” is probably the Hengest of v. 19. Possibly he is to be identified with Hengest, the conqueror of Kent.
5, 6. In the original these lines seem to be incomplete. The translation attempts to keep the intended meaning.
14, 15. In the original these appear as a single greatly expanded line, which was probably at one time two lines.
17. Sigeferth (see also line 26), prince of the Secgans is probably identical with Sæferth who ruled the Secgans in Widsith, v. 31.
18. Ordlaf and Guthlaf appear in the account in Beowulf (vv. 1148, ff.) as Oslaf and Guthlaf. They are the avengers of Hnæf.
20. From the construction it is impossible to tell who is the speaker and who is being restrained. But from line 33 it is seen to be Garulf who neglects the advice and is killed. Garulf and Guthere are, of course, of the attacking band.
26. Sigferth, one of the defenders. See v. 17, above.
28, 29. These lines are obscure. Probably they mean that Garulf may have as good as he sends in the way of a fight.
35. Guthlaf, the father of Garulf (the assailant) was probably not the Guthalf of line 18, who was a defender. If we have here a conflict between father and son, very little is made of it.
45. It is impossible to tell who the wounded warrior was or which chief is referred to in line 48.



[Edition used: Kluge, Angelsächsisches Lesebuch.

Critical edition and discussion of most of the charms: Felix Grendon, Journal of American Folk-lore, xxii, 105 ff. See that article for bibliography.

Grendon divides the charms into five classes:

1. Exorcisms of diseases and disease spirits.
2. Herbal charms.
3. Charms for transferring disease.
4. Amulet charms.
5. Charm remedies.

These charms contain some of the most interesting relics of the old heathen religion of the Anglo-Saxons incongruously mingled with Christian practices. They were probably written down at so late a time that the churchmen felt they could no longer do harm.]

I. For Bewitched Land

Here is the remedy by which thou mayst improve thy fields if they will not produce well or if any evil thing is done to them by means of sorcery or witchcraft:

5 Take at night, before daybreak, four pieces of turf from the four corners of the land and mark the places where they have stood. Take then oil and honey and yeast and the milk of every kind of cattle that is on that land and a piece of every kind of tree that is grown 10 on that land, except hard wood, and a piece of every kind of herb known by name, except burdock alone. Then put holy water on these and dip it thrice in the [39] base of the turfs and say these words: Crescite, grow, et multiplicamini, and multiply, et replete, and fill, terram, 15 this earth, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti sint benedicti; and Pater Noster as often as anything else.

Then carry the turfs to the church and have the priest sing four masses over them and have the green sides 20 turned toward the altar. Then bring them back before sunset to the place where they were at first. Now make four crosses of aspen and write on the end of each Matheus and Marcus and Lucas and Johannes. Lay the crosses on the bottom of each hole and then say: 25 Crux Matheus, crux Marcus, crux Lucas, crux Sanctus Johannes. Then take the sods and lay them on top and say nine times the word Crescite, and the Pater Noster as often. Turn then to the east and bow humbly nine times and say these words:

30 Eastward I stand, for honors I pray;

I pray to the God of glory; I pray to the gracious Lord;

I pray to the high and holy Heavenly Father;

I pray to the earth and all of the heavens,

And to the true and virtuous virgin Saint Mary,

35 And to the high hall of Heaven and its power,

That with God’s blessing I may unbind this spell

With my open teeth, and through trusty thought

May awaken the growth for our worldly advantage,

May fill these fields by fast belief,


40 May improve this planting, for the prophet saith

That he hath honors on earth whose alms are free,

Who wisely gives, by the will of God.

Then turn three times following the course of the sun, stretch thyself prostrate, and chant the litanies. 45 Then say Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus through to the end. Then chant Benedicte with outstretched arms, and the Magnificat and Pater Noster three times and commend thy prayer to the praise and glory of Christ and Saint Mary and the Holy Rood, and to the honor 50 of him who owns the land and to all those that are subject to him. When all this is done, get some unknown seed from beggars, and give them twice as much as thou takest from them. Then gather all thy plowing gear together and bore a hole in the beam and put in 55 it incense and fennel and consecrated soap and consecrated salt. Take the seed and put it on the body of the plow, and then say:

Erce, Erce, Erce, of earth the mother,

May he graciously grant thee, God Eternal,

60 To have fertile fields and fruitful harvests,

Growing in profit and gaining in power;

A host of products and harvests in plenty,

Bright with the broad barley harvest;

And heavy with the white harvest of wheat,

65 And all the harvest of the earth. May the Almighty Lord grant

And all his saints who are seated in heaven,


That against all of the enemies this earth may be guarded,

Protected and made proof against the powers of evil,

Against sorceries and spells dispersed through the land.

70 Now I pray to the Power who planned the creation

That no woman of witchcraft, no worker of magic,

May change or unspell the charm I have spoken.

Then drive forth the plow and turn the first furrow and say:

75 Hail to thee, Earth, of all men the mother,

Be goodly thy growth in God’s embrace,

Filled with food as a favor to men.

Then take meal of every kind and bake a loaf as broad as it will lie between the two hands, kneading 80 it with milk and with holy water, and lay it under the first furrow. Say then:

Full be the field with food for mankind,

Blossoming brightly. Blessed by thou

By the holy name of Heaven’s Creator,

85 And the maker of Earth, which men inhabit.

May God who created the ground grant us growing gifts,

That each kernel of corn may come to use.

Say then three times, Crescite in nomine patris, sint benedicti. Amen and Pater Noster three times.

30. Irregularities in the meter in the translations are imitations of similar irregularities in the original.
58. Erce: probably the name of an old Teutonic deity, the Mother of Earth. This reference is all we have to preserve the name.
75. The conception of a goddess as Mother of Earth and of Earth as Mother of Men is entirely pagan. This charm is a peculiar complex of Christian and pagan ideas.
II. Against a Sudden Stitch

Against a sudden stitch take feverfew, and the red nettle that grows through the house, and plantain. Boil in butter.

Loud were they, lo loud, as over the lea they rode;

5 Resolute they were when they rode over the land.

Protect thyself that thy trouble become cured and healed.

Out, little stick, if it still is

I stood under the linden, under the light shield,

Where the mighty women their magic prepared,

10 And they sent their spears spinning and whistling.

But I will send them a spear in return,

Unerringly aim an arrow against them.

Out, little stick, if it still is within!

There sat a smith and a small knife forged

15 .   .   .   .   .   .   . sharply with a stroke of iron.

Out little stick if it still is within!

Six smiths sat and worked their war-spears.

Out, spear! be not in, spear!

If it still is there, the stick of iron,

20 The work of the witches, away it shall melt.

If thou wert shot in the skin, or sore wounded in the flesh,

If in the blood thou wert shot, or in the bone thou wert shot,


If in the joint thou wert shot, there will be no jeopardy to your life.

If some deity shot it, or some devil shot it,

25 Or if some witch has shot it, now I am willing to help thee.

This is a remedy for a deity’s shot; this is a remedy for a devil’s shot;

This is a remedy for a witch’s shot. I am willing to help thee.

Flee there into the forests .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Be thou wholly healed. Thy help be from God.

30 Then take the knife and put it into the liquid.

1. The sudden stitch in the side (or rheumatic pain) is here thought of as coming from the arrows shot by the “mighty women”—the witches.
21-28. These irregular lines are imitated from the original.


[Critical editions: Wyatt, Tupper, and Trautmann. Wyatt (Boston, 1912, Belles Lettres edition) used as a basis for these translations. His numbering is always one lower than the other editions, since he rejects one riddle.

Date: Probably eighth century for most of them.

For translations of other riddles than those here given see Brooke, English Literature from the Beginning to the Norman Conquest, Pancoast and Spaeth, Early English Poems, and Cook and Tinker, Selections from Old English Poetry.

There is no proof as to the authorship. There were probably one hundred of them in the original collection though only about ninety are left. Many of them are translations from the Latin. Some are true folk-riddles and some are learned.

In the riddles we find particulars of Anglo-Saxon life that we cannot find elsewhere. The Cambridge History of English Literature sums their effect up in the following sentence: “Furthermore, the author or authors of the Old English riddles borrow themes from native folk-songs and saga; in their hands inanimate objects become endowed with life and personality; the powers of nature become objects of worship such as they were in olden times; they describe the scenery of their own country, the fen, the river, and the sea, the horror of the untrodden forest, sun and moon engaged in perpetual pursuit of each other, the nightingale and the swan, the plow guided by the ‘gray-haired enemy of the wood,’ the bull breaking up clods left unturned by the plow, the falcon, the arm-companion of æthelings—scenes, events, characters familiar in the England of that day.”]

I. A Storm

What man is so clever, so crafty of mind,

As to say for a truth who sends me a-traveling?

When I rise in my wrath, raging at times,

Savage is my sound. Sometimes I travel,

5 Go forth among the folk, set fire to their homes


And ravage and rob them; then rolls the smoke

Gray over the gables; great is the noise,

The death-struggle of the stricken. Then I stir up the woods

And the fruitful forests; I fell the trees,

10 I, roofed over with rain, on my reckless journey,

Wandering widely at the will of heaven.

I bear on my back the bodily raiment,

The fortunes of folk, their flesh and their spirits,

Together to sea. Say who may cover me,

15 Or what I am called, who carry this burden?

1. Some scholars feel that the first three riddles, all of which describe storms, are in reality one, with three divisions. There is little to indicate whether the scribe thought of them as separate or not.
II. A Storm

At times I travel in tracks undreamed of,

In vasty wave-depths to visit the earth,

The floor of the ocean. Fierce is the sea

.   .   .   .   .   .   . the foam rolls high;

5 The whale-pool roars and rages loudly;

The streams beat the shores, and they sling at times

Great stones and sand on the steep cliffs,

With weeds and waves, while wildly striving

Under the burden of billows on the bottom of ocean

10 The sea-ground I shake. My shield of waters

I leave not ere he lets me who leads me always

In all my travels. Tell me, wise man,

Who was it that drew me from the depth of the ocean

When the streams again became still and quiet,

15 Who before had forced me in fury to rage?

III. A Storm

At times I am fast confined by my Master,

Who sendeth forth under the fertile plain

My broad bosom, but bridles me in.

He drives in the dark a dangerous power

5 To a narrow cave, where crushing my back

Sits the weight of the world. No way of escape

Can I find from the torment; so I tumble about

The homes of heroes. The halls with their gables,

The tribe-dwellings tremble; the trusty walls shake,

10 Steep over the head. Still seems the air

Over all the country and calm the waters,

Till I press in my fury from my prison below,

Obeying His bidding who bound me fast

In fetters at first when he fashioned the world,

15 In bonds and in chains, with no chance of escape

From his power who points out the paths I must follow.

Downward at times I drive the waves,

Stir up the streams; to the strand I press

The flint-gray flood: the foamy wave

20 Lashes the wall. A lurid mountain

Rises on the deep; dark in its trail

Stirred up with the sea a second one comes,

And close to the coast it clashes and strikes

On the lofty hills. Loud soundeth the boat,

25 The shouting of shipmen. Unshaken abide

The stone cliffs steep through the strife of the waters,


The dashing of waves, when the deadly tumult

Crowds to the coast. Of cruel strife

The sailors are certain if the sea drive their craft

30 With its terrified guests on the grim rolling tide;

They are sure that the ship will be shorn of its power,

Be deprived of its rule, and will ride foam-covered

On the ridge of the waves. Then ariseth a panic,

Fear among folk of the force that commands me,

35 Strong on my storm-track. Who shall still that power?

At times I drive through the dark wave-vessels

That ride on my back, and wrench them asunder

And lash them with sea-streams; or I let them again

Glide back together. It is the greatest of noises,

40 Of clamoring crowds, of crashes the loudest,

When clouds as they strive in their courses shall strike

Edge against edge; inky of hue

In flight o’er the folk bright fire they sweat,

A stream of flame; destruction they carry

45 Dark over men with a mighty din.

Fighting they fare. They let fall from their bosom

A deafening rain of rattling liquid,

Of storm from their bellies. In battle they strive,

The awful army; anguish arises,

50 Terror of mind to the tribes of men,

Distress in the strongholds, when the stalking goblins,

The pale ghosts shoot with their sharp weapons.


The fool alone fears not their fatal spears;

But he perishes too if the true God send

55 Straight from above in streams of rain,

Whizzing and whistling the whirlwind’s arrows,

The flying death. Few shall survive

Whom that violent guest in his grimness shall visit.

I always stir up that strife and commotion;

60 Then I bear my course to the battle of clouds,

Powerfully strive and press through the tumult,

Over the bosom of the billows; bursteth loudly

The gathering of elements. Then again I descend

In my helmet of air and hover near the land,

65 And lift on my back the load I must bear,

Minding the mandates of the mighty Lord.

So I, a tried servant, sometimes contend:

Now under the earth; now from over the waves

I drive to the depths; now dropping from heaven,

70 I stir up the streams, or strive to the skies,

Where I war with the welkin. Wide do I travel,

Swift and noisily. Say now my name,

Or who raises me up when rest is denied me,

Or who stays my course when stillness comes to me?

V. A Shield

A lonely warrior, I am wounded with iron,

Scarred with sword-points, sated with battle-play,

Weary of weapons. I have witnessed much fighting,

Much stubborn strife. From the strokes of war

5 I have no hope for help or release


Ere I pass from the world with the proud warrior band.

With brands and billies they beat upon me;

The hard edges hack me; the handwork of smiths

In crowds I encounter; with courage I endure

10 Ever bitterer battles. No balm may I find,

And no doctor to heal me in the whole field of battle,

To bind me with ointments and bring me to health,

But my grievous gashes grow ever sorer

Through death-dealing strokes by day and night.

VII. A Swan

My robe is noiseless when I roam the earth,

Or stay in my home, or stir up the water.

At times I am lifted o’er the lodgings of men

By the aid of my trappings and the air above.

5 The strength of the clouds then carries me far,

Bears me on its bosom. My beautiful ornament,

My raiment rustles and raises a song,

Sings without tiring. I touch not the earth

But wander a stranger over stream and wood.

VIII. A Nightingale

With my mouth I am master of many a language;

Cunningly I carol; I discourse full oft

In melodious lays; loud do I call,

Ever mindful of melody, undiminished in voice.

5 An old evening-scop, to earls I bring

Solace in cities; when, skillful in music,


My voice I raise, restful at home

They sit in silence. Say what is my name,

That call so clearly and cleverly imitate

10 The song of the scop, and sing unto men

Words full welcome with my wonderful voice.

XIV. A Horn

I was once an armed warrior. Now the worthy youth

Gorgeously gears me with gold and silver,

Curiously twisted. At times men kiss me.

Sometimes I sound and summon to battle

5 The stalwart company. A steed now carries me

Across the border. The courser of the sea

Now bears me o’er the billows, bright in my trappings.

Now a comely maiden covered with jewels

Fills my bosom with beer. On the board now I lie

10 Lidless and lonely and lacking my trappings.

Now fair in my fretwork at the feast I hang

In my place on the wall while warriors drink.

Now brightened for battle, on the back of a steed

A war-chief shall bear me. Then the wind I shall breathe,

15 Shall swell with sound from someone’s bosom.

At times with my voice I invite the heroes,

The warriors to wine; or I watch for my master,

And sound an alarm and save his goods,

Put the robber to flight. Now find out my name.

8. Cosijn’s reading has been adopted for the first half line.
XV. A Badger

My throat is like snow, and my sides and my head

Are a swarthy brown; I am swift in flight.

Battle-weapons I bear; on my back stand hairs,

And also on my cheeks. O’er my eyes on high

5 Two ears tower; with my toes I step

On the green grass. Grief comes upon me

If the slaughter-grim hunter shall see me in hiding,

Shall find me alone where I fashion my dwelling,

Bold with my brood. I abide in this place

10 With my strong young children till a stranger shall come

And bring dread to my door. Death then is certain.

Hence, trembling I carry my terrified children

Far from their home and flee unto safety.

If he crowds me close as he comes behind,

15 I bare my breast. In my burrow I dare not

Meet my furious foe (it were foolish to do so),

But, wildly rushing, I work a road

Through the high hill with my hands and feet.

I fail not in defending my family’s lives;

20 If I lead the little ones below to safety,

Through a secret hole inside the hill,

My beloved brood, no longer need I

Fear the offense of the fierce-battling dogs.

25 Whenever the hostile one hunts on my trail,

Follows me close, he will fail not of conflict,

Of a warm encounter, when he comes on my war-path,


If I reach, in my rage, through the roof of my hill

And deal my deadly darts of battle

30 On the foe I have feared and fled from long.

29. The “deadly darts of battle” have caused “porcupine” to be proposed as a solution to this riddle, though when all the details are considered “badger” seems on the whole the more reasonable.

My name is spelled AGOB with the order reversed.

I am marvelously fashioned and made for fighting.

When I am bent and my bosom sends forth

Its poisoned stings, I straightway prepare

5 My deadly darts to deal afar.

As soon as my master, who made me for torment,

Loosens my limbs, my length is increased

Till I vomit the venom with violent motions,

The swift-killing poison I swallowed before.

10 Not any man shall make his escape,

Not one that I spoke of shall speed from the fight,

If there falls on him first what flies from my belly.

He pays with his strength for the poisonous drink,

For the fatal cup which forfeits his life.

15 Except when fettered fast, I am useless.

Unbound I shall fail. Now find out my name.

XXVI. A Bible

A stern destroyer struck out my life,

Deprived me of power; he put me to soak,


Dipped me in water, dried me again,

And set me in the sun, where I straightway lost

5 The hairs that I had. Then the hard edge

Of the keen knife cut me and cleansed me of soil;

Then fingers folded me. The fleet quill of the bird

With speedy drops spread tracks often

Over the brown surface, swallowed the tree-dye,

10 A deal of the stream, stepped again on me,

Traveled a black track. With protecting boards

Then a crafty one covered me, enclosed me with hide,

Made me gorgeous with gold. Hence I am glad and rejoice

At the smith’s fair work with its wondrous adornments.

15 Now may these rich trappings, and the red dye’s tracings,

And all works of wisdom spread wide the fame

Of the Sovereign of nations! Read me not as a penance!

If the children of men will cherish and use me,

They shall be safer and sounder and surer of victory,

20 More heroic of heart and happier in spirit,

More unfailing in wisdom. More friends shall they have,

Dear and trusty, and true and good,

And faithful always, whose honors and riches


Shall increase with their love, and who cover their friends

25 With kindness and favors and clasp them fast

With loving arms. I ask how men call me

Who aid them in need. My name is far famed.

I am helpful to men, and am holy myself.

1. Here, of course, a “codex,” or manuscript of a Bible is in the writer’s mind. He describes first the killing of the animal and the preparation of the skin for writing. Then the writing and binding of the book is described. Last of all, the writer considers the use the book will be to men.
XLV. Dough

In a corner I heard a curious weak thing

Swelling and sounding and stirring its cover.

On that boneless body a beautiful woman

Laid hold with her hands; the high-swelled thing

She covered with a cloth, the clever lord’s daughter.

XLVII. A Bookworm

A moth ate a word. To me that seemed

A curious happening when I heard of that wonder,

That a worm should swallow the word of a man,

A thief in the dark eat a thoughtful discourse

5 And the strong base it stood on. He stole, but he was not

A whit the wiser when the word had been swallowed.

LX. A Reed

I stood on the strand to the sea-cliffs near,

Hard by the billows. To the home of my birth

Fast was I fixed. Few indeed are there


Of men who have ever at any time

5 Beheld my home in the hard waste-land.

In the brown embrace of the billows and waves

I was locked each dawn. Little I dreamed

That early or late I ever should

With men at the mead-feast mouthless speak forth

10 Words of wisdom. It is a wondrous thing,

And strange to the sight when one sees it first

That the edge of a knife and the active hand

And wit of the earl who wields the blade

Should bring it about that I bear unto thee

15 A secret message, meant for thee only,

Boldly announce it, so that no other man

May speak our secrets or spread them abroad.

1. This riddle occurs in the manuscript just before The Husband’s Message, and some editors think that in the riddle we have a proper beginning for the poem. First is the account of the growth of the reed, or block of wood, then the account of its voyages, and last the message conveyed. There is really no way of telling whether the poems were meant to go together.


[Critical edition: Blanche Colton Williams, Gnomic Poetry in Anglo-Saxon, New York, 1914.

There are two sets of gnomes or proverbs in Old English. The Exeter collection, from which these are taken, consists of three groups. The second group, which contains the justly popular lines about the Frisian wife, is typical of the whole set.]

Group II

All frost shall freeze, fire consume wood,

Earth grow its fruits. Ice shall bridge water,

Which shall carry its cover and cunningly lock

75 The herbs of earth. One only shall loose

The fetter of frost, the Father Almighty.

Winter shall away, the weather be fair,

The sun hot in summer. The sea shall be restless.

The deep way of death is the darkest of secrets.

80 Holly flames on the fire. Afar shall be scattered

The goods of a dead man. Glory is best.

A king shall with cups secure his queen,

Buy her with bracelets. Both shall at first

Be generous with gifts. Then shall grow in the man

85 The pride of war, and his wife shall prosper,

Cherished by the folk; cheerful of mood,

She shall keep all counsel and in kindness of heart

Give horses and treasure; before the train of heroes

With full measure of mead on many occasions


90 She shall lovingly greet her gracious lord,

Shall hold the cup high and hand him to drink

Like a worthy wife. Wisely shall counsel

The two who hold their home together.

The ship shall be nailed, the shield be bound,

95 The light linden-wood.

When he lands in the haven,

To the Frisian wife is the welcome one dear:

The boat is at hand and her bread-winner home,

Her own provider. She invites him in

And washes his sea-stained garments and gives him new ones to wear:

100 It is pleasant on land when the loved one awaits you.

Woman shall be wedded to man, and her wickedness oft shall disgrace him;

Some are firm in their faith, some forward and curious

And shall love a stranger while their lord is afar.

A sailor is long on his course, but his loved one awaits his coming,

105 Abides what can not be controlled, for the time will come at last

For his home return, if his health permit, and the heaving waters

High over his head do not hold him imprisoned.



[Text: Grein-Wülcker, Bibliothek der Angelsächischen Poesie, iii, 148. The poem is typical of a large group of Old English poems which give well-known sayings or proverbs. Other poems of this group are The Gifts of Men, The Wonders of Creation, A Father’s Instructions to His Son, and the like.]

Full often through the grace of God it happens

That man and wife to the world bring forth

A babe by birth; they brightly adorn it,

And tend it and teach it till the time comes on

5 With the passing of years when the young child’s limbs

Have grown in strength and sturdy grace.

It is fondled and fed by father and mother

And gladdened with gifts. God alone knows

What fate shall be his in the fast-moving years.

10 To one it chances in his childhood days

To be snatched away by sudden death

In woeful wise. The wolf shall devour him,

The hoary heath-dweller. Heart-sick with grief,

His mother shall mourn him; but man cannot change it.

15 One of hunger shall starve; one the storm shall drown.

One the spear shall pierce; one shall perish in war.

One shall lead his life without light in his eyes,


Shall feel his way fearing. Infirm in his step,

One his wounds shall bewail, his woeful pains—

20 Mournful in mind shall lament his fate.

One from the top of a tree in the woods

Without feathers shall fall, but he flies none the less,

Swoops in descent till he seems no longer

The forest tree’s fruit: at its foot on the ground

25 He sinks in silence, his soul departed—

On the roots now lies his lifeless body.

One shall fare afoot on far-away paths,

Shall bear on his back his burdensome load,

Tread the dewy track among tribes unfriendly

30 Amid foreign foemen. Few are alive

To welcome the wanderer. The woeful face

Of the hapless outcast is hateful to men.

One shall end life on the lofty gallows;

Dead shall he hang till the house of his soul,

35 His bloody body is broken and mangled:

His eyes shall be plucked by the plundering raven,

The sallow-hued spoiler, while soulless he lies,

And helpless to fight with his hands in defense

Against the grim thief. Gone is his life.

40 With his skin plucked off and his soul departed,

The body all bleached shall abide its fate;

The death-mist shall drown him— doomed to disgrace.

The body of one shall burn on the fire;

The flame shall feed on the fated man,

45 And death shall descend full sudden upon him

In the lurid glow. Loud weeps the mother


As her boy in the brands is burned to ashes.

One the sword shall slay as he sits in the mead-hall

Angry with ale; it shall end his life,

50 Wine-sated warrior: his words were too reckless!

One shall meet his death through the drinking of beer,

Maddened with mead, when no measure he sets

To the words of his mouth through wisdom of mind;

He shall lose his life in loathsome wise,

55 Shall shamefully suffer, shut off from joy,

And men shall know him by the name of self-slayer,

Shall deplore with their mouths the mead-drinker’s fall.

One his hardships of youth through the help of God

Overcomes and brings his burdens to naught,

60 And his age when it comes shall be crowned with joy;

He shall prosper in pleasure, in plenty and wealth,

With flourishing family and flowing mead—

For such worthy rewards may one well wish to live!

Thus many the fortunes the mighty Lord

65 All over the earth to everyone grants,

Dispenses powers as his pleasure shall lead him.

One is favored with fortune; one failure in life;

One pleasure in youth; one prowess in war,

The sternest of strife; one in striking and shooting

70 Earns his honors. And often in games

One is crafty and cunning. A clerk shall one be,

Weighted with wisdom. Wonderful skill


Is one granted to gain in the goldsmith’s art;

Full often he decks and adorns in glory

75 A great king’s noble, who gives him rewards,

Grants him broad lands, which he gladly receives.

One shall give pleasure to people assembled

On the benches at beer, shall bring to them mirth,

Where drinkers are draining their draughts of joy.

80 One holding his harp in his hands, at the feet

Of his lord shall sit and receive a reward;

Fast shall his fingers fly o’er the strings;

Daringly dancing and darting across,

With his nails he shall pluck them. His need is great.

85 One shall make tame the towering falcon,

The hawk on his hand, till the haughty bird

Grows quiet and gentle; jesses he makes him,

Feeds in fetters the feather-proud hawk,

The daring air-treader with daintiest morsels,

90 Till the falcon performs the feeder’s will:

Hooded and belled, he obeys his master,

Tamed and trained as his teacher desires.

Thus in wondrous wise the Warden of Glory

Through every land has allotted to men

95 Cunning and craft; his decrees go forth

To all men on earth of every race.

For the graces granted let us give him thanks—

For his manifold mercies to the men of earth.




[Text used: Kluge, Angelsächsisches Lesebuch. It is also given in Bright’s Anglo-Saxon Reader.

Alliterative translations: Edward Fulton, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. xii (1898); Pancoast and Spaeth, Early English Poems, p. 65.

Lines 77 ff. and 101 ff. have been compared to a passage in Keats’s Hyperion (book ii, 34-38).]

Often the lonely one longs for honors,

The grace of God, though, grieved in his soul,

Over the waste of the waters far and wide he shall

Row with his hands through the rime-cold sea,

5 Travel the exile tracks: full determined is fate!

So the wanderer spake, his woes remembering,

His misfortunes in fighting and the fall of his kinsmen:

“Often alone at early dawn

I make my moan! Not a man now lives

10 To whom I can speak forth my heart and soul

And tell of its trials. In truth I know well

That there belongs to a lord an illustrious trait,

To fetter his feelings fast in his breast,


To keep his own counsel though cares oppress him.

15 The weary in heart against Wyrd has no help

Nor may the troubled in thought attempt to get aid.

Therefore the thane who is thinking of glory

Binds in his breast his bitterest thoughts.

So I fasten with fetters, confine in my breast

20 My sorrows of soul, though sick oft at heart,

In a foreign country far from my kinsmen.

I long ago laid my loyal patron

In sorrow under the sod; since then I have gone

Weary with winter-care over the wave’s foamy track,

25 In sadness have sought a solace to find

In the home and the hall of a host and ring-giver,

Who, mindful of mercy in the mead-hall free,

In kindness would comfort and care for me friendless,

Would treat me with tenderness. The tried man knows

30 How stern is sorrow, how distressing a comrade

For him who has few of friends and loved ones:

He trails the track of the exile; no treasure he has,

But heart-chilling frost— no fame upon earth.

He recalls his comrades and the costly hall-gifts

35 Of his gracious gold-friend, which he gave him in youth

To expend as he pleased: his pleasure has vanished!

He who lacks for long his lord’s advice,


His love and his wisdom, learns full well

How sorrow and slumber soothe together

40 The way-worn wanderer to welcome peace.

He seems in his sleep to see his lord;

He kisses and clasps him, and inclines on his knee

His hands and his head as in happier days

When he experienced the pleasure of his prince’s favors.

45 From his sleep then awakens the sorrowful wanderer;

He sees full before him the fallow waves,

The sea-birds bathing and beating their wings,

Frost and snow falling with freezing hail.

Then heavier grows the grief of his heart,

50 Sad after his dream; he sorrows anew.

His kinsmen’s memory he calls to his mind,

And eagerly greets it; in gladness he sees

His valiant comrades. Then they vanish away.

In the soul of a sailor no songs burst forth,

55 No familiar refrains. Fresh is his care

Who sends his soul o’er the sea full oft,

Over the welling waves his wearied heart.

Hence I may not marvel, when I am mindful of life,

That my sorrowing soul grows sick and dark,

60 When I look at the lives of lords and earls,

How they are suddenly snatched from the seats of their power,

In their princely pride. So passes this world,

And droops and dies each day and hour;


And no man is sage who knows not his share

65 Of winter in the world. The wise man is patient,

Not too hot in his heart, nor too hasty in words,

Nor too weak in war, nor unwise in his rashness,

Nor too forward nor fain, nor fearful of death,

Nor too eager and arrogant till he equal his boasting.

70 The wise man will wait with his words of boasting

Till, restraining his thoughts, he thoroughly knows

Where his vain words of vaunting eventually will lead him.

The sage man perceives how sorrowful it is

When all the wealth of the world lies wasted and scattered.

75 So now over the earth in every land

Stormed on by winds the walls are standing

Rimy with hoar-frost, and the roofs of the houses;

The wine-halls are wasted; far away are the rulers,

Deprived of their pleasure. All the proud ones have fallen,

80 The warriors by the wall: some war has borne off,

In its bloody embrace; some birds have carried

Over the high seas; to some the hoar wolf

Has dealt their death; some with dreary faces

By earls have been exiled in earth-caves to dwell:

85 So has wasted this world through the wisdom of God,

Till the proud one’s pleasure has perished utterly,

And the old work of the giants stands worthless and joyless.


He who the waste of this wall-stead wisely considers,

And looks down deep at the darkness of life,

90 Mournful in mind, remembers of old

Much struggle and spoil and speaks these words:

‘Where are the horses? Where are the heroes?

Where are the high treasure-givers?

Where are the proud pleasure-seekers? Where are the palace and its joys?

Alas the bright wine-cup! Alas the burnie-warriors!

95 Alas the prince’s pride! How passes the time

Under the shadow of night as it never had been!

Over the trusty troop now towers full high

A wall adorned with wondrous dragons.

The strength of the spear has destroyed the earls,

100 War-greedy weapons, Wyrd inexorable;

And the storms strike down on the stony cliffs;

The snows descend and seize all the earth

In the dread of winter; then darkness comes

And dusky night-shade. Down from the north

105 The hated hail-storms beat on heroes with fury.

All on earth is irksome to man;

Oft changes the work of the fates, the world under the firmament.

Here treasure is fleeting; here true friends are fleeting;

Here comrades are fleeting; here kinsmen are fleeting.

110 All idle and empty the earth has become.’

So says the sage one in mind, as he sits and secretly ponders.


Good is the man who is true to his trust; never should he betray anger,

Divulge the rage of his heart till the remedy he knows

That quickly will quiet his spirit. The quest of honor is a noble pursuit;

115 Glory be to God on high, who grants us our salvation!”

1. These opening lines are typical of the group of poems usually known as the “Elegies”—this and the next four poems in the book. It is probable that the poems of this group have no relation with one another save in general tone—a deep melancholy that, though present in the other old English poems is blackest in these.
15. Wyrd: the “Fate” of the Germanic peoples. The Anglo-Saxon’s life was overshadowed by the power of Wyrd, though Beowulf says that “a man may escape his Wyrd—if he be good enough.”
87. Ancient fortifications and cities are often referred to in Anglo-Saxon poetry as “the old work of the giants.”


[Edition used: Kluge, Angelsächsisches Lesebuch.

Up to line 65 this is one of the finest specimens of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It expresses as few poems in English have done the spirit of adventure, the wanderlust of springtime. The author was a remarkable painter of the sea and its conditions. From line 65 to the end the poem consists of a very tedious homily that must surely be a later addition.

The use of the first person throughout and the opposing sentiments expressed have caused several scholars to consider the first part of the poem a dialogue between a young man eager to go to sea and an old sailor. The divisions of the speeches suggested have been as follows:

(By Hönncher) (By Kluge) (By Rieger)
1-33a Sailor 1-33 Sailor 1-38a Sailor
33b-38 Youth 34-64 or 66 Youth 33b-38 Youth
39-43 Sailor 39-47 Sailor
44-52 Youth 48-52 Youth
53-57 Sailor 53-57 Sailor
58-64a Youth 58-71 Youth
71-end Sailor

Sweet, in his Anglo-Saxon Reader, objects to these theories since there are not only no headings or divisions in the manuscript to indicate such divisions, but there are no breaks or contrasts in the poem itself.

“If we discard these theories,” he says, “the simplest view of the poem is that it is the monologue of an old sailor who first describes the hardships of the seafaring life, and then confesses its irresistible attraction, which he justifies, as it were, by drawing a parallel between the seafarer’s contempt for the luxuries of the life on land on the one hand and the aspirations of a spiritual nature on the other, of which the sea bird is to him the type. In dwelling on these ideals the poet loses sight of the seafarer and his half-heathen associations, and as inevitably rises to a contemplation of the cheering hopes of a future life afforded by Christianity.”

The dullness and obscurity of the last part of the poem, however, and the obvious similarity to the homilies of the time make it very unlikely that the whole poem was written by one author.]

I will sing of myself a song that is true,

Tell of my travels and troublesome days,

How often I endured days of hardship;


Bitter breast-care I have borne as my portion,

5 Have seen from my ship sorrowful shores,

Awful welling of waves; oft on watch I have been

On the narrow night-wakes at the neck of the ship,

When it crashed into cliffs; with cold often pinched

Were my freezing feet, by frost bound tight

10 In its blighting clutch; cares then burned me,

Hot around my heart. Hunger tore within

My sea-weary soul. To conceive this is hard

For the landsman who lives on the lonely shore—

How, sorrowful and sad on a sea ice-cold,

15 I eked out my exile through the awful winter

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   . deprived of my kinsmen,

Hung about by icicles; hail flew in showers.

There I heard naught but the howl of the sea,

The ice-cold surge with a swan-song at times;

20 The note of the gannet for gayety served me,

The sea-bird’s song for sayings of people,

For the mead-drink of men the mew’s sad note.

Storms beat on the cliffs, ’mid the cry of gulls,

Icy of feather; and the eagle screamed,

25 The dewy-winged bird. No dear friend comes

With merciful kindness my misery to conquer.

Of this little can he judge who has joy in his life,

And, settled in the city, is sated with wine,

And proud and prosperous— how painful it is

30 When I wearily wander on the waves full oft!

Night shadows descended; it snowed from the north;

The world was fettered with frost; hail fell to the earth,


The coldest of corns.

Yet course now desires

Which surge in my heart for the high seas,

35 That I test the terrors of the tossing waves;

My soul constantly kindles in keenest impatience

To fare itself forth and far off hence

To seek the strands of stranger tribes.

There is no one in this world so o’erweening in power,

40 So good in his giving, so gallant in his youth,

So daring in his deeds, so dear to his lord,

But that he leaves the land and longs for the sea.

By the grace of God he will gain or lose;

Nor hearkens he to harp nor has heart for gift-treasures,

45 Nor in the wiles of a wife nor in the world rejoices.

Save in the welling of waves no whit takes he pleasure;

But he ever has longing who is lured by the sea.

The forests are in flower and fair are the hamlets;

The woods are in bloom, the world is astir:

50 Everything urges one eager to travel,

Sends the seeker of seas afar

To try his fortune on the terrible foam.

The cuckoo warns in its woeful call;

The summer-ward sings, sorrow foretelling,

55 Heavy to the heart. Hard is it to know

For the man of pleasure, what many with patience

Endure who dare the dangers of exile!

In my bursting breast now burns my heart,


My spirit sallies over the sea-floods wide,

60 Sails o’er the waves, wanders afar

To the bounds of the world and back at once,

Eagerly, longingly; the lone flyer beckons

My soul unceasingly to sail o’er the whale-path,

Over the waves of the sea.

64. At this point the dull homiletic passage begins. Much of it is quite untranslatable. A free paraphrase may be seen in Cook and Tinker, Translations from Old English Poetry, p. 47.


[Text used: Kluge, Angelsächsisches Lesebuch, p. 146.

The meaning of some parts of this poem is very obscure—especially lines 18-21 and 42-47. No satisfactory explanation of them has been given. There is probably no relation except in general theme between it and The Husband’s Message.]

Sorrowfully I sing my song of woe,

My tale of trials. In truth I may say

That the buffets I have borne since my birth in the world

Were never more than now, either new or old.

5 Ever the evils of exile I endure!

Long since went my lord from the land of his birth,

Over the welling waves. Woeful at dawn I asked

Where lingers my lord, in what land does he dwell?

Then I fared into far lands and faithfully sought him,

10 A weary wanderer in want of comfort.

His treacherous tribesmen contrived a plot,

Dark and dastardly, to drive us apart

The width of a world, where with weary hearts

We live in loneliness, and longing consumes me.

15 My master commanded me to make my home here.

Alas, in this land my loved ones are few,

My faithful friends! Hence I feel great sorrow


That the man well-matched with me I have found

To be sad in soul and sorrowful in mind,

20 Concealing his thoughts and thinking of murder,

Though blithe in his bearing. Oft we bound us by oath

That the day of our death should draw us apart,

Nothing less end our love. Alas, all is changed!

Now is as naught, as if never it were,

25 Our faith and our friendship. Far and near I shall

Endure the hate of one dear to my heart!

He condemned me to dwell in a darksome wood,

Under an oak-tree in an earth-cave drear.

Old is the earth-hall. I am anxious with longing.

30 Dim are the dales, dark the hills tower,

Bleak the tribe-dwellings, with briars entangled,

Unblessed abodes. Here bitterly I have suffered

The faring of my lord afar. Friends there are on earth

Living in love, in lasting bliss,

35 While, wakeful at dawn, I wander alone

Under the oak-tree the earth-cave near.

Sadly I sit there the summer-long day,

Wearily weeping my woeful exile,

My many miseries. Hence I may not ever

40 Cease my sorrowing, my sad bewailing,

Nor all the longings of my life of woe.

Always may the young man be mournful of spirit,

Unhappy of heart, and have as his portion

Many sorrows of soul, unceasing breast-cares,

45 Though now blithe of behavior. Unbearable likewise


Be his joys in the world. Wide be his exile

To far-away folk-lands where my friend sits alone,

A stranger under stone-cliffs, by storm made hoary,

A weary-souled wanderer, by waters encompassed,

50 In his lonely lodging. My lover endures

Unmeasured mind-care: he remembers too oft

A happier home. To him is fate cruel

Who lingers and longs for the loved one’s return!



[Text used: Kluge, Angelsächsisches Lesebuch.

The piece of wood on which the message is written speaks throughout the poem. It is impossible to tell whether the sender of the message is husband or lover of the woman addressed.

Some scholars consider the riddle on “The Reed,” number LX, as the true beginning of this poem. It precedes the “Message” in the manuscript. Hicketeir (Anglia, xi, 363) thinks that it does not belong with that riddle, but that it is itself a riddle. He cites the Runes, in lines 51-2, especially as evidence. Trautmann (Anglia xvi, 207) thinks that it is part of a longer poem, in which the puzzling relation would be straightened out.]

First I shall freely confide to you

The tale of this tablet of wood. As a tree I grew up

On the coast of Mecealde, close by the sea.

Frequently thence to foreign lands

5 I set forth in travel, the salt streams tried

In the keel of the ship at a king’s behest.

Full oft on the bosom of a boat I have dwelt,

Fared over the foam a friend to see,

Wherever my master on a mission sent me,

10 Over the crest of the wave. I am come here to you

On the deck of a ship and in duty inquire

How now in your heart you hold and cherish

The love of my lord. Loyalty unwavering

I affirm without fear you will find in his heart.

15 The maker of this message commands me to bid thee,


O bracelet-adorned one, to bring to thy mind

And impress on thy heart the promises of love

That ye two in the old days often exchanged

While at home in your halls unharmed you might still

20 Live in the land, love one another,

Dwell in the same country. He was driven by feud

From the powerful people. He prays now, most earnestly

That you learn with delight you may launch on the sea-stream

When from the height of the hill you hear from afar

25 The melancholy call of the cuckoo in the wood.

Let not thereafter any living man

Prevent thy voyage or prevail against it.

Seek now the shore, the sea-mew’s home!

Embark on the boat that bears thee south,

30 Where far over the foam thou shalt find thy lord,—

Where lingers thy lover in longing and hope.

In the width of the world not a wish or desire

More strongly stirs him (he instructs me to say)

Than that gracious God should grant you to live

35 Ever after at ease together,

To distribute treasures to retainers and friends,

To give rings of gold. Of gilded cups

And of proud possessions a plenty he has,

And holds his home far hence with strangers,

40 His fertile fields, where follow him many

High-spirited heroes— though here my liege-lord,

Forced by the fates, took flight on a ship


And on the watery waves went forth alone

To fare on the flood-way: fain would he escape,

45 Stir up the sea-streams. By strife thy lord hath

Won the fight against woe. No wish will he have

For horses or jewels or the joys of mead-drinking,

Nor any earl’s treasures on earth to be found,

O gentle lord’s daughter, if he have joy in thee,

50 As by solemn vows ye have sworn to each other.

I set as a sign S and R together,

E, A, W, and D, as an oath to assure you

That he stays for thee still and stands by his troth;

And as long as he lives it shall last unbroken,—

55 Which often of old with oaths ye have plighted.

1-6. The text here is so corrupt that an almost complete reconstruction has been necessary.
51. In the manuscript these letters appear as runes. For illustrations of the appearance of runes, see the introductory note to “Cynewulf and his School,” p. 95, below. What these runes stood for, or whether they were supposed to possess unusual or magic power is purely a matter of conjecture.


[Text used: Kluge, Angelsächsisches Lesebuch.

This description of a ruin with hot baths is generally assumed to be of the Roman city of Bath. The fact that the poet uses unusual words and unconventional lines seems to indicate that he wrote with his eye on the object.]

Wondrous is its wall-stone laid waste by the fates.

The burg-steads are burst, broken the work of the giants.

The roofs are in ruins, rotted away the towers,

The fortress-gate fallen, with frost on the mortar.

5 Broken are the battlements, low bowed and decaying,

Eaten under by age. The earth holds fast

The master masons: low mouldering they lie

In the hard grip of the grave, till shall grow up and perish

A hundred generations. Hoary and stained with red,

10 Through conquest of kingdoms, unconquered this wall endured,

Stood up under storm. The high structure has fallen.

Still remains its wall-stone, struck down by weapons.

They have fallen .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Ground down by grim fate .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .


15 Splendidly it shone .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

The cunning creation .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   . from its clay covering is bent;

Mind   .   .   .   .   .   . the swift one drawn.

The bold ones in counsel bound in rings

19 The wall-foundations with wires, wondrously together.

20 Bright were the burgher’s homes, the bath halls many,

Gay with high gables —a great martial sound,

Many mead-halls, where men took their pleasure,

Till an end came to all, through inexorable fate.

The people all have perished; pestilence came on them:

25 Death stole them all, the staunch band of warriors.

Their proud works of war now lie waste and deserted;

This fortress has fallen. Its defenders lie low,

Its repairmen perished. Thus the palace stands dreary,

And its purple expanse; despoiled of its tiles

30 Is the roof of the dome. The ruin sank to earth,

Broken in heaps —there where heroes of yore,

Glad-hearted and gold-bedecked, in gorgeous array,

Wanton with wine-drink in war-trappings shone:

They took joy in jewels and gems of great price,

35 In treasure untold and in topaz-stones,

In the firm-built fortress of a far-stretching realm.

The stone courts stood; hot streams poured forth,

Wondrously welled out. The wall encompassed all


In its bright embrace. Baths were there then,

40 Hot all within —a healthful convenience.

They let then pour .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Over the hoary stones the heated streams,

Such as never were seen by our sires till then.

Hringmere was its name .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

45 The baths were there then; then is .   .   .   .   .   .

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   . That is a royal thing

In a house   .   .   .   .   .   . .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

14-18. The text is too corrupt to permit of reconstruction. A literal translation of the fragmentary lines has been given in order to show the student something of the loss we have suffered in not having the whole of this finely conceived lament for fallen grandeur. The line numbers are those of Kluge’s text.



[Concerning the man Cædmon, we have nothing but Bede’s account in his Ecclesiastical History (see p. 179 below) and Cædmon’s Hymn.

Genesis was first published in Amsterdam 1655, next in 1752. The first editions brought Genesis under Cædmon’s name, because of Bede’s account. There is, however, no such clue in the manuscript. The assignment of Genesis to Cædmon was questioned by Hicks as early as 1689. The Cædmonian authorship was defended in the early part of the nineteenth century by Conybeare and Thorpe. It is now agreed that all the Cædmonian Paraphrases are probably by different authors.

Cf. A. S. Cook, “The Name Cædmon,” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vi, 9, and “Cædmon and the Ruthwell Cross,” Modern Language Notes, v, 153.]


[Text used: Kluge, Angelsächsisches Lesebuch.

Prose translation: Kennedy, The Cædmon Poems, p. xvii.

The poem is interesting in that it is found in two texts, the Northumbrian and the West Saxon. It is the only thing we have that was undoubtedly written by Cædmon.]

Now shall we praise the Prince of heaven,

The might of the Maker and his manifold thought,

The work of the Father: of what wonders he wrought

The Lord everlasting, when he laid out the worlds.

5 He first raised up for the race of men

The heaven as a roof, the holy Ruler.

Then the world below, the Ward of mankind,


The Lord everlasting, at last established

As a home for man, the Almighty Lord.

Primo cantavit Cædmon istud carmen.

6. The many synonyms (known as “kennings”) make this passage impossible to translate into smooth English. This fact is true in a measure of all old English poetry, but it is especially the case with this hymn.

[Text used: Kluge, Angelsächsisches Lesebuch.

This poem was attributed to Bede, who died in 735, by his pupil, Cuthbert, who translated it into Latin. The Northumbrian version is in a manuscript at St. Gall.

These verses are examples of gnomic poetry, which was very popular in Old English literature. Miss Williams, in her Gnomic Poetry in Anglo-Saxon (Columbia University Press, 1914), p. 67, says that this is the earliest gnomic expression in Old English for which a definite date may be set.

Text criticism: Charlotte D’Evelyn, “Bede’s Death Song,” Modern Language Notes, xxx, 31.]

Before leaving this life there lives no one

Of men of wisdom who will not need

To consider and judge, ere he sets on his journey,

What his soul shall be granted of good or evil—

5 After his day of death what doom he shall meet.

1. Bede, the author of the Ecclesiastical History of England, was the greatest figure in the English church of the seventh and eighth centuries.


[The poem readily divides itself into two parts: Genesis A, the bulk of the poem, and Genesis B, lines 235-853. The latter is a translation from the Old Saxon. The passage here translated is from Genesis A.


Critical edition of Genesis A: F. Holthausen, Die ältere Genesis, Heidelberg, 1914.

Translation: C. W. Kennedy, The Cædmon Poems, New York, 1916, p. 7.

Partial translation: W. F. H. Bosanquet, The Fall of Man or Paradise Lost of Cædmon, London, 1869.

Date and place: Early eighth century; Northern England. The author was obviously acquainted with Beowulf.

Source: Vulgate Bible; first twenty-two chapters.]

The Offering of Isaac

2845 Then the powerful King put to the test

His trusted servant; tried him sorely

To learn if his love was lasting and certain.

With strongest words he sternly said to him:

“Hear me and hasten hence, O Abraham.

2850 As thou leavest, lead along with thee

Thy own child Isaac! As an offering to me

Thyself shalt sacrifice thy son with thy hands.

When thy steps have struggled up the steep hill-side,


To the height of the land which from here I shall show you—

2855 When thine own feet have climbed, there an altar erect me,

Build a fire for thy son; and thyself shalt kill him

With the edge of the sword as a sacrifice to me;

Let the black flame burn the body of that dear one.”

He delayed not his going, but began at once

2860 To prepare for departure: he was compelled to obey

The angel of the Lord, and he loved his God.

And then the faultless father Abraham

Gave up his night’s rest; he by no means failed

To obey the Lord’s bidding, but the blessed man

2865 Girded his gray sword, God’s spirit he showed

That he bore in his breast. His beasts then he fed,

This aged giver of gold. To go on the journey

Two young men he summoned: his son made the third;

He himself was the fourth. He set forward eagerly

2870 From his own home and Isaac with him,

The child ungrown, as charged by his God.

Then he hurried ahead and hastened forth

Along the paths that the Lord had pointed,

The way through the waste; till the wondrous bright

2875 Dawn of the third day over the deep water

Arose in radiance. Then the righteous man

Saw the hill-tops rise high around him,

As the holy Ruler of heaven had shown him.


Then Abraham said to his serving-men:

2880 “O men of mine, remain here now

Quietly in this place! We shall quickly return

When we two have performed the task before us

Which the Sovereign of souls has assigned us to do.”

The old man ascended with his own son

2885 To the place which the Lord had appointed for them,

Went through the wealds; the wood Isaac carried—

His father the fire and the sword. Then first inquired

The boy young in winters, in these words of Abraham:

“Fire and sword, my father, we find here ready:

2890 Where is the glorious offering which to God on the altar

Thou thinkest to bring and burn as a sacrifice?”

Abraham answered (he had only one thing

That he wished to perform, the will of the Father):

“The Sovereign of all himself shall find it,

2895 As the Lord of men shall believe to be meet.”

Up the steep hill struggled the stout-hearted man,

Leading the child as the Lord had charged,

Till climbing he came to the crest of the height,

To the place appointed by the powerful Lord,

2900 Following the commands of his faithful Master.

He loaded the altar and lighted the fire,

And fettered fast the feet and hands

Of his beloved son and lifted upon it


The youthful Isaac, and instantly grasped

2905 The sword by the hilt; his son he would kill

With his hands as he promised and pour on the fire

The gore of his kinsman. —Then God’s servant,

An angel of the Lord, to Abraham loudly

Spoke with words. He awaited in quiet

2910 The behests from on high and he hailed the angel.

Then forthwith spoke from the spacious heavens

The messenger of God, with gracious words:

“Burn not thy boy, O blessed Abraham,

Lift up the lad alive from the altar;

2915 The God of Glory grants him his life!

O man of the Hebrews, as meed for thy obedience,

Through the holy hand of heaven’s King,

Thyself shall receive a sacred reward,

A liberal gift: the Lord of Glory

2920 Shall favor thee with fortune; his friendship shall be

More sacred than thy son himself to thee.”

The altar still burned. Abraham was blessed

By the King of mankind, the kinsman of Lot,

With the grace of God, since he gave his son,

2925 Isaac, alive. Then the aged man looked

Around over his shoulder, and a ram he saw

Not far away fastened alone

In a bramble bush— Haran’s brother saw it.

Then Abraham seized it and set it on the altar

2930 In eager haste for his own son.


With his sword he smote it; as a sacrifice he adorned

The reeking altar with the ram’s hot blood,

Gave to his God this gift and thanked him

For all of the favors that before and after

2935 The Lord had allowed him in his loving grace.

1. This selection is based directly on the biblical account of the offering of Isaac. The clearness with which the picture is visualized by the poet, and the fine restraint in the telling of the dramatic incident make this passage a fitting close for the paraphrase of Genesis.
2928. Haran, the brother of Abraham, is mentioned in Genesis, 11:26, ff.


[Critical edition: Francis A. Blackburn, Exodus and Daniel, Boston and London, 1907, Belles-Lettres Series.

Translation: Kennedy, The Cædmon Poems, p. 99.

There can be no doubt that both Exodus and Daniel are by different hands from Genesis A or Genesis B, and they are themselves by different authors.]

The Crossing of the Red Sea

When these words had been uttered the army arose;

300 Still stood the sea for the staunch warriors.

The cohorts lifted their linden-shields,

Their signals on the sand. The sea-wall mounted,

Stood upright over Israel’s legion,

For day’s time; then the doughty band

305 Was of one mind. The wall of the sea-streams

Held them unharmed in its hollow embrace.

They spurned not the speech nor despised its teaching,

As the wise man ended his words of exhorting

And the noise diminished and mingled with the sound.

310 Then the fourth tribe traveled foremost,


Went into the waves, the warriors in a band

Over the green ground; the goodly Jewish troop

Struggled alone over the strange path

Before their kinsmen. So the King of heaven

315 For that day’s work made deep reward,

He gave them a great and glorious victory,

That to them should belong the leadership

In the kingdom, and triumph over their kinsmen and tribesmen.

When they stepped on the sand, as a standard and sign

320 A beacon they raised over the ranks of shields,

Among the godly group, a golden lion,

The boldest of beasts over the bravest of peoples.

At the hands of their enemy no dishonor or shame

Would they deign to endure all the days of their life,

325 While boldly in battle they might brandish their shields

Against any people. The awful conflict,

The fight was at the front, furious soldiers

Wielding their weapons, warriors fearless,

And bloody wounds, and wild battle-rushes,

330 The jostling of helmets where the Jews advanced.

Marching after the army were the eager seamen,

The sons of Reuben; raising their shields

The sea-vikings bore them over the salt waves,

A multitude of men; a mighty throng


335 Went bravely forth. The birthright of Reuben

Was forfeited by his sins, so that he followed after

In his comrade’s track. In the tribes of the Hebrews,

The blessings of the birthright his brother enjoyed,

His riches and rank; yet Reuben was brave.

340 Following him came the folk in crowds,

The sons of Simeon in swarming bands,

The third great host. With hoisted banners

Over the watery path the war-troop pressed

Dewy under their shafts. When daylight shone

345 Over the brink of the sea, —the beacon of God,

The bright morning,— the battle-lined marched.

Each of the tribes traveled in order.

At the head of the helmeted host was one man,

Mightiest in majesty and most renowned;

350 He led forward the folk as they followed the cloud,

By tribes and by troops. Each truly knew

The right of rank as arranged by Moses,

Every man’s order. They were all from one father.

Their sacred sire received his land-right,

355 Wise in counsel, well-loved by his kinsmen.

He gave birth to a brave, bold-hearted race,

The sage patriarch to a sacred people,

To the Children of Israel, the chosen of God.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

The folk were affrighted with fear of the ocean;

Sad were their souls. The sea threatened death;

The sides of the hill were soaked with blood;


450 Gory was the flood, confusion on the waves,

The water full of weapons; the wave-mist arose.

The Egyptians turned and journeyed backward;

They fled in fright; fear overtook them;

Hurrying in haste their homes they sought;

455 Their pride had fallen; they felt sweep over them

The welling waters; not one returned

Of the host to their homes, but behind they were locked

By Wyrd in the waves. Where once was the path

The breakers beat and bore down the army.

460 The stream stood up; the storm arose

High to the heavens, the harshest of noises.

Dark grew the clouds. The doomed ones cried

With fated voices; the foam became bloody.

The sea-walls were scattered and the skies were lashed

465 With the direst of deaths; the daring ones were slain,

The princes in their pomp— they were past all help

In the edge of the ocean. Their armor shone

High over the hosts. Over the haughty ones poured

The stream in its strength. Destroyed were the troop

470 And fettered fast; they could find no escape.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

The Egyptians were

For that day’s work deeply punished,

Because not any of the army ever came home;

Of that mighty multitude there remained not a one

510 Who could tell the tale of the traveling forth


Who could announce in the cities the sorrowful news

To the wives of the warriors of the woeful disaster.

But the sea-death swallowed the sinful men,

And their messengers too, in the midst of their power,

515 And destroyed their pride, for they strove against God.

299. Moses has just finished telling the children of Israel that he has been able to make the sea part its waves so that they may walk across unharmed.
307, 308. This passage is obscure in meaning.
310. The tribe of Judah lead the way. They are followed by the tribe of Reuben (v. 331) and then by the tribe of Simeon (v. 340). This order is perhaps taken from Numbers, chapter ii.
331. The Children of Israel are called “sailors” in the poem, but no satisfactory explanation has been made of the usage.
335, 336. See Genesis 49:4.
354. This refers to God’s promise to Abraham. See Genesis 15:18; 22:17.


[Aside from Cædmon’s Hymn, the only Old English poems whose author we know are four bearing the name of Cynewulf, Christ, Juliana, Elene, and The Fates of the Apostles. In these he signs his name by means of runes inserted in the manuscript. These runes, which are at once letters of the alphabet and words, are made to fit into the context. They are Anglo-Saxon runes: cen,yr,nyd,eoh,wynn,ur,lagu,feoh

Several other poems have been ascribed to Cynewulf, especially Andreas, The Dream of the Rood, Guthlac, The Phœnix, and Judith. Except for internal evidence there is no proof of the authorship of these poems. The Riddles were formerly thought to be by Cynewulf, but recent scholars have, with one notable exception, abandoned that theory.

Many reconstructions of the life of Cynewulf have been undertaken. The most reasonable theories seem to be that he was Cynewulf, Bishop of Lindisfarne, who died about 781; or that he was a priest, Cynewulf, who executed a decree in 803. There is no real proof that either of these men was the poet. For a good discussion of the Cynewulf question, see Strunk, Juliana, pp. xvii-xix, and Kennedy, The Poems of Cynewulf, Introduction.

Of the signed poems of Cynewulf, selections are here given from Christ and Elene.]



[Critical edition: Cook, The Christ of Cynewulf, Boston, 1900. Text and translation: Gollancz, Cynewulf’s Christ, London, 1892. Translation: Kennedy, The Poems of Cynewulf, pp. 153, ff. The poem consists of three parts:

1. Advent, largely from the Roman breviary.
2. Ascension, taken from an Ascension sermon of Pope Gregory.
3. Second coming of Christ, taken from an alphabetical Latin hymn on the Last Judgment, quoted by Bede.

Is there enough unity to make us consider it one work? Cook thinks we can. The differences in the language and meter are not so striking as to make it unlikely. The great objection to it is that the runes occur at the end of the second part, which is not far from the middle of the entire poem. In the three other poems signed by Cynewulf the runes occur near the end.]

1. Hymn to Christ

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   . to the King.

Thou art the wall-stone that the workmen of old

Rejected from the work. Well it befits thee

To become the head of the kingly hall,

5 To join in one the giant walls

In thy fast embrace, the flint unbroken;

That through all the earth every eye may see

And marvel evermore, O mighty Prince,

Declare thy accomplishments through the craft of thy hand,

10 Truth-fast, triumphant, and untorn from its place

Leave wall against wall. For the work it is needful

That the Craftsman should come and the King himself

And raise that roof that lies ruined and decayed,

Fallen from its frame. He formed that body,

15 The Lord of life, and its limbs of clay,

And shall free from foemen the frightened in heart,

The downcast band, as he did full oft.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

2. Hymn to Jerusalem

50 O vision of happiness! holy Jerusalem!

Fairest of king’s thrones! fortress of Christ!

The home-seat of angels, where the holy alone,


The souls of the righteous, shall find rest unceasing,

Exulting in triumph. No trace of sin

55 Shall be made manifest in that mansion of bliss,

But all faults shall flee afar from thee,

All crime and conflict; thou art covered with glory

Of highest hope, as thy holy name showest.

Cast now thy gaze on the glorious creation,

60 How around thee the roomy roof of heaven

Looks on all sides, how the Lord of Hosts

Seeks thee in his course and comes himself,

And adopts thee to dwell in, as in days agone

In words of wisdom the wise men said,

65 Proclaimed Christ’s birth as a comfort to thee,

Thou choicest of cities! Now the child has come,

Born to make worthless the work of the Hebrews.

He bringeth thee bliss; thy bonds he unlooseth;

He striveth for the stricken; understandeth their


70 How woeful men must wait upon mercy.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

1. This poem begins in the fragmentary manner indicated by the translation.
2. See Psalms 118:22.
3. Joseph and Mary

[Mary] “O my Joseph, O Jacob’s son,

165 Kinsman of David, the king renowned,

Dost thou plan to turn from thy plighted troth,


And leave my love?”

[Joseph] “Alas, full soon

I am oppressed with grief and deprived of honor.

I have borne for thee many bitter words,

170 Insulting slurs and sorrowful taunts,

Scathing abuses, and they scorn me now

In wrathful tones. My tears I shall pour

In sadness of soul. My sorrowful heart,

My grief full easily our God may heal,

175 And not leave me forlorn. Alas, young damsel,

Mary maiden!”

[Mary] “Why bemoanest thou

And bitterly weepest? No blame in thee,

Nor any fault have I ever found

For wicked works, and this word thou speakest

180 As if thou thyself with sinful deeds

And faults wert filled.”

[Joseph] “Far too much grief

Thy conception has caused me to suffer in shame.

How can I bear their bitter taunts

Or ever make answer to my angry foes

185 Who wish me woe? ’Tis widely known

That I took from the glorious temple of God

A beautiful virgin of virtue unblemished,

The chastest of maidens, but a change has now come,

Though I know not the cause. Nothing avails me—

190 To speak or to be silent. If I say the truth,

Then the daughter of David shall die for her crime,

Struck down with stones; yet still it were harder


To conceal the sin; forsworn forever

I should live my life loathed by all people,

195 By men reviled.” Then the maid revealed

The work of wonder, and these words she spoke:

“Truly I say, by the Son of the Creator

The Savior of souls, the Son of God,

I tell thee in truth that the time has not been

200 That the embrace of a mortal man I have known

On all the earth; but early in life

This grace was granted me, that Gabriel came,

The high angel of heaven, and hailed me in greeting,

In truthful speech: that the Spirit of heaven

With his light should illumine me, that life’s Glory by me

205 Should be borne, the bright Son, the blessed Child of God,

Of the kingly Creator. I am become now his temple,

Unspoiled and spotless; the Spirit of comfort

Hath his dwelling in me. Endure now no longer

Sorrow and sadness, and say eternal thanks

210 To the mighty Son of the Maker, that his mother I have become,

Though a maid I remain, and in men’s opinion

Thou art famed as his father, if fulfillment should come

Of the truth that the Prophets foretold of his coming.”

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

164. This passage is especially interesting in being one of the first appearances of the dialogue form in old English. Some scholars have gone so far as to think that we have here the germ from which English drama comes, but there does not seem reason to believe that the scene ever received any kind of dramatic representation.
4. Rune Passage

Not ever on earth need any man

780 Have dread of the darts of the devil’s race,

Of the fighting of the fiends, whose defense is in God,

The just Lord of Hosts. The judgment is nigh

When each without fail shall find his reward,

Of weal or of woe, for his work on the earth

785 During the time of his life. ’Tis told us in books,

How from on high the humble one came,

The Treasure-hoard of honor, to the earth below

In the Virgin’s womb, the valiant Son of God,

Holy from on high. I hope in truth

790 And also dread the doom far sterner,

When Christ and his angels shall come again,

Since I kept not closely the counsels my Savior

Bade in his books. I shall bear therefore

To see the work of sin (it shall certainly be)

795 When many shall be led to meet their doom,

To receive justice in the sight of their Judge.

Then the Courageous shall tremble, shall attend the King,

The Righteous Ruler, when his wrath he speaks

To the worldlings who weakly his warning have heeded


800 While their Yearning and Need even yet could have easily

Found a comfort. There, cowering in fear,

Many wearily shall wait on the wide plain

What doom shall be dealt them for the deeds of their life,

Of angry penalties. Departed hath Winsomeness,

805 The ornaments of earth. It Used to be true

That long our Life-joys were locked in the sea-streams,

Our Fortunes on earth; in the fire shall our treasure

Burn in the blast; brightly shall mount,

The red flame, raging and wrathfully striding

810 Over the wide world; wasted shall be the plains;

The castles shall crumble; then shall climb the swift fire,

The greediest of guests, grimly and ruthlessly

Eat the ancient treasure that of old men possessed

While still on the earth was their strength and their pride.

815 Hence I strive to instruct each steadfast man

That he be cautious in the care of his soul,

And not pour it forth in pride in that portion of days

That the Lord allows him to live in the world,

While the soul abideth safe in the body,

820 In that friendly home. It behooveth each man

To bethink him deeply in the days of his life


How meekly and mildly the mighty Lord

Came of old to us by an angel’s word;

Yet grim shall he be when again he cometh,

825 Harsh and righteous. Then the heavens shall rock,

And the measureless ends of the mighty earth

Shall tremble in terror. The triumphant King

Shall avenge their vain and vicious lives,

Their loathsome wickedness. Long shall they wallow

830 With heavy hearts in the heat of the fire bath,

Suffer for their sins in its surging flame.

779. The passage following contains the runes from which we obtain the name Cynewulf. The runes are at once a word and a letter, in the same way that our letter I is also the symbol for the first personal pronoun. In the places where the meaning fits, Cynewulf has written the runes that spell his name.
804. In this passage the runes omit the e of the poet’s name, although it is found in the other runic passages.


[Critical edition: Holthausen, Kynewulf’s Elene, Heidelberg, 1905.

Translation: Kennedy, The Poems of Cynewulf, pp. 87 ff.; Kemble, The Poetry of the Codex Vercelliensis, with an English translation, London, 1856.

Source: Acta Sanctorum for May 4.

The first passage describes the vision of the cross by the Emperor Constantine, the second the finding of the true cross by his mother, Helena, in Old English, “Elene.”

The poem is usually regarded as Cynewulf’s masterpiece.]

1. The Vision of the Cross

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   . Heart-care oppressed

The Roman ruler; of his realm he despaired;

He was lacking in fighters; too few were his warriors,

His close comrades to conquer in battle

65 Their eager enemy. The army encamped,

Earls about their ætheling, at the edge of the stream,

Where they spread their tents for the space of the


After first they had found their foes approach.

To Cæsar himself in his sleep there came

70 A dream as he lay with his doughty men,

To the valiant king a vision appeared:

It seemed that he saw a soldier bright,

Glorious and gleaming in the guise of a man

More fair of form than before or after

75 He had seen under the skies. From his sleep he awoke,


Hastily donned his helmet. The herald straightway,

The resplendent messenger spoke unto him,

Named him by name —the night vanished away:

“O Constantine, the King of angels bids—

80 The Master Almighty, to make thee a compact,

The Lord of the faithful. No fear shouldst thou have,

Though foreign foes bring frightful war,

And horrors unheard of! To heaven now look,

To the Guardian of glory: Thou shalt gain there support,

85 The sign of victory!”

Soon was he ready

To obey the holy bidding, and unbound his heart,

And gazed on high, as the herald had bade him,

The princely Peace-weaver. With precious jewels adorned,

He saw the radiant rood over the roof of clouds,

90 Gorgeous with gold and gleaming gems.

The brilliant beam bore these letters

Shining with light: Thou shalt with this sign

Overcome and conquer in thy crying need

The fearsome foe.” Then faded the light,

95 And joining the herald, journeyed on high

Unto the clean-hearted company. The king was the blither,

And suffered in his soul less sorrow and anguish,

The valiant victor, through the vision fair.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

92. This is a translation of the famous Latin motto in hoc signo vinces.
2. The Discovery of the Cross

Striving in strength and with steadfast heart,

830 He began to delve for the glorious tree

Under its covering of turf, till at twenty feet

Below the surface concealed he found

Shut out from sight, under the shelving cliff,

In the chasm of darkness —three crosses he found,

In their gloomy grave together he found them,—

835 Grimy all over, as in ancient days

The unrighteous race had wrapped them in earth,

The sinful Jews. Against the Son of God

They showed their hate as they should not have done

Had they not harkened to the behests of the devil.

840 Then blithe was his heart and blissful within him.

His soul was inspired by the sacred tree.

His heart was emboldened when he beheld that beacon

Holy and deep hidden. With his hands he seized

The radiant cross of heaven, and with his host he raised it

845 From its grave in the earth. The guests from afar

And princes and æthelings went all to the town.

In her sight they set the three sacred trees,

The proud valiant men, plain to be seen

Before Elene’s knee. And now was joy


850 In the heart of the Queen; she inquired of the men

On which of the crosses the crucified Lord,

The heavenly Hope-giver, hung in pain:

“Lo! we have heard from the holy books

It told for a truth that two of them

855 Suffered with him and himself was the third

On the hallowed tree. The heavens were darkened

In that terrible time. Tell, if you can,

On which of these roods the Ruler of angels,

The Savior of men suffered his death.

860 In no wise could Judas —for he knew not at all—

Clearly reveal that victory tree

On which the Lord was lifted high,

The son of God, but they set, by his order,

In the very middle of the mighty city

865 The towering trees to tarry there,

Till the Almighty King should manifest clearly

Before the multitude the might of that marvelous rood.

The assembly sat, their song uplifted;

They mused in their minds on the mystery trees

870 Until the ninth hour when new delight grew

Through a marvelous deed. —There a multitude came,

Of folk not a little, and, lifted among them,

There was borne on a bier by brave-hearted men

Nigh to the spot —it was the ninth hour—

875 A lifeless youth. Then was lifted the heart

Of Judas in great rejoicing and gladness.

He commanded them to set the soulless man,


With life cut off, the corpse on the earth,

Bereft of life, and there was raised aloft

880 By the proclaimer of justice, the crafty of heart,

The trusty in counsel, two of the crosses

Over that house of death. It was dead as before

The body fast to the bier: about the chill limbs

Was grievous doom. Then began the third cross

885 To be lifted aloft. There lay the body,

Until above him was reared the rood of the Lord,

The holy cross of heaven’s King,

The sign of salvation. He soon arose

With spirit regained, and again were joined

890 Body and soul. Unbounded was the praise

And fair of the folk. The Father they thanked

And the true and sacred Son of the Almighty

With gracious words. —Glory and praise be his

Always without end from every creature.

829. After Constantine has accepted Christianity, his mother Helena (Elene) undertakes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the purpose of discovering the true cross. After many failures she finally learns where it is hidden. The passage here translated relates the discovery of the cross.



[Critical edition: Cook, The Dream of the Rood, Oxford, 1905.

Author: “Making all due allowance, then, for the weakness of certain arguments both pro and con, the balance of probability seems to incline decidedly in favor of Cynewulfian authorship.”—Cook.

Translations: English Prose: Kemble. Verse: Stephens, 1866; Morley, 1888; Miss Iddings, 1902.

The poem has much in common with Elene, especially the intimate self-analysis. Portions of it are on the Ruthwell Cross in Dumfriesshire. It is claimed as Cynewulf’s, but there is nothing to indicate this except the beauty of style, which has caused it to be called “the choicest blossom of Old English Christian poetry.”]

Lo, I shall tell you the truest of visions,

A dream that I dreamt in the dead of night

While people reposed in peaceful sleep.

I seemed to see the sacred tree

5 Lifted on high in a halo of light,

The brightest of beams; that beacon was wholly

Gorgeous with gold; glorious gems stood

Fair at the foot; and five were assembled,

At the crossing of the arms. The angels of God looked on,

10 Fair through the firmament. It was truly no foul sinner’s cross,

For beholding his sufferings were the holy spirits,

The men of the earth and all of creation.


Wondrous was that victory-wood, and I wounded and stained

With sorrows and sins. I saw the tree of glory

15 Blessed and bright in brilliant adornments,

Made joyous with jewels. Gems on all sides

Full rarely enriched the rood of the Savior.

Through the sight of that cross I came to perceive

Its stiff struggle of old, when it started first

20 To bleed on the right side. I was broken and cast down with sorrow;

The fair sight inspired me with fear. Before me the moving beacon

Changed its clothing and color. At times it was covered with blood

Fearful and grimy with gore. At times with gold ’twas adorned.

Then I lay and looked for a long time

25 And saw the Savior’s sorrowful tree

Until I heard it lift high its voice.

The worthiest of the wood-race formed words and spoke:

“It was ages ago —I shall always remember—

When first I was felled at the forest’s edge,

30 My strong trunk stricken. Then strange enemies took me

And fashioned my frame to a cross; and their felons I raised on high.

On their backs and shoulders they bore me to the brow of the lofty hill.


There the hated ones solidly set me. I saw there the Lord of Mankind

Struggling forward with courage to climb my sturdy trunk.

35 I dared not then oppose the purpose of the Lord,

So I bent not nor broke when there burst forth a trembling

From the ends of the earth. Easily might I

Destroy the murderers, but I stood unmoved.

The Young Hero unclothed him —it was the holy God—

40 Strong and steadfast; he stepped to the high gallows,

Not fearing the look of the fiends, and there he freed mankind.

At his blessed embrace I trembled, but bow to the earth I dared not,

Or forward to fall to the ground, but fast and true I endured.

As a rood I was raised up; a royal King I bore,

45 The Lord of heavenly legions. I allowed myself never to bend.

Dark nails through me they drove; so that dastardly scars are upon me,

Wounds wide open; but not one of them dared I to harm.


They cursed and reviled us together. I was covered all over with blood,

That flowed from the Savior’s side when his soul had left the flesh.

50 Sorrowful the sights I have seen on that hill,

Grim-visaged grief: the God of mankind I saw

And his frightful death. The forces of darkness

Covered with clouds the corpse of the Lord,

The shining radiance; the shadows darkened

55 Under the cover of clouds. Creation all wept,

The king’s fall bewailed. Christ was on the rood.

Finally from afar came faithful comrades

To the Savior’s side, and I saw it all.

Bitter the grief that I bore, but I bowed me low to their hands;

60 My travail was grievous and sore. They took then God Almighty,

From loathsome torment they lifted him. The warriors left me deserted,

To stand stained with blood. I was stricken and wounded with nails.

Limb-weary they laid him there, and at their Lord’s head they stood.

They beheld there the Ruler of heaven; and they halted a while to rest,

65 Tired after the terrible struggle. A tomb then they began to make,

His friends in sight of his foes. Of the fairest of stone they built it,


And set their Savior upon it. A sorrowful dirge they chanted,

Lamented their Master at evening, when they made their journey home,

Tired from their loved Lord’s side. And they left him with the guard.

70 We crosses stood there streaming with blood,

And waited long after the wailing ceased

Of the brave company. The body grew cold,

The most precious of corpses. Then they pulled us down,

All to the earth —an awful fate!

75 They buried us low in a pit. But the loved disciples of Christ,

His faithful friends made search and found me and brought me to light,

And gorgeously decked me with gold and with silver.

“Now mayst thou learn, my beloved friend,

That the work of the wicked I have worthily borne,

80 The most trying of torments. The time is now come

When through the wide world I am worshipped and honored,

That all manner of men, and the mighty creation,

Hold sacred this sign. On me the Son of God

Death-pangs endured. Hence, dauntless in glory,

85 I rise high under heaven, and hold out salvation

To each and to all who have awe in my presence.

“Long ago I was the greatest and most grievous of torments,


Most painful of punishments, till I pointed aright

The road of life for the race of men.

90 “Lo, a glory was given by the God of Creation

To the worthless wood —by the Warden of heaven—

Just as Mary, his mother, the maiden blessed,

Received grace and glory from God Almighty,

And homage and worship over other women.

95 “And now I bid thee, my best of comrades,

That thou reveal this vision to men.

Tell them I am truly the tree of glory,

That the Savior sorrowed and suffered upon me

For the race of men and its many sins,

100 And the ancient evil that Adam wrought.

“He there tasted of death; but in triumph he rose,

The Lord in his might and gave life unto men.

Then he ascended to heaven, and hither again

Shall the Savior descend to seek mankind

105 On the day of doom, the dreaded Ruler

Of highest heaven, with his host of angels.

Then will he adjudge with justice and firmness

Rewards to the worthy whose works have deserved them,

Who loyally lived their lives on the earth.

110 Then a feeling of fear shall fill every heart

For the warning they had in the words of their Master:

He shall demand of many where the man may be found

To consent for the sake of his Savior to taste


The bitter death as He did on the cross.

115 They are filled with fear and few of them think

What words they shall speak in response to Christ.

Then no feeling of fright or fear need he have

Who bears on his heart the brightest of tokens,

But there shall come to the kingdom through the cross and its power

120 All the souls of the saved from the sorrows of earth,

Of the holy who hope for a home with their Lord.”

Then I adored the cross with undaunted courage,

With the warmest zeal, while I watched alone

And saw it in secret. My soul was eager

125 To depart on its path, but I have passed through many

An hour of longing. Through all my life

I shall seek the sight of that sacred tree

Alone more often than all other men

And worthily worship it. My will for this service

130 Is steadfast and sturdy, and my strength is ever

In the cross of Christ. My comrades of old,

The friends of fortune, all far from the earth

Have departed from the world and its pleasures and have passed to the King of Glory,

And high in the heavens with the holy God

135 Are living eternally. And I long for the time

To arrive at last when the rood of the Lord,

Which once so plainly appeared to my sight,

Shall summon my soul from this sorrowful life,

And bring me to that bourne where bliss is unending


140 And happiness of heaven, where the holy saints

All join in a banquet, where joy is eternal.

May He set me where always in after time

I shall dwell in glory with God’s chosen ones

In delights everlasting. May the Lord be my friend,

145 Who came to earth and of old on the cross

Suffered and sorrowed for the sins of men.

He broke there our bonds and bought for us life

And a heavenly home. The hearts were now filled

With blessings and bliss, which once burned with remorse.

150 To the Son was his journey successful and joyful

And crowned with triumph, when he came with his troops,

With his gladsome guests into God’s kingdom,

The Almighty Judge’s, and brought joy to the angels,

And the host of the holy who in heaven before

155 Dwelt in glory when their God arrived,

The Lord Most High, at his home at last.

39. The lines that follow appear with some changes on the Ruthwell Cross in Dumfriesshire.
44. This and the following line form the basis of an inscription on a reliquary containing a cross preserved in the Cathedral at Brussels.


[Critical edition: Cook, Judith, Boston, 1904.

Translation: Hall, Judith, Phoenix and Other Anglo-Saxon Poems.

Manuscript: The same as the one containing Beowulf. It was injured by a fire in 1731. It had been printed by Thwaites in 1698 before the injury.

Authorship and date: The mixture of dialect forms seems to indicate that a northern original passed through one or more hands and that at least the last scribe belonged to the late West Saxon period. Cook thinks that it is not earlier than about 825 nor later than 937, and that it is possibly by Cynewulf.

Source: Apocryphal book of Judith.]

1. The Feast

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   . She doubted [not] the gifts

In this wide world. There worthily she found

Help at the hands of the Lord, when she had the highest need,

Grace from God on high, that against the greatest of dangers

5 The Lord of Hosts should protect her; for this the Heavenly Father

Graciously granted her wish, for she had given true faith

To the holy Ruler of heaven.


Holofernes then, I am told,

Called his warriors to a wine-feast and a wondrous and glorious

Banquet prepared. To this the prince of men

10 Bade the bravest of thanes. Then with bold haste

To the powerful prince came the proud shield-warriors,

Before the chief of the folk. That was the fourth day

Since the gentle Judith, just in her thoughts,

Of fairy-like beauty, was brought to the king.

15 Then they sought the assembly to sit at the banquet,

Proud to the wine-pouring, all his partners in woe,

Bold burnie-warriors. Bowls large and deep

Were borne along the benches; beakers also and flagons

Full to the feasters. Fated they drank it,

20 Renowned shield-knights, though he knew not their doom,

The hateful lord of heroes. Holofernes, the king,

Bestower of jewels, took joy in the wine-pouring,

Howled and hurled forth a hideous din

That the folk of the earth from afar might hear

25 How the stalwart and strong-minded stormed and bellowed,

Maddened by mead-drink; he demanded full oft

That the brave bench-sitters should bear themselves well.

So the hellish demon through the whole of the day

Drenched with drink his dear companions,


30 The cruel gold-king, till unconscious they lay,

All drunk his doughty ones, as if in death they were slain,

Every good gone from them.

1. Although the fragment begins in the middle of a line, it presents the appearance of being practically complete. Certainly, as it stands it makes an artistic whole: we begin and end the poem by showing how Judith was favored of God. Within a very short space after the opening lines we are in the midst of the action: Judith has come from her beleaguered city of Bethulia and enchanted Holofernes by her beauty, and Holofernes has finished his great feast by summoning her to him. All this is put before us in the first 37 lines. The rest of the poem is vividly conceived, from the slaying of the Assyrian king to the final victory and rejoicing.
2. The Slaying of Holofernes

He gave then commands

To serve the hall-sitters till descending upon them

Dark night came near. The ignoble one ordered

35 The blessed maiden, burdened with jewels,

Freighted with rings, to be fetched in all haste

To his hated bedside. His behest they performed,

His corps of retainers —the commands of their lord,

Chief of the champions. Cheerfully they stepped

40 To the royal guest-room, where full ready they found

The queenly Judith, and quickly then

The goodly knights began to lead

The holy maiden to the high tent,

Where the rich ruler rested always,

45 Lay him at night, loathsome to God,

Holofernes. There hung an all-golden

Radiant fly-net around the folk-chief’s

Bed embroidered; so that the baleful one,

The loathed leader, might look unhindered

50 On everyone of the warrior band

Who entered in, and on him none

Of the sons of men, unless some of his nobles,


Contrivers of crime, he called to his presence:

His barons to bring him advice. Then they bore to his rest

55 The wisest of women; went then the strong-hearted band

To make known to their master that the maiden of God

Was brought to his bower. Then blithe was the chief in his heart,

The builder of burg-steads; the bright maiden he planned

With loathsome filth to defile, but the Father of heaven knew

60 His purpose, the Prince of goodness and with power he restrained him,

God, the Wielder of Glory. Glad then the hateful one

Went with his riotous rout of retainers

Baleful to his bedside, where his blood should be spilled

Suddenly in a single night. Full surely his end approached

65 On earth ungentle, even as he lived,

Stern striver for evil, while still in this world

He dwelt under the roof of the clouds. Drunken with wine then he fell

In the midst of his regal rest so that he recked not of counsel


In the chamber of his mind; the champions stepped

70 Out of his presence and parted in haste,

The wine-sated warriors who went with the false one,

And the evil enemy of man ushered to bed

For the last time.

Then the Lord’s servant

The mighty hand-maiden, was mindful in all things

75 How she most easily from the evil contriver

His life might snatch ere the lecherous deceiver,

The creature crime-laden awoke. The curly-locked maiden

Of God then seized the sword well ground,

Sharp from the hammers, and from its sheath drew it

80 With her right hand; heaven’s Guardian she began

To call by name, Creator of all

The dwellers in the world, and these words she spoke:

“O Heavenly God, and Holy Ghost,

Son of the Almighty, I will seek from Thee

85 Thy mercy unfailing to defend me from evil,

O Holiest Trinity. Truly for me now

Full sore is my soul and sorrowful my heart,

Tormented with griefs. Grant me, Lord of the skies,

Success and soundness of faith, that with this sword I may

90 Behead this hideous monster. Heed my prayer for salvation,

Noble Lord of nations; never have I had


More need of thy mercy; mighty Lord, avenge now

Bright-minded Bringer of glory, that I am thus baffled in spirit,

Heated in heart.” Her then the greatest of Judges

95 With dauntless daring inspired, as he doth ever to all

The sons of the Spirit who seek him for help,

With reason and with right belief. Then was to the righteous in mind,

Holy hope renewed; the heathen man then she took,

And held by his hair; with her hands she drew him

100 Shamefully toward her, and the traitorous deceiver

Laid as she listed, most loathsome of men,

In order that easily the enemy’s body

She might wield at her will. The wicked one she slew,

The curly-locked maiden with her keen-edged sword,

105 Smote the hateful-hearted one till she half cut through

Severing his neck, so that swooning he lay

Drunken and death-wounded. Not dead was he yet,

Nor lifeless entirely: the triumphant lady

More earnestly smote the second time

110 The heathen hound, so that his head was thrown

Forth on the floor; foul lay the carcass,

Bereft of a soul; the spirit went elsewhere

Under the burning abyss where abandoned it lay,

Tied down in torment till time shall cease,

115 With serpents bewound, amid woes and tortures,

All firmly fixed in the flames of hell,

When death came upon him. He durst not hope,


Enveloped in blackness, to venture forth ever

From that dreary hole, but dwell there he shall

120 Forever and aye till the end of time,

In that hideous home without hope of joy.

52. Here begins a series of extended lines which some critics think are intended to lend an air of solemnity to the passage. A study of the occurrence of these long lines in this and other poems, such as The Wanderer, The Charms, or Widsith, does not seem to bear out this contention. Usually these long lines have three accents in each half. The rules for the alliteration are the same as for the short verses.
3. The Return to Bethulia

Great was the glory then gained in the fight

By Judith at war, through the will of God,

The mighty Master, who permitted her victory.

125 Then the wise-minded maiden immediately threw

The heathen warrior’s head so bloody,

Concealed it in the sack that her servant had brought—

The pale-faced woman, polished in manners—

Which before she had filled with food for them both.

130 Then the gory head gave she to her goodly maid-servant

To bear to their home, to her helper she gave it,

To her junior companion. Then they journeyed together,

Both of the women, bold in their daring,

The mighty in mind, the maidens exultant,

135 Till they had wholly escaped from the host of the enemy,

And could full clearly catch the first sight

Of their sacred city and see the walls

Of bright Bethulia. Then the bracelet-adorned ones,

Traveling on foot, went forth in haste,

140 Until they had journeyed, with joy in their hearts,

To the wall-gate.


The warriors sat

Unwearied in watching, the wardens on duty,

Fast in the fortress, as the folk erstwhile,

The grieved ones of mind, by the maiden were counselled,

145 By the wary Judith, when she went on her journey,

The keen-witted woman. She had come once more,

Dear to her people, the prudent in counsel.

She straightway summoned certain of the heroes

From the spacious city speedily to meet her

150 And allow her to enter without loss of time

Through the gate of the wall, and these words she spoke

To the victor-tribe:

“I may tell to you now

Noteworthy news, that you need no longer

Mourn in your mind, for the Master is kind to you,

155 The Ruler of nations. It is known afar

Around the wide world that you have won glory;

Very great victory is vouchsafed in return

For all the evils and ills you have suffered.”

Blithe then became the burghers within,

160 When they heard how the Holy Maid spoke

Over the high wall. The warriors rejoiced;

To the gate of the fortress the folk then hastened,

Wives with their husbands, in hordes and in bands,

In crowds and in companies; they crushed and thronged

165 Towards the handmaid of God by hundreds and thousands,


Old ones and young ones. All of the men

In the goodly city were glad in their hearts

At the joyous news that Judith was come

Again to her home, and hastily then

170 With humble hearts the heroes received her.

Then gave the gold-adorned, sagacious in mind,

Command to her comrade, her co-worker faithful

The heathen chief’s head to hold forth to the people,

To the assembly to show as a sign and a token,

175 All bloody to the burghers, how in battle they sped.

To the famed victory-folk the fair maiden spoke:

“O proudest of peoples, princely protectors,

Gladly now gaze on the gory face,

On the hated head of the heathen warrior,

180 Holofernes, wholly life-bereft,

Who most of all men contrived murder against us,

The sorest of sorrows, and sought even yet

With greater to grind us, but God would not suffer him

Longer to live, that with loathsomest evils

185 The proud one should oppress us; I deprived him of life

Through the grace of God. Now I give commands

To you citizens bold, you soldiers brave-hearted,

Protectors of the people, to prepare one and all

Forthwith for the fight. When first from the east

190 The King of creation, the kindest of Lords,

Sends the first beams of light, bring forth your linden-shields,

Boards for your breasts and your burnie-corselets,


Your bright-hammered helmets to the hosts of the scathers,

To fell the folk-leaders, the fated chieftains,

195 With your fretted swords. Your foes are all

Doomed to the death, and dearly-won glory

Shall be yours in battle, as the blessed Creator

The mighty Master, through me has made known.”

4. The Battle

Then a band of bold knights busily gathered,

200 Keen men at the conflict; with courage they stepped forth,

Bearing banners, brave-hearted companions,

And fared to the fight, forth in right order,

Heroes under helmets from the holy city

At the dawning of day; dinned forth their shields

205 A loud-voiced alarm. Now listened in joy

The lank wolf in the wood and the wan raven,

Battle-hungry bird, both knowing well

That the gallant people would give to them soon

A feast on the fated; now flew on their track

210 The deadly devourer, the dewy-winged eagle,

Singing his war-song, the swart-coated bird,

The horned of beak. Then hurried the warriors,

Keen for the conflict, covered with shields,

With hollow lindens— they who long had endured

215 The taunts and the tricks of the treacherous strangers,


The host of the heathen; hard was it repaid now

To all the Assyrians, every insult revenged,

At the shock of the shields, when the shining-armed Hebrews

Bravely to battle marched under banners of war

220 To face the foeman. Forthwith then they

Sharply shot forth showers of arrows,

Bitter battle-adders from their bows of horn,

Hurled straight from the string; stormed and raged loudly

The dauntless avengers; darts were sent whizzing

225 Into the hosts of the hardy ones. Heroes were angry

The dwellers in the land, at the dastardly race.

Strong-hearted they stepped, stern in their mood;

On their enemies of old took awful revenge,

On their mead-weary foes. With the might of their hands

230 Their shining swords from their sheaths they drew forth.

With the choicest of edges the champions they smote—

Furiously felled the folk of Assyria,

The spiteful despoilers. They spared not a one

Of the hated host, neither high nor low

235 Of living men that they might overcome.

So the kinsmen-companions at the coming of morning

Followed the foemen, fiercely attacking them,

Till, pressed and in panic, the proud ones perceived


That the chief and the champions of the chosen people

240 With the swing of the sword swept all before them,

The wise Hebrew warriors. Then word they carried

To the eldest officers over the camp,

Ran with the wretched news, arousing the leaders,

Fully informed them of the fearful disaster,

245 Told the merry mead-drinkers of the morning encounter

Of the horrible edge-play. I heard then suddenly

The slaughter-fated men from sleep awakened

And toward the bower-tent of the baleful chief,

Holofernes, they hastened: in hosts they crowded,

250 Thickly they thronged. One thought had they only,

Their lasting loyalty to their lord to show,

Before in their fury they fell upon him,

The host of the Hebrews. The whole crowd imagined

That the lord of despoilers and the spotless lady

255 Together remained in the gorgeous tent,

The virtuous virgin and the vicious deceiver,

Dreadful and direful; they dared not, however,

Awaken the warrior, not one of the earls,

Nor be first to find how had fared through the night

260 The most churlish of chieftains and the chastest of maidens,

The pride of the Lord.

Now approached in their strength

The folk of the Hebrews. They fought remorselessly

With hard-hammered weapons, with their hilts requited


Their strife of long standing, with stained swords repaid

265 Their ancient enmity; all of Assyria

Was subdued and doomed that day by their work,

Its pride bowed low. In panic and fright,

In terror they stood around the tent of their chief,

Moody in mind. Then the men all together

270 In concert clamored and cried aloud,

Ungracious to God, and gritted their teeth,

Grinding them in their grief. Then was their glory at an end,

Their noble deeds and daring hopes. Then they deemed it wise

To summon their lord from his sleep, but success was denied them.

275 A loyal liegeman, —long had he wavered—

Desperately dared the door to enter,

Ventured into the pavilion; violent need drove him.

On the bed then he found, in frightful state lying,

His gold-giver ghastly; gone was his spirit,

280 No life in him lingered. The liegeman straight fell.

Trembling with terror, he tore at his hair,

He clawed at his clothes; he clamored despairing,

And to the waiting warriors these words he said,

As they stood outside in sadness and fear:

285 “Here is made manifest our imminent doom,

Is clearly betokened that the time is near,

Pressing upon us with perils and woes,

When we lose our lives, and lie defeated

By the hostile host; here hewn by the sword,


290 Our lord is beheaded.” With heavy spirits

They threw their weapons away, and weary in heart,

Scattered in flight.

205. The picture of the birds of prey hovering over the battle field is one of the constant features of Anglo-Saxon battle poetry. Note its occurrence in The Fight at Finnsburg and The Battle of Brunnanburg especially.
5. The Pursuit

Then their foemen pursued them,

Their grim power growing, until the greatest part

Of the cowardly band they conquered in battle

295 On the field of victory. Vanquished and sword-hewn,

They lay at the will of the wolves, for the watchful and greedy

Fowls to feed upon. Then fled the survivors

From the shields of their foemen. Sharp on their trail came

The crowd of the Hebrews, covered with victory,

300 With honors well-earned; aid then accorded them,

Graciously granted them, God, Lord Almighty.

They then daringly, with dripping swords,

The corps of brave kinsmen, cut them a war-path

Through the host of the hated ones; they hewed with their swords,

305 Sheared through the shield-wall. They shot fast and furiously,

Men stirred to strife, the stalwart Hebrews,

The thanes, at that time, thirsting exceedingly,

Fain for the spear-fight. Then fell in the dust

The chiefest part of the chosen warriors,

310 Of the staunch and the steadfast Assyrian leaders,

Of the fated race of the foe. Few of them came back


Alive to their own land.

The leaders returned

Over perilous paths through the piles of the slaughtered,

Of reeking corpses; good occasion there was

315 For the landsmen to plunder their lifeless foes,

Their ancient enemies in their armor laid low,

Of battle spoils bloody, of beautiful trappings,

Of bucklers and broad-swords, of brown war-helmets,

Of glittering jewels. Gloriously had been

320 In the folk-field their foes overcome,

By home-defenders, their hated oppressors

Put to sleep by the sword. Senseless on the path

Lay those who in life, the loathsomest were

Of the tribes of the living.

6. The Spoil

Then the landsmen all,

325 Famous of family, for a full month’s time,

The proud curly-locked ones, carried and led

To their glorious city, gleaming Bethulia,

Helms and hip-knives, hoary burnies,

Men’s garments of war, with gold adorned,

330 With more of jewels than men of judgment,

Keen in cunning might count or estimate;

So much success the soldier-troop won,

Bold under banners and in battle-strife

Through the counsel of the clever Judith,


335 Maiden high-minded. As meed for her bravery,

From the field of battle, the bold-hearted earls

Brought in as her earnings the arms of Holofernes,

His broad sword and bloody helmet, likewise his breast-armor large,

Chased with choice red gold, all that the chief of the warriors,

340 The betrayer, possessed of treasure, of beautiful trinkets and heirlooms,

Bracelets and brilliant gems. All these to the bright maid they gave

As a gift to her, ready in judgment.

7. The Praise

For all this Judith now rendered

Thanks to the Heavenly Host, from whom came all her success,

Greatness and glory on earth and likewise grace in heaven,

345 Paradise as a victorious prize, because she had pure belief

Always in the Almighty; at the end she had no doubt

Of the prize she had prayed for long. For this be praise to God,

Glory in ages to come, who shaped the clouds and the winds,

Firmament and far-flung realms, also the fierce-raging streams

350 And the blisses of heaven, through his blessed mercy.



[Text used: Bright’s Anglo-Saxon Reader. The Latin source is also printed there.

Alliterative translations: Pancoast and Spaeth, Early English Poems; William Rice Sims, Modern Language Notes, vii, 11-13; Hall, Judith, Phœnix, etc.

Source: First part, Lactantius, De Ave Phoenice; second part, application of the myth to Christ based on Ambrose and Bede.

In summing up scholarly opinion up to the date of his own writing (1910) Mr. Kennedy says [The Poems of Cynewulf, pp. 58-59]: “In general, however, it may be said that, while the question does not submit itself to definite conclusions, the weight of critical opinion leans to the side of Cynewulf’s having written the Phœnix, and that the time of its composition would fall between the Christ and the Elene.”

The first part of the poem is among the most pleasing pieces of description in Anglo-Saxon.]


I have heard that there lies a land far hence

A noble realm well-known unto men,

In the eastern kingdoms. That corner of the world

Is not easy of access to every tribe

5 On the face of the earth, but afar it was placed

By the might of the Maker from men of sin.

The plain is beautiful, a place of blessings,

And filled with the fairest fragrance of earth;

Matchless is that island, its maker unequalled,

10 Steadfast and strong of heart, who established that land.

There are often open to the eyes of the blessed,


The happiness of the holy through heaven’s door.

That is a winsome plain; the woods are green,

Far stretching under the stars. There no storm of rain or snow,

15 Nor breath of frost nor blast of fire,

Nor fall of hail nor hoary frost,

Nor burning sun nor bitter cold,

Nor warm weather nor winter showers

Shall work any woe, but that winsome plain

20 Is wholesome and unharmed; in that happy land

Blossoms are blown. No bold hills nor mountains

There stand up steep; no stony cliffs

Lift high their heads as here with us,

Nor dales nor glens nor darksome gorges,

25 Nor caves nor crags; nor occur there ever

Anything rough; but under radiant skies

Flourish the fields in flowers and blossoms.

This lovely land lieth higher

By twelve full fathoms, as famous writers,

30 As sages say and set forth in books,

Than any of the hills that here with us

Rise bright and high under heaven’s stars.

Peaceful is that plain, pleasant its sunny grove,

Winsome its woodland glades; never wanes its increase

35 Nor fails of its fruitage, but fair stand the trees,

Ever green as God had given command;

In winter and summer the woodlands cease not

To be filled with fruit, and there fades not a leaf;

Not a blossom is blighted nor burned by the fire


40 Through all the ages till the end of time,

Till the world shall fail. When the fury of waters

Over all the earth in olden times

Covered the world, then the wondrous plain,

Unharmed and unhurt by the heaving flood,

45 Strongly withstood and stemmed the waves,

Blest and uninjured through the aid of God:

Thus blooming it abides till the burning fire

Of the day of doom when the death-chambers open

And the ghastly graves shall give up their dead.

50 No fearsome foe is found in that land,

No sign of distress, no strife, no weeping,

Neither age, nor misery, nor the menace of death,

Nor failing of life, nor foemen’s approach,

No sin nor trial nor tribulation,

55 Nor the want of wealth, nor work for the pauper,

No sorrow nor sleep, nor sick-bed’s pain,

Nor wintry winds, nor weather’s raging,

Fierce under the heavens; nor the hard frost

Causeth discomfort with cold icicles.

60 Neither hail nor frost fall from the heavens,

Nor wintry cloud nor water descendeth

Stirred by the storms; but streams there flow,

Wondrously welling and watering the earth,

Pouring forth in pleasant fountains;

65 The winsome water from the wood’s middle

Each month of the year from the mould of earth,

Cold as the sea, coursing through the woods,

Breaketh abundantly. It is the bidding of the Lord

That twelve times yearly that teeming land


70 The floods shall o’erflow and fill with joy.

The groves are green with gorgeous bloom,

And fairest of fruits; there fail not at all

The holy treasures of the trees under heaven,

Nor falleth from the forests the fallow blossoms,

75 The beauty of the trees; but, bounteously laden,

The boughs are hanging heavy with fruit

That is always new in every season.

In the grassy plain all green appear,

Gorgeously garnished by God in his might,

80 The forests fair. Nor fails the wood

In its pleasing prospect; a perfume holy

Enchanteth the land. No change shall it know

Forever till he ends his ancient plan,

His work of wisdom as he willed it at first.


85 In that wood there dwelleth a wondrous bird,

Fearless in flight, the Phœnix its name.

Lonely it liveth its life in this place,

Doughty of soul; death never seeks him

In that well-loved wood while the world shall endure.

90 He is said to watch the sun on his way

And to go to meet God’s bright candle,

That gleaming gem, and gladly to note

When rises in radiance the most royal of stars

Up from the east over the ocean’s waves,

95 The famous work of the Father, fair with adornments,


The bright sign of God. Buried are the stars,

Wandering ’neath the waters to the western realms;

They grow dim at dawn, and the dark night

Creepeth wanly away. Then on wings of strength,

100 Proud on his pinions, he placeth his gaze

Eagerly on the streams, and stares over the water

Where the gleam of heaven gliding shall come

O’er the broad ocean from the bright east.

So the wondrous bird at the water’s spring

105 Bideth in beauty, in the brimming streams.

Twelve times there the triumphant bird

Bathes in the brook ere the beacon appears,

The candle of heaven, and the cold stream

Of the joy-inspiring springs he tasteth

110 From the icy burn at every bath.

Then after his sport in the springs at dawn,

Filled full of pride he flies to a tree

Where most easily he may in the eastern realm

Behold the journey, when the jewel of heaven

115 Over the shimmering sea, the shining light,

Gleameth in glory. Garnished is the land,

The world made beautiful, when the blessed gem

Illumines the land, the largest of stars

In the circle of the seas sends forth its rays.

120 Soon as the sun over the salt streams;

Rises in glory, then the gray-feathered bird

Blithely rises from the beam where he rested;

Fleet-winged he fareth and flieth on high;

Singing and caroling he soareth to heaven.

125 Fair is the famous fowl in his bearing


With joy in his breast, in bliss exulting;

He warbles his song more wondrously sweet

And choicer of note than ever child of man

Heard beneath the heavens since the High King,

130 The worker of wonders, the world established,

Heaven and earth. His hymn is more beautiful

And fairer by far than all forms of song-craft;

Its singing surpasseth the sweetest of music.

To the song can compare not the sound of trumpet,

135 Nor of horn; nor of harp, nor of heroes’ voices

On all the earth, nor of organ’s sound,

Nor singing song nor swan’s fair feathers,

Nor of any good thing that God created

As a joy to men in this mournful world!

140 Thus he singeth and carolleth crowned with joy,

Until the bright sun in a southern sky

Sinks to its setting; then silent he is

And listeneth and boweth and bendeth his head,

Sage in his thoughts, and thrice he shaketh

145 His feathers for flight; the fowl is hushed.

Twelve equal times he telleth the hours

Of day and night. ’Tis ordained in this way,

And willed that the dweller of the woods should have joy,

Pleasure in that plain and its peaceful bliss,

150 Taste delights and life and the land’s enjoyments,

Till he waiteth a thousand winters of life,

The aged warden of the ancient wood.

Then the gray-feathered fowl in the fullness of years


Is grievously stricken. From the green earth he fleeth,

155 The favorite of birds, from the flowering land,

And beareth his flight to a far-off realm,

To a distant domain where dwelleth no man,

As his native land. Then the noble fowl

Becometh ruler over the race of birds,

160 Distinguished in their tribe, and for a time he dwelleth

With them in the waste. Then on wings of strength,

He flieth to the west, full of winters,

Swift on his wing; in swarms then press,

The birds about their lord; all long to serve him

165 And to live in loyalty to their leader brave,

Until he seeketh out the Syrian land

With mighty train. Then turneth the pure one

Sharply away, and in the shade of the forest

He dwells, in the grove, in the desert place,

170 Concealed and hid from the host of men.

There high on a bough he abides alone,

Under heaven’s roof, hard by the roots

Of a far stretching tree, which the Phœnix is called

By the nations of earth from the name of that bird.

175 The King of glory has granted that tree,

The Holy One of heaven, as I have heard said,

That it among all the other trees

That grow in the glorious groves of the world

Bloometh most brightly. No blight may hurt it,

180 Nor work it harm, but while the world stands

It shall be shielded from the shafts of evil.


When the wind is at rest and the weather is fair,

And the holy gem of heaven is shining,

And clouds have flown and the forces of water

185 Are standing stilled, and the storms are all

Assuaged and soothed: from the south there gleameth

The warm weather-candle, welcomed by men.

In the boughs the bird then buildeth its home,

Beginneth its nest; great is its need

190 To work in haste, with the highest wisdom,

That his old age he may give to gain new life,

A fair young spirit. Then far and near,

He gathers together to his goodly home

The winsomest herbs and the wood’s sweet blossoms,

195 The fair perfumes and fragrant shoots

Which were placed in the world by the wondrous Lord,

By the Father of all, on the face of the earth,

As a pleasure forever to the proud race of men—

The beauty of blossoms. There he beareth away

200 To that royal tree the richest of treasure.

There the wild fowl in the waste land

On the highest beams buildeth his house,

On the loftiest limbs, and he liveth there

In that upper room; on all sides he surrounds

205 In that shade unbroken his body and wings

With blessed fragrance and fairest of blooms,


The most gorgeous of green things that grow on the earth.

He awaiteth his journey when the gem of heaven

In the summer season, the sun at its hottest,

210 Shineth over the shade and shapeth its destiny,

Gazeth over the world. Then it groweth warm,

His house becomes heated by the heavenly gleam;

The herbs wax hot; the house steameth

With the sweetest of savors; in the sweltering heat,

215 In the furious flame, the fowl with his nest

Is embraced by the bale-fire; then burning seizeth

The disheartened one’s house; in hot haste riseth

The fallow flame, and the Phœnix it reacheth,

In fullness of age. Then the fire eateth,

220 Burneth the body, while borne is the soul,

The fated one’s spirit, where flesh and bone

Shall burn in the blaze. But it is born anew,

Attaineth new life at the time allotted.

When the ashes again begin to assemble,

225 To fall in a heap when the fire is spent,

To cling in a mass, then clean becometh

That bright abode— burnt by the fire

The home of the bird. When the body is cold

And its frame is shattered and the fire slumbers

230 In the funeral flame, then is found the likeness

Of an apple that newly in the ashes appeareth,

And waxeth into a worm wondrously fair,

As if out from an egg it had opened its way,

Shining from the shell. In the shade it groweth,

235 Till at first it is formed like a fledgling eagle,


A fair young fowl; then further still

It increaseth in stature, till in strength it is like

To a full-grown eagle, and after that

With feathers fair as at first it was,

240 Brightly blooming. Then the bird grows strong,

Regains its brightness and is born again,

Sundered from sin, somewhat as if

One should fetch in food, the fruits of the earth,

Should haul it home at harvest time,

245 The fairest of corn ere the frosts shall come

At the time of reaping, lest the rain in showers

Strike down and destroy it; a stay they have ready

A feast of food, when frost and snow

With their mighty coursing cover the earth

250 In winter weeds; the wealth of man

From those fair fruits shall flourish again

Through the nature of grain, which now in the ground

Is sown as clear seed; then the sun’s warm rays

In time of spring sprouts the life germ,

255 Awakes the world’s riches so that wondrous fruits,

The treasures of earth, by their own kind

Are brought forth again: that bird changeth likewise,

Old in his years, to youth again,

With fair new flesh; no food nor meat

260 He eateth on the earth save only a taste

Of fine honey-dew which falleth often

In the middle of night; the noble fowl

Thus feedeth and groweth till he flieth again

To his own domain, to his ancient dwelling.


265 When the bird springs reborn from its bower of herbs,

Proud of pinion, pleased with new life,

Young and full of grace, from the ground he then

Skillfully piles up the scattered parts

Of the graceful body, gathers the bones,

270 Which the funeral fire aforetime devoured;

Then brings altogether the bones and the ashes,

The remnant of the flames he arranges anew,

And carefully covers that carrion spoil

With fairest flowers. Then he fares away,

275 Seeking the sacred soil of his birthplace.

With his feet he fastens to the fire’s grim leavings,

Clasps them in his claws and his country again,

The sun-bright seat, he seeks in joy,

His own native-land. All is renewed—

280 His body and feathers, in the form that was his,

When placed in the pleasant plain by his Maker,

By gracious God. Together he bringeth

The bones of his body which were burned on the pyre,

Which the funeral flames before had enveloped,

285 And also the ashes; then all in a heap

This bird then burieth the bones and embers,

His ashes on the island. Then his eyes for the first time

Catch sight of the sun, see in the heaven

That flaming gem, the joy of the firmament


290 Which beams from the east over the ocean billows.

Before is that fowl fair in its plumage,

Bright colors glow on its gorgeous breast,

Behind its head is a hue of green,

With brilliant crimson cunningly blended.

295 The feathers of its tail are fairly divided:

Some brown, some flaming, some beautifully flecked

With brilliant spots. At the back, his feathers

Are gleaming white; green is his neck

Both beneath and above, and the bill shines

300 As glass or a gem; the jaws glisten

Within and without. The eye ball pierces,

And strongly stares with a stone-like gaze,

Like a clear-wrought gem that is carefully set

Into a golden goblet by a goodly smith.

305 Surrounding its neck like the radiant sun,

Is the brightest of rings braided with feathers;

Its belly is wondrous with wealth of color,

Sheer and shining. A shield extends

Brilliantly fair above the back of the fowl.

310 The comely legs are covered with scales;

The feet are bright yellow. The fowl is in beauty

Peerless, alone, though like the peacock

Delightfully wrought, as the writings relate.

It is neither slow in movement, nor sluggish in mien,

315 Nor slothful nor inert as some birds are,

Who flap their wings in weary flight,

But he is fast and fleet, and floats through the air,

Marvelous, winsome, and wondrously marked.

Blessed is the God who gave him that bliss!


320 When at last it leaves the land, and journeys

To hunt the fields of its former home,

As the fowl flieth many folk view it.

It pleases in passing the people of earth,

Who are seen assembling from south and north;

325 They come from the east, they crowd from the west,

Faring from afar; the folk throng to see

The grace that is given by God in his mercy

To this fairest fowl, which at first received

From gracious God the greatest of natures

330 And a beauty unrivalled in the race of birds.

Then over the earth all men marvel

At the freshness and fairness and make it famous in writings;

With their hands they mould it on the hardest of marble,

Which through time and tide tells the multitudes

335 Of the rarity of the flying one. Then the race of fowls

On every hand enter in hosts,

Surge in the paths, praise it in song,

Magnify the stern-hearted one in mighty strains;

And so the holy one they hem in in circles

340 As it flies amain. The Phœnix is in the midst

Pressed by their hosts. The people behold

And watch with wonder how the willing bands

Worship the wanderer, one after the other,

Mightily proclaim and magnify their King,

345 Their beloved Lord. They lead joyfully

The noble one home; but now the wild one

Flies away fast; no followers may come


From the happy host, when their head takes wing

Far from this land to find his home.


350 So the dauntless fowl after his fiery death

Happily hastens to his home again,

To his beauteous abode. The birds return,

Leaving their leader, with lonely hearts,

Again to their land; then their gracious lord

355 Is young in his courts. The King Almighty,

God alone knows its nature by sex,

Male or female; no man can tell,

No living being save the Lord only

How wise and wondrous are the ways of the bird,

360 And the fair decree for the fowl’s creation!

There the happy one his home may enjoy,

With its welling waters and woodland groves,

May live in peace through the passing of winters

A thousand in number; then he knows again

365 The ends of his life; over him is laid

The funeral fire: yet he finds life again,

And wondrously awakened he waxes in strength.

He droops not nor dreads his death therefore,

The awful agony, since always he knows

370 That the lap of the flame brings life afresh,

Peace after death, when undaunted once more

Fully feathered and formed as a bird

Out of the ashes up he can spring,

Safe under the heavens. To himself he is both

375 A father and a son, and finds himself also


Ever the heir to his olden life.

The Almighty Maker of man has granted

That though the fire shall fasten its fetters upon him,

He is given new life, and lives again

380 Fashioned with feathers as aforetime he was.


So each living man the life eternal

Seeks for himself after sorest cares;

That through the darksome door of death he may find

The goodly grace of God and enjoy

385 Forever and aye unending bliss

As reward for his work— the wonders of heaven.

The nature of this fowl is not unlike

That of those chosen as children of God,

And it shows men a sign of how sacred joys

390 Granted by God they may gain in trial—

Hold beneath the heavens through his holy grace,

And abide in rapture in the realms above.

We have found that the faithful Father created

Man and woman through his wondrous might.

395 At first in the fairest fields of his earth

He set these sons on a soil unblemished,

In a pleasant place, Paradise named,

Since they lacked no delight as long as the pair

Wisely heeded the Holy word

400 In their new home. There hatred came,

The old foe’s envy, who offered them food,


The fruit of the tree, which in folly they tried;

Both ate of the apple against the order of God,

Tasted the forbidden. Then bitter became

405 Their woe after eating and for their heirs as well—

For sons and daughters a sorrowful feast.

Grievously were punished their greedy teeth

For that greatest of guilt; God’s wrath they knew

And bitter remorse; hence bearing their crimes,

410 Their sons must suffer for the sin of their parents

Against God’s commands. Hence, grieved in soul

They shall lose the delights of the land of bliss

Through envy of the serpent who deceived our elders

In direful wise in days of yore

415 Through his wicked heart, so that they went far hence

To the dale of death to doleful life

In a sorrowful home. Hidden from them

Was the blessed life; and the blissful plain,

By the fiend’s cunning, was fastened close

420 For many winters, till the Maker of wonders,

The King of mankind, Comforter of the weary,

Our only Hope, hither came down

To the godly band and again held it open.


His advent is likened by learned writers

425 In their works of wisdom and words of truth,

To the flight of that fowl, when forth he goes

From his own country and becometh old,

Weighed with winters, weary in mind,


And finds in wandering the forest wood

430 Where a bower he builds: with branches and herbs,

With rarest of twigs, he raises his dwelling,

His nest in the wood. Great need he hath

That he gain again his gladsome youth

In the flame of fire that he may find new life,

435 Renew his youth, and his native home,

His sunbright seat, he may seek again

After his bath of fire. So abandoned before us

The first of our parents their fairest plain,

Their happy home, their hope of glory,

440 To fare afar on a fearful journey,

Where hostile hands harshly beset them;

Evil ones often injured them sorely.

Yet many men marked well the Lord,

Heeded his behests in holy customs,

445 In glorious deeds, so that God, their Redeemer,

The high Heaven-King hearkened to them.

That is the high tree wherein holy men

Hide their home from the harm of their foe

And know no peril, neither with poison

450 Nor with treacherous token in time of evil.

There God’s warrior works him a nest,

With doughty deeds dangers avoids,

He distributes alms to the stricken and needy,

He tells graceless men of the mercy of God,

455 Of the Father’s help; he hastens forth,

Lessening the perils of this passing life,

Its darksome deeds, and does God’s will

With bravery in his breast. His bidding he seeks


In prayer, with pure heart and pliant knee

460 Bent to the earth; all evil is banished,

All grim offences by his fear of God;

Happy in heart he hopes full well

To do good deeds: the Redeemer is his shield

In his varied walks, the Wielder of victory,

465 Joy-giver to people. Those plants are the ones,

The flowers of fruit, which the fowl of wildness

Finds in this world from far and wide

And brings to his abode, where it builds a nest

With firmness of heart against fear and hatred.

470 So in that place God’s soldiers perform

With courage and might the Creator’s commands.

Then they gain them glory: they are given rewards

By the gracious God for their goodness of heart.

From those is made a pleasant dwelling

475 As reward for their works, in the wondrous city;

Since they held in their hearts the holy teachings,

Serving their Lord with loving souls

By day and by night —and never ceasing—

With fervent faith preferring their Lord

480 Above worldly wealth. They ween not, indeed,

That long they will live in this life that is fleeting.

A blessed earl earns by his virtue

A home in heaven with the highest King,

And comfort forever,— this he earns ere the close

485 Of his days in the world, when Death, the warrior,

Greedy for warfare, girded with weapons,

Seeketh each life and sendeth quickly

Into the bosom of the earth those deserted bodies


Lorn of their souls, where long they shall bide

490 Covered with clay till the coming of the fire.

Many of the sons of men into the assembly

Are led by the leaders; the Lord of angels,

The Father Almighty, the Master of hosts,

Will judge with justice the joyful and the sad.

495 Then mortal men in a mass shall arise

As the righteous King, the Ruler of angels,

The Savior of souls said it must be,

Gave command by the trumpet to the tribes of the world.

Then ends darkest death for those dear to the Lord;

500 Through the grace of God the good shall depart

In clamoring crowds when this cruel world

Shall burst into flames, into baleful fire;

The earth shall end. Then all shall have

Most frightful fear, when the fire crashes over

505 Earth’s fleeting fortunes, when the flame eats up

Its olden treasures, eagerly graspeth

On goodly gold and greedily consumes

The land’s adornments. Then dawns in light

In that awesome hour for all of men,

510 The fair and sacred symbol of the fowl,

When the mighty Ruler shall arouse all men,

Shall gather together from the grave the bones,

The limbs of the body, those left from the flame,

Before the knee of Christ: the King in splendor

515 From his lofty seat shall give light to the holy,

The gem of glory. It will be joyous and gladsome

To the servers of Truth in that sad time.


There the bodies, bathed of their sins,

Shall go in gladness; again shall their spirits

520 To their bony frames, and the fire shall burn,

Mounting high to heaven. Hot shall be to many

That awful flame, when every man,

Unblemished or sinful, his soul in his body,

From the depths of his grave seeks the doom of God,

525 Frightfully afraid. The fire shall save men,

Burning all sin. So shall the blessed

After weary wandering, with their works be clothed,

With the fruit of their deeds: fair are these roots,

These winsome flowers that the wild fowl

530 Collects to lay on his lovely nest

In order that easily his own fair home

May burn in the sun, and himself along with it,

And so after the fire he finds him new life;

So every man in all the world

535 Shall be covered with flesh, fair and comely,

And always young, if his own choice leads him

To work God’s will; then the world’s high King

Mighty at the meeting mercy will grant him.

Then the hymns shall rise high from the holy band,

540 The chosen souls shall chant their songs,

In praise of the powerful Prince of men,

Strain upon strain, and strengthened and fragrant

Of their godly works they shall wend to glory.

Then are men’s spirits made spotless and bright


545 Through the flame of the fire— refined and made pure.

In all the earth let not anyone ween

That I wrought this lay with lying speech,

With hated word-craft! Hear ye the wisdom

Of the hymns of Job! With heart of joy

550 And spirit brave, he boldly spoke;

With wondrous sanctity that word he said:

“I feel it a fact in the fastness of my soul

That one day in my nest death I shall know,

And weary of heart woefully go hence,

555 Compassed with clay, on my closing journey,

Mournful of mind, in the moldy earth.

And through the gift of God I shall gain once more

Like the Phœnix fowl, a fair new life,

On the day of arising from ruinous death,

560 Delights with God, where the loving throng

Are exalting their Lord. I look not at all

Ever to come to the end of that life

Of light and bliss, though my body shall lie

In its gruesome grave and grow decayed,

565 A joy to worms; for the Judge of the world

Shall save my soul, and send it to glory

After the time of death. I shall trust forever

With steadfast breast, in the Strength of angels;

Firm is my faith in the Father of all.”

570 Thus sang the sage his song of old,

Herald to God, with gladsome heart:

How he was lifted to life eternal.

Then we may truly interpret the token clearly


Which the glorious bird gave through its burning.

575 It gathers together the grim bone-remnants,

The ashes and embers all into one place

After the surge of the fire; the fowl then seizes it

With its feet and flies to the Father’s garden

Towards the sun; for a time there he sojourns,

580 For many winters, made in new wise,

All of him young; nor may any there yearn

To do him menace with deeds of malice.

So may after death by the Redeemer’s might

Souls go with bodies, bound together,

585 Fashioned in loveliness, most like to that fowl,

In rich array, with rare perfumes,

Where the steadfast sun streams its light

O’er the sacred hosts in the happy city.


Then high over the roofs the holy Ruler

590 Shines on the souls of the saved and the loyal.

Radiant fowls follow around him

Brightest of birds, in bliss exulting,

The chosen and joyous ones join him at home,

Forever and ever, where no evil is wrought

595 By the foulest fiend in his fickle deceit;

But they shall live in lasting light and beauty,

As the Phœnix fowl, in the faith of God.

Every one of men’s works in that wondrous home,

In that blissful abode, brightly shines forth

600 In the peaceful presence of the Prince eternal,

Who resembles the sun. A sacred crown


Most richly wrought with radiant gems,

High over the head of each holy soul

Glitters refulgent; their foreheads gleam,

605 Covered with glory; the crown of God

Embellishes beautifully the blessed host

With light in that life, where lasting joy

Is fresh and young and fades not away,

But they dwell in bliss, adorned in beauty,

610 With fairest ornaments, with the Father’s angels.

They see no sorrow in those sacred courts,

No sin nor suffering nor sad work-days,

No burning hunger, nor bitter thirst,

No evil nor age: but ever their King

615 Granteth his grace to the glorious band

That loves its Lord and everlasting King,

That glorifies and praises the power of God.

That host round the holy high-set throne

Makes then melody in mighty strains;

620 The blessed saints blithely sing

In unison with angels, orisons to the Lord:

“Peace to thee, O God, thou proud Monarch,

Thou Ruler reigning with righteousness and skill;

Thanks for thy goodly gifts to us all;

625 Mighty and measureless is thy majesty and strength,

High and holy! The heavens, O Lord,

Are fairly filled, O Father Almighty,

Glory of glories, in greatness ruling

Among angels above and on earth beneath!

630 Guard us, O God of creation; thou governest all things!


Lord of the highest heavens above!”

So shall the saints sing his praises,

Those free from sin, in that fairest of cities,

Proclaim his power, the righteous people,

635 The host in heaven hail the Redeemer:

Honor without end is only for him,

Not ever at all had he any birth,

Any beginning of bliss, though he was born in the world,

On this earth in the image of an innocent child;

640 With unfailing justice and fairest judgments,

High above the heavens in holiness he dwelt!

Though he must endure the death of the cross,

Bear the bitter burden of men,

When three days have passed after the death of his body,

645 He regains new life through the love of God,

Through the aid of the Father. So the Phœnix betokens

In his youthful state, the strength of Christ,

Who in a wondrous wise awakes from the ashes

Unto the life of life, with limbs begirded;

650 So the Savior sought to aid us

Through the loss of his body, life without end.

Likewise that fowl filleth his wings,

Loads them with sweet and scented roots,

With winsome flowers and flies away;

655 These are the words, wise men tell us,

The songs of the holy ones whose souls go to heaven,

With the loving Lord to live for aye,


In bliss of bliss, where they bring to God

Their words and their works, wondrous in savor,

660 As a precious gift, in that glorious place,

In that life of light.

Lasting be the praise

Through the world of worlds and wondrous honor,

And royal power in the princely realm,

The kingdom of heaven. He is King indeed

665 Of the lands below and of lordly majesty,

Encircled with honor in that city of beauty.

He has given us leave lucis auctor,

That here we may merueri

As reward for good gaudia in celo,

670 That all of us may maxima regna

Seek and sit on sedibus altis,

Shall live a life lucis et pacis,

Shall own a home almae letitiae,

Know blessings and bliss; blandem and mitem

675 Lord they shall see sine fine,

And lift up a song lauda perenne

Forever with the angels. Alleluia!

680. This and the following lines are imitated from the original in which the first half line, in Old English, alliterates with the second half line, in Latin. The Latin is here retained. The meaning of the lines is this: “The Author of light has given us leave that we may here merit as a reward for good, joy in heaven, that all of us may seek the mighty kingdom and sit on the high seats, may live a life of light and peace, may own a home of tender joy; may see the merciful and mild Lord for time without end, and may lift up a song in eternal praise, forever with the angels. Alleluia!”


[Text used: Kluge, Angelsächsisches Lesebuch, reprinted from Arnold Schroeer, Anglia, v, 289.

Translation: Longfellow. Discussion of this translation in Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprache, xxix, 205.

It is probably the latest in date of any of the Anglo-Saxon poems.]

Before thou wast born, there was built thee a house;

For thee was a mould meant ere thy mother bore thee;

They have not made it ready nor reckoned its depth;

No one has yet learned how long it shall be.

5 I point out thy path to the place thou shalt be;

Now I shall measure thee, and the mould afterwards.

Thy house is not highly timbered.

It is unhigh and low; when thou lyest therein,

The bottom and side boards shall bind thee near:

10 Close above thy breast is builded the roof.

Thou shalt dwell full cold in the clammy earth.

Full dim and dismal that den is to live in.

Doorless is that house, and is dark within;

Down art thou held there and death hath the key.

15 Loathly is that house of earth and horrid to live in.

There thou shalt tarry and be torn by worms.

Thus thou art laid, and leavest thy friends;

Thou hast never a comrade who will come to thee,

Who will hasten to look how thou likest thy house.


20 Or ever will undo thy door for thee.

.   .  .  .  .  .  .  . and after thee descend;

For soon thou art loathsome and unlovely to see:

From the crown of thy head shall the hair be lost;

Thy locks shall fall and lose their freshness;

25 No longer is it fair for the fingers to stroke.




[Critical edition: Sedgefield, The Battle of Maldon and Six Short Poems from the Saxon Chronicle, Boston, 1904, Belles Lettres Edition.

Translation: Tennyson; Pancoast and Spaeth, Early English Poems, p. 81.

Date: It appears in the Chronicle under the year 937.

Danes living north of the Humber conspired with their kinsmen in Ireland under the two Olafs, together with the Scottish king Constantine and the Strathclyde Britons under their king Eugenius, against Æthelstan, king of Wessex. The allies met in the south of Northumbria. Æthelstan encountered them at Brunnanburg and defeated them.

The site of Brunnanburg has not been identified. The best claim is probably for Bramber, near Preston, in the neighborhood of which, in 1840, was found a great hoard of silver ingots and coins, none later than 950. This was possibly the war chest of the confederacy. Dyngesmere has not been identified.

More than half the half-lines are exact copies from other Anglo-Saxon poems.]

Here Æthelstan the king, of earls the lord,

Bracelet-giver of barons and his brother as well,

Edmund the Ætheling, honor eternal

Won at warfare by the wielding of swords

5 Near Brunnanburg; they broke the linden-wall,

Struck down the shields with the sharp work of hammers,

The heirs of Edward, as of old had been taught

By their kinsmen who clashed in conflict often

Defending their firesides against foemen invaders,

10 Their hoards and their homes. The hated ones perished,


Soldiers of Scotland and seamen-warriors—

Fated they fell. The field was wet

With the blood of the brave, after the bright sun

Had mounted at morning, the master of planets

15 Glided over the ground, God’s candle clear,

The Lord’s everlasting, till the lamp of heaven

Sank to its setting. Soldiers full many

Lay mangled by spears, men of the Northland,

Shamefully shot o’er their shields, and Scotchmen,

20 Weary and war-sated. The West-Saxons forth

All during the day with their daring men

Followed the tracks of their foemen’s troops.

From behind they hewed and harried the fleeing,

With sharp-ground swords. Never shunned the Mercians

25 The hard hand-play of hero or warrior

Who over the oar-path with Anlaf did come,

Who sailed on a ship and sought the land,

Fated in fight.

Five chieftains lay

Killed in the conflict, kings full youthful,

30 Put to sleep by the sword, and seven also

Of the earls of Anlaf, and others unnumbered,

Of sailors and Scotchmen. Sent forth in flight then

Was the prince of the Northmen, pressed hard by need,

To the stem of his ship; with a staunch little band

35 To the high sea he hurried; in haste the king sailed

Over the fallow flood, fled for his life.


Also the sage one sorrowfully northward

Crept to his kinsmen, Constantinus,

The hoary war-hero; for him was small need

40 To boast of the battle-play; the best of his kinsmen

And friends had fallen on the field of battle,

Slain at the strife, and his son left behind

On the field of fight, felled and wounded,

Young at the battle. No boast dared he make

45 Of strife and of sword-play, the silver-haired leader,

Full of age and of evil, nor had Anlaf the more.

With their vanquished survivors no vaunt could they make

That in works of war their worth was unequalled,

In the fearful field, in the flashing of standards,

50 In the meeting of men, and the mingling of spears,

And the war-play of weapons, when they had waged their battle

Against the heirs of Edward on the awful plain.

Now departed the Northmen in their nailed ships,

Dreary from dart-play on Dyngesmere.

55 Over the deep water to Dublin they sailed,

Broken and baffled back to Ireland.

So, too, the brothers both went together,

The King and the Ætheling; to their kinsmen’s home,

To the wide land of Wessex —warrior’s exultant.

60 To feast on the fallen on the field they left

The sallow-hued spoiler, the swarthy raven,


Horned of beak, and the hoary-backed

White-tailed eagle to eat of the carrion,

And the greedy goshawk, and that gray beast,

65 The wolf in the wood. Not worse was the slaughter

Ever on this island at any time,

Or more folk felled before this strife

With the edge of the sword, as is said in old books,

In ancient authors, since from the east hither

70 The Angles and Saxons eagerly sailed

Over the salt sea in search of Britain,—

Since the crafty warriors conquered the Welshmen

And, greedy for glory, gained them the land.

31. Anlaf: the Old English form of “Olaf.”
52. Heirs of Edward: the English, descendants of Edward the Elder.
58. The Ætheling: Edmund the Ætheling (or prince) of line 3.


[Critical edition: Sedgefield, The Battle of Maldon and Six Short Poems from the Saxon Chronicle, Boston, 1904, Belles Lettres Edition.

Date: It appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 991.

The Battle of Maldon treats not of legendary heroes of the Germanic races but of an actual historic personage, an English hero and patriot fallen in battle against a foreign invader a very short time before the poem was made. A single event in contemporary history is here described with hardly suppressed emotion by one who knew his hero and loved him. There is none of the allusiveness and excursiveness of the Beowulf; we have here not a member of an epic cycle, but an independent song. Very striking is the absence of ornament from the Battle of Maldon; all is plain, blunt, and stern.”—Sedgefield, The Battle of Maldon, pp. vi-vii.]

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   . was broken;

He bade the young barons abandon their horses,

To drive them afar and dash quickly forth,

In their hands and brave heart to put all hope of success.

5 The kinsman of Offa discovered then first

That the earl would not brook dishonorable bearing.

He held in his hand the hawk that he loved,

Let him fly to the fields; to the fight then he stepped;

By this one could know that the knight was unwilling

10 To weaken in war, when his weapons he seized.

Edric wished also to aid his chief,

His folk-lord in fight; forward he bore


His brand to the battle; a brave heart he had

So long as he held locked in his hand

15 His board and his broad sword; his boast he made good,

Fearless to fight before his lord.

Then Byrhtnoth began to embolden the warriors;

He rode and counseled them, his comrades he taught

How they should stand in the stronghold’s defence,

20 Bade them to bear their bucklers correctly,

Fast by their hands without fear in their hearts.

When the folk by fair words he had fired with zeal,

He alighted in a crowd of his loyal comrades,

Where he felt that his friends were most faithful and true.

25 Then he stood on the strand; sternly the messenger

Of the Vikings called in vaunting words,

Brought him the boast of the bloody seamen,

The errand to the earl, at the edge of the water:

“I am sent to thee by seamen bold;

30 They bade me summon thee to send them quickly

Rings for a ransom, and rather than fight

It is better for you to bargain with gold

Than that we should fiercely fight you in battle.

It is futile to fight if you fill our demands;

35 If you give us gold we will grant you a truce.

If commands thou wilt make, who art mightiest of warriors,

That thy folk shall be free from the foemen’s attack,

Shall give of their wealth at the will of the seamen,


A treasure for tribute, with a truce in return,

40 We will go with the gold again to our ships,

We will sail to the sea and vouchsafe to you peace.”

Byrhtnoth burst forth, his buckler he grasped,

His spear he seized, and spoke in words

Full of anger and ire, and answer he gave:

45 “Dost thou hear, oh seamen, what our heroes say?

Spears they will send to the sailors as tribute,

Poisoned points and powerful swords,

And such weapons of war as shall win you no battles.

Envoy of Vikings, your vauntings return,

50 Fare to thy folk with a far sterner message,

That here staunchly stands with his steadfast troops,

The lord that will fight for the land of his fathers,

For the realm of Æthelred, my royal chief,

For his folk and his fold; fallen shall lie

55 The heathen at shield-play; Shameful I deem it

With our treasure as tribute that you take to your ships,

Without facing a fight, since thus far hither

You have come and encroached on our king’s domain.

You shall not so easily earn our treasure;

60 You must prove your power with point and sword edge,

With grim war grip ere we grant you tribute.”

He bade then his band to bear forth their shields,

Until they arrived at the river bank.

The waters prevented the warriors’ encounter;


65 The tide flowed in, the flood after the ebb,

Locked up the land; too long it seemed

Until they could meet and mingle their spears.

By Panta’s stream they stood in array,

The East Saxon army and the eager shield-warriors;

70 Each troop was helpless to work harm on the other,

Save the few who were felled by a flight of arrows.

The flood receded; the sailors stood ready,

All of the Vikings eager for victory.

Byrhtnoth bade the bridge to be defended,

75 The brave-hearted warrior, by Wulfstan the bold

With his crowd of kinsmen; he was Ceola’s son,

And he felled the first of the foemen who stepped

On the bridge, the boldest of the band of men.

There waited with Wulfstan the warriors undaunted,

80 Ælfhere and Maccus, men of courage;

At the ford not a foot would they flee the encounter,

But close in conflict they clashed with the foe,

As long as they wielded their weapons with strength.

As soon as they saw and perceived it clearly,

85 How fiercely fought was the defense of the bridge,

The treacherous tribe in trickery asked

That they be allowed to lead their hosts

For a closer conflict, to cross over the ford.


Then the earl, too eager to enter the fight,

90 Allowed too much land to the loathed pirates.

Clearly then called over the cold water

Byrhthelm’s son; the soldiers listened:

“Room is now made for you; rush quickly here

Forward to the fray; fate will decide

95 Into whose power shall pass this place of battle.”

Went then the battle-wolves— of water they recked not—

The pirate warriors west over Panta;

Over the bright waves they bore their shields;

The seamen stepped to the strand with their lindens.

100 In ready array against the raging hosts

Stood Byrhtnoth’s band; he bade them with shields

To form a phalanx, and to defend themselves stoutly,

Fast holding the foe. The fight was near,

The triumph at conflict; the time had come

105 When fated men should fall in battle.

Then arose an alarm; the ravens soared,

The eagle eager for prey; on earth was commotion.

Then sped from their hands the hardened spears,

Flew in fury file-sharpened darts;

110 Bows were busy, boards met javelins,

Cruel was the conflict; in companies they fell;

On every hand lay heaps of youths.

Wulfmere was woefully wounded to death,

Slaughtered the sister’s son of Byrhtnoth;

115 With swords he was strongly stricken to earth.

To the vikings quickly requital was given;

I learned that Edward alone attacked


Stoutly with his sword, not stinting his blows,

So that fell at his feet many fated invaders;

120 For his prowess the prince gave praise and thanks

To his chamberlain brave, when chance would permit.

So firm of purpose they fought in their turn,

Young men in battle; they yearned especially

To lead their line with the least delay

125 To fight their foes in fatal conflict,

Warriors with weapons. The world seethed with slaughter.

Steadfast they stood, stirred up by Byrhtnoth;

He bade his thanes to think on battle,

And fight for fame with the foemen Danes.

130 The fierce warrior went, his weapon he raised,

His shield for a shelter; to the soldier he came;

The chief to the churl a challenge addressed;

Each to the other had evil intent.

The seamen then sent from the south a spear,

135 So that wounded lay the lord of the warriors;

He shoved with his shield till the shaft was broken,

And burst the spear till back it sprang.

Enraged was the daring one; he rushed with his dart

On the wicked warrior who had wounded him sore.

140 Sage was the soldier; he sent his javelin

Through the grim youth’s neck; he guided his hand

And furiously felled his foeman dead.

Straightway another he strongly attacked,


And burst his burnie; in his breast he wounded him.

145 Through his hard coat-of-mail; in his heart there stood

The poisoned point. Pleased was the earl,

Loudly he laughed, to the Lord he gave thanks

For the deeds of the day the Redeemer had granted.

A hostile youth hurled from his hand a dart;

150 The spear in flight then sped too far,

And the honorable earl of Æthelred fell.

By his side there stood a stripling youth,

A boy in battle who boldly drew

The bloody brand from the breast of his chief.

155 The young Wulfmere, Wulfstan’s son,

Gave back again the gory war-lance;

The point pierced home, so that prostrate lay

The Viking whose valor had vanquished the earl.

To the earl then went an armed warrior;

160 He sought to snatch and seize his rings,

His booty and bracelets, his bright shining sword.

Byrhtnoth snatched forth the brown-edged weapon

From his sheath, and sharply shook the attacker;

Certain of the seamen too soon joined against him,

165 As he checked the arm of the charging enemy;

Now sank to the ground his golden brand;

He might not hold the hilt of his mace,

Nor wield his weapons. These words still he spoke,

To embolden the youths; the battle-scarred hero

170 Called on his comrades to conquer their foes;

He no longer had strength to stand on his feet,


.   .   .   .   .   .   .   . he looked to heaven:

“Ruler of realms, I render thee thanks

For all of the honors that on earth I have had;

175 Now, gracious God, have I greatest of need

That thou save my soul through thy sovereign mercy,

That my spirit speed to its splendid home

And pass into thy power, O Prince of angels,

And depart in peace; this prayer I make,

180 That the hated hell-fiends may harass me not.”

Then the heathen dogs hewed down the noble one,

And both the barons that by him stood—

Ælfnoth and Wulfmær each lay slaughtered;

They lost their lives in their lord’s defence.

185 Then fled from the fray those who feared to remain.

First in the frantic flight was Godric,

The son of Odda; he forsook his chief

Who had granted him gifts of goodly horses;

Lightly he leapt on his lord’s own steed,

190 In its royal array —no right had he to it;

His brothers also the battle forsook.

Godwin and Godwy made good their escape,

And went to the wood, for the war they disliked;

They fled to the fastnesses in fear of their lives,

195 And many more of the men than was fitting,

Had they freshly in mind remembered the favors,

The good deeds he had done them in days of old.

Wise were the words spoken once by Offa

As he sat with his comrades assembled in council:


200 “There are many who boast in the mead-hall of bravery

Who turn in terror when trouble comes.”

The chief of the folk now fell to his death,

Æthelred’s earl; all his companions

Looked on their lord as he lay on the field.

205 Now there approached some proud retainers;

The hardy heroes hastened madly,

All of them eager either to die

Or valiantly avenge their vanquished lord.

They were eagerly urged by Ælfric’s son,

210 A warrior young in winters; these words he spoke—

Ælfwine then spoke, an honorable speech:

“Remember how we made in the mead-hall our vaunts,

From the benches our boasts of bravery we raised,

Heroes in the hall, of hard-fought battles;

215 The time has now come for the test of your courage.

Now I make known my noble descent;

I come from Mercia, of mighty kinsmen;

My noble grandsire’s name was Ealdhelm,

Wise in the ways of the world this elder.

220 Among my proud people no reproach shall be made

That in fear I fled afar from the battle,

To leave for home with my leader hewn down,

Broken in battle; that brings me most grief;

He was not only my earl but also my kinsman.”

225 Then harboring hatred he hastened forth,

And with the point of spear he pierced and slew

A seaman grim who sank to the ground


Under weight of the weapon. To war he incited

His friends and fellows, in the fray to join.

230 Offa shouted; his ash-spear shook:

“Thou exhortest, O Ælfwine, in the hour of need,

When our lord is lying full low before us,

The earl on the earth; we all have a duty

That each one of us should urge on the rest

235 Of the warriors to war, while his weapons in hand

He may have and hold, his hard-wrought mace,

His dart and good sword. The deed of Godric,

The wicked son of Offa, has weakened us all;

Many of the men thought when he mounted the steed,

240 Rode on the proud palfry, that our prince led us forth;

Therefore on the field the folk were divided,

The shield-wall was shattered. May shame curse the man

Who deceived our folk and sent them in flight.”

Leofsunu spoke and his linden-shield raised,

245 His board to defend him and embolden his fellows:

“I promise you now from this place I will never

Flee a foot-space, but forward will rush,

Where I vow to revenge my vanquished lord.

The stalwart warriors round Sturmere shall never

250 Taunt me and twit me for traitorous conduct,

That lordless I fled when my leader had fallen,

Ran from the war; rather may weapons,

The iron points slay me.” Full ireful he went;

Fiercely he fought; flight he disdained.


255 Dunhere burst forth; his dart he brandished,

Over them all; the aged churl cried,

Called the brave ones to battle in Bryhtnoth’s avenging:

“Let no hero now hesitate who hopes to avenge

His lord on the foemen, nor fear for his life.”

260 Then forward they fared and feared not for their lives;

The clansman with courage the conflict began;

Grasped their spears grimly, to God made their prayer

That they might dearly repay the death of their lord,

And deal defeat to their dastardly foes.

265 A hostage took hold now and helped them with courage;

He came from Northumbria of a noble kindred,

The son of Ecglaf, Æscferth his name;

He paused not a whit at the play of weapons,

But unerringly aimed his arrows uncounted;

270 Now he shot on the shield, now he shattered a Viking;

With the point of his arrow he pierced to the marrow

While he wielded his weapons of war unsubdued.

Still in the front stood the stalwart Edward,

Burning for battle; his boasts he spoke:

275 He never would flee a foot-pace of land,

Or leave his lord where he lay on the field;


He shattered the shield-wall; with the shipmen he fought,

Till on the treacherous tribesmen his treasure-giver’s death

He valiantly avenged ere his violent end.

280 Such daring deeds did the doughty Æthric,

Brother of Sibyrht and bravest of soldiers;

He eagerly fought and the others followed;

They cleft the curvèd shields; keenly they battled;

Then burst the buckler’s rim, and the burnies sang

285 A song of slaughter. Then was slain in battle,

The seaman by Offa; and the earth received him;

Soon Offa himself was slain in battle;

He had laid down his life for his lord as he promised

290 In return for his treasure, when he took his vow

That they both alive from battle should come,

Hale to their homes or lie hewn down in battle,

Fallen on the field with their fatal wounds;

He lay by his lord like a loyal thane.

295 Then shivered the shields; the shipmen advanced,

Raving with rage; they ran their spears

Through their fated foes. Forth went Wistan,

Thurstan’s son then, to the thick of the conflict.

In the throng he slew three of the sailors,

300 Ere the son of Wigeline sent him to death.

The fight was stiff; and fast they stood;

In the cruel conflict they were killed by scores,


Weary with wounds; woeful was the slaughter.

Oswald and Eadwold all of the while,

305 Both the brothers, emboldened the warriors,

Encouraged their comrades with keen spoken words,

Besought them to strive in their sore distress,

To wield their weapons and not weaken in battle.

Byrhtwold then spoke; his buckler he lifted,

310 The old companion, his ash-spear shook

And boldly encouraged his comrades to battle:

“Your courage be the harder, your hearts be the keener,

And sterner the strife as your strength grows less.

Here lies our leader low on the earth,

315 Struck down in the dust; doleful forever

Be the traitor who tries to turn from the war-play.

I am old of years, but yet I flee not;

Staunch and steadfast I stand by my lord,

And I long to be by my loved chief.”

320 So the son of Æthelgar said to them all.

Godric emboldened them; oft he brandished his lance,

Violently threw at the Vikings his war-spear,

So that first among the folk he fought to the end;

Hewed down and hacked, till the hated ones killed him—

325 Not that Godric who fled in disgrace from the fight.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   . .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

5. Offa’s kinsman is not named. Offa himself is mentioned in line 286.
8. Is the fact that the earl is amusing himself with a falcon just before the battle to be taken as a sign of contempt for the enemy?
65. “The Panta, or Blackwater as it is now called, opens at Maldon into a large estuary, where a strong tide runs.”—Sedgefield.
70. The approaches to the bridge were covered with water at high tide; hence the Norsemen feared to cross at high tide and asked for a truce.
140. The soldier is Byrhtnoth.
151. This refers to Byrhtnoth.
271. The two halves of the line rime in the original.
287. Offa: “the kinsman of Gad” in the original. The reference is to Offa and we have avoided confusion by translating the phrase by the name of the man meant.



[From the Anglo-Saxon version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. Text used: Bright’s Anglo-Saxon Reader, pp. 8 ff.]

In the monastery of this abbess [Hild] was a certain brother especially distinguished and gifted with the grace of God, because he was in the habit of making poems filled with piety and virtue. Whatever he learned 5 of holy writ through interpreters he gave forth in a very short time in poetical language with the greatest of sweetness and inspiration, well wrought in the English tongue. Because of his songs the minds of many men were turned from the thoughts of this world and 10 incited toward a contemplation of the heavenly life. There were, to be sure, others after him among the Angles who tried to compose sacred poetry, but none of them could equal him; because his instruction in poetry was not at all from men, nor through the aid of 15 any man, but it was through divine inspiration and as a gift from God that he received the power of song. For that reason he was never able to compose poetry of a light or idle nature, but only the one kind that pertained to religion and was fitted to the tongue of a 20 godly singer such as he.


This man had lived the life of a layman until he was somewhat advanced in years, and had never learned any songs. For this reason often at the banquets where for the sake of merriment it was ruled that they should 25 all sing in turn at the harp, when he would see the harp approach him, he would arise from the company out of shame and go home to his house. On one occasion he had done this and had left the banquet hall and gone out to the stable to the cattle which it was his duty to guard 30 that night. Then in due time he lay down and slept, and there stood before him in his dream a man who hailed him and greeted him and called him by name: “Cædmon, sing me something.” Then he answered and said: “I can not sing anything; and for that reason I left 35 the banquet and came here, since I could not sing.” Once more the man who was speaking with him said: “No matter, you must sing for me.” Then he answered: “What shall I sing?” Thereupon the stranger said: “Sing to me of the beginning of things.” When he had 40 received this answer he began forthwith to sing, in praise of God the Creator, verses and words that he had never heard, in the following manner:

Now shall we praise the Prince of heaven,

The might of the Maker and his manifold thought,

45 The work of the Father: of what wonders he wrought,

The Lord everlasting when he laid out the worlds.

He first raised up for the race of men

The heaven as a roof, the holy Ruler.

Then the world below, the Ward of mankind,


50 The Lord everlasting, at last established

As a home for man, the Almighty Lord.

Then he arose from his sleep, and all that he had sung while asleep he held fast in memory; and soon afterward he added many words like unto them befitting 55 a hymn to God. The next morning he came to the steward who was his master and told him of the gift he had received. The steward immediately led him to the abbess and related what he had heard. She bade assemble all the wise and learned men and asked Cædmon to 60 relate his dream in their presence and to sing the song that they might give their judgment as to what it was or whence it had come. They all agreed that it was a divine gift bestowed from Heaven. They then explained to him a piece of holy teaching and bade him if he could, 65 to turn that into rhythmic verse. When he received the instruction of the learned men, he departed for his house. In the morning he returned and delivered the passage assigned him, turned into an excellent poem.

Thereupon, the abbess, praising and honoring the 70 gift of God in this man, persuaded him to leave the condition of a layman and take monastic vows. And this he did with great eagerness. She received him and his household into the monastery and made him one of the company of God’s servants and commanded that he 75 be taught the holy writings and stories. He, on his part, pondered on all that he learned by word of mouth, and just as a clean beast chews on a cud, transformed it into the sweetest of poetry. His songs and poems were so pleasing that even his teachers came to learn [182] 80 and write what he spoke. He sang first of the creation of the earth, and of the origin of mankind, and all the story of Genesis, the first book of Moses; and afterwards of the exodus of the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt and the entry into the Promised Land; 85 and many other stories of the Holy Scriptures; the incarnation of Christ, and his suffering and his ascension into heaven; the coming of the Holy Ghost and the teaching of the apostles; and finally he wrote many songs concerning the future day of judgment and of 90 the fearfulness of the pains of hell, and the bliss of heaven; besides these he composed many others concerning the mercies and judgments of God. In all of these he strove especially to lead men from the love of sin and wickedness and to impel them toward the love 95 and practice of righteousness; for he was a very pious man and submissive to the rules of the monastery. And he burned with zeal against those who acted otherwise. For this reason it was that his life ended with a fair death.



[Text: Bright’s Anglo-Saxon Reader, pp. 26 ff.]

King Alfred sends greetings to Wærferth in loving and friendly words. I let thee know that it has often come to my mind what wise men there were formerly throughout England among both the clergy and the 5 laity, and what happy times there were then throughout England, and how the kings who held sway over the people in those days obeyed God and his ministers; and how they preserved not only their peace but their morality also and good order at home and extended 10 their possessions abroad; and how prosperous they were both with war and with wisdom; and how zealous the clergy were both in teaching and in learning, and in all the services they owed to God; and how foreigners came to the land in search of wisdom and learning, and 15 how we should now have to secure them from abroad if we were to have them. So complete was this decay in England that there were very few on this side of the Humber who could understand their rituals in English or translate a Latin letter into English; and I feel sure 20 that there were not many beyond Humber. So few there were that I can not remember a single one south of the Thames when I began to reign. Almighty God be [184] thanked that we have any teachers among us now....

Then I considered all this, and brought to mind 25 also how, before it had all been laid waste and burned, the churches throughout all England stood filled with treasures and books; and there was a great multitude of God’s servants, but they knew very little about the books, for they could not understand anything in them, 30 since they were not written in their own language—as if they spoke thus: “Our fathers who held these places of old loved wisdom and through it acquired wealth and bequeathed it to us. Here we may still see their tracks, but we can not follow them, and hence we have 35 now lost both the wealth and the wisdom, since we would not incline our hearts after their example.”

When I called all this to mind, I wondered very much, considering all the good and wise men who were formerly throughout England and all the books that they 40 had perfectly learned, that they had translated no part of them into their own language. But soon I answered myself and said: “They did not expect that men should ever become as careless and that learning should decay as it has; they neglected it through the desire that the 45 greater increase of wisdom there should be in the land the more should men learn of foreign languages.”

I then considered that the law was first found in the Hebrew tongue, and again when the Greeks learned it, they translated it all into their own language. And the 50 Romans likewise when they had learned it, they translated it all through learned scholars into their own language. And all other Christian people have turned [185] some part into their own language. Wherefore it seems to me best, if it seems so to you, that we should translate 55 some books that are most needful for all men to know into the language which we can all understand and that we should bring about what we may very easily do with God’s help if we have tranquillity; namely, that all youths that are now in England of 60 free birth, who are rich enough to devote themselves to it, be put to learning as long as they are not fitted for any other occupation, until the time that they shall be able to read English writing with ease: and let those that would pursue their studies further be taught more 65 in Latin and be promoted to a higher rank. When I brought to mind how the knowledge of Latin had formerly decayed throughout England, and yet many knew how to read English writing, I began among other various and manifold troubles of this kingdom to turn 70 into English the book that is called in Latin Pastoralis and in English The Shepherd’s Book, sometimes word for word, sometimes thought by thought, as I had learned it from Plegmund my archbishop, and Asser my bishop, and Grimbald my priest, and John my priest. 75 After I had learned it so that I understood it and so that I could interpret it clearly, I translated it into English. I shall send one copy to every bishopric in my kingdom; and in each is a book-mark worth fifty mancuses. And I command in God’s name that no man 80 take the book-mark from the monastery. It is not certain that there will be such learned bishops as, thanks be to God, we now have nearly everywhere. Hence [186] I wish the books to remain always in their places, unless the bishop wishes to take them with him, or they be lent 85 out anywhere, or any one be copying them.



[From Alfred’s translation of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. Text: Bright, Anglo-Saxon Reader, p. 62, line 2—p. 63, line 17.]

When the king heard these words, he answered him [Paulinus, who had been preaching Christianity to him] and said that he was not only willing but expected to accept the faith that he taught; the king said, however, 5 that he wished to have speech and counsel with his friends and advisers, so that if they accepted the faith with him they might all together be consecrated to Christ, the Fountain of Life. The bishop consented and the king did as he said.

10 He now counselled and advised with his wise men, and he asked of each of them separately what he thought of the new doctrine and the worship of God that was preached. Cefi, the chief of his priests, then answered, “Consider, oh king, what this teaching is that is now 15 delivered to us. I declare to you, I have learned for a certainty that the religion we have had up to the present has neither virtue nor usefulness in it. For none of thy servants has applied himself more diligently to the worship of our gods than I, and nevertheless there 20 are many who receive greater gifts and favors from thee than I, and are more prosperous in all their undertakings. I know well that our gods, if they had had [188] any power, would have rewarded me more because I have more faithfully served and obeyed them. It seems 25 to me, therefore, wise, if you consider that these new doctrines which are preached to us are better and more efficacious, to receive them immediately.”

Assenting to his words, another of the king’s wise men and chiefs spoke further: “O king, this present 30 life of man on earth seems to me, in comparison with the time that is unknown to us, as if thou wert sitting at a feast with thine eldermen and thanes in the winter time, and the fire burned brightly and thy hall was warm, and it rained and snowed and stormed outside; 35 there comes then a sparrow and flies quickly through thy house; in through one door he comes, through the other door he goes out again. As long as he is within he is not rained on by the winter storm, but after a twinkling of an eye and a mere moment he goes immediately 40 from winter back to winter again. Likewise this life of man appeareth for a little time, but what goes before or what comes after we know not. If therefore this teaching can tell us anything more satisfying or certain, it seems worthy to be followed.”



[From Alfred’s version of Orosius’s History of the World. Text used: Bright’s Anglo-Saxon Reader, pp. 38 ff.]

Ohthere’s Voyages

Ohthere told his lord, King Alfred, that he dwelt the farthest north of all the Northmen. He said that he lived in the northern part of the land toward the West Sea. He reported, however, that the land extended very 5 far north thence; but that it was all waste, except in a few places here and there where the Finns dwell, engaged in hunting in winter and sea fishing in summer. He said that on one occasion he wished to find out how far the land lay northward, or whether any man inhabited 10 the waste land to the north. Then he fared northward to the land; for three days there was waste land on his starboard and the wide sea on his larboard. Then he had come as far north as the whale hunters ever go. Whereupon, he journeyed still northward as far as he 15 could in three days sailing. At that place the land bent to the east—or the sea in on the land, he knew not which; but he knew that there he waited for a west wind, or somewhat from the northwest, and then sailed east, near the land, as far as he could in four days. There he had to 20 wait for a wind from due north, since there the land bent due south—or the sea in on the land, he knew not [190] which. From there he sailed due south, close in to the land, as far as he could in five days. At this point a large river extended up into the land. They then followed 25 this river, for they dared not sail beyond it because of their fear of hostile reception, the land being all inhabited on the other side of the river. He had not found any inhabited land since leaving his own home; for the land to the right was not inhabited all 30 the way, except by fishermen, fowlers, and hunters, and these were all Finns; to the left there was always open sea. The Permians had cultivated their soil very well, but they dared not enter upon it. The land of the Terfinns was all waste, except where hunters, fishers, or 35 fowlers dwelt.

The Permians told him many tales both about their own country and about surrounding countries, but he knew not how much was true, for he did not behold it for himself. The Finns and Permians, it appeared to him, 40 spoke almost the same language. He went hither on this voyage not only for the purpose of seeing the country, but mainly for walruses, for they have exceedingly good bone in their teeth—they brought some of the teeth to the king—and their hides are very good for 45 ship-ropes. This whale is much smaller than other whales; it is not more than seven ells long; but the best whale-fishing is in his own country—those are eight and forty ells long, and the largest are fifty ells long. He said that he was one of a company of six who killed 50 sixty of these in two days.

Ohthere was a very rich man in such possessions as [191] make up their wealth, that is, in wild beasts. At the time when he came to the king, he still had six hundred tame deer that he had not sold. The men call these 55 reindeer. Six of these were decoy-reindeer, which are very valuable among the Finns, for it is with them that the Finns trap the wild reindeer. He was among the first men in the land, although he had not more than twenty cattle, twenty sheep, and twenty swine, and the 60 little that he plowed he plowed with horses. Their income, however, is mainly in the tribute that the Finns pay them—animals’ skins, birds’ feathers, whalebone, and ship-ropes made of the hide of whale and the hide of seal. Every one contributes in proportion to his 65 means; the richest must pay fifteen marten skins and five reindeer skins; one bear skin, forty bushels of feathers, a bear-skin or otter-skin girdle, and two ship-ropes, each sixty ells long, one made of the hide of the whale and the other of the hide of the seal.

70 He reported that the land of the Northmen was very long and very narrow. All that man can use for either grazing or plowing lies near the sea, and even that is very rocky in some places; and to the east, alongside the inhabited land, lie wild moors. The Finns live 75 in these waste lands. And the inhabited land is broadest to the eastward, becoming always narrower the farther north one goes. To the east it may be sixty miles broad, or even a little broader; and in the middle thirty or broader; and to the north, where it was narrowest, 80 he said that it might be three miles broad to the moor. Moreover the moor is so broad in some places [192] that it would take a man two weeks to cross it. In other places it was of such a breadth that a man can cross it in six days.

85 Then there is alongside that land southward, on the other side of the moor, Sweden, as far as the land to the north; and alongside the land northward, the land of the Cwens (Finns). The Finns plunder the Northmen over the moor sometimes and sometimes the Northmen 90 plunder them. And there are very many fresh lakes out over the moor; and the Finns bear their ships over the land to these lakes and then ravage the Northmen; they have very small and very light ships.

Ohthere said that the place was called Halgoland, in 95 which he dwelt. He said that no man lived north of him. There is one port in the southern part of the land which is called Sciringesheal. Thither he said that one might not sail in one month, if he encamped by night and had good wind all day; and all the while he should sail 100 close to land. And on the starboard he has first Ireland, and then the island that is between Ireland and this land. Then he has this land till he comes to Sciringesheal, and all the way he has Norway on the larboard. To the south of Sciringesheal the sea comes far up into 105 the land; the sea is so broad that no man may see across. And Jutland is in the opposite direction, and after that is Zealand. The sea runs many hundred miles up in on that land.

And from Sciringesheal he said that he sailed in five 110 days to that port that is called Haddeby; it lies between [193] the country of the Wends and the Saxons and the Angles, and belongs to the Danes. When he sailed away from Sciringesheal for three days, he had Denmark on the larboard and the wide sea on his starboard; and then, 115 two days before he reached Haddeby, he had Jutland on his starboard and also Zealand and many islands. In that land had dwelt the English before they came hither to this land. And then for two days he had on his larboard the islands which belong to Denmark.

100. Ireland: Iceland is probably meant.
Wulfstan’s Voyage

120 Wulfstan said that he set out from Haddeby, and that he arrived after seven days and nights at Truso, the ship being all the way under full sail. He had Wendland (Mecklenburg and Pomerania) on the starboard, and Langland, Laaland, Falster, and Sconey on 125 the larboard; and all these lands belong to Denmark. And then we had on our larboard the land of the Burgundians (Bornholmians), and they have their own king. Beyond the land of the Burgundians we had on our left those lands that were first called Blekinge, and 130 Meore, and Oland, and Gothland; these lands belong to the Swedes. To the starboard we had all the way the country of the Wends, as far as the mouth of the Vistula. The Vistula is a very large river, and it separates Witland from Wendland; and Witland belongs to the 135 Esthonians. The Vistula flows out of Wendland, and runs into the Frische Haff. The Frische Haff is about fifteen miles broad. Then the Elbing empties into the [194] Frische Haff, flowing from the east out of the lake on the shore of which Truso stands; and there they empty 140 together into the Frische Haff, the Elbing from the east, which flows out of Esthonia, and the Vistula from the south, out of Wendland. The Vistula then gives its name to the Elbing, and runs out of the mere west and north into the sea; hence it is called the mouth of the 145 Vistula.

Esthonia is very large, and there are many towns there, and in every town there is a king. There is also very much honey, and fishing. The king and the richest men drink mare’s milk, but the poor men and the slaves 150 drink mead. There is much strife among them. There is no ale brewed by the Esthonians; there is, however, plenty of mead. And there is a custom among the Esthonians that when a man dies he lies unburied in his house, with his kindred and friends, for a month—sometimes 155 two; and the kings and most powerful men still longer, in proportion to their riches; it is sometimes half a year that they stay unburnt, lying above ground, in their own houses. All the time that the body is within, drinking and merry-making continue until 160 the day that he is burned. The same day on which they are to bear him to the funeral-pyre they divide his possessions, whatever may be left after the drinking and pleasures, into five or six parts—sometimes into more, in proportion to the amount of his goods. Then they 165 place the largest share about a mile from the town, then the second, then the third, until it is all laid within the one mile; and the smallest portion must be nearest [195] the town in which the dead man lies. Then there are gathered together all of the men in the land that have 170 the swiftest horses, about six or seven miles from the goods. Then they all run toward the possessions, and the one who has the swiftest horse comes to the first and largest part, and so one after another till all is taken up; and the man who arrives at the goods nearest the 175 town obtains the smallest part. Then each man rides his way with the property, and he may keep it all; and for this reason fast horses are very dear in that country. When the property is thus all spent, they bear him out and burn him along with his weapons and his raiment. 180 And generally they spend all his wealth, with the long time that the corpse lies within and with the goods that they lay along the roads, and that the strangers run for and bear off with them. Again, it is a custom with the Esthonians to burn men of every tribe, 185 and if any one finds a bone which is unburned he has to make amends for it. And there is one tribe among the Esthonians that has the power of making cold, and it is because they put this cold upon them that the corpses lie so long and do not decay. And if a man 190 places two vessels full of ale or water, they cause both to be frozen over, whether it is summer or winter.



Account of the Poet Cædmon 179
Alfred’s Preface to His Translation of Gregory’s “Pastoral Care” 183
Badger, A 51
Battle of Brunnanburg, The 159
Battle of Maldon, The 163
Bede’s Death Song 84
Bible, A 52
Bookworm, A 54
Bow, A 52
Brunnanburg, The Battle of 159
Cædmon, Account of the Poet 179
Cædmon’s Hymn 83
Charm Against a Sudden Stitch 42
Charm for Bewitched Land 38
Christ, Selections from the 95
Conversion of Edwin, The 187
Crossing of the Red Sea, The 90
Deor’s Lament 26
Dough 54
Dream of the Rood, The 108
Edwin, The Conversion of 187
Elene, Selections from the 103
Exeter Gnomes 56
Exodus, Selections from 90
Fates of Men, The 58
Fight at Finnsburg, The 34
Finnsburg, The Fight at 34
Genesis, Selections from 85
Grave, The 157
Gregory’s “Pastoral Care,” Preface to 183
Horn, A 50
Husband’s Message, The 75
Isaac, The Offering of 85
Judith 116
Maldon, The Battle of 163
Nightingale, A 49
Offering of Isaac, The 85
Ohthere and Wulfstan, The Voyages of 189
“Pastoral Care,” Preface to 183
Phœnix, The 132
Reed, A 54
Riddles 44
I. Storm, A 44
II. Storm, A 45
III. Storm, A 46
V. Shield, A 48
VII. Swan, A 49
VIII. Nightingale, A 49
XIV. Horn, A 50
XV. Badger, A 51
XXIII. Bow, A 52
XXVI. Bible, A 52
XLV. Dough 54
XLVII. Bookworm, A 54
LX. Reed, A 54
Ruin, The 78
Seafarer, The 68
Shield, A 48
Storm, A 44
Storm, A 45
Storm, A 46
Swan, A 49
Voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan, The 189
Waldhere 29
Widsith 15
Wife’s Lament, The 72




******* This file should be named 31172-h.txt or *******

This and all associated files of various formats will be found in:

Updated editions will replace the previous one--the old editions will be renamed.

Creating the works from public domain print editions means that no one owns a United States copyright in these works, so the Foundation (and you!) can copy and distribute it in the United States without permission and without paying copyright royalties. Special rules, set forth in the General Terms of Use part of this license, apply to copying and distributing Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works to protect the PROJECT GUTENBERG-tm concept and trademark. Project Gutenberg is a registered trademark, and may not be used if you charge for the eBooks, unless you receive specific permission. If you do not charge anything for copies of this eBook, complying with the rules is very easy. You may use this eBook for nearly any purpose such as creation of derivative works, reports, performances and research. They may be modified and printed and given away--you may do practically ANYTHING with public domain eBooks. Redistribution is subject to the trademark license, especially commercial redistribution.



To protect the Project Gutenberg-tm mission of promoting the free
distribution of electronic works, by using or distributing this work
(or any other work associated in any way with the phrase "Project
Gutenberg"), you agree to comply with all the terms of the Full Project
Gutenberg-tm License (available with this file or online at

Section 1.  General Terms of Use and Redistributing Project Gutenberg-tm
electronic works

1.A.  By reading or using any part of this Project Gutenberg-tm
electronic work, you indicate that you have read, understand, agree to
and accept all the terms of this license and intellectual property
(trademark/copyright) agreement.  If you do not agree to abide by all
the terms of this agreement, you must cease using and return or destroy
all copies of Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works in your possession.
If you paid a fee for obtaining a copy of or access to a Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic work and you do not agree to be bound by the
terms of this agreement, you may obtain a refund from the person or
entity to whom you paid the fee as set forth in paragraph 1.E.8.

1.B.  "Project Gutenberg" is a registered trademark.  It may only be
used on or associated in any way with an electronic work by people who
agree to be bound by the terms of this agreement.  There are a few
things that you can do with most Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works
even without complying with the full terms of this agreement.  See
paragraph 1.C below.  There are a lot of things you can do with Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic works if you follow the terms of this agreement
and help preserve free future access to Project Gutenberg-tm electronic
works.  See paragraph 1.E below.

1.C.  The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation ("the Foundation"
or PGLAF), owns a compilation copyright in the collection of Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic works.  Nearly all the individual works in the
collection are in the public domain in the United States.  If an
individual work is in the public domain in the United States and you are
located in the United States, we do not claim a right to prevent you from
copying, distributing, performing, displaying or creating derivative
works based on the work as long as all references to Project Gutenberg
are removed.  Of course, we hope that you will support the Project
Gutenberg-tm mission of promoting free access to electronic works by
freely sharing Project Gutenberg-tm works in compliance with the terms of
this agreement for keeping the Project Gutenberg-tm name associated with
the work.  You can easily comply with the terms of this agreement by
keeping this work in the same format with its attached full Project
Gutenberg-tm License when you share it without charge with others.

1.D.  The copyright laws of the place where you are located also govern
what you can do with this work.  Copyright laws in most countries are in
a constant state of change.  If you are outside the United States, check
the laws of your country in addition to the terms of this agreement
before downloading, copying, displaying, performing, distributing or
creating derivative works based on this work or any other Project
Gutenberg-tm work.  The Foundation makes no representations concerning
the copyright status of any work in any country outside the United

1.E.  Unless you have removed all references to Project Gutenberg:

1.E.1.  The following sentence, with active links to, or other immediate
access to, the full Project Gutenberg-tm License must appear prominently
whenever any copy of a Project Gutenberg-tm work (any work on which the
phrase "Project Gutenberg" appears, or with which the phrase "Project
Gutenberg" is associated) is accessed, displayed, performed, viewed,
copied or distributed:

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

1.E.2.  If an individual Project Gutenberg-tm electronic work is derived
from the public domain (does not contain a notice indicating that it is
posted with permission of the copyright holder), the work can be copied
and distributed to anyone in the United States without paying any fees
or charges.  If you are redistributing or providing access to a work
with the phrase "Project Gutenberg" associated with or appearing on the
work, you must comply either with the requirements of paragraphs 1.E.1
through 1.E.7 or obtain permission for the use of the work and the
Project Gutenberg-tm trademark as set forth in paragraphs 1.E.8 or

1.E.3.  If an individual Project Gutenberg-tm electronic work is posted
with the permission of the copyright holder, your use and distribution
must comply with both paragraphs 1.E.1 through 1.E.7 and any additional
terms imposed by the copyright holder.  Additional terms will be linked
to the Project Gutenberg-tm License for all works posted with the
permission of the copyright holder found at the beginning of this work.

1.E.4.  Do not unlink or detach or remove the full Project Gutenberg-tm
License terms from this work, or any files containing a part of this
work or any other work associated with Project Gutenberg-tm.

1.E.5.  Do not copy, display, perform, distribute or redistribute this
electronic work, or any part of this electronic work, without
prominently displaying the sentence set forth in paragraph 1.E.1 with
active links or immediate access to the full terms of the Project
Gutenberg-tm License.

1.E.6.  You may convert to and distribute this work in any binary,
compressed, marked up, nonproprietary or proprietary form, including any
word processing or hypertext form.  However, if you provide access to or
distribute copies of a Project Gutenberg-tm work in a format other than
"Plain Vanilla ASCII" or other format used in the official version
posted on the official Project Gutenberg-tm web site (,
you must, at no additional cost, fee or expense to the user, provide a
copy, a means of exporting a copy, or a means of obtaining a copy upon
request, of the work in its original "Plain Vanilla ASCII" or other
form.  Any alternate format must include the full Project Gutenberg-tm
License as specified in paragraph 1.E.1.

1.E.7.  Do not charge a fee for access to, viewing, displaying,
performing, copying or distributing any Project Gutenberg-tm works
unless you comply with paragraph 1.E.8 or 1.E.9.

1.E.8.  You may charge a reasonable fee for copies of or providing
access to or distributing Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works provided

- You pay a royalty fee of 20% of the gross profits you derive from
     the use of Project Gutenberg-tm works calculated using the method
     you already use to calculate your applicable taxes.  The fee is
     owed to the owner of the Project Gutenberg-tm trademark, but he
     has agreed to donate royalties under this paragraph to the
     Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.  Royalty payments
     must be paid within 60 days following each date on which you
     prepare (or are legally required to prepare) your periodic tax
     returns.  Royalty payments should be clearly marked as such and
     sent to the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation at the
     address specified in Section 4, "Information about donations to
     the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation."

- You provide a full refund of any money paid by a user who notifies
     you in writing (or by e-mail) within 30 days of receipt that s/he
     does not agree to the terms of the full Project Gutenberg-tm
     License.  You must require such a user to return or
     destroy all copies of the works possessed in a physical medium
     and discontinue all use of and all access to other copies of
     Project Gutenberg-tm works.

- You provide, in accordance with paragraph 1.F.3, a full refund of any
     money paid for a work or a replacement copy, if a defect in the
     electronic work is discovered and reported to you within 90 days
     of receipt of the work.

- You comply with all other terms of this agreement for free
     distribution of Project Gutenberg-tm works.

1.E.9.  If you wish to charge a fee or distribute a Project Gutenberg-tm
electronic work or group of works on different terms than are set
forth in this agreement, you must obtain permission in writing from
both the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation and Michael
Hart, the owner of the Project Gutenberg-tm trademark.  Contact the
Foundation as set forth in Section 3 below.


1.F.1.  Project Gutenberg volunteers and employees expend considerable
effort to identify, do copyright research on, transcribe and proofread
public domain works in creating the Project Gutenberg-tm
collection.  Despite these efforts, Project Gutenberg-tm electronic
works, and the medium on which they may be stored, may contain
"Defects," such as, but not limited to, incomplete, inaccurate or
corrupt data, transcription errors, a copyright or other intellectual
property infringement, a defective or damaged disk or other medium, a
computer virus, or computer codes that damage or cannot be read by
your equipment.

of Replacement or Refund" described in paragraph 1.F.3, the Project
Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, the owner of the Project
Gutenberg-tm trademark, and any other party distributing a Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic work under this agreement, disclaim all
liability to you for damages, costs and expenses, including legal

defect in this electronic work within 90 days of receiving it, you can
receive a refund of the money (if any) you paid for it by sending a
written explanation to the person you received the work from.  If you
received the work on a physical medium, you must return the medium with
your written explanation.  The person or entity that provided you with
the defective work may elect to provide a replacement copy in lieu of a
refund.  If you received the work electronically, the person or entity
providing it to you may choose to give you a second opportunity to
receive the work electronically in lieu of a refund.  If the second copy
is also defective, you may demand a refund in writing without further
opportunities to fix the problem.

1.F.4.  Except for the limited right of replacement or refund set forth
in paragraph 1.F.3, this work is provided to you 'AS-IS,' WITH NO OTHER

1.F.5.  Some states do not allow disclaimers of certain implied
warranties or the exclusion or limitation of certain types of damages.
If any disclaimer or limitation set forth in this agreement violates the
law of the state applicable to this agreement, the agreement shall be
interpreted to make the maximum disclaimer or limitation permitted by
the applicable state law.  The invalidity or unenforceability of any
provision of this agreement shall not void the remaining provisions.

1.F.6.  INDEMNITY - You agree to indemnify and hold the Foundation, the
trademark owner, any agent or employee of the Foundation, anyone
providing copies of Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works in accordance
with this agreement, and any volunteers associated with the production,
promotion and distribution of Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works,
harmless from all liability, costs and expenses, including legal fees,
that arise directly or indirectly from any of the following which you do
or cause to occur: (a) distribution of this or any Project Gutenberg-tm
work, (b) alteration, modification, or additions or deletions to any
Project Gutenberg-tm work, and (c) any Defect you cause.

Section  2.  Information about the Mission of Project Gutenberg-tm

Project Gutenberg-tm is synonymous with the free distribution of
electronic works in formats readable by the widest variety of computers
including obsolete, old, middle-aged and new computers.  It exists
because of the efforts of hundreds of volunteers and donations from
people in all walks of life.

Volunteers and financial support to provide volunteers with the
assistance they need are critical to reaching Project Gutenberg-tm's
goals and ensuring that the Project Gutenberg-tm collection will
remain freely available for generations to come.  In 2001, the Project
Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation was created to provide a secure
and permanent future for Project Gutenberg-tm and future generations.
To learn more about the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation
and how your efforts and donations can help, see Sections 3 and 4
and the Foundation web page at

Section 3.  Information about the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive

The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation is a non profit
501(c)(3) educational corporation organized under the laws of the
state of Mississippi and granted tax exempt status by the Internal
Revenue Service.  The Foundation's EIN or federal tax identification
number is 64-6221541.  Contributions to the Project Gutenberg
Literary Archive Foundation are tax deductible to the full extent
permitted by U.S. federal laws and your state's laws.

The Foundation's principal office is located at 4557 Melan Dr. S.
Fairbanks, AK, 99712., but its volunteers and employees are scattered
throughout numerous locations.  Its business office is located at
809 North 1500 West, Salt Lake City, UT 84116, (801) 596-1887, email  Email contact links and up to date contact
information can be found at the Foundation's web site and official
page at

For additional contact information:
     Dr. Gregory B. Newby
     Chief Executive and Director

Section 4.  Information about Donations to the Project Gutenberg
Literary Archive Foundation

Project Gutenberg-tm depends upon and cannot survive without wide
spread public support and donations to carry out its mission of
increasing the number of public domain and licensed works that can be
freely distributed in machine readable form accessible by the widest
array of equipment including outdated equipment.  Many small donations
($1 to $5,000) are particularly important to maintaining tax exempt
status with the IRS.

The Foundation is committed to complying with the laws regulating
charities and charitable donations in all 50 states of the United
States.  Compliance requirements are not uniform and it takes a
considerable effort, much paperwork and many fees to meet and keep up
with these requirements.  We do not solicit donations in locations
where we have not received written confirmation of compliance.  To
SEND DONATIONS or determine the status of compliance for any
particular state visit

While we cannot and do not solicit contributions from states where we
have not met the solicitation requirements, we know of no prohibition
against accepting unsolicited donations from donors in such states who
approach us with offers to donate.

International donations are gratefully accepted, but we cannot make
any statements concerning tax treatment of donations received from
outside the United States.  U.S. laws alone swamp our small staff.

Please check the Project Gutenberg Web pages for current donation
methods and addresses.  Donations are accepted in a number of other
ways including checks, online payments and credit card donations.
To donate, please visit:

Section 5.  General Information About Project Gutenberg-tm electronic

Professor Michael S. Hart is the originator of the Project Gutenberg-tm
concept of a library of electronic works that could be freely shared
with anyone.  For thirty years, he produced and distributed Project
Gutenberg-tm eBooks with only a loose network of volunteer support.

Project Gutenberg-tm eBooks are often created from several printed
editions, all of which are confirmed as Public Domain in the U.S.
unless a copyright notice is included.  Thus, we do not necessarily
keep eBooks in compliance with any particular paper edition.

Each eBook is in a subdirectory of the same number as the eBook's
eBook number, often in several formats including plain vanilla ASCII,
compressed (zipped), HTML and others.

Corrected EDITIONS of our eBooks replace the old file and take over
the old filename and etext number.  The replaced older file is renamed.
VERSIONS based on separate sources are treated as new eBooks receiving
new filenames and etext numbers.

Most people start at our Web site which has the main PG search facility:

This Web site includes information about Project Gutenberg-tm,
including how to make donations to the Project Gutenberg Literary
Archive Foundation, how to help produce our new eBooks, and how to
subscribe to our email newsletter to hear about new eBooks.

EBooks posted prior to November 2003, with eBook numbers BELOW #10000,
are filed in directories based on their release date.  If you want to
download any of these eBooks directly, rather than using the regular
search system you may utilize the following addresses and just
download by the etext year.

    (Or /etext 05, 04, 03, 02, 01, 00, 99,
     98, 97, 96, 95, 94, 93, 92, 92, 91 or 90)

EBooks posted since November 2003, with etext numbers OVER #10000, are
filed in a different way.  The year of a release date is no longer part
of the directory path.  The path is based on the etext number (which is
identical to the filename).  The path to the file is made up of single
digits corresponding to all but the last digit in the filename.  For
example an eBook of filename 10234 would be found at:

or filename 24689 would be found at:

An alternative method of locating eBooks: