From Tale to Telling: “Maldon”

I am shifting gears a bit, to generate (in the manner of a clothier’s “dress diary”, a “story diary” to demonstrate my adaptation process.

An SCA performer called Rosalind Jehanne has written a compelling song called “The Battle of Maldon”, which Lynette de Gallardon taught at a “teaching bardic circle” a number of years ago.    I love the tune and found the lyrics compelling.     This is a link to a recording of Baroness (I think) Rosalind herself singing the song:

The Battle of Maldon

I was recently inspired to look for the composer’s inspiration / source material and discovered the historic actual battle between Saxons and Vikings, in the time of Aethelred the Unready (991 CE).       Further, the battle inspired a poem of the same title, a portion of which (missing the beginning and end) was recorded in a manuscript dated to the 11th century.    It had been transcribed from the manuscript circa 1724, before being lost in a fire (1731).

There is a website which describes the events of the Battle and contains a translation of the poem, by Wilfrid Berridge.   http://www.battleofmaldon.org.uk/index.htm
The relevant part of the surviving verse is a series of speeches exhorting the Saxon thanes  (who were outnumbered and doomed to lose the battle) to fight on to avenge the fallen earl Byrtnoth (also rendered as Brytnoth or, occasionally, Beortnoth):

(From another translation, by James M. Garnett, 1911, published in a collection titled “Elene;  Judith;  Athelstan, or The Fight At Brunanburh;   Byrtnoth, or The Fight at Maldon;  and The Dream of the Rood.

Anglo-Saxon Poems.”      Available on Project Gutenberg  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15879/15879-h/15879-h.htm)

———————————————-

(Aelfwine spoke—)”Remember the times that we oft at mead spake,

When we on the bench our boast upraised,

Heroes in hall, the hard fight anent:

Now may be tested who is the true. [19]

 

(Offa spoke–) Now lieth our lord,

Earl on the earth, to us all there is need

That each one of us should strengthen the other

Warrior to war, while weapon he may

 [Still] have and hold, the hardened brand,

Spear and good sword.

 

(Leofsunu spoke—)”I promise thee this, that hence I will nót

A foot’s breadth flee, but further will go,

Avenge in battle mine own dear lord.

 

(Dunnere spoke—)”He may not delay who thinks to avenge

His lord on these folk, nor care for his life.”

 

(Bryhtwold  spoke–)”I am old in years: hence will I not,

But here beside mine own dear lord,

So loved a man, I purpose to lie.”

The braver shall thought be, the bolder the heart,

The more the mood, [23] as lessens our might.”

When I discovered this section, and learned that the lines from the song could be connected to names, I got the notion to turn the speeches into some kind of presentation with the names of the speakers.      I thought about using the speeches as a prelude to singing part of the song.      At one point I considered doing those last two lines in the Old English.      However, I was stymied for weeks, as to how to make it jell.   I am not a Saxon scop;   I’m a Tudor minstrel.

Sometimes I’m also a little slow on the uptake  8)

Finally, it occurred to me to re-versify the speeches, with a summary of the battle situation,   late-period style (in this case, iambic pentameter couplets):

 

A tale is told of ancient Maldon’s field

Where English earls and thanes refused to yield

When faced with the invading  Viking horde.

Earl Byrtnoth, doughty warrior and lord

Was fallen there, his body on the ground;

Defending him, the Thanes did gather round

Exhorting one another to fight on:

Brave Aelfwine spoke: “Although our liege is gone,

Remember now the boasts and vows we made

When each did raise a mead-glass and a blade.

The man who fights on here with all his power

Will prove a faithful hero in this hour.”

Then Offa spoke:   “Our Lord lies on the earth;

Our war-play must we give a second birth,

And strengthen one another;  Raise your spear

And make the Viking’s victory cost them dear!”

Brave Leofsunu  spoke:  “I will not flee,

But further toward the foe my steps shall be.

I’ll be revenged on them for Byrtnoth’s  death

Though vengeance cost me even my last breath.”

Then Dunnere did speak:   “Upon this day,

The man who vengeance seeks may not delay.”

The final thane who spoke was Byrhtwold:

“I will NOT leave  my liege, though I am old;

More brave must be the thought, more bold the heart,

The will must grow, although our strength depart;

For love of this ring-giver I will stay

Though I should die beside him on this day.”

  1. All.   Died.  There, defending fallen lord,

Themselves to fall at last to Viking sword.
Yet no good thing is wasted; in their  fight

They turned their hearts toward war, not coward’s flight;

They ran INTO the battle, not away,

And honor with their deaths they won that day.

—————————————–

I’m now at the part of the process where, having written rhythm and rhyme, I have to break out of that rhythm and rhyme to “speak the speech”.       One way to start doing that is to rewrite the poem, broken up by thoughts or sentences:

A tale is told of ancient Maldon’s field, where English earls and thanes refused to yield

When faced with the invading  Viking horde.

Earl Byrtnoth, doughty warrior and lord was fallen there, his body on the ground;

Defending him, the Thanes did gather round, exhorting one another to fight on:

Brave Aelfwine spoke:

“Although our liege is gone, remember now the boasts and vows we made

When each did raise a mead-glass and a blade.

The man who fights on here with all his power will prove a faithful hero in this hour.”

Then Offa spoke:

“Our Lord lies on the earth;

Our war-play must we give a second birth, and strengthen one another;

Raise your spear and make the Viking’s victory cost them dear!”

Brave Leofsunu  spoke:

“I will not flee, but further toward the foe my steps shall be.

I’ll be revenged on them for Byrtnoth’s  death though vengeance cost me even my last breath.”
Then Dunnere did speak:

“Upon this day, the man who vengeance seeks may not delay.”

The final thane who spoke was Byrhtwold:

“I will NOT leave  my liege, though I am old;

More brave must be the thought, more bold the heart;

The will must grow, although our strength depart;

For love of this ring-giver I will stay though I should die beside him on this day.”

They.   all.   died. there.

Defending fallen lord,   themselves to fall at last to Viking sword.

 

Yet no good thing is wasted;

In their  fight they turned their hearts toward war,

not coward’s flight;

They ran INTO the battle, not away, and honor with their deaths they won that day.

———————————————

Next stop, off book!

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