‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Monday, 7 October 2019

The Battle of Maldon




                                   were broken;
He then told those heroes:       “hold back the horses,
send them far off       for we're going forward,
think now of your hands,       and of God on High.”
It was then that Offa's clan    first found-out,
that their famous earl       was fully fearless.
He freed from his wrist       his much-loved flier
his hawk sent over the hedges,       hurried himself on.
So that more might understand       young men show no
weakness at war       when they wield weaponry.
Eadric resolved       to go with his elders,
forth to the fight;       facing forward with his
spear at that skirmish:       he gave special thanks,
that while his hand        held hard on his
buckler and broadsword       he was fulfilling his boast,
to stand firm with his friends       when the fighting came.

Then Byrhtnoth began       deploying his battallions,
rode out to rally them,       readied his soldiers
said how they should stand       and hold steady,
shouldering their round-shields       staying strong
fast amongst fellows,       feeling no fright.
When he had his troops       trimmed and tight
he dismounted in the middle       amongst those who loved him,
where his household guard       stood heart-loyal.

Suddenly, on the strand,       loud on that far shore,
was a Viking warrior,       wild with his words,
boasting, as is the way       with those wave-wanderers
a statement sent to the Earl       stood on the other side:
“I've been selected by       certain brave seamen;
to convey this command:       you must quickly compensate
us with tribute for a truce.       For truly it's better
that battle be       bought-off with a bribe,
than that we should hand-out       the hard hurt of war.
No need to spill blood,       if you send us a sweetener:
give us gold and we will       agree a good peace.
Roll-out your revenue,       let the richest among you
lighten their load       and release their lucre,
send the sea-warriors    something for themselves
treasure for peace-treaty,       and we'll take the truce,
we will accept such settlement       go back to our ships,
sail across the sea with       a sealed pact between us.”

Byrhtnoth shouted back,       shaking his shield,
waving his ash-spear,       shaping his words,
wrathfully, resolutely       replying to that man:
“Do you hear, sailor-boy,       what these soldiers say?
they want to send you       sharp spears as tribute,
quick-pointed, and       a clutch of cutting swords,
gifts of war-gear that will       do you no good.
Go back to your boatpeople       with this bulletin:
bring to your betters       this belittling reply:                                 [50]
that here stands an honourable       earl with his army,
who'll hold hard to       his homeland,
Æthelrēd's earth,       my own ancestor,
my folk and freehold;       you shall fall,
heathens, in the heat of battle.       Hot the shame, I'd say,
if you swaggered to your ships       and sailed away
uncontested,       now you've come this far
into our land       as interlopers.
Nor shall you seize       any such soft treasure.
Spearpoint and sharp-edged       sword shall settle this,
grim gore-play       before we ever give away our gold.”

Told his soldiers to shift       their shields, assume positions,
beside the stream       they all stood.
The water was in the way       between those warriors;
fast as a flowing       flood after the ebb,
two locked longstreams.       A long wait, he thought,
until belligerents       could be brought to battle.
The River Pant       restricted those rivals,
Eastsaxons here       and ash-ship others there.
Neither could destroy       or do harm to their adversary,
except those that fell to       fast-fletched arrows.

Then the tide turned.       Troops stood ready,
vigorous vikings       avid for war.
The headman told one hero       to hold the bridge:
a war-hardened warrior       called Wulfstān,
courageous amongst his kin       (he was Cēolan's son)
He felled the first man       with a French-forged spear
who was bold enough       to step on that bridge.
Waiting with Wulfstān       were two warriors,
Ælfere and Maccus,       mighty twins,
they would never flee       from the work at that ford,
but would fiercely       fight against those foreigners,
all the while they were able       to wield their weapons.
When the seamen surveilled        and saw with certainty
that those bridge-wardens       were battling them back,
they began to use guile       those loathly guests,
asked for permission    to pass to dry ground,
to fare over that ford       with their footsoldiers.

This the Earl allowed       in an over-mood
leased too much land       to those loathed men.
He called out       across the cold water
Byrhtelm's boy       (both sides heard him):
“Now you have space,       come swiftly to us,
let enemies engage;       God alone knows
how this crucial combat       will come to its conclusion.”

So the war-wolves waded       (getting wet didn't worry them),
Viking warriors       walking west over the Pant,
through shining water       shouldering shields
of linked linden planks,       bearing them landward.
There, to stop such savages       solidly stood                   [100]
Byrhtnoth and his best men.       He bade them block
shields into a solid wall,       stop those soldiers
stand fast against the foe.       The fight fell on them,
keen combat,       The time had come
when the fellows fated       to fall would do so.
The roar of battle was raised.       Ravens circled,
those eagles of carrion.       The earth itself cried out.
Flung from both sides        file-hardened spears,
came grinding down       grim fliers;
bows were busy,       shields bore the brunt.
Bitter was the battlerush,       brave men falling
on either hand       heaped heroes lay.
Wounds wore-down Wulfmaer:       he chose war's sleep.
Byrhtnōth's kin       was bashed about,
he and his sister's son       struck with many swords.
At least they gave the Vikings       violent reverse.
I heard that huge Edward       hacked one down hard
slew him with a sword,       swung it without ceasing,
until at his foot       one fellow met his fate;
for which his good lord       gave much gratitude,
that borough-thane,       big with thanks.
So they stood firm       in their strength
young braves at battle;       buoyant at heart
who there might strike down       with their spearpoints
those who were fated to die       and win fame,
warriors with weapons;       wearing down the enemy.
They stood steadfast;       it was Byrhtnōth's strategy
that each warrior would       work-out how best
to engage the Danes       to deal with the danger.

Then one warrior walked up,       his weapons held high,
buckler before him,       bravely stepping to those boys;
against him stood       our Earl, facing that churl:
each to the other       intended to do evil.
The seafarer hurled       a southern-forged spear,
and it badly wounded       our warband's lord;
he shoved with his shield,       so the shaft of it broke,
and the spear shattered,       sprang back again.
This set one soldier seething.       He stung with his spear
the vanity of that Viking,       gave him a vicious wound.
Savvy of that squaddie,       stabbing with his spear
at that knight's neck!       —nudging with his hand
frittering the life-force        of that fierce foe.
Then he sent a second       speedy shot off,
making a battler bleed,       bursting through his breast
chopping through his chainmail,       cutting the chest
and hacking his heart.       His earl was happy,
guffawed at such good-work,       gave thanks to God
for this day's daring       decreed by destiny.
But then some dangerman       directed a dart,
hurled it from his hand:       it hurtled over                      [150]
lanced through that leader       Æthelrēd's lord.
Beside him in that strife stood       a strong adolescent
little more than a boy,       who most bravely
shucked from his torso        the blood stained shaft,
Wulfstān's boy,       Young Wulfmǣr it was
who sent that steely       spear flying back;
it entered that other       knocked him over on the earth
the guy who'd so grievously       gashed our general.
One enemy jogged across       approached that earl;
to fetch back the finery       of that fallen fighter,
his raiment, rings of gold       and rich sword.

Byrhtnoth brought out       his blade from its sheath,
broad and bright-edged,       struck out at this battler:
though the invader       avoided the blow, advanced
and in return injured       the earl's own arm;
who let go to the ground       his gold-handled sword,
nor might he hold on       to that hardened hilt,
or wield his weapon.       So he spoke these words,
that grey-haired harrier,       to help the others,
bade them go forward       a good garrison;
though he couldn't keep his feet       or stand fast;
but looked to heaven:
“Grateful to you,       Gatherer of Peoples,
for all that I have won       in my time in this world.
Now I, gentle Judge,       have utmost need
as I give up my ghost       to God's goodness,
send my soul to you       soaring upwards
into your grace,       Guardian of Angels,
departing in peace       if it please you
and that no hell-snatchers        harm my soul.”
Then the heathen hordes       hacked him down
and both the battlers       that stood beside him,
Ælfnōth and Wulmǣr       fell near him,
gave up their lives       for their loved lord.

Some now backed-out of battle       those who couldn't bear it.
Off went Oddan's first-born       fleeing the fight,
Godric—got right out of there       quitting his good lord
that had so often sent him       superb steeds.
He hopped onto the horse       that had been his lord's,
used that riding-gear       to which he had no right,
and his brothers ran too,       abandoning the battle,
Godrinc and Godwīg,       giving up the grind,
running away from the war       and into the woods,
scurrying off to security,       to save their own lives,
and many more ran,       most improperly,
when you think of the fine       full favours he'd done them,
that good lord's many gifts       graciously given.
Offa had himself said       earlier on that day,
in the assembly-hall,       where all met in audience,
that though many       men made major claims               [200]
in the aftermath       all would not endure.
There he lay, killed       the people's king,
Æthelrēd's earl;       all had seen his end
his hearth-followers beheld       that here a hero lay.
So they went forth       those ferocious officers
unalarmed men       eagerly marching:
they all held one of       two hopes:
to lose their lives       or avenge their beloved lord.

One encouraged then onwards       Ælfrīc's offspring,
not many winters old,       but speaking unweak words,
Ælfwine was his name,       and now he announced:
“I remember what we men       mouthed over our mead,
bundled together on benches       and all boasting
how (in that hall) we were heroes,       ready to win hard;
now we can see       whose courage is still keen.
I'll blab my bloodline       make it obvious to all,
that I'm from famous Myrcon's       fine family;
that my grandfather       was Ealhelm the Great,
a wise alderman,       and worldhappy.
No-one shall say of me       —none of our seniors—
that I ever failed, fled       from a fight,
hurried home       hatefully now my lord has fallen
since he's slain in the skirmish;       that would shame me:
he was my kin       and he was my king.”

So he moved forward,       his mind on the mêlée,
and spear-wounded one       of the sea-wanderers
fully felled him,       so that he lay in that field
wiped-out by that weapon.       This encouraged his war-band,
his friends and comrades       into that combat.
And Offa shouted,       shaking his ash spear:
“Well done Ælfwine!       you've inspired your elders,
rightly roused them:       now our royal lord is dead,
now earth's claimed our earl       we should all make the effort
each should attempt       to embolden the others
warriors at war, while       we hold our weapons
have them at hand,       these hardened maces,
our gear, good swords.       For Godric
—Odda's boneless boy—       has betrayed us all:
many a brave man,       who saw him mounted on that mare,
was misled into thinking,       that our own lord was leaving;
it created confusion       on the field of combat,
broke-up the shield-wall:       a bad beginning,
that sent so many soldiers       scurrying away!”

Leofsunu spoke aloud       lifting his linden-shield,
his body's bulwark,       bellowed these words:
“I hereby swear,       that I'll not swerve
not flee so much as a foot,       but will forge onward,
find revenge in this fight       for my fallen friend.
None should smear me       at Stūrmer with steadfast
demeaning words,       of my lord's debacle,                                       [250]
that I left this place lordless       and loped away home,
walked away from this war?       Better let some weapon take me,
any edge of iron.”       He advanced full of ire,
rushed at the raiders,       repudiated all retreat.

Dunnere soon spoke,        shaking his deadly spear:
though only a commoner       he called-out the uppercrust,
bade all the high-born       avenge bold Byrhtnōth:
“None can veer away       if they hope for vengeance
for our fallen lord,       nor give in to fear!”

So they lunged forward,       made light of their fear;
household retainers hurrying        into the heart of the fight,
goring with their spears,        and begging God
that they might wreak           a right revenge,
and aim at their enemies           annihilation.
Even the hostage helped          fighting heartily:
—he was a Northumbrian        from a noble family,
Ecglaf's offspring,           by name Æscferth:
he never winced           at this wild war-work,
but again and again           aimed his arrows;
sometimes he struck a shield,        sometimes a soldier;
over and over he           opened wounds on some enemy,
all the while he could work           war with his weapons.

A long way behind stood        Edward Longshanks,
ready, raring to go,        speaking rousing words,
he'd not surrender           so much one single foot of soil,
neither bend nor go back,        over where his better lay.
He broke through the shield-wall,        and battled the enemy,
until he'd settled his debt           with those seamen
paid-back his prince,        and, in doing so, perished.
The same did Ætheric,           noble accompanier,
fierce and forward-looking        he fought in earnest,
Sibyrhte's brother        and so many suchlike
severed the circular shields,        put-up sharp defence;
snapped the board's rim,        made the armour sing
its brutal music.        Then brave in that battle
Offa struck-down a sailor,        who suddenly fell,
and there Gaddes' group           sought-out ground:
soon enough in that fight.           Offa fell;
but he had accomplished           what he had come for,
what he'd previously promised           to his noble patron
that they should both ride           back to their borough,
home again happy,        or else halt all life
on this corpse-cluttered clearing           cut-down with wounds:
he lay at last, loyally           beside his lord.

A clashing of shields!           The seamen were coming,
burning with battle-fury.           Their bayonets broke open
soldier's soul-houses.           Wistan set out,
(he was Thurstene's son)        struggling with assailants:
in any tussle he could           take-down three of them,
Wigelin's strong son too        until he was slaughtered.                     [300]
It was savage strife;           soldiers standing fast
each fellow fighting        until all fighters fell,
wounded and weary;        warriors littering the earth.
Oswold and Ealdwold        all the while
brothers in that battle        bore-up their men
their drinking-buddies           with daring words
declaring they'd endure           dire desperation
without any weakness           and wield their weapons.
Byrhtwold shouted,        shouldered his shattered shield,
(he was an old soldier),        shook his ash-spear;
and with big boldness           bellowed to his comrades:



“Heads be held higher,       hearts shall be keener,
mood shall mount-up       as our might lessens.
Here lies our leader       all laid low,
a good man on the ground;       all should grieve
to witness him gone       away from this war-play.
I've lived long enough;       I'll not leave this location,
but will stop here, stay       with my slain sovereign:
beside my loved leige       is where I'll lie down.”

So did Æthelgāre's son       send their spirits soaring.                       [320]
Godric going to war       threw a great many spears
javelins veering       towards the Vikings,
firmly into those foreigners       he went, front-line
hewing and hurting them,       until he was himself killed.
Not the same Godric, this,       who'd slunk away from the slaughter.

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