The first lines in this poem come from the great Anglo-Saxon poem 'The Battle of Malden' and they're spoken by the old warrior, Byrhtwold, after the death of his lord fighting against the Vikings. In the second of my two stanzas I attempt a translation of these and the following lines using only words deriving from Anglo-Saxon with the exception of the word 'spirit'.

Translation Workshop: Grit and Blood


Hige sceal the heardra, heorte the cenre,
mod sceal the mare, the ure maegen lytlath!
Word-stand, locking shield-wall
not to be broken down, nor even
translated in its own bright coin.
Courage, intention, resolve – won’t do.
Out with Latinates! I want earth-words,
tough roots: grit and blood, grunt, gleam.

Harder heads and hearts more keen,
spirits on fire as our strength flags!
Here lies our leader, axed and limp,
the top dog in the dust. He who turns
from this war-play now will mourn
for ever. I am old. I’ll stay put.
I’ll lay my pillow on the ground
beside my dear man, my loved lord.

from Selected Poems (Enitharmon, 2001), copyright © Kevin Crossley-Holland 2001, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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