Courage

In the short story “The Battle of Maldon”, I was particularly drawn to the passage on page 15, “By his side… ornamented sword”. Immediately captivated by the author’s attention to detail and the images produced in my mind. The “blood-red javelin” and “the tempered weapon flying back again” encapsulate the most crucial fatality of the battle and conjures images of the intensity of the battlegrounds.  Acting as the climax of the story, this moment shows  which warriors prove courageous enough to stand beside their fallen leader and repay him for all he has sacrificed and who are the cowardly who run for the forest, the selfish bunch who long only to save their own lives.

While searching for the passage, I felt overwhelmed by my inability to comprehend any of the words. Upon further inspection after finding the corresponding passage, I found similarities between the two variations than I would not have initially expected. Starting with the line, “Him be healfe stod”, reading the passage in Old English and trying to dissect it became easier and words that I could relate to began to spring up everywhere on the page. As I began stringing words together, I saw that the Old English word order within a given line greatly differentiated from the modern English version. This seems to point to a difference in the grammatical structure in the set-up of the languages. I considered if Old English had any particular rules for grammar or rather more closely resembled a free form language grammatically, especially in something such as a piece of literature as opposed to an official document. I also began to wonder if the colorful vocabulary that had first caught my eye upon reading the modern translation had been a liberty taken by the translator as an effort to liven up the story or if the vividness of the words shone through in the original language. Either way, Byrhtnoth was a terrific leader by example and joined his men in the thick of battle, only to have his life taken from him in hopes of preserving the lives of his fellow warriors.

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One thought on “Courage

  1. It’s so interesting that you noticed the syntax and the morphology of the OE. In fact, the OE does have grammar rules that are more complicated – more like German or Latin – than modern English. Although you bring up a flurry of promising approaches to the poem, both translated and original, I wish you had taken a couple of your comments a bit further. “I also began to wonder if the colorful vocabulary that had first caught my eye upon reading the modern translation had been a liberty taken by the translator as an effort to liven up the story or if the vividness of the words shone through in the original language” — could you find the corresponding OE and compare? What liberties does the translator take? And why do you think he might have taken them?

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