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Hildeburhʼs Lament XII

But before the Danes
Could fare to the Mark,
Winter snowfall
Severed their way.
Nor would the fearsome seaʼs
Stormy surging
Let them sail in ships.
Winter waves struggled
By wind and icy bond
Locking them in,
Till longed for Spring
Came round next year
As yet it still does.
So Hengest and his men
Remained that winter
With Finn in Frisia,
Fighting their pride,
In weary weather.
Then was Winter shaken,
And the earth grew fair,
Finding that exile,
The guarded guest,
Growing eager
More to retaliate
Than return by sea,
If it might be brought about.
His mind still dwellt
Upon the Jutes and their due,
Judging their deeds.
So when Húnláfing’s son
Laid that best bill
In his lap, whose edgeʼs
Eagerness the Jutes knew well,
Then cruel sworddeath
Assailed the bold Finn
In his own homestead,
A king amongst his company,
And his queen taken
By the Scylding shieldmen
To the ships with the booty;
Jutish jewels
And gems of Frisia.
Over the seaway
They sailed in victory,
Leading me to my land
As ʻLady of the Danesʼ.
My grief for Finn,
Their grimmest foe,
None could understand.
I stood alone again,
Hollowly laughing
To hide my mourning,
My sore, sad heart
Sailing across the whaleroad.
Is this woman’s fate?
Woeful, forlorn,
Bearing bitterness
And burdened with care,
Being pushed around
By rash, proud men?
And all joys worn away
By jealous Wyrd?

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Hildeburhʼs Lament XI

The truce came late.
With only few of Finnʼs
Faithful hearththanes
He could not win against
The wall of Hengest.
The woeremnant offered
Weary frithterms.
They’d give up the hall
And high seatʼs control
If Folcwaldʼs son
Favour at treasure giving
The Remnant warriors
With rings and wealth
As he treats the Frisians
Freely and honourably.
So fragile peace,
Forced by circumstance,
Was settled by both
by swearing of bloodoaths.
Highhelmed Hengest,
Hnæf ’s shieldthane,
Took the peaceoath,
Over the prince’s
Battle stained
Sword and byrnie,
While Finn swore on
Our sonʼs war shield.
Both sides promised
Their pledge to hold.
Never to break truce,
Nor let tongues wag,
Though they follow their foe,
Forced by circumstance,
Their ring giverʼs bane,
Bearing dishonour.
If any Frisian remind them
Of murder or hostility,
He soon would see
A sword edged end.
Pyres were built for
Both my precious ones;
Two close kinsmen
On the killingfield slain,
Together in Wyrdʼs
Grievous war doom.
In eternal sleep
The twain were laid
With glittering goldhoard
And glinting weapons,
Upon beech and birch wood.
Then, bitter torches,
Greedy funeral flames
furiously devoured,
As the cruel slaughter fire
Curled to the skies.
And I sang their lament
Mourning my dear ones —
My flesh and blood —
Burning in the flames.

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Hildeburh’s Lament X

Long the battle lasted,
Loud the weapons clashed.
The Danes stood firm
At the doors on both ends.
Many a Frisian tried
To take the doorkeepers,
But for five long days
They fought in vain.
Then one night, off guard
After gruelling battle,
The Frisians broke in
Bursting the halldoors.
My brother bore
The brunt of swords.
He fell holding fast,
Fearless in death,
Brandishing his bill.
But the bold Danish
Were not cowed by fear.
Far more they kindled
Their anger at losing
Their beloved prince,
No longer the love
Of that lord of men
Would give them joy
In gold gabled hall.
The skirmish raged,
Scouring Finnesburg.
Many of Finn’s thanes
Fought their last,
And still both sides
Sought no trucepledge.
I stood beholding
The hellish scene;
The blood of battlemen
Bursting forth and
The curdling cries
Of the corpselike dying.
Then I saw my son,
Still but a boy,
Borne down by arrows.
Cruellest sight to me,
That stabbed my heart
And robbed me of all
My rightful joy.

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Hildeburh’s Lament VI

Then glad and grim
The good and the bad
News from Danemark,
Dearest homeland,
Reached attentive ears
Eager for tidings.
My father had fared
Forth to the halls
Of his own fathers
As all are fated to.
But my brother, now king,
Was coming to the Burg.
Hnæf! How I’d missed him
My heart’s companion.
Double daggers
Drove through my bosom;
The sad one for sorrow
Smiting with tears,
The other for gay gladness
Giddy with joy.

The pangs of impatience
In preparing wore off.
The royal visit,
A rare occasion,
Requires much work
For Queens to do:
The hall and hearth
From high to low
Must gleam with gold,
Glitter with silver,
The food for feasts
Found and stored well,
And servants instructed
In the smallest matters.

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Hildeburh’s Lament: Background

This post will give you some background information to the 12 part poem Hildeburh’s Lament (part 1: https://andysportry.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/hildeburhs-lament-i/). This longer piece is based on the story of a Danish princess as alluded to in the Anglo-saxon epic Beowulf and the Finnesburg Fragment. This post gives a bit of background to the story. The story is set in Northern Europe, on the coastline of the North Sea, at the time of the Völkerwanderung (=Migration Period: before and after the fall of the Roman Empire). The story focusses on are two rival Germanic tribes, the Danes (sometimes called Scyldings) and the Frisians. Their genealogies are given below. A third tribe, the Jutes, is also involved.

danes

frisians

On the alliterative metre the poem is written in see my notes to St. Edmund (https://andysportry.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/st-edmund/)

Wyrd is the Old English spelling of weird meaning “The principle, power, or agency by which events are predetermined; fate, destiny” (Oxford English Dictionary), as used in Macbeth with the weird sisters.

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Hildeburh’s Lament I

Hwæt, of the Speardanes
And their strength in deeds,
And of Friesland’s Finn,
Foremost of kings,
Many singers have sung
Songs of battleglory
In days long ago.
Death left only me,
Tholing with thoughts
On the threads of Wyrd,
My meat in eld —
End is nighing.
Yet once fair and
Young as Freya was I,
Free as a hind
In forest or hurst.
With Hnæf my brother
Born after me,
My first friend,
I frolicked unbound
Many a summer’s day
We spent dreaming
In the wind’s wake
We wove our tales
Of Vanir and Æsir;
Their victories, defeats
And truce bought with
The exchange of a bride.
Óthr’s wife Freya
Forced to marry;
Griefladen by her
Groom’s madness;
And of Frigg’s boy,
Baldr, Freyr’s son,
Slain by Loki,
Sly and wily.
We both thrilled at
Thor’s exploits and
Sung his stories
Of strength and thunder.
Of elves and dwarves,
Of Asgard and Midgard
We knew enough,
Yet nothing of the world,
Till violent battles
Invaded our lives.

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