Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960

   

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in Western Literature

An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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The Battle of Maldon, 991

Translation: Wilfred Berridge, 1950

Death of Brithnoth,
Earl of Essex


Vikings Attack Brithnoth:

Went one stern in battle — his weapon upheaved,

His shield for safety — and ‘gainst the chief strode —

As resolute against him the earl did go,

Each to the other did evil intend.

Sent then the seafarer a southern dart,

And wounded was the warrior’s chieftain.

But he shoved with his shield — so that the shaft burst,

And the spear broke, and it sprang away.

Wroth was the chieftain, he pierced with his spear

That proud Viking who gave him that wound.

Yet prudent was the chieftain; he aimed his shaft to go

Through the man’s neck — his hand guided it

So that he reached his sudden enemy’s life.

Then he a second swiftly sent

That the breastplate burst — in the heart was he wounded

Through the ring-harness — and at his heart stood

The poisoned point; the earl was the blither: —

Laughed then that high-heart — made thanks to God

For his day’s work — that his Saviour granted him.

 

A Second Viking Wounds Brithnoth

Loosed then one of the foeman a dart from his hands,

To fly from his fingers — that it rushed forth

Through the noble thane of Aetheired.

Close to his side stood a youth not yet grown

Wulfstan’s child — even Wulfmeer the younger.

He plucked from his chieftain that bloody spear

Then loosed the hard spear ‘gainst that other to go;

In ran the point — so that he on earth lay

Who ere had sorely wounded his chief.

When an armed Viking against the earl

Who wished the earl’s jewels to plunder,

His armour and rings — and well-adorned sword.

Then Brithnoth drew his sword from sheath

Broad and brown edged — and at his breast-plate smote.

Too soon hindered him one of the seamen,

So that the earl’s arm he did injure.

Fell then to earth the fallow-hilted sword,

Nor could he hold the hard brand

Or wield his weapon.

 

Brithnoth’s Dying Words

Yet then this word did speak

The old warrior; cheered on his men

Ordered to go forward — his good brethren.

No longer could he firmly on his feet stand.

He looked up to heaven……..

"I thank Thee, Lord of all peoples

For all those joys that I on earth have know.

Now, my Maker mild — I have most need

That thou to my ghost should grant good.

That my soul to Thee may journey,

Into thy kingdom — O lord of the Angels,

May pass with peace — I do desire of Thee

That the hell-fiends may not hurt it."

Then hewed at him those heathen men

And at both those men that stood him beside,

Aelfnoth and Wulfmeer — both fell;

Then beside their Liege — their lives they yielded.

 

   
 

Adrienne Nater, 2008

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