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Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Battle of Brunanburh


Constantinus, King of the Scots, after having sworn allegiance to Athelstan, allied himself with the Danes of Ireland under Anlaf, and invading England, was defeated by Athelstan and his brother Edmund with great slaughter at Brunanburh in the year 937.

              1      Athelstan King,
              2      Lord among Earls,
              3      Bracelet-bestower and
              4      Baron of Barons,
              5      He with his brother,
              6      Edmund Atheling,
              7      Gaining a lifelong
              8      Glory in battle,
              9      Slew with the sword-edge
            10      There by Brunanburh,
            11      Brake the shield-wall,
            12      Hew'd the lindenwood,
            13      Hack'd the battleshield,
            14Sons of Edward with hammer'd brands.

            15      Theirs was a greatness
            16      Got from their Grandsires--
            17      Theirs that so often in
            18      Strife with their enemies
            19Struck for their hoards and their hearths and their homes.

            20      Bow'd the spoiler,
            21      Bent the Scotsman,
            22      Fell the shipcrews
            23      Doom'd to the death.
            24All the field with blood of the fighters
            25      Flow'd, from when first the great
            26      Sun-star of morningtide,
            27      Lamp of the Lord God
            28      Lord everlasting,
            29Glode over earth till the glorious creature
            30      Sank to his setting.
            31      There lay many a man
            32      Marr'd by the javelin,
            33      Men of the Northland
            34      Shot over shield.
            35      There was the Scotsman
            36      Weary of war.

            37      We the West-Saxons,
            38      Long as the daylight
            39      Lasted, in companies
            40Troubled the track of the host that we hated;
            41Grimly with swords that were sharp from the grindstone
            42Fiercely we hack'd at the flyers before us.

            43      Mighty the Mercian,
            44      Hard was his hand-play,
            45      Sparing not any of
            46      Those that with Anlaf,
            47      Warriors over the
            48      Weltering waters
            49      Borne in the bark's-bosom,
            50      Drew to this island:
            51      Doom'd to the death.

            52  Five young kings put asleep by the sword-stroke,
            53Seven strong earls of the army of Anlaf
            54Fell on the war-field, numberless numbers,
            55Shipmen and Scotsmen.

            56      Then the Norse leader,
            57      Dire was his need of it,
            58      Few were his following,
            59      Fled to his warship;
            60Fleeted his vessel to sea with the king in it,
            61Saving his life on the fallow flood.

            62      Also the crafty one,
            63      Constantinus,
            64      Crept to his north again,
            65      Hoar-headed hero!

            66      Slender warrant had
            67      He to be proud of
            68      The welcome of war-knives--
            69      He that was reft of his
            70      Folk and his friends that had
            71      Fallen in conflict,
            72      Leaving his son too
            73      Lost in the carnage,
            74      Mangled to morsels,
            75      A youngster in war!

            76      Slender reason had
            77      He to be glad of
            78      The clash of the war-glaive--
            79      Traitor and trickster
            80      And spurner of treaties--
            81      He nor had Anlaf
            82      With armies so broken
            83      A reason for bragging
            84      That they had the better
            85      In perils of battle
            86      On places of slaughter--
            87      The struggle of standards,
            88      The rush of the javelins,
            89      The crash of the charges,
            90      The wielding of weapons--
            91      The play that they play'd with
            92      The children of Edward.

            93      Then with their nail'd prows
            94      Parted the Norsemen, a
            95      Blood-redden'd relic of
            96      Javelins over
            97The jarring breaker, the deep-sea billow,
            98Shaping their way toward Dyflen again,
            99      Shamed in their souls.

          100      Also the brethren,
          101      King and Atheling,
          102      Each in his glory,
          103Went to his own in his own West-Saxonland,
          104      Glad of the war.

          105  Many a carcase they left to be carrion,
          106Many a livid one, many a sallow-skin--
          107Left for the white-tail'd eagle to tear it, and
          108Left for the horny-nibb'd raven to rend it, and
          109Gave to the garbaging war-hawk to gorge it, and
          110That gray beast, the wolf of the weald.

          111      Never had huger
          112      Slaughter of heroes
          113      Slain by the sword-edge--
          114      Such as old writers
          115      Have writ of in histories--
          116      Hapt in this isle, since
          117      Up from the East hither
          118      Saxon and Angle from
          119      Over the broad billow
          120      Broke into Britain with
          121      Haughty war-workers who
          122      Harried the Welshman, when
          123      Earls that were lured by the
          124      Hunger of glory gat
          125      Hold of the land.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ballads and other poems (London: C. K. Paul, 1880). PR 5555 B3 1880 ROBA. Alfred lord Tennyson, Works (London: Macmillan, 1891). tenn T366 A1 1891a Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1880
RPO poem editor: J. D. Robins
RP edition: 2RP 2.411.
Recent editing: 2:2002/1/10

Form: two-stress alliterative line


Other poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson