There be dragons!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Battle of Maldon

Hiġe sceal þē heardra, heorte þē cenre,

mōd sceal þē māre þē ūre mæġen lȳtlað.

Thought must be the harder, heart the keener
Spirit shall be more - as our might lessens.

Tolkien said in his great essay on Anglo-Saxon poetry that this element of courage in the face of defeat was a distinctly Norse quality; a remarkable contribution to Western culture; man's courage only known when he knows he will fail. Though I think Tolkien might have been biased in limiting this quality to Norse people only (witness Leonidas and Socrates and the Christ) nevertheless there is something to be said about this. In this great Anglo Saxon poem, the recounting of a battle in 991 AD, the sentiment that even when we know we are going to die we will fight more courageously is an inspiration - something which lasted even unto the world wars of the 20th century. The power and beauty of those words remains with me still, that our thought will be harder, hearts keener and mood the more as our strength lessen. To hell with those who would defeat us or make us quail by their cowardly suicide bombings, insults, and ruin. Like Gandalf facing the Nazgul King at the gates of Minas Tirith or facing the Balrog at Kazad Dum we defy the darkness and proclaim "You shall not pass."

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