When it comes to great English battle poems, The Battle of Maldon is the pinnacle of writing. The story is how a lord—Byrhtnoth allowed Danish invaders to cross over into his territory, believing that he could expel their raid. The poem tells of how the lord was killed along with his sons and how his followers fought valiantly to avenge their lord.
Like many early writings, however, the text is incomplete. “The poem, which is missing fifty lines at the beginning and twice as many as the end, appears to be the work of a man who had firsthand information about the battle, perhaps from a wounded survivor” (Crossley-Holland 5, The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology). Of course, we will never know who the author of the poem was, fail a spectacular archeological discovery. But, in the meantime, we can, at least, appreciate the talent of the poet who composed the text.
Artistically, the poem presents the opposing armies, followed by the landscapes and flow of battle in an almost surreal sort of way, with battle described almost as a poetic act in itself. Emotions overwhelm the text—from the bravery of those who fight to the cowardice of those who retreat, and the complex emotions in-between, the text passes from exultation into despair in a single fluid motion. Truly, the poet here managed to squeeze in as much as possible into a small a space as possible (even taking into account the missing lines).
So, in the end, my initial engagement with The Battle of Maldon was a fun go through. In the future, I can tell that this is a poem which I will be returning to time and time again.
Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology. Oxford: U.P., 2009. Print.