Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 175 pages of information about Early Britain.

The following rough translation of a very early Teutonic spell for the cure of a sprained ankle, belonging to the heathen period, will illustrate the earliest form of this alliterative verse.  The key-letter in each couplet is printed in capitals, and the verse is read from end to end, not as two separate columns.[1]

    Balder and Woden Went to the Woodland: 
    There Balder’s Foal Fell, wrenching its Foot. 
    Then Sinthgunt beguiled him, and Sunna her Sister: 
    Then Frua beguiled him, and Folla her sister,
    Then Woden beguiled him, as Well he knew how;
    Wrench of blood, Wrench of bone, and eke Wrench of limb: 
    Bone unto Bone, Blood unto Blood,
    Limb unto Limb as though Limed it were.

 [1] The original of this heathen charm is in the Old High
     German dialect; but it is quoted here as a good specimen of
     the early form of alliterative verse.  A similar charm
     undoubtedly existed in Anglo-Saxon, though no copy of it has
     come down to our days, as we possess a modernised and
     Christianised English version, in which the name of our Lord
     is substituted for that of Balder.

In this simple spell the alliteration serves rather as an aid to memory than as an ornamental device.  The following lines, translated from the ballad on AEthelstan’s victory at Brunanburh, in 937, will show the developed form of the same versificatory system.  The parallelism and alliteration are here well marked:—­

    AEthelstan king, lord of Earls,
    Bestower of Bracelets, and his Brother eke,
    Eadmund the AEtheling, honour Eternal
    Won in the Slaughter, with edge of the Sword
    By Brunnanbury.  The Bucklers they clave,
    Hewed the Helmets, with Hammered steel,
    Heirs of Edward, as was their Heritage,
    From their Fore-Fathers, that oft the Field
    They should Guard their Good folk Gainst every comer,
    Their Home and their Hoard.  The Hated foe cringed to them,
    The Scottish Sailors, and the Northern Shipmen;
    Fated they Fell.  The Field lay gory
    With Swordsmen’s blood Since the Sun rose
    On Morning tide a Mighty globe,
    To Glide o’er the Ground, God’s candle bright,
    The endless Lord’s taper, till the great Light
    Sank to its Setting.  There Soldiers lay,
    Warriors Wounded, Northern Wights,
    Shot over Shields; and so Scotsmen eke,
    Wearied with War.  The West Saxon onwards,
    The Live-Long day in Linked order
    Followed the Footsteps of the Foul Foe.

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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