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King Harold's Man (a poem)

Old Guy

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An earlier version of part I was posted here a long time ago. For all you who have asked, here is the semi-final poem. (Semi-final only in that I never seem to quit fiddling with these things!)


I. Stamford Bridge

I, Beadurof, remember --

Blood on wood, blood on water,

red streams in Severn River.

Yellow hair and still white faces,

mouths agape in silent scream.

A hot morning, thunder in clear sky,

booted feet on footbridge plank,

where Vikings stand and fight.

Sun flashes on steel, metal beats metal,

dark figures reel and fall.

Men kick the dead aside

and hack a path across the bridge.

Norsemen stumble clear;

we lunge in pursuit.

Our captains shout and curse,

form us into ragged ranks

below the long slope

where Hardrada’s men turn at bay.

Tall Vikings line the crest, armor dark,

shields slashed in bright colors,

burnished swords held low.

Black Oeric on my left, Redwald to my right,

we stand in the third rank, under a clean sky.

Warm in the sun, we wait.

At command, we lurch forward,

legs stiff, lungs bereft of battle cry.

Swords whirl and strike, feet stamp,

we trade blows and oaths with faceless men.

Time freezes under shock of iron and iron.

An instant short of forever, their shield wall splits.

Tired men back slow into a watery fen.

White wildflowers will mark their graves.

Like an insect in amber,

ringed with clash of sword and shield,

and squeals of dying men,

images haunt me.

A muddy blond man snarls and strikes my shield.

Water at his back, desperate, he attacks.

Redwald slashes his legs and lays him low.

I tread his arm -- neck bones grate on my sword.

Little Oeric, with his axe, stalks a Viking,

engages him on the grass, shield to shield.

Fyrdmen with spears circle left and right,

and stab the Norseman down.

Sagas speak not of spilled entrails,

dirt and blood trampled into mud,

shattered helms, broken swords,

of an arm with no man attached.

Nor do bards sing of the driven sword

that breaks past shield and mail,

and plunges deep in foeman's chest.

Aye, we broke them in the end,

though it was a hollow victory and too dear.

Inside, I exulted in my survival,

while Redwald and I lay Black Oeric under sod.

Too many men and dreams slipped away,

on the field by Severn River,

buried with the dead of Stamford Bridge.

II. Senlac Ridge

We were a sad, stumbling lot,

strung out on the road from York to London,

When word came around of Bastard William

and his landing at Pevensey Bay.

Ice touched my heart, a black shroud fell over my soul.

Ravens croaked, one to another,

speaking my funeral oration

as we marched down the old Roman road.

We were many men shy of the number

who marched north with the King,

marched north to the banks of the Severn.


Time running out.

Thurkill and Godric joined us in London,

as did Leofwin and Gyrth, the King's brothers.

Men they brought, but never enough.

In time our strength might double, treble.

Or dwindle down to naught.

Duke William could be trapped,

his back against the tide, winter in his face.

Toss the coin, throw the dice, fortune can favor the bold.

Bones rattle in the cup, but loud, crashing loud.

A man can't hear if sand still runs

or if it has run out.

Redwald walked with me from hoar apple tree to ridge.

A single day would see a strong line posted there.

That day we did not get.

Instead, we rushed to form our English wall of shields

and beheld the Norman host -- in numbers never dreamed!

Infantry soldiers, horsemen in their hundreds,

and archers by the score.

Time rushes forward. The day was hot

and the fight long, a fell battle -- pieces remain in my mind.

A horse without rider, crying as it walked,

tearing it's own hanging guts.

Redwald down with a spear in his belly,

hands clasped on the shaft,

and he wailing -- much like the horse.

"The King is down!" cried someone.

An arrow pierced my thigh just then.

A black-haired lad in bloody linen dragged me clear,

back past Redwald's sightless, staring eyes.

I knew nothing more of Harold.

Black and red.

Ravens. Blood splattered on gray grass.

Thunder in a clear sky. I remember the bridge.

Hooves. Horses charging. Steel glitters.

I am struck.


Sand runs.

Strangers brought me from that field,

where an English shield wall failed at last.

Normans ravage the countryside.

Kill me, they might, but it must be soon.

I smell the rot of my torn flesh.

There is no pain, save in my soul.

We have failed. Harold and I and all true men have failed.

England lies supine before the invader.

She must make a woman's peace.

Diminished then, she will move forward

to her final victory.

But sand runs out.

Beadurof must go.

© JR Hume, 2001-2006

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:thumbsup: Wonderful :thumbsup:

Unusual poetry of the last battles of the "Dark Age". Barbarian vs Barbarian then Barbarian vs Medieval.

The reason I watch historically based movies or read historically based novels is to help me assimilate all my historical data, flow charts and family trees, and why I resist criticism of their historicity, although it's my first reaction.

In this case I wouldn't if I could, and I can't so I won't.

:thumbsup: Wonderful :thumbsup:

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Thanks, guys.

Harold Godwinson ought to figure more prominently in English history, both factually and as a vehicle for fiction. Sadly, even folks who know 1066 is the year of the Norman Invasion of England and that Hastings is the name of the battle, don't know Harold fought and defeated Harald Hardrada's invading force a few weeks earlier.

The battle at Stamford Bridge was the last major European battle where cavalry played no part. It was a toe-to-toe slugfest between straight infantry forces. It's doubtful if more than a few archers took part.

Harold's loss of perhaps a thousand or more housecarles at Stamford had to have effected the subsequent battle at Senlac. But, there are too many variables to make decent what-if predictions.

Both Harald Hardrada and Tostig, the English turncoat, were killed in the fighting at Stamford. The fact that the Norwegian king and his major sub-commander were both killed gives some indication of how vicious and prolonged the battle was.

Sounds like material for a good book or two, eh?

Jim :)

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Yes it would Jim.

I too am a little perplexed at why more hasn't been written. It is a rather pivotal event. I've only seen and read the usual documentary type tv stuff and the usual dry historical accounts (such as they were).

I mean it has everything a novel or movie could want. At least as much as any Arthurian tale. Blood & guts, intrigue & treachery, heroism & cowardice, a cause lost but not without hope. I don't recall any, but a love interest could easily be inserted if need be.

Maybe some day.

Note: Take note Rick, Jim has used the word "eh" absolutely correctly. ;)

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You must have been holding your beer correctly as the "eh" just rolled off so naturally.

In fact, if you hadn't have done it, my mind would have inserted it anyway. :D

It's one of those words I could not explain how or when to use it. It just happens naturally. Sometimes it's an exclamation point, sometimes to emphasize a question, sometimes to just elicit a reaction.

Notice, I haven't used it yet.

Bob and Doug always exaggerated it's use, annoyingly so.

As I'm typing I'm trying to get a sentence in where I can use it, but can't.

Oh well, next time eh.

AHA, there ya go. :)

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