The Battle of Maldon: Poem - Summary and Analysis

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      The Battle of Maldon is a poem recording the battle fought in the year 991 at the estuary of the Blackwater in Essex near Maldon between the English and the Viking invaders. The hero of the poem is Byrhtnoth, Earl of Essex, leader of the English fyrd (militia). The action of Maldon divides into two parts: the course of the battle before (1-184) and after (185-325) the fall of Byrhtnoth. Another two-fold division is made in terms of the hero's generalship; here the turning point comes at line 96, when the Earl has made the mistake of withdrawing the holders of the ford and letting the Vikings cross the river. The two schemes of division may be combined into a three-fold scheme: first, the English have the upper hand (1-95); after Byrhtnoth's mistake in generalship but before his tall, the issue of the battle hangs in the balance (96-184); after his fall the English lose the day (185-325). The hero's fatal error grew out of his martial spirit. It was the flight of the cowardly Godric that precipitated the defeat of the English. Byrhtnoth is slain with a poisoned spear and some of his men flee. The thane who dies fighting to the last by his lord's body makes a noble figure. The poet glorifies the hero - he also glorifies the relationship of lord and the thane that gives rise to the heroism which he celebrates.

The Battle of Maldon

Critical Analysis

      The poem belongs to the tradition of the scops, and most of it might be put back into heathen times with little or no change in word or, thought. Only one truly Christian passage occurs, the prayer of the dying hero. The heroic point of view, and the stylistic conventions that go with it are manifest in the poet's account of the fighting. The battle in Maldon like the battles in the Iliad takes the form of single combats between champions; the common soldiers are ignored. Over a fourth of the poem is made up of speeches. Maldon bears some likeness to the epic.

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