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Kenric and Bards

Photo by Lord Hugh Tauerner

The Gazette asked Lady Aildreda de Tamwurthe to provide background about the poem performed by the King’s and Queen’s Bards as part of the Coronation ceremony.  Her explanation and poem follow.  Our thanks to Lady Aildreda and Lord Lucien for their help.

When the Queen’s Bard, Lucien de Pontivy, was inspired to write an Old English account of our new King’s history, he naturally turned to Beowulf as his source. A dead King lies on a funeral pyre. A familiar-looking challenger arrives to fight a veteran of many battles. A victorious warrior is surrounded by his thanes. A regal Queen charges that warrior with the care of her people. The story of Kenric aet Essex and Avelina Keyes – but every one of those things happens in the story of Beowulf as well.

Photo by Baroness Cateline la broderesse

Photo by Baroness Cateline la broderesse

Working with a close translation of the original, he found sections of the poetry that told the necessary parts of the story, and preserving intact some of the famous lines of the very beginning. Once the framework was in place, he changed words and phrases to make it Kenric’s story instead of Beowulf’s, and wrote new words to connect the sections into a full narrative. It was a tricky, detailed business; the rules of Anglo-Saxon poetry are strict, the lines are very compressed, and the word-stock of Old English is small, with uneven emphasis. (There are a lot of words for battle!) Moreover, Old English is an inflected language, like Latin, where each word actually changes with its part of speech – it is not enough to find the right word, but also the poet must use the right tense or case or number.

Photo by Lord Hugh Tauerner

Photo by Lord Hugh Tauerner

When all was assembled and polished, with the aid of several reference works and one in-house student of Old English, Lucien split the finished poem into dramatic sections, assigning Grim the Skald the part of Kenric, since he is the King’s Bard, and taking on himself the roles of the challenger, Sir Thomas Ravenhill, and also the part of Avelina, since he is Queen’s Bard. Both bards accompanied themselves on lyres as they acted out the challenge, the combat, the death of Sir Thomas, and the charge of Avelina. The fight was fierce, and “Sir Thomas” fell slain, only to rise with the help of his opponent, who knelt to receive the charge of the Queen. All concluded with a ringing “paet waes god cyning” – that was a good king!

CYNE-WEORC : Kingmaking
by Myra Hope Eskridge, drawn from Beowulf

Old English Modern English
Hwæt! We Eást-thegns / in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, / þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas / ellen fremedon.
Listen! We have heard / of the East-thanes glory,
in the old days / the kings of tribes –
how noble princes / showed great courage!
Aledon þa / leofne þeoden,
beaga bryttan, / on bearm bǽl-fýres
They laid down the king / they had dearly loved
their tall ring-giver, / in the center of the bier.
Sin ge-swegra / weg-gomen com. His cousin / came to the tourney.
Eodon him þa togeanes, / gode þancodon,
ferþ-grim þegna heáp, / ferhþum fægne
They clustered around him, / his thanes
Fierce in battle / happy in their hearts
Tomas Hrafn-hyll maðelode, / on him tohte scan
Aras ða bi ronde / rof oretta,
heard under helme, / hiorosercean bær
Thomas Ravenhill spoke, / gleaming from battle
The famous champion / stood up with his shield
brave behind helmet / in hard war-shirt
“Eart þu se Essex, / se þe wið Edward wunne?” “Are you the same Essex / who challenged Edward?”
Kenric maþelode, / “Na! Ge-swegra ic beo!” Kenric replied, / “No! I’m his cousin!”
æfter þæm wordum / weorold-cempa leod
efste mid elne, / nalas ondsware
bidan wolde; / wig-wylm onfeng
After these words / the warrior of the world
turned boldly / would not wait
for answer / surging battle enfolded them.
Swa mec gelome / leód-mægen
þreatedon þearle / þryðswyðe ecgþræce
Kenric gemærunge gemacode / mægenræs forgeaf
hildebille, / Hrafn-hylle cwellede.
Again and again / the champions
made fierce attacks / with violent swordplay.
Kenric finished it. / He put his whole force
behind his sword-edge, / killed Ravenhill.
þa wæs Essex / heresped gyfen,
wig-gomen weorð-mynd, / þæt him his winemagas
ágirnon hyrdon. / Eode Avelina forð,
cwen Kenrices / cynna gemyndig,
Then Essex was given / victory in battle
such honor in the tourney / that the men of his house
eagerly served him / Avelina came forward
Kenric’s queen, / mindful of courtesies;
“Bruc ðisses cyne-rice, / Kenric leofa,
cen þec mid cræfte / ond þyssum cyn-ren
wes lara liðe; / Wes þenden þu lifige,
æþeling, eadig.”
“Enjoy this kingdom / the treasure of a people.
Make known your strength, yet be / to these common-folk
gentle in counsel. / While you may live,
be happy, O prince!”
þæt wæs god cyning! That was great king-ship!