Judith

…she doubted

of gifts in this wide world.  She would certainly find

protection in the brilliant Prince, when she had

the greatest need of grace from that highest Judge.

He, the Lord of all Beginnings,                                                                                  5

would protect her against that highest terror.

Her Father in the heavens, brilliant of spirit,

would grant that she grow strong in firm faith

in the Almighty.

 

I heard that Holofernes with yearning                                                                        10

prepared an invitation to wine,                                                          

and prepared a banquet with wonders glorious.

The lord of men commanded all his chief thanes to come.

The shield-warriors with haste complied and came

to that tribe-ruler, that governor of peoples.                                                               15

It was on the fourth day that Judith, elf-bright woman                                            

prudent in purpose, first sought that army.

Then the thanes came to sit,

proud in wine-drinking, Holofernes’ companions

in wickedness and misery, bold armor-clad warriors.                                                 20

There were deep bowl and tankards brought to the benches

again and again, to the hall-sitters’ fill.

The doomed, strong shield-warriors drank deeply,

though this the terrible warrior-chief did not notice.

 

Then Holofernes, that gold-friend of men,                                                                 25

fell to wine-joy. He rejoiced and clamored,                                                              

roared and dinned until the children of men

from afar might hear how the stout-hearted lord,

moody and mead-excited, stormed and yelled

and ardently warned his bench-sitters to behave well.                                               30

So the enemy, stout-hearted treasure-giver,                                                              

over all that day drenched his men with wine,

until his whole host lay over-drunk,

swooning as though they were slain in death,

each empty of all good.                                                                                              35

So the ruler of men commanded his hall-sitters

to fill their thirst until night drew near.

 

Then the corruptor of men commanded his warriors

with haste to fetch the blessed maid

and bring her to his bed-rest                                                                                       40

adorned with bracelets and golden rings.                                                                                                                              

His officers hastily carried out what their chief,

that armor-clad lord of warriors, had bid.

They went quickly to the guest-chamber

and there found Judith the wise. Then firmly                                                            45

the shield-warriors lead the brilliant maid,

the humble one, to the tent where the ruler

Holofernes, loathed by the Preserver,

rested from revelry in his night chamber.

There a fair, all-golden curtain hung round the chieftain’s bed,                                 50

so that the baleful warriors’ lord

might spy through on every fighter that came into the chamber,

and so on him no man could look

unless he happened to be near that hated ruler of secrecy.                                                    

 

The stout-hearted warriors brought in                                                                        55

the wise woman and told their lord

that they had brought the holy-maiden to his bed.

The raging ruler of cities was glad;

he thought to befoul that bright virgin                                                                      

with savagery and sin.                                                                                                60

That the Glorious Judge would not permit,

the Keeper of Power, the Lord, the Good Ruler,

but He restrained that fiendish man.

 

Then the devil’s kin, the lustful-minded leader of troops,                                         65                   

thought to seek his baleful bed.

There he would quickly abandon fighting spirit within one night.

His ungentle end on earth was ordered;

an end such as the harsh-minded prince of men himself had wrought

whilst he dwelt under heaven’s roof.                                                                         70

 

Then fell the wine-drunken king                                                                                

amidst his bed, as he had no reason of mind.

The wine-sated warriors went out of the chamber quickly.

They had led to bed the truce-breaker,

and assisted that hated persecutor of the people                                                        75

for the last time.

 

Then was the Preserver’s peerless handmaiden heedful                                            

of how she might that cruel man easily rob of life,

before the unclean and sinful one awoke.                                                                  80

The Creator’s maid with braided locks

took then the bitter blade hardened by battle blows

and drew it from its sheath with a strong hand.                                                        

She began then to call by name

the radiant Ward of world-dwellers, and said:                                               85

“I pray to thee, God of all Beginnings and Spirit of Life,

Son of the Almighty, glorious Trinity,                                                           

for Thine mercy in my need.                                                                                      

Greatly now is my heart inflamed

and my mind miserable, as with sorrow stirring.                                            90

Forgive[i] me, bright Prince, victory and truth,

that I with this sword might cleave this giver of violence;

grant me my profit, strong-minded King of men.                                         

I have never had more need of Thine mercy.

Justify now, mighty Lord, brilliant-minded Glory-giver,                               95

that I be grievously angered in mind,

hot in my triumph.”

 

Then He the Highest Judge

quickly inspired Judith with strength,                                                           

as he does each earth-dweller who seeks him for help                                   100

with council and true faith.

Her moody spirit surged with holy hope renewed.

She took first the heathen man fast by his flaxen hair

and pulled him toward her irreverently,                                                                    

and with skill laid out the baleful one so hateful to men,                               105

so that she might most easily control

that wretched creature. 

Then Judith with braided locks

slew that fiendish scather with shining sword,

She half-carved his nape so he, hostile-minded Holofernes.                                     110

lay in a swoon, drunken and wounded. He was not yet dead,

but all lifeless lay. Then the undaunted woman

struck that heathen hound earnestly again, on the other side,

so that the head fell forth on the floor.

 

His foul body

lay lifeless behind, spirit departed                                                                              115

to the abyss and there cast down

in torture and misery forever,

bewound by worms, bound in chains,

imprisoned fast in hell-fire after death.

Surrounded by gloom, he has no hope of escape                                                       120

from that worm-hall, but there shall he stay,

always and ever without end,

in that dark dwelling,

without the joy of the Blessed Hope.

 

Judith had fought with illustrious blade at battle,                                                      125

so God, that brilliant Lord, granted her victory.

 

Then that maid prudent and wise

swiftly brought that horde-hunter’s bloody head

to the basket that her handmaiden,

that fair-cheeked woman,                                                                                           130

had brought for food for them both. 

Then prudent Judith gave her maidservant the head,

so bloody in her hand, to bear home.

 

Courageous and bold,

the women went away from that place                                                                       135

until they came, proud in mind,                                                                                 

maidens rich in triumph, out of the grove of the wicked,

so that they clearly could see the shining walls of that radiant city,

Bethulia. The women ring-adorned

hurried on their way until they,                                                                                  140

glad-minded, had come to the hail-gates.

Warriors sat, heroes who held watchful ward

over their stronghold, just as cunning Judith

had bid her sad-minded people before she,

the undaunted woman, went on her journey.                                                             145

Then was she come, beloved of the people.

 

That wise woman soon commanded                                                                          

some men of that wide city to let her pass

and they hastily permitted her

through the walls’ gates.                                                                                             150

And she said to the victorious people:

“I say to you this thank-worthy thing,

that you need not long be mourning in mind.

To you God, the King of glory, is kind.                                                                     155

It is made known throughout the wide world,

that to you glorious success,

a bright future and famed hour has been granted

for those offences that you long suffered.”                                       

Judith joyfully told this to the city-dwellers,                                                             160

and they heard  her holy speech over the high wall.

The army rejoiced.

To the city-gates the people hurried,

warriors and women together, swarm and host,                                                         165

crowds and multitudes. They passed through

and followed after the Prince’s maid by the thousands,

old and young. Each worthy

man in the mead-city was glad in mind

when they beheld that it was Judith come                                                                 170

again to her country, and then quickly

with humility they let her in.

 

Judith wisely commanded, ornamented-in-gold,

that her hand-maiden wise-in-mind

uncover that war-hunter’s head,                                                                                 170

and reveal to the city that bloody token

to show how she had succeeded at war.

 

Spoke then She of Noble Blood to all the people:

“Hear ye kinsmen, victory-famous heroes,

princes of men. Gaze clearly                                                                                       175

on the hated heathen head of warriors,

on lifeless Holofernes,

who on us of all men wrought the most murders,

our sorest sorrows, and yet greater that sorrow would be

except that God would not let him live any longer                                                    180

to trouble us with wrongs.

I wrested life from him  through God’s aid.

Now I pray that each man of the city

hasten at once to fight.

 

When the God of all beginnings,                                                                                185

the First King, sends from the east

light to shine, bare forth linden shields,

boards before breasts and coats of mail,

shining helms in among the enemy,

to fell the fated folk-leaders and chiefs                                                                      190

with shining swords. Your foes

are condemned to death, and ye are to deliver doom,

and find triumph in battle. 

So has the mighty Lord shown you through my hand.

 

The bold, worthy warriors at once made ready                                                          195

for battle. The noble men marched out,

fighters and comrades. Men from that holy city,

heroes under their helms, bore triumphant banners

and traveled forth to fight in righteousness

at daybreak.  Shields sounded,                                                                                   200

clamorously clashing. Then rejoiced the sinuous 

wolf in the wood and the dark-feathered raven,

that slaughter-greedy fowl, for they both knew

that the princely men strove to win them

their fill of the fated. The wet-winged eagle                                                              220     

flew eagerly along their track, dark-coated

and horn-billed, singing a song of war. The warriors

who had a short while before borne the barbarians’ scorn

and heathen blasphemy marched to battle,

sure in their vaulted linden shields.                                                                            225

All was repaid at ash-spear play with the Assyrians

when the Hebrews under battle-banners

went to that army camp.

 

Boldly they then let their sure arrows fly forth,                    

war-spears, steadfast lances from horn-bows.                                                            230

The warriors bold in war stirred loudly;

they sent their spears among the hard company.

The heroes were angry with the evil kin.

They marched, stern-minded and strong-spirited,                                                     

and cruelly stirred their old, mead-weary enemies.                                                    235

The men drew from their sheaths shining swords

with edges proven. They earnestly slew

the Assyrian warriors with hatred in their hearts.

They spared none of that horde-folk,

no living man, lowly or kingly,                                                                                   240

that they could overcome.

 

So the warriors fought the foreigners

all that morning-tide,

until the grim, horde-folks’ head-guards,                                                      

beheld that the Hebrew men                                                                                       245

showed hard sword swings. The guards went           

to their mead-weakened chiefs and elder-princes,

stirred the warriors, and fearfully announced

the dreaded news of horrible edge-play.                                                                   

 

I heard that then suddenly the slaughter-fated heroes

woke from sleep and weary-hearted rushed                                                               250

to baleful Holofernes’ tent.

They thought to speak to their lord

before the terror of the Hebrews’ might set in.

They all thought that the prince of men

and the bright maid were together                                                                              255

in the beautiful tent, noble Judith

and that lustful Holofernes, awful and grim.

But not one of those brave men

dared to waken the warrior

or find out how the banner-leader                                                                              260

had passed the time with the holy maid,

that virgin for the Creator,

 

The mighty Hebrews

approached. They fought fiercely

with hard sword-weapons, repaid their old offences                                                             265

and strife with swords shining and stained.

The Assyrians were destroyed in that day’s work,

their pride punished.

 

Somber-spirited men stood

bold about their prince’s tent.                                                                                     270

Then, all of them together

began to bluster, to clamor loudly

and gnash their teeth, forsaken by God,

bearing their grief in each tooth.

Their glory was at an end,                                                                                           275     

their riches and heroism. They thought their prince,

their wine-lord, to awaken; they did not succeed.

 

Then, too late, but at last one of the war-prince’s men,

bold in battle, ventured into the bed-tent,

compelled by need. He found his gold-giver                                                             280

lying in that bright bed, of soul deprived,

Holofernes’ life departed. Suddenly

the man fell frigid to the ground

and began to tear his flaxen hair and his robe,

distraught in both mind and apparel,                                                                          285

and then these words he spoke to the warriors                                                          

that there joyless stood:

“Here is laid plain our own undoing,

a sign that the time is with evils nigh approaching,

that we shall die together in strife and come to grief.                                                            290     

Here lies, hewn with a sword, our beheaded chief.”

Then they, sorrow-minded, cast down their weapons;

they thought, weary-minded, hurriedly to flee.

 

The mighty Hebrew people fought them on foot until

most of their enemy were laid low in battle                                                               295

on that victory-field, hewn by swords,

willed to the wolves and slaughter-greedy

fowl for their feast. The living fled

the shields of their foes. On their track went

the Hebrew squadron. They were made victorious,                                                   300

celebrated and glorified; the Lord God,

fair in aid, had helped them. Then the strong-hearted

with swords shining and stained wrought a war-path

through the hated enemies, hewing their linden-shields,

shearing their shield-walls. Hebrew warriors were                                                     305

incensed with war, thanes longing for spear-war.

There on the earth fell the greatest number

of the Assyrian nobility, the most hated of kin.

Only a few returned alive to their kith.

 

The fighters turned to go back,                                                                       310

marching among the slaughtered, the reeking corpses.

It was time for the land-dwellers to take

from the lifeless old fiends the gory plunder,

bright jewels, boards and broadswords,

dusky helms, dear ornaments. They had gloriously                                                    315                 

in that folk-stead overcame the fiends.

The wards-of-country had with swords eradicated

their old enemies. Those who were most hated in life

of all living kin rested on the path.

                                                             

Then all that race,                                                                                                        320     

that bright family, proud with plaited hair,

for one month led and bore to that bright city Bethulia

helms and hip-sword, hoary coats of mail,

men’s war-dresses adorned in gold,

greater gifts than any man, cunning-minded,                                                             325

might ever speak of. All that, the warriors,

keen under battle-banners on account of Judith

clear-sighted in lore, that spirited maid, delivered to the people.

 

The spear-famed princes brought

to Judith herself, as a reward for that expedition                                                       330

Holofernes’s sword and sweaty helm, his coat of mail

adorned with reddish gold, and all that treasure

or heritage of crowns and bright jewels

that the violently-minded leader of soldiers owned.

They repaid that prudent bright lady                                                              335     

for all of that Judith praised the glory of God,

said He gave her honor, fame in earthly kingdom

and reward in heaven, victory-prize

in the glory of the sky because she had true belief

in the Almighty and did not doubt that at her end                                                    330

she would receive her long-desired reward.

 

For this, be glory to the beloved Lord

who shaped the wind and air,

heaven and the roomy ground, and indeed also

the savage-just[ii] seas and all the joys of heaven                                                         335

through his own mercy.



[i] Forgif me, a pun in the Anglo-Saxon. Read either as ‘forgif’, lit. ‘forgive,’ and translated as ‘forgive me…victory and truth.’ A plausible prayer of a humble Christian woman. Or, read as ‘for-gif’, with the emphatic prefix ‘for’: ‘Really/truly/verily give me…victory and truth.’ Here we see the duality of Judith’s predicament: she must ask for both strength and forgiveness, for in saving herself and her people, she also commits a sin.  

[ii] Reţe can mean either “savage, tempestuous” OR “just,” so reţe is a typical Anglo-Saxon pun, evoking both a physical image and a theological implication.   In this case it is probably referring to a punishment by which a criminal was sent out to sea, either to be preserved or to be destroyed by God’s will,  as happens to Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

 

© 2015 Olivia Nanyes