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