The Anglo-Saxon poetic version of Exodus 12:29-15:27 is found in The Junius Manuscript, one of the four manuscripts containing most of what is left to us of Anglo-Saxon poetry.  It follows Genesis and is followed in turn by Daniel and Christ and Satan.  Critics find it to be one of the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon epic poems, comparable to Beowulf in its artistry and narrative strength.

            Anglo-Saxon poetic renderings of biblical stories tend to recast those stories in the terms of Germanic culture, and Exodus is no exception.  The poem sings in Anglo-Saxon images, meter, and wording the story of the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea.  The wording in particular reflects Germanic culture, particularly the legal aspects of Anglo-Saxon life and the myth of the Anglo-Saxons as sea-faring immigrants, originating with the early history of Britain written by Gildas.  The poem also emphasizes the heroic and comitatic elements of Anglo-Saxon, stressing the heroic leadership of Moses and the dire malice of Pharaoh and his Egyptian army.  Like “Dream of the Rood” it reshapes the biblical story in the image of the Anglo-Saxon comitatic tribal values.  A comparison of the poem to the biblical version raises interesting questions about why the Anglo-Saxon poet chose to omit so many details and change or add others.  In particular, critics have had much discussion about the addition of the stories of Noah’s flood and Abraham and Isaac in lines 362-446.  Perhaps you can figure out what they are doing there.  Also, considering the omissions that the Anglo-Saxon poet made and his other seemingly minor changes in detail is a good way to develop a deeper understanding of Anglo-Saxon values and concerns.

Peter J. Lucas argues that the Junius manuscript was created at Malmesbury about the year 1000 (Lucas 35).  It eventually found its way into the hands of the early Anglo-Saxon scholar Franciscus Junius, a friend of Milton’s, and upon his death was bequeathed to the Bodleian library in Oxford, where it still remains. 

The poem itself Lucas dates to about the year 800 and was probably written by someone with monkish training, since it exhibits clear knowledge of not only the bible but also of various exegetical commentaries on not just Exodus but other books of both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.   It is likely that the poem was composed first for oral presentation and then collected into the manuscript for some other audience and purpose, possibly for entertainment during meal times at a monastery, or by a monk for court entertainment and Christian education. 

All of the poems in the Junius manuscript seem to have two main purposes—to retell the biblical stories for a Germanic audience, and to stress what it means to have faith in the Christian God and what happens to those who repudiate that faith.  It is possible, then, that the poems were composed to strengthen newly converted or under-educated Christians by clarifying both the history and the doctrine of the Christian faith.  Certainly even by the year 1000 when most of Europe had embraced Christianity, there would have been reason to remind the Germanic Christians of the value of the Christian faith and to warn them against any remnants of paganism that tempted them from that faith.  One would certainly NOT like to end up as the Egyptians do in this tale.

In spite of the poet’s knowledge of exegetical commentary and quite sophisticated elements of Christian theology, Exodus does not depend upon its audience to be aware of that theology in order to respond deeply to the poem’s drama and poetry.  Besides the energetic characterization of the Israelites and the Egyptians, the poem is marked by vivid metaphors and unusual kennings (words created by joining two other words) that reflect the Germanic heritage of the poet.  These devices create a combination of Latinized Christian knowledge and Germanic culture that gives the poem a vibrancy unsurpassed even by the more heavily Germanic Beowulf.

For a thorough discussion of the manuscript, see The Junius Manuscript, ed. George Philip Krapp.  Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records I.  New York:  Columbia UP, 1931 and Exodus, ed. Peter J. Lucas, London:  U Exeter P, 1994 (available through OhioLink).

For other discussions of Exodus, see the bibliography at the end of this document. 



Hwæt!  We far and near      have sought out

over middle-earth   the laws of Moses,

word-right from               that hero of unfamiliar and exiled nation:

from the heavens   each one of the blessed

after baleful-death,    the atonement for life,                                                       5

to each one tediously living   sends this counsel,

speaks to the soldiers.        Hear, you who will!


A man in the wilderness,   the Lord of warriors,

the Truth-fast King  with His own power

carefully appraised,    and to him granted                                                                       10

the control of great wonders   derived from the eternal All-wielder.

He was beloved of God,     a counselor of the people,

quick-witted and perceptive of heart,    a director of sanctuaries,

a strenuous folk-mover.    pharaoh’s kind--

adversaries of God--    he bound with encircling punishment.                             15

There the Wielder of Victories    held out to him,

to the high-souled shepherd of men     and to his far descendents,

the land of their forefathers  of the sons of Abraham.   

Great was that hand-payment,   and to him the Lord, gracious,

gave also the power of arms   against grievous terror;                                        20

He overcame by means of battle   the folk-right

Of many generations of the enemy.    That was the first man

That the God of companies          addressed with words;

He described to him      many truth-wonders--

how the Spirit-filled Lord     created this world,                                                 25

the orb of the earth       and the heavens,

established the victory-kingdom    and His own name

which the offspring of the elders    before did not know,

the ancient kin of ancestors,   though they knew many things.

            He thus strengthened him    with truth-craft                                                        30

And enriched      the leader of the people,

enemy of Pharaoh,     about ways of escaping.

Then were most of the populous nation

drowned by death         by the pouring down of ancient punishments.

Through the perishing of the hoard-protectors,   wailing was renewed,               35       

the hall-joys burnt,    treasure bereft.

He had struck down, fiercely,   in the middle of the night,

many firstborns   of the people’s enemy,

destroyed the town’s wards.       Destruction spread widely,

loathsome to the nation-hater;    the land darkened                                                        40

with the corpses of the dead.    The goodly troop hurried forth,

shrieking widely about them,  worldly-joys diminished.

The laughter-smiths     were handcuffed;

the hateful-journey        turned the nation over to weeping.

The people fleeing,        the fiend was bereft                                                                   45

of his altars in hell.    Lamentation entered there;

devil-worship perished.    The day was famous

over middle-earth    for the going forth of that multitude.

So the Egyptian people drained that prison,

accursed of old for many    half-years,                                                               50

ever since they for a long time     thought to deny

to the people of Moses     the grace the Creator granted them,

according to their long-time desire     for the wished-for journey.    


A campaign was put in motion;     from there he led them,

the courageous shepherd of men,       to their ancestral land.                                          55

With the people, he passed by              a multitude of strongholds,

territories and tribal lands          of hateful people.

Through dangerous footpaths    unknown he led them,

until they found themselves                    among the well equipped war-darkened ones.

Their land was thought  to be all mist,                                                                60

moor-held to the boundary line.     Moses over those

many marshes               led the campaign.


He ordered then, after two nights,   the leader glory-fast,

after they had                escaped their enemies,

that the company   immediately camp,                                                                           65

with all the host,    around Etham-city,

most of the multitude   on the border-land.

Narrowly constrained    on the northern paths,

they knew to the south to be      the land of the Sun-warriors,

intensely burning hill-cities,        troops shining-brown                                        70

from the heat of the heaven-coals.    There the holy God

against the scalding heat            shielded the folk.

A belch he spread         over the burning heaven,

a healthful net over the heat- producing sky. 

A weather-welkin had   in a wide embrace                                                                    75

the earth and the upper air         evenly divided.

The people’s creator drew up water;     the false-fire was drowned,

the bright heaven dispossessed of heat.  That salvation astonished

the greatly cheered host.      The protection of the day-shield

spread over the air;   the clever god                                                                               80

had the sun’s gold-journey        over-spread with a sail,

so that people would not notice the mast-ropes

nor earth dwellers         with all their craft

spy out             the sail rod,

how the mast was fastened        to the field-house.                                                        85

From then on, they with thanks  praised

the gracious Lord.   That dwelling was the third thing

to cheer the people.  The company all saw

how there the holy sails     lifted,

air-wonder light;   the people understood,                                                                      90

the troop of Israelites,  that there the Lord came

the Lord of Hosts,     to mark out a dwelling place,

to have carried before Him                    fire and cloud

in the shining sky,      twin beams.

Every one         of the holy spirits                                                                                  95

evenly shared    those high-duties,                    

brave-spirited   comrades,        day and night.


Then in the morning, I learned,  the trumpets

noble in spirit   raised up a loud summons,

a herald of wonder.       The troop all arose,                                                                   100

men filled with spirit,   as Moses bade them,

the distinguished shepherd of men,     the Creator’s folk,

eager faith-army.     The former slave of life saw

the life-way       laid forth;

sky controlled journey,     the sea-men after it                                                    105

went forth on the flood-way.        The folk were in joy,

raised a loud tumult of worship.    Heaven-beacon rose

each evening,                the other wonder;

blessed after the sun ,   it watched  in its counsel-seat  

over the people of men    to shine through falsehood,                                         110

the burning beam.     Bright streams of light

stood shining over the         [eagerly advancing ones];

illuminated the sin-penitent;  deeply scathed night-shadows

melted away;   great darkness had no might

to hide itself;                 heaven-candle burned.                                                              115

A new night-warden                 needs harbor

over the company        lest without him the wilderness-horror,

misty heath,      ocean-weather,

in its fear-grip               strangle the spirit.

He had fiery curls          going before                                                                             120

bright beams;       he threatened to make accusation

in that war-troop,         to summon for falsehood,

him who in the waste     caused the people to burn,

unless they obeyed          Moses’s spirit-hwaet.


The bright troop shone,             shields glistened,                                               125

The shield-warriors saw            the straight road.

The standard over troops          until the sea-fastness

at land’s end     forstalled the tribe of Judah

eager to go forth.          Barracks rose up;

Weary, they cast themselves down;   they attacked their food;                           130

Spirited meat-thegns     restored their strength.

Sailors spread out over the slopes,        when the trumpet sang,

Field-houses.     That was the fourth camp,

Rest of the shield-warriors,   by that red sea.


There in the host           a fear-message came,                                                   135

Pursuit by the inlanders.     They stood frightened by

The host’s Slaughter-terror;   the exiled-one awaited

The hated duty-possessor,   he that on him long before

Imposed the oppression            of homelessness,

The fixed misery of punishment.    Weregilds were not paid                                            140

Although the previous king       before  [had promised protection].[1]


                        *             *                    * [two pages missing in the MS here]


Then he became inheritance-protector   of the entering-race

So that he prospered so greatly because of the treasure of the people.

They forgot all that        after they became angry,

kin of the Egyptians,            about a fight.                                                                      145

Then they caused                      the murder of his comrades,

brought about injustice,       exceeded the weregild.

War-fury was pressing  on their hearts,

The mighty adrenalin-rush of warriors;   they intended

To gild that life-gift of the true people    with falseness,                                       150

So that they      should buy with blood that day’s work,

those tribes of Moses,   where to them mighty God

On that death-journey   should grant the opportunity.

Then because of them the leaders’ spirit            became despairing

When they saw             from the south-way                                                                   155

The army of pharaoh                march forth,

The too many shields to move; the troop to shine.

Spears they trimmed,                battle churned,

Shield-bosses shone;                mail-shirts sang.   They saw

Battle standards advance,                     the people to tread the mark                             160     

A roar

War-birds screamed        greedy for war,

Dewy-feathered            over the people;

Carrion-forgers toiled.     Wolves sang,

Evil spirit-tribes in hope of meat;                                                                        165

The slaughter-driven beast        careless to abide

In hated service            the fall of the comrades.

The border-watchers                screamed through the middle-night

A fell ghost took to flight;          the folk were hexed.


Sometimes from that proud troop         the thegns                                              170

Measured mile-paths of horses          in the bogs.

To him, to the sign-king, there       with that standard before,

The prince of the people      rode through the army;

The war-leader of men       fastened grim-helmet,

The king his chin-guard;    the standard rose up                                                 175

The warriors’ hope.   He shook his ring-mail,

Ordered his warrior-band     eagerly to hold

Fast, his killer-troop.         The allies saw

The eyes of the enemy     as the land-men arrived.

Around their chariots      the fierce fighters,                                                                    180

Hoary sword-wielders,        grasped hilts,

Thirsty carnage-men             holding to their lord.

He had chosen for himself      a troop of followers,

Two thousand of the most renowned,

Who were kings        and knee-relatives,                                                                       185

Dear to elite people   on account of their right riches.

Immediately each one of them         led out

Weapon-kin,                   every one of the men

That he for that chief     might find.

They were ingathered          all together,                                                             190

Kings into cordons.    A familiar horn often

Called, sharply,      to whoever’s meadow-dwelling-men,

War-threat of soldiers,          eagerly burned to fight.

So, there, the dark troop,      unending, grew,

Enemy after enemy,        a multitude of  hosts,                                                   195

Thousands upon thousands;      on that side, they were eager.

To the dawn         they had resolved      

among that heap of soldiers,  the people of Israel

to chop up with battleaxes     as sacrifices to their brotherhood.


Therefore, in the camp,             wails rose up                                                                200

A horrified evening-song.          Terrified, they stood

Cursed the death-net;        then the attack came.

The terrible news flew.  The enemy was of one spirit.

The world was war-black—until a magnificent transformation,

A mighty angel,    that multitude then beheld,                                                      205

That there the hateful ones        might not long

See to engage in battle.   And the way was parted.


The exiles were handed        a nightlong truce,

Although on either side awaited the enemy

Host or mere-stream.    They had no way out of the nightmare.                          210

They were despairing      of their rightful lands;

They sat after the delivery,   their garments shining in angel-light,

Misfortune within joys;        Watchful, they lingered,

All that band of relatives,       simultaneously together,

The mightier of the troops,     until Moses ordered                                                         215

The earls at dawn      with trumpets, from their dwellings

To bring the people together,         to arouse the warriors 

To bring their mail-coats,      to think on courage,

To bear bright war-gear,     to roll out the banners--

Troop to the shore!        Quickly they minded,                                                    220       

those watchers, the battle cry;      the company was sent forth.

Moving over their refuge,     they obeyed the trumpets,

The troop was in haste  to float the field-tents.

Afterwards they commissioned      against that hateful horde,

In the vanguard,            twelve footbands                                                                      225

Most valiant;     vigor was raised up.

There were in every one     of the noble tribes

Selected under shield,         the troops of loyal followers,

From the numbered fighting men,         fifty chosen;

Each had chosen                       known warriors,

Spear-bearers,                         war-doers,                                                                               230

X hundred counted,    most famous.

That was a warlike troop!        They did not grasp weakness

In that soldier-counting      to think about sanctuary,

That they before the troop     yet might not

Under the shield-wall            the breast-net of warriors                                      235

Against enemy javelin          exhaust hands.

They had not       bidden to mind the baleful wound

Over shield rim,     pain of a bodily gash,

The terror-shouting of spears.    Grow old, they must not,

Hoary war fighters,               succeed in battle                                                   240  

If over them an adrenaline-heaped army    should prevail.

But they through prowess    on battle chose

How in loyalty                     would last

Adrenaline-rush with honor,        and that craft of warriors,

The grip of spear-beams.                                                                                              245


Then was the band known for its hand-strength     drawn together,

Eager front-line.      Banners rose up,

Brightest beams;   all that people awaited still

Whatever way-messenger    near the sea-streams

Light over shields,        should pierce the clouds.                                                            250


Arose then in the sight of the warriors   a war-herald,

A bold chieftain,   held up board.

That folk-leader ordered then          the troop to be still,

So that many heard the speech       of the spirit filled one.

He would mix wisdom  for the troop of fighters.                                                 255

Over the choice army,         holy in voice,

The wiseman of the troop,         worthy-minded, spoke:


“Be not on account of this, afraid,      though the pharaoh brought

Sword-warriors               a huge army                                                               260

Earls unnumbered!         To them all will                                                           

The mighty Lord         through my hand

To this day              give recompense

That they living        long might not

Enslave with evil               the people of Israel.                                                  265

Nor does he will to you       even one terror of dead footsoldiers,                                  

One fair body.         That army is at the end                                                                  

Of its sweet life.             To you is the law of pagan gods

Destroyed in the breast.    I preach on a better,

That you should worship       the wondrous elder                                                           270

And to you     the grace of the lord of life should abide,                                     

Of the Lord of prosperity,    where you travel.

He is the eternal        god of Abraham,

Lord of all creatures.    He defends this company,

Spirit filled and troop-strong,          with his mighty hand.”                                              275


He raised then for praise     a loud voice

To the lifegiving Lord;         then he to the people spoke:


Hwaet!   You now look on with your eyes,

Best beloved folk,             to a certain terrible wonder,

How I myself struck              and this right hand                                                            280

Touched the green         deeps of the ocean.

Waves traveled up,      made haste,

The water a wall-enclosure.     The ways are dry,

Dusky army-streets,          the sea split apart,

With old earth-supports.  Before then, I never heard                                                      285

Over middle-earth    men to travel

Over shining fields,   when I forth from here

In everlasting festal-tide,     concealed by waves,

Sealed sea-grounds.   The south wind steals

The bath-way’s blast;        the seas are divided,                                                             290

Sea-ebbing spat forth sand.  I know the ready truth,

That to you almighty God              conveys mercy,

To earls bright in armor.       Often it is best

That you from enemies’ embrace   turn away,

Now that God’s agent            has raised up                                                                   295

The streams by wisdom             in a protecting shield of waves.

The strong walls are then         fairly raised up,

Ornamented sea-faring         to the roof of the clouds.   


After those words    the troop all arose

Spirit-filled people.     The mere held still.                                                                      300

The goodness-army   lifted up glistening shields

Banners on the sand.    The seawall towered,

Tall it stood    above the Israeli host

For a whole day.     The company of earls was

Of one spirit,                                                                                                                305

It held the treaty of peace    in a fast embrace.

Not at all did they reject in mind     the law of the holy one.

When the song of companions          began nearby.

Melody rose up,        and confusion subsided.    


Then that people went forth,          firmest in faith,                                              310

Strode into the way-stream         to fight in battle

Over weedy ground.     The Jewish foot-soldier

Onward to battle,   onward to the unknown, marched forth

In company with his battle-comrades.      So to him mighty God,

In this day-work,       deep joy gifted                                                                             315

When for him was deep-sealed the triumph of victory-deeds

So that he his promised-land       should approach,

The border of his kin-nation,            success with his knee-relatives.


They had for them as a sign,      when they descended into the sea,

Over shield-decorations               a beacon reared up                                                    320

In that spear-troop,                 a gilded lion,

The great troop-folk,              most fierce of beasts.

Humiliation to that emblem     the troop-leader 

would not, by him life-bearing,   long suffer,

When they to war             reared spear-wood                                                               325

Against any people.     Rage was on the shore,

With hard hand-play,       the moody bachelor

With weapons of carnage-murder,    the unfearful fighter,

With bloody ax-tracks,   rush of battle-strength,

Fastened grim-helm.   There, the march of the Jews.                                                      330


After that host        defying the waves,

Reuben’s tribe.                         They bore bucklers,

The sea-warriors,    over the salt marsh,

A multitude of men;     Mighty and illustrious company

Went forth unfearful.    He his earldom                                                              335

Destroyed though sin,   so that he went later,

on the footprint of his companions.  From him his noble-brother

Took the first-born son’s tribal right,

Riches and rank.     He was eager, nevertheless.                                                           


There, forth after him,      a host of folk                                                  340

Of the tribe of Simeon           came in a troop.

The third warrior-horde--their banners waved

Over the spear-way—misted, pressed on                                                                     

With war-chosen shafts.         Day-vision grew

Over the spear’s-edge,    a certain breath of God,                                                         345

Sea-bright morning;    the troop marched forth.


Then there the people-troop      hurried after the others,

The iron-clad.         One, the greatest of the warrior-host,                                             

led.             Through the sea, he turned them (and grew greater by that deed),

onto the forth-ways,       the people behind the clouds,                                       350

kin after kin.        Each one knew

the kin-groups’ rankings     as Moses had ordered them,

the noble earl.     To them was one father                                                                     

the loved chief,         granted the land-right

wise in spirit,              loved of free-men.                                                                       355

A generation he begot,     bolder men,

That certain patriarch,        the holy people,

Israelite kin,           God’s own by right                                                             

As that, skillfully,              speak the elders

Who learned by asking   of the greatest people-tribe,                                         360

About the ancestors of the living,          about each father-noble. 


Inexperienced,       Noah sailed over the floods,                                               

Glory-solid leader,    with his three sons,

That deepest              drowning-flood

Of any that happened           in the world-kingdom.                                                       365

He held in heart        the holy troth[2];

On account of that he led       over the ocean[3]-streams                                      

The greatest treasure-hoard,    as I’ve learned:

Into that life-refuge      he had the last remnant

Of all the earth-kin       of the world,                                                                              370

The origins of the new generation,         father and mother

Of womb-gathered offspring,    a carefully reckoned number                            

Of the many species      that men knew about,

The wise sea-farer.     Also, every one of those seeds

In the bosom of the ship        the men carried,                                                    375

Those that under heaven    men make use of.

So, that wise men                     say in words--                                                             

that from the ninth generation      of Noah came

the father of Abraham,    in the folk-telling.

That is the Abraham     for whom God by messenger                                         380

Eternally shaped a new name;   and then near and far

Blessed multitudes                    in great grace he commanded,                          

Ruler of nations.            He lived in exile.       

Afterwards, he led forth        the most loved of persons

At the holy one’s behest;   they ascended the high territory                                             385

The blood-relations,   into the sanctuary of Zion.

They were met there;     saw wonder,                                                                           

Holy high-covenant,[4]                 as men have learned by asking.

There afterwards          he, wiser than the son of David,

Wonder-fast king,       Prophet of laws,                                                             390

A timbered     temple to God

A holy sacrifice,                   of earth-kings                                                                   

The wisest         in the world-kingdom,

Highest and holiest,      the most well-sung of heroes,

Greatest and most excellent   of all the children of men,                                      395

A man for the nation,      created with hands.

To that reverence-station[5]     he guided his son,                                                           

Abraham, Isaac.          Sacrifice-fire burned;

The first spirit-killer[6]      was not rejoicing because of that.

He would surrender    that heir to the fire                                                                       400

Into the flames      the best of children,

His beloved son        to victory-sacrifice,                                                                      

His one remaining heir    in the world,

Dear of spirit,     that he so led forth,

The long-awaited,  last hope of the nation.                                                                     405

He understood that,        when he that child took

Fast in his hands,       publicly dressed him                                                                    

By old legacy,    (the sacrificial knife roaring in grief),

That he should not know        pleasurable life-days

When he heard      the heaven-king.                                                                              410

Up arose        Abraham then;

The earl would slay               his son[7], on account of sin                                    

Ungrown,        his family with knife

Edge blood-reddened,   if the Creator abandoned them.

But the shining Father   would not deprive him of his child,                                             415

The holy sacrifice,                but with hands restrained him.                                           

Then to direct him came      a sound from heaven,

A voice of gloriousness   afterwards spoke word:


“You, Abraham! Do not slay your only child,

Son with sword!           Truth is true-tested.                                                                   420

Now your understanding    the king of all-creatures knows,                                           

That you against the Controller       were in loyalty,

In constant fidelity,                I you shall in safety

In the longest of life-days       become,

Always,                forever unwavering.”                                                             425


How does humankind’s son          need more in the way of truth[8]?                    

Never may heaven and earth                 turn over

His word of wonder,                    wider and vaster

Than may encompass             the corners of the nations,

The circumference of the earth         and the heavens above,                              430

The yawning deep of the spear-rushes   and the stormy clouds.

He oath swears,                    the chieftain of angels,

Ruler of fates                 and God of humankind,

Truth-fast in victory,      through his own being,

That of your people,      of knee-relatives,                                                                     435

Of shield-warriors,        the number they know not

Men over the earth,                  by all craft

For delivering       true words,

Unless a certain one wiser   in mind appears                                                                 

That he alone may        calculate all                                                                               440

Stones on earth,      stars in heaven,

Sea-refuges’ sand,    salt of the waves;

But they sit rooted     between the two seas,[9]              

On account of               Egypt, unbelieving-nation,                    

On the verge of the Land of Canaan,       on account of your people,                 445

Noble-born father                     best of the nation.


The nation was afeared;    it approached the flood-edges,

More troubled spirits.        The ocean threatened with death.

The refuge-cliffs            were streaming with blood,

The deep spat gore,         wailing was on the waves,                                                      450

Water full of weapons.      Death-mist rose tall.

They were                    finally turned from Egypt.

They flew, dragging forward;    they understood fear.

The cowardly wished to find                 womb-shelter.

Arrogance turned to mourning.   Opposite them, darkened                                            455

The horrifying rolling of the waves.                    Not there did any come near

To the protection of sanctuaries,   but behind them fate dissuaded

Them with measure.     There before the ways lay,

Through the God-spirited sea;    valor was drowned out of them.

The streams stood.    A tumult rose up                                                              460

High to heaven,   the greatest of army-cries.

They cried out in misery;       a cloud rose up,

Doomed voices.     The flood leaked blood.

Shield-walls were breaking,     the sky beating

Greatest of mere-deaths.      They perished in courage,                          465                 

Kings in throngs,            free-will prevailing

for the sea’s end.        The battle-shield shone

High over the heroes,   the sea-wall stood firm,

Spirited mere-stream.      Valor was on death

Fast bound,     the way of the forth-goers                                                          470

Skillfully fettered;       sands awaited

The now-certain troop,    until the stream of waves,

The sin-cold sea,                      those eternal foundations

of the salt waves,   ever habitual in wandering,

The revealed fate-messenger,    comes to destroy                                              475

The hostile marchers,      he that engulfs the devil.


The blue sky was                      marbled with blood,

The crashing surf            threatened blood-sacrifice,

The companion of the sea-people,    until that truth-lord,

Through Moses’s hand,          opening his mind                                                 480

Roaming wide,  whipped up a death-embrace. 

Flood foaming,                        the doomed ones cringed.

Water[10] swamped land;        wind raged:

The ramparts bulged;    the billows burst,

Sea-towers dissolved,   then he of the mighty pummeled ,                                  485

With holy hand,          the ruler of mighty heaven,

The warrior-columns.             They would not, for the arrogant nation

Hold back,    the more helpful path,

The spirit of mere-streams,   but he squashed many

With a yelling horror.        The ocean, by agreement,                             490

Drew upwards,    grants death.     Horrifying, they rose,

Seethed with death-injuries.       Warrior-track swamped.

High from heaven                    the handwork of God

Smote with foam-covered       flood-wardens

The un-sunny  wave,         with ancient sword,                                       495

By which  death-blow                  they swept away the multitude,

The more sinful troop.               They yielded up souls

Securely surrounded,               the flood-black horde,

When they turned onto the brown expanse,

Greatest of spirit-paths.[11]          The whole army perished.                                 500

There they were violently drowned           the company of Egyptians,

pharaoh with his folk.                He discovered quickly

When the abyss rose,                God’s adversary,

That he was guardian                of the mightier mere-floods;

He would pulverize           sword grasps in battle,                                              505

Angry and awful.                      To Egypt came

Of this day’s work,     a heinous gift of crushing destruction.

Therefore, of these predators   home afterwards never came

any  relics of all the unnumbered

who might sing   of their journey                                                                        510

proclaiming around the city       most baleful of words

fall of hoard-guardians,             death of heroes,

but that mere-death         destroyed the nation-troops

each speech-bearer.         He who had prosperity,

The arrogance of warriors destroyed.  They struggled against God!                    515     


From that time forward,   the wisemen of the Israelites

Sang of the sea-turning     of Moses,

The high-virtuous  man,           with holy speaking,

Deep tidings.           They related the day-word[12]

To the people,         as they found it, in writing,                                      520

Each doom,     as to them the Lord ordained it,

On that fate-journey,      in true words,

If the interpreter of life          wishes to reveal,

Bright in breast,       the guardian of bone-houses,

God, The yawning-deep-stronghold,   keys of the spirit.                                    525

Runes be revealed                      counsel goes forth,

The wise ones have        embraced the word in hearts,

The will earnestly         draw into their spirits

That we should not be     deprived of good companionship

Of the most merciful of lords.    He to us more enlightens                                   530

Now to us books      reveal better,

Longer life-joys.              This joy is for reward

Terrors stifled,          misery alleviated

Hope of the more wretched.        The exiled

Held  this guest-hall      of griefs,                                                                        535

Mourned in spirit,       knew sin-home

Fast under earth,   where be fire and worm,

Eternally gaping pit.      The miseries of each

As when rain-thieves        deal out riches,

In old age or in early death.   Afterwards comes                                                540

The greatest troop-joys    over the middle-earth

A day ornamented by deeds.       The Lord himself

On that assembly-stand judges many

When he truth-fast             leads souls

Blessed spirits,  into heaven.                                                                              545

There, light and life,   and the bliss of salvation;

The company in rejoicing      praises the Lord

The Wonder-King of the people,        widely, forever.


So he spoke,            the one mindful of wisdom,

Mildest of men,       supported with authority                                                     550

A loud message.    He bid the multitude, quiet,

To be accepting of certainty.       They grasped wonder,

Mouth-healing of spirit.        He to the many spoke:


“Great is this multitude,       a legion of courage-leaders,

the greatest of helps            who leads these travelers                            555

has for us in Canaan            established a pedigree,

city and rings,              copious riches;

He wishes now to accomplish     what he ordained long ago 

With oath-swearing,        the Lord of angels,

In ancient-days,    to father-kin                                                              560

If you hold fast            to the holy laws,

That you with overcome   every enemy forthwith,

Will gain through the victory-ruler      between two seas

Beer-halls of heroes,    be great in your splendor.


After those words              the troop was in health,                                            565

The war-trumpets sang,    they raised the standards,

One sang a rejoicing.       The folk were on land,

A beam[13] of wonder       had led the troop,

The holy crowds,    in God’s war.

They celebrated   when they had carried their lives                                             570

Far, far from the doom of the enemy,  although they confronted terror,

The warriors, under roofs of water.  They saw there the walls to stand,

The seas appeared all bloody to them;  through that they were troubled in war-craft.

They victory-made by sword-tales,   after they went forth in war against that army;

The war-bands lifted        loud voices                                                                575

For that deed-working       they hallowed the Lord,

Men sang wonders.              A woman in another,

The greatest of folk-troops      lamented a war-song

In a dismayed voice               of many all-wonders.


Then easy-found,           because of prostrated Africans                                     580

On the ocean’s shore    was gold become.

Hands lifted        health-thanksgivings,

They were blithe,     they saw compensation,

They had war-plunder;    bonds were unlocked.

They began the sea-leavings           to divide by standard                                               585

In wave-relics,     ancient treasures,

Plunder and shields.     To them by right fell

Gold and fine clothes,     the heritage of Joseph,

Wonder-prophet of men.      Defenders lay

On the death-place,   the greatest of war-folk.                                                   590


[1] The previous king of long ago was the pharaoh whom Joseph (of the Technicolor dream coat) served after he was left by his twelve jealous brothers to die in a hole in the desert.  As you may recall, he was taken up by a caravan heading to Egypt, where he eventually rose to the position of head administrator for the Pharaoh’s court.  He learned in a dream sent to him by God that a famine was coming and was responsible for encouraging the Pharaoh to store up grain in preparation for that famine.  When Joseph’s brothers suffered from the famine and came begging to Egypt, Joseph was the one they met with.  He forgave them and got the Pharaoh to invite all the Israelites to come to Egypt to live and get relief from the famine.  Joseph’s Pharaoh promised to treat the Israelites like his own people, but when he died, the subsequent Pharaohs gradually turned the Israelites into slaves.  They remained slaves for several generations until Moses reasserted their original rights to freedom and led them back to Israel.

[2]  halig treowa:  holy troth/tree—possible pun on promise/cross here.  It would be highly anachronistic for Noah to be holding the cross in his heart, but not for the poet to be making the connection between Noah’s promise of salvation from God and the promise of salvation signified by the cross.

[3] Lagustreamas:  lagu can mean either “laws” or “surface of the sea.”  Literally, Noah is traveling over the streams of the sea’s surface, but metaphorically, he is being held afloat by God’s ordinance/laws/covenant.

[4] Again, the pun in heahtreaow:  high covenant/high cross

[5] Mæđelstede refers to either an assembly place or a battlefield. I’ve suggested here also a pun on mæđ or “virtue, respect, reverence, goodness” (see Clark-Hall, 227). This altar is both a place of reverence and an emotional battleground for Abraham, as he faces the death of his son in the service of God.

[6] That is, the devil. 

[7] The word here is eaferan rather than eaforan which means “son” or “posterity.”  Ea-feran would literally mean a stream-traveler, connecting Isaac to both Noah and the Israelites, whom we last left heading through the Red Sea.  Another pun is operating here, I believe.

[8] Again, treaow for “truth,” or “tree—cross.”  So, the poet is asking, “How is it that man needed the cross, after this covenant of God to Abraham?”  Sunu mannes recalls also Jesus’s title as “the son of Man.  So, “how is it that the son of Man needed the tree after this covenant with Abraham?”  Good question.  Silly, stupid humans.

[9] Be sæm tweonum: Possible pun on sæm(sea)/sema (arbitrator, judge) and twe (two)/tweonum (doubt), suggesting, perhaps, “But they sit still, in doubt of the arbitrator (God).”  Hence the suggestion is that the Israelites sit by the sea, doubting God’s righteous judgment and hence fearing to cross the parted waters.

[10] Lagu means “water” when it’s masculine and “law, ordinance, rule, regulation” when it’s feminine.  Since there are no gender identifiers in the sentence, it can be taken as a pun.  The sea and God’s ordinance are simultaneously destroying the Egyptians.

[11] Pun here on wæga (“wave”) and wega (paths).  The brown paths turned out to be waves.

[12] Dægword (day-word) is corrected in the manuscript to dæg weorc (day’s work).  I suspect this could be yet another pun.

[13] Beam can also mean “cross.”