"Thought must be the harder, heart be the keener,
mind must be the greater, while our strength grows less.
Here lies our prince all hewn,
a good man in the dust. He will always mourn
who from this war-play thinks now to turn.
My life is old. I will not fly;
but I myself beside my lord,
so loved a man, think to lie."
So speaks the old warrior Byrhtwold, resolving to fight and die beside his dead lord Byrhtnoth, at the Battle of Maldon in 991. The battle was a crushing defeat for the men of Essex and their ealdorman Byrhtnoth, at the hands of a Viking raiding party on the marshes of the Essex coast. But the commemorative poem manages to turn the defeat into a heroic last stand. The values of the warrior ethic - courage in battle, loyalty to a lord and one's companions, contempt for those who flee - echo those in Wiglaf's angry speech to the cowards who abandon Beowulf in his last fight with the dragon (in the poem at least; I can't speak for the recent film).
The Battle of Maldon was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 programme, The Poetry of History, broadcast on Sunday 25 November. A historian and a professor of English discuss the poem and its context, with splendid readings from a modern translation and from the Old English original. You can listen to it here for seven days after broadcast (so up to Sunday 2 December).