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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


"THE KORSHJEM-SAGA"

From ‘The Old Broughtonians Cricket Weeks’ Vol. 3 1927
Printed by The Favil Press
Kensington

  "The Korshjem-Saga"

translated from the Icelandic by A.B., with notes by

Sir Gaga Thompson, F.R.S., F.S.A. &c.

'This is a saga pastiche written by Arnold Bax who is
also, of course, Sir Gaga Thompson, F.R.S., F.S.A' The
key to the identity of the other Vikings is given at the
end of the poem.'

 
I, Arnold the Far-farer,
Loitering laggard,
Late-comen from Iceland
Of mirkful mists
From forays in Faroë
And sojourn on Svalbard
All skill-less in skaldcraft
Yet vowed me to vaunt
The Broughton bond-brothers;
To sing out the song,
The deedful drapa,
Of match most mighty
That men may mind.
Ware; waiting the war-word
By Kings-booth I bided
In monk-mumbling Korshjem,
Draining deep draughts
Of mead, the mirthmonger,
And sudden upstarted I,
Hearing afar off
The hallo and harro
Of heroes hard-hosting,
The crashing of keels
And thunder of war-cars
(Rollo-rossr and Orstein.)
"Great hail," cried the carles,
Goodly greeting they gave me;
Yet chary of clipping
And fondling of foster-friends,
Full fain of the fighting
We fared to the foray.
And first on the field
At the battle-lord's bidding,
Unready and redeless,
Vanward I vaulted;
And beside me there bounded
Jarl Rolf the helm-hardy,
Strong son of Hjandr,
The boxless Baron,
The cod piece-scorner,
Whose home-garth is housed
In the sting of the sea-spume,
And swallowed in swart sands
In winter weather.
Stark and stalwart he strode,
Sjö-fjordr's scourger,
The wise wean-whopper,
(Swift-skilled in shape-shifting
Numbskulls and nurslings
To high-browed heroes;
Yare-yielding to younglings
The secrets of skald-dom,
Right reding of riddles
And falsing [?] of figures.)
Rune-roaring we rushed
To the bloom of the battle.
Ah, direfully dreed we
The death-dints of doom!
The halberd of' Hulbert
Too hotly us harried.
Full soon stretched the Jarl
His stark strength on the sward,
And weltering in wounds
From the wicket I wended:
The dole-draught we drained.
Dark and drear the day-dawn
Of Cleave-hard's woe

And Broughton's bane!
Thereafter leapt lightly
Loud-laughing in bloodlust,
Duke Julius the garrulous,
Wand-wagger of Worcester;
Sly Stakki the saga-man
(Mighty mirth-maker)
And Chalk-brown Patric
The atheling of Erin
(High- hearted henchman
Of Hjandr's son.)
Yet swiftly they fell
As stars fall in autumn. t
And after them hirpled
(By niggardly Norns
Needless made nithing)
Hjemstadr's Hockin,
Hock-hungering, may hap,
Or wistful for whisky
Or mighty mead-methers
And magnums of Mumm
In King's-booth high-handy.
Dark and drear the day-dawn
Of Cleave-hard's woe
And Broughton's bane!

The air-reeling ravens
Swooped to the slain-scathe,
And Valkyries wailed
On the wide walls of Valhall.
Waxen weary with wounds,
On a litter laid low
In the garth of the King's-booth,
Detleif the Dane-king
Groaned, streaming with shame- sweat,
Gnawing his nails
Till the blood brast out.
And, whileas his house-carles
His lax limbs fast-fettered
With long links of iron
(Lest naught should nay-say them
To wade in the war-tide,)
Strongly he spattered
With cursings and cantraps
The daunted and doubtful-
"By Freia the fair one!
By All-father Odin!
Is it soothsay wights whisper
That, changelings and bastards,
Your mother's breasts bore you
To thralls and to trold-folk,
And, suckling you, spilt
Milk of mice through your marrows ?
Up! Wolf-whelps of Valhall
Bond-brothers of Braggi !
That Hulbert may house him
With Hella's host!"
Foam-frothing his (sic) mouth-beard,
Bound Ornti, hight Hard-Ham
(Burly-bottomed, I wis)
His battle-box to him.
Eke Gibbo the Ham-strung,
The red one, the ruthless,
His hair flowing free
Far-floating as fireflakes,
The berserkir fury
Near bursting his byrnie.
Dread and doughty they drave,
And heedless of Hulbert,
Like sea-scattering skerries
They fronted the fury
And craft of the Christians.
No foeman could vie
With the Red One, nigh viewless
In the whirl of his weapons;
Whenas his fight-fellow
Orntl the valiant,
Vaulted and verted
In rings round the wicket,
While the brunt of the bowling
Her (sic) buttocks belaboured.
And syne as they sore strove
With straining of sinew,
Swinking and swealing
In sweat of the slaughter,
Came Cleave-hard of Vikvand
White-helmed and wood-wrath-ful,
As Baldur bright-bearded
And cruel as Kraken!
As the hammer of Thor
(Mjolnir the mighty)
The blows of his broad blade
O'er-toppled the tall trunks
And towering tree-tops
Battering the skies,
Ringing out to the rainbow
Bridge Bifrost, whereon
Halted the high gods,
Brawling and roaring
In hail of the hero.
And hard on his heels
Hied Hubert the Hoary,
The costive coast-ranger,
Bowel-bound Major
Of menskful might;
Who ne'er as his neighbours
Had roamed to the Renter (?)
Though weeks were out-worn
In fighting and feast.
Yet the warewicket-warder
Took toll of the thralls,
And with Kenneth the Scots thane,
The swart summer sailor,
(His red flag wrapt round him)
Told over the tally
Of heads a hundred
And two score and three.

[The account of the middle part of the battle is unhappily missing. The MS. takes up the narrative at the end of the conflict when the result was in the balance.]

………… reckoned
Than the count of their corpses
But five heads the fewer.
Thereat, so the skald sings,
Rolf rent up the rocks,
On the fleet-flying field
Flinging them far off,
And sore scathe and slaughter
Wrought Hubert the Hoary,
Wreaking red wrath
Upon churchman and churl.
With riot and ravin
We hardily harried,
And of burning and bale
Bitter bane came on Korshjem;
And thereafter thronged
In the bar of the King's-booth,
Big-boasting and brawling,
We waded in wassail,
Swearing that soothly
This tale should be told
In the nights of the northland,
Till Fenris the Wolf .
Swallow the sun, ."
And Ragnarok redden
O'er the world's waning.
 

KEY

Bowel-Bound Major - Rudolph Hubert Lowe
Boxless Baron - Keith Henderson (artist)
Chalkbound Patrick - P Knox Shaw
Cleavehard - Clifford
Detleif - A Detler Peters? (publisher)

Duke Julius - Julius Harrison
Hjemstadr - Hampstead
Hubert the Hoary - Rudolph Hubert Lowe
Korshjem - Corsham
Ornti - Ralph Straus
Rolf - Keith Henderson (artist)
Rollo-Rosr and Orstein - Rolls Royce and Austin
Song Hjandr - Keith Henderson (artist)

Sjö-fjordr - Seaford
Stakki - Stacey Aumonier
Svalbard - Spitzbergen
Vikvand - Bayswater

 

NOTES In this saga, fragmentary as it is, we possess an almost unique treasure, in that the purely pagan element is in no slightest degree corrupted or side-tracked by the glosses and euhemerisms of monkish scribes. Almost all the heroic literature of Scandinavia left to us, as indeed of other localities, has descended in the guise of a more or less Christianised redaction. But here we find the language and moral outlook of an entirely undiluted heathen society. A merely superficial consideration of the internal evidence inherent in the poem will at once make this point clear. In an early passage the skald makes reference to "monk-mumbling Korshjem." Now apart from the somewhat derogatory tone of the allusion, it is plain that the saga-man took it for granted - solely as witnessed by the place-name-Korshjem or Corsham (anglicé) "Home of the Cross", that the site of the conflict was under monastic suzerainty. In point of established fact it has been conclusively shown (vide Poppelbäcker, Berlin Academy, AZ 10049 MSS. Dept.) that there was no ecclesiastical establishment in the place until a period (ante-dated by the events of the saga by many centuries) when the name was changed to Bishop's Bunting.

The student will discover in this piece little of the romantic element, and no humour (this latter quality, we make bold to submit, was, subsequent to the destruction of the classical world, the slowly-evolved and exclusive perquisite of the Christo-gothic habit of mind.) Rude as the conditions of life depicted in the saga undoubtedly are, the piece is not without a certain nobility. As an example, we may cite the truly moving passage describing the sorely wounded Detleif chained with iron to his litter on the fringe of the battle, lest he should struggle forth to the assistance of his stricken comrades.

Ornti. Probably the first appearance in all literature of this celebrated character. The incidence of the name (and the virile attributes bestowed upon the possessor) in the saga seems, in the judgment of the present writer, to resolve for all time the curious and long-standing problem of Ornti's sex: for there is no evidence in saga-literature to suggest that women at any time took an active part in early Scandinavian warfare. (In advancing this dictum we are not unmindful of the possible yet, on mature reflection, patently fantastic theory that Ornti was a disguised valkyrie.) In propounding this deeply-considered conclusion we are prepared to yield a certain amount of ground to those who base their "standpunkt" upon the coarse epigram attributed to Jarl Rolf prior to the commencement of the battle. We ourselves are convinced that this is the interpolation of a later poet writing under the confusion relative to this subject which became prevalent so soon after the heroic age.

As everyone knows, Ornti became the typical comic-epic hero of the Middle Ages, and of course the most famous of all the poems dealing with this extraordinary invention of the Dark Ages is "The lityl geste of Ornti and Giumbo " (or Jumbo). To tell truth, this amazing farrago of primitive wit and obscene buffoonery is decidedly too gross for modern taste. More than justice has been paid to this grotesque epos by its learned editor, Prof. E. W. Gillett. In his patient and monumental work (Oxford, 1926) even Dr. Gillett, the wielder of an at all times courageous pen, has at certain points resorted perforce to the respectable camouflage of the long-suffering Latin tongue. Seriously assessed, however, we can regard the cycle of poems as valuable only as an astounding example of the crude mentality of our ancestors. The present writer is the fortunate possessor of an extremely rare black-letter German version, printed in Basel, 1507. The frontispiece represents a female figure, heavily moustached, standing in the middle of a crowded field, the body nude except for a codpiece which the wearer is in vain endeavouring to adjust in a seemly manner. Beneath it is the caption " The Wonder of Cheapingham."

Cleave-hard. The name of a noted pirate of the characteristic Viking type, who with his followers practised frightful depradations and caused wide-spread panic amongst the inhabitants of the districts of Wessex now known as Wiltshire and Berkshire; This figure has an undoubted historic reality. So assured were the inroads made by him that tradition asserts that at one time he actually settled upon English soil, the site of his camp being located at a place called Broughton in Wiltshire. Folk-memory is long, and tradition, especially of the sort inspired by fear, dies hard. Even to this day it is no uncommon thing to hear a sorely-tried matron or nursemaid in Melksham or Newbury chiding a refractory child with the menace "Old Cleevie will have you!"

Gibbo the Hamstrung. The origin of this epithet is exceedingly obscure and has long been discussed (with regrettable acerbity) by the cognoscenti. Considering the extremely active part played by this hero in the Battle of Korshjem and other counters, the historical sanction for the tradition of the accident seems unlikely enough. We ourselves incline to the belief (and in the support of our contention we are in a position to cite the impressive name of Bubelfinck) that the adjective employed is a corruption of "Strong-i'-th'-arm" or Armstrong.

Hubert the Hoary. There is a strangely persistent tradition that Hubert was an early convert to Christianity. If this be true the event seems in no way to have curbed the natural ferocity of his disposition, for right into an extreme old age he continued to participate in the lawless pursuits of his pagan companions, and was even instrumental in launching enterprises directed against his own co-religionists. One need only remind the student of the unsuccessful harrying of Beaumont and Reading - and the sack of Douai, with the horrible accompaniments of this last transaction. All these were monastic foundations. In the two first he was associated, it appears, with a totally different band of marauders whose activities were directed by a viking of the name of Skjör - also a nominal Christian. (See Appendix at the end of Prof. Gillett's work "Jon Cnudson Skjör and His Age.")

There is little to be said in extenuation of the exploits of Hubert the Hoary. Even if judgment of his evil character is mitigated by consideration of the affliction referred to in the text, one cannot but regard him as a perfect monster of savagery, unredeemed by any trait associated with common humanity.

Duke Julius. The Roman sound of this name has long proved a stumbling-block to antiquarians. It is in all probability easily explained away as a slip on the part of an ignorant copyist. Sir John Rhys considers that the name of the hero is a corruption of Jul (or Yule), and that he personifies the ascent of the sun after the winter solstice, and consequently that his supposed human career is merely fanciful.

In conclusion I wish to tender my thanks to the custodian of the Scandinavian MSS. room in the British Museum, in recognition of his unfailing courtesy during the course of my protracted researches; also in gratitude for much help and excellent advice, to the Hon. Miss R. Straus, of the Back-Numbers Club, London, and to J. Steptoe Bottom, Esq., of Newbury, both of whom have generously laid their unrivalled knowledge of the old Scandinavian tongue at my disposal; and finally to my great-grand-daughter for very kindly undertaking the labour of reading the proofs.

GAGA THOMPSON
Dust and Cobweb Club, W.I.

October, 1926.

CORSHAM
August the 14th

Won by 5 runs

OLD BROUGHTONIANS
R. K. Henderson l-b-w b Baker 16
A. Bax b Hulbert 5
J. Harrison b Baker 0
S. Aumonier b Hulbert 0
P. Knox-Shaw c Badminton b Hulbert 0
J. Hockin run out 3
R. Straus b Hulbert 21
C. A. Gibbs b Newman 24
C. Bax b Morgan 31
R. H. Lowe st Reynolds b Hulbert 21
K. M. Lindsay not out 8
Byes 13, Wide 1 14


__
143
1-22, 2-22, 3-22, 4-22, 5-22, 6-26, 7-76, 8-101, 9-133
CORSHAM BOWLING

O M R W

Hulbert 20.2 10 43 5
Fido 7 0 25 0
Newman 2 1 5 1
Baker 11 2 31 2
Morgan 8 1 25 1

CORSHAM


CORSHAM
F. C. Hulbert b Lowe 3
J. Newman I-b-w b Henderson 39
R. Coleman run out 8
C. Morgan b Hockin 4
A. Badminton b Henderson 13
Capt. Reynolds c and b Henderson 1
J. Fido c Henderson b Lowe 16
O. Baker b Lowe 39
J. Riddle c Henderson b Lowe 11
A. Fido c Gibbs b Lowe 0
J. Randall not out 1
Bye 1, Leg byes 2 3


__
138

1-11, 2-23, 3-44, 4-54, 5-60, 6-77, 7-109, 8-129, 9-137

 
O. B. BOWLING

O M R W

Lindsay 12 2 46 0
Lowe 14 1 45 5

Hockin 9 2 26 1
Henderson 8 11 8 3

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Warms thanks are due to Colin Scott-Sutherland, Bax’s first biographer, for making this material available. This long spoof-saga could not be accommodated in the recent Fand Press collection of the complete Bax poetry. This piece functions as a significant, skilled and humorous appendix to the Fand book.


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