Tennyson's famous translation of "The Battle of Brunanburh" was first published in Ballads and Other Poems in 1880. It is based on his son Hallam's prose translation of the poem, published in The Contemporary Review, November, 1876. In his memoir, Hallam states, "My father liked the rush of the alliterative verse, as giving something of the old English war-song." (A Memoir by His Son, 255) Tennyson tried to retain the alliterative style of the original Anglo Saxon. However at the time, the custom was to translate single half lines instead of long lines of four beats bound with alliteration.(Old English Poetry, 262)

The translation became quite popular and was highly praised. In a letter to Hallam Tennyson dated November 30, 1882, Edward Fitzgerald declared:

But tell [Tennyson] that...when I saw his version of your "Battle of Brunanburh," I said to myself, and afterwards to others, "There's the way to render Aeschylus's Chorus at last!"
(A Memoir by His Son, 272)

The original poem is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 937. Tennyson includes this summary of the events surrounding the battle before the first line of his translation:

Constantinus, King of the Scots, after having sworn allegiance to Athelstan, allied himself with the Danes of Ireland under Anlaf, and invading England, was defeated by Athelstan and his brother Edmund with great slaughter at Brunanburh in the year 937.
(Tennyson Handbook, 197)


Alfred Lord Tennyson

Last modified 1996