Fortunately, I had become somewhat familiar with the Old English poem, The Battle of Maldon, in the intervening years since my first reading. Furthermore, two lines in particular had come to my attention, since Tolkien refers to them in the little introduction to his verse play, ‘The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son’ (The Tolkien Reader [NY: Ballantine, 1966], p. 5):
Near the end of the surviving fragment an old retainer, Beorhtwold, as he prepares to die in the last desperate stand, utters the famous words, a summing up of the heroic code,...:
Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre,
mod sceal þe mare þe ure mægen lytlað.
‘Will shall be the sterner, heart the bolder, spirit the greater as our strength lessens.’
It is here implied, as is indeed probable, that these words were not ‘original’, but an ancient and honoured expression of heroic will; Beorhtwold is all the more, not the less, likely for that reason actually to have used them in his last hour.
Byrhtwold grasped his shield and spoke.
He was an old companion. He brandished his ash-spear
and most boldly urged on the warriors:
‘Mind must be the firmer, heart the more fierce,
courage the greater, as our strength diminishes.
Here lies our leader, hewn down,
an heroic man in the dust.
He who now longs to escape will lament for ever.
I am old. I will not go from here,
but I mean to lie by the side of my lord,
lie in the dust with the man I loved so dearly.’
Incidentally, if one were to read the Wikipedia article on The Battle of Maldon, one would be misinformed that—'In one episode of the science fiction novel Perelandra by C.S. Lewis, the protagonist (a philologist from Cambridge transported to the planet Venus) recites "The Battle of Maldon" in order to keep up his courage while wandering dark tunnels deep under the alien planet's surface.' But, having gone to the trouble of consulting the book before beginning to write, we know better:
He recited all that he could remember of the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Æneid, the Chanson de Roland, Paradise Lost, the Kalevala, the Hunting of the Snark, and a rhyme about Germanic sound-laws which he had composed as a freshman. He tried to spend as long as he could hunting for the lines he could not remember. (Lewis, p. 148)