Been awhile since I’ve done much work here, but I wanted to share an update. As I push forward into thinking more about how scholars derived their traditional ideas about who the early English peoples were & why these scholars needed to portray them as such, I have grown dissatisfied with how my translations sound. They’re stodgy in their bones, and I hate that.

Daniel C. Remein has written about the inherent conservatism of extant OE translations, stating:

The potential problem with rendering Old English in such a dominant contemporary
verse idiom is that it enacts a homogenizing operation of conversion that contemporary
translation theory from the tradition of deconstruction might register in terms of a kind
of colonialist or even totalitarian violence. Such violence is ethically untenable in that it
fails to do justice to ineluctable alterity and enforces the hegemony of the present and of
global English. (“Auden, Translation, Betrayal: Radical Poetics and Translation from Old English,” Literature Compass 8 [2011]: 811–29 [812])

Restated more plainly: we make OE verse sound like us, without thinking much about what these poets thought their work sounded like. We chew up and digest the many many differences between us and those people. We have colonized that past, just as the British Empire colonized many lands & peoples. (In fact, the two operations are more or less the same [one actual, one virtual], done at the same time…)

The problem is not “accuracy” but stereotype & colonization, As Remein argues, we have no idea how early English received this poetry, what format, what audience, what voice — even what genre. Later schoalrs have imposed their models upon this poetry. So that’s an issue.

Also, the needs of (much later) nationalist & theological narratives reduce the acceptable tones & themes of this poetry to suit those narratives. More or less solely out of myth, extrapolation, and sometimes even outright fabrication. These views are like the wings on the helmets of Wagnerian heroes — nobody ever did that. It was a design choice, nothing more. Why must I take it seriously?

So, I present this revised translation. It is much influenced by hip hop and slam poetics. It tries to re-negotiate rhythm & ornamentation to expand & challenge what the character of the Wanderer sees & feels. It tries to make the situation of this character as strange, gutting, & destroying as it actually might have been. I have sought extravagant & challenging synonyms & expressions to shatter complacency of language & literary traditions. I want readers to be uncomfortable: the goddess inside poetry is only located where it frightens you. Otherwise, we’re reading greeting cards.

It attempts to bridge the gap of alterity to locate kinship to similar feeings we might have now. The thought in my head as I worked was often Kendrick Lamar’s, who said “Fuck your Ethnicity.” I like this, because it demands the question: Why are you here? What values do you need to see reflected in these poems? What would it mean to actually hear this voice in all its seagull strangeness?

[Minor content warning for high school teachers: there are a few swears & terms usually considered indecent. I leave it to you to navigate your course on that. A teacher should allow another teacher that courtesy. And I ask that you show me that same courtesy.]


  • Thank you for this! I appreciated very much your thorough response to my email, as well. I agree with all that you say regarding the word “shitstorm” (13), and I thought of it as a better translation not just because of the historical value of “scitte” but also to differentiate the literal storm from the figurative one. As a high school teacher, I also appreciate the warning and the means to approach this from an academic point of view with my soon-to-be-college students. They need to be able to maturely handle and consider these words.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *