[Sometimes called “Be manna wyrdum”]


Very often it occurs, with the power of God,
that man and woman conceive in the world
a child from their union, and prepare its form,
coaxing and cheering it, until the time comes,
going into the count of years, so that these young limbs,
these life-fast members, come to be burdened.
So they carry him and go forth on foot,
the father and mother, giving him much
and preparing him. God alone knows
what the winter will bring him in growing up! (ll. 1-9)

For some that go forth with youthful spirits,
the conclusion will come woefully to the sufferer.
A wolf must devour him, a hoary heath-stepper—
then the mother will mourn his going-forth.
Such is not within the control of any man! (ll. 10-14)

Hunger must harangue one. The tempest must drive away another.
The spear must spill out one, and warfare destroy another.
One must eke out existence without legs,
groping with hands—another feeble in the feet,
sickened with sinew’s bane, bewailing his injuries,
mourning his measured destiny, afflicted in his mind.
Another must from the lofty tree fall featherless
in the forest, nevertheless he flies—
bouncing on the breeze, until he flies no longer,
a fruit from the woody tree. Then he upon the root
descends dejected, deprived of his soul,
fallen upon the earth, his spirit venturing forth. (ll. 15-26)

One must on foot go forth onto the far-ways
by constraint, bearing his provisions,
treading the earth boldly, leaving behind him
only damp tracks, a stranger—he keeps
few living caretakers—hatred will be everywhere
due to his bleak fate, the friendless warrior. (ll. 27-32)

One must ride upon the spacious gallows,
swinging in death, until his soul-hoard,
his bloody bone-coffer is broken.
There the raven seizes his eyeballs,
dusky plumed, tearing him open, soulless—
he can neither defend himself hatefully
with his hands against that breeze-reaver,
his life is departed, and he insensible,
despairing of spirit, waits for the outcome
pallid upon the pole, covered by deadly mist.
His very name is miserable! (ll. 33-42)

Another must be in burning, afflicted with brands,
devoured by the wicked flame, a man fated to die.
There his life-parting is sudden,
the reddened fierce coals—a woman mourning,
who sees her child covered with torches. (ll. 43-47)

The edge of the sword deprives another of life,
there on the mead-bench, by an angry ale-sot,
a man replete with wine—he was too nimble of words. (ll. 48-50)

One must be in his beer by the butler’s hand
a mead-flown warrior—then he does not know
moderation in restraining his mouth
in his own mind, but must yield up his life very sadly,
endure great sorrow, beshorn of all pleasures,
and men call him a self-killer—
bemourning by mouth the drinking of the inebriate. (ll. 51-57)

Another must in his youth by the might of God
entirely ruin his misfortunate itinerary,
but in his old age soon become blessed,
dwelling in days of joy and partaking of prosperity,
treasures and mead-horns in kin-city,
which any human should be able to hold from here. (ll. 58-63)

So variously, the Mighty Lord deals to all
throughout the four corners of the earth,
arranging and allotting, and holding onto his decrees:
for some prosperous weal, for others a share of woes,
for some gladness in youth, for others war and its fruits,
wielding the war-play, for some a throw or a shot,
and the brightest of glory, for others the skill at dice,
the weaving of chess-boards. Some are scholars,
becoming fast in wisdom. For others wondrous gifts
through goldsmiths are prepared—very often he obeyed,
and he adorned the warrior of the generous king well,
and so he grants him broad lands as a reward—
and he accepts them graciously. (ll. 64-76)

One must serve in the throng of heroes,
exulting at beer among the bench-sitters—
there is a great joy of drinkers there!
Another must sit at the foot of his lord
with a harp, accepting payment,
and always promptly twanging its strings,
letting the plectrum loudly resound that leaps,
the nails singing sweetly—his is a great longing. (ll. 77-84)

One must tame the proud wild fowl,
the hawk in hand, until the blood-swallow
becomes pliable—he attaches the jesses,
feeds it in those fetters, exultant in its wings.
He feeds the wind-swift with little morsels
until the servant, with dress and deeds,
becomes manageable to his feeder
and used to the bachelor’s hands. (ll. 85-92)

And so elaborately the Preserver of Armies
throughout middle-earth shaped and shared
the crafts of men, and ferried their fate
to every one of the widest race upon the earth.
Therefore now must all say thanks to him,
because he allotted these to humanity by his mercy. (ll. 93-98)



  • This is truly lovely, Aaron. Thank you. Inspiring. I will share this and the original with my students tomorrow.
    Say, I like your Wulf, too, but I think you could polish it up a bit more. Take another look at it. I like your overall approach to it, but I think you need to tighten up a few elements of the modern idiom–but what do I know, I am a lame 59 year old professor whose ear for the vernacular is tinny at best.. Best Wishes, John Taggart Clark, Calif. State University, Sacramento

    • Hello, I’m glad you like “Fortunes.” She’s a fun one — I’ll probably do a revision (in a way you may not _wholly_ approve of) soon. As for “Wulf, everybody has an opinion & an idea of what sounds right. I’m of the mind that we really know nothing about early English poetry & have cast it all into a super-serious & stately light that is unhelpful & closes down interpretation. “Serious” approaches to “Wulf” have learned almost nothing about the poem. So, to keep beatig our heads against it the same way is pretty much the definition of insanity. Hope that’s helpful.

    • Glad to have saved you the trip. I’m guessing it’s hard to access the actual book these days…

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