“Often the lone-dweller awaits his own favor,
the Measurer’s mercy, though he must,
mind-caring, throughout the ocean’s way
stir the rime-chilled sea with his hands
for a long while, tread the tracks of exile—
the way of the world is ever an open book.” (1-5)

So spoke the earth-stepper, mindful of miseries,
slaughter of the wrathful, crumbling of kinsmen: (6-7)

“Often alone, every daybreak, I must
bewail my cares. There is now no one living
to whom I dare articulate my mind’s grasp.
I know as truth that it is a noble custom
for a man to enchain his spirit’s close,
to hold his hoarded coffer, think what he will. (8-14)

“Nor can the weary mind withstand these outcomes,
nor can a troubled heart effect itself help.
Therefore those eager for glory will often
secure a sorrowing mind in their breast-coffer —
just as I must fasten in fetters my heart’s ken,
often wretched, deprived of my homeland,
far from freeborn kindred, since years ago
I gathered my gold-friend in earthen gloom,
and went forth from there abjected,
winter-anxious over the binding of waves,
hall-wretched, seeking a dispenser of treasure,
where I, far or near, could find him who
in the mead-hall might know of my kind,
or who wishes to comfort a friendless me,
accustomed as he is to joys. (15-29a)

“The experienced one knows how cruel
sorrow is as companion,
he who has few adored protectors—
the paths of the exile claim him,
not wound gold at all—
a frozen spirit-lock, not at all the fruits of the earth.
He remembers hall-retainers and treasure-taking,
how his gold-friend accustomed him
in his youth to feasting. Joy is all departed! (29b-36)

“Therefore he knows who must long forgo
the counsels of beloved lord,
when sleep and sorrow both together
constrain the miserable loner so often.
It seems to him in his mind that he embraces
and kisses his lord, and lays both hands and head
on his knee, just as he sometimes
in the days of yore delighted in the gift-throne.
Then he soon wakes up, a friendless man,
seeing before him the fallow waves,
the sea-birds bathing, fanning their feathers,
ice and snow falling down, mixed with hail. (37-48)

“Then the hurt of the heart will be heavier,
painful after the beloved. Sorrow will be renewed.
Whenever the memory of kin pervades his mind,
he greets them joyfully, eagerly looking them up and down,
the companions of men—
                                       they always swim away.
The spirits of seabirds do not bring many
familiar voices there. Cares will be renewed
for him who must very frequently send
his weary soul over the binding of the waves. (49-57)

“Therefore I cannot wonder across this world
why my mind does not muster in the murk
when I ponder pervading all the lives of men,
how they suddenly abandoned their halls,
the proud young thanes. So this entire middle-earth
tumbles and falls every day — (58-63)

“Therefore a man cannot become wise,
before he has earned his share of winters in this world.
A wise man ought to be patient,
nor too hot-hearted, nor too hasty of speech,
nor too weak a warrior, nor too foolhardy,
nor too fearful nor too fey, nor too coin-grasping,
nor ever too bold for boasting, before he knows readily. (64-9)

“A stout-hearted warrior ought to wait,
when he makes a boast, until he readily knows
where the thoughts of his heart will veer.
A wise man ought to perceive how ghostly it will be
when all this world’s wealth stands wasted,
so now in various places throughout this middle-earth,
the walls stand, blown by the wind,
crushed by frost, the buildings snow-swept.
The winehalls molder, their wielder lies
deprived of joys, his peerage all perished,
proud by the wall. War destroyed some,
ferried along the forth-way, some a bird bore away
over the high sea, another the grey wolf
separated in death, another a teary-cheeked
warrior hid in an earthen cave. (70-84)

“And so the Shaper of Men has laid this middle-earth to waste
until the ancient work of giants stood empty,
devoid of the revelry of their citizens.” (85-7)

Then he wisely contemplates this wall-stead
and deeply thinks through this darkened existence,
aged in spirit, often remembering from afar
many war-slaughterings, and he speaks these words: (88-91)

“Where has the horse gone? Where is the man? Where is the giver of treasure?
Where are the seats at the feast? Where are the joys of the hall?
Alas the bright goblet! Alas the mailed warrior!
Alas the pride of princes! How the space of years has passed —
it grows dark beneath the night-helm, as if it never was! (92-6)

“It stands now in the track of the beloved multitude,
a wall wonderfully tall, mottled with serpents—
the force of ashen spears has seized its noblemen,
weapons greedy for slaughter, the well-known way of the world,
and the storms beat against these stony cliffs.
The tumbling snows bind up the earth,
the clash of winter, when the darkness comes.
The night-shadows grow dark, sent down from the north,
the ferocious hail-showers, in hatred of men. (97-105)

All is misery-fraught in the realm of earth,
the work of fortune changes the world under the heavens.
Here wealth is loaned. Here friends are loaned.
Here man is loaned. Here family is loaned—
And this whole foundation of the earth wastes away!” (106-10)

So spoke the wise man in his mind,
as he sat apart in secret consultation. (111)

A good man who keeps his troth
ought never manifest his miseries
too quickly from his breast,
unless he knows his balm beforehand, 
an earl practicing his courage. (112-14a)

It will be well for him who seeks the favor,
the comfort from our father in heaven,
where a fortress stands for us all. (114b-5)


  • A lovely translation for these times. “Where has the horse gone? Where is the man? Where is the giver of treasure?
    Where are the seats at the feast? Where are the joys of the hall?“ really sang to me. Found the reference to thus poem in Alexandra Harris book Weatherland.

  • Half past eleven at night in Budapest I marvel and am grateful that people think it is important to try out translations and to take up positions around this poem.

    Its weather makes me grateful for my warm bed.

  • I thought you all might be interested in this excerpt from an essay by Ezra Pound, published in Poetry (Chicago) Magazine, VI. Oct-March 1915-1916:

    The Wanderer, is like to this, a broken man speaking:

    Ne maeg werigmod wryde withstondan
    ne se hreo hyge helpe gef remman :
    for thon domgeorne dreorigne oft
    in hrya breostcofan bindath faeste.

    “For the doom-eager bindeth fast his blood-bedraggled heart
    in his breast” — an apology for speaking at all, and speech
    only pardoned because his captain and all the sea-faring
    men and companions are dead ; some slain of wolves, some
    torn from the cliffs by sea-birds whom they had plundered.

    • I appreciate your enthusiasm, but it’s important to remember that the “Wanderer” is not autobiographical at all. Pound is indulging in a bit of nativist fantasy, imagining some sort of ancient purity of culture based in paganism and the warrior ethos. If that sounds a bit fascist to you, it’s because that sort of mythology is at the root of fascism (and Ezra Pound certainly did end up GOING THERE).

      The roots of the poem might be as old pagan warrior days, but the version we have definitely derives from monks. The conditions described in the poem, vivid as they are, are resonant references to older days in order to express a contemplative message through the remnants of the culture. It’s a contrived artifact, in other words, like all poetry.

    • Dear Professor Baldwin, are you sure this citation is correct? Can you offer the number of the issue and page no? I cannot find it in Poetry (Chicago) Vol VI Warwick Gould (warwick.gould@sas.ac.uk)

  • I wondered whether this version of the end of the poem might be of interest

    Anglo Saxon The Wanderer (ln 95….)
    ………….. Hwær sindon seledreamas?
    eala beorht bune, eala bymnwiga,
    eaha <eodnes <rym! Hu seo prag gewãt,
    genäp under nihthelm, swä heo no waere!
    Stondeð nu on laste leofre dugu<e
    weal wundrum heah, wyrmlicum fah:
    eorlas fornomon æsca <ry<e
    wæpen wælgifru, wyrd seo mære,
    and <as stanhleo<u stormas cnyssað;
    hrid hreosende hrusan bindeð,
    wintres woma, <onne won cymeð,
    niped nihtscua, nor<an onsendeð
    hreo hæglfare hæle<um on andan.
    Eall is earfodlic eoran rice,
    onwendeð wyrda gesceaft weoruld under heofonum.
    Horse and valiant man have vanished; all
    our mighty bronze-decked warriors rest in clay,
    feasting joys have fled the princes’ halls,
    kings, glory, battle-triumphs passed away.

    Time reaches Shadow as Day enters Night.
    Guided by ashen spears, called by the cry
    of weapons hot for blood with edges bright,
    where soldiers stood stand worm-worked walls grave high.

    Hail from the North beats back my narrow hopes,
    darkness sheds shadow, shadows deck the gloom,
    cold storms of rain drive down on stony slopes;
    all Earth is warped in Heaven’s fateful loom.

    My transient friends are gone, their souls have fled,
    my shield alone holds back the turning page.
    Hardship is here; my rosy world is dead,
    Bitter winter snows my hair with age.

    This is by no means a literal translation of the lines towards the end of this poem, Rather it is an attempt to convey the melancholy mood of the old soldier who has outlived both his comrades-in-arms and the social superiors he respected and who valued his prowess in battle. Younger men probably see an old bore who is always scrounging a drink, a bite to eat, or a warm corner where he can to sit and bend the ear of anyone foolish enough to greet him.
    NB wyrml?cum: serpentine, serpent-like, worm-like? It is often suggested this refers to the encircling ditches characteristic of multivalate Iron Age hillforts. However in the context of the implications of the poem, I have chosen to ‘read’it, as worm-worked – an image of the sides of a grave that already holds each of his contemporaries and awaits him before too long he hopes because his world is long-vanished into the mist of Time..

    • Dr Blake, your version of the poem\’s ending is heart-melting and under your pen-wand \”the space of years\” between us and the original poet appears to evanesce, \”as if it never was\”. Thank you!

  • Here are two more parts:

    For what should he do – when his warden’s
    man lore-lessons – are long lacking?
    When sorrow and sloth – settle together
    he anguish-enclosed – oft bindeth.
    Thinketh he in mood – that his master-king
    clasps and kisses, – and on knee lays
    hands and head, – as he betimes did
    in years-done – gift-stools delight.
    Then awakeneth – again friendless groom,
    far sees before him – fallow waves,
    bathing brim-fowls – broadening feathers
    falling hoarfrost and snow – hail be-mingled.

    Then be-it that heavy – heart burns,
    sorely after his own-kind. – Sorrow be magnified
    when man-clan reminds – mood yonder-bends
    greets-he gleefully – yearningly yonder-sees
    sword clan-mates; – swim oft away
    floating forth – no fellow brings
    known call-songs. – Cares be magnified
    when he shall send – strongly enough
    over waves bound – a weary spirit.

    I am just the scrivener here–working through word-roots wherever possible to restore this masterpiece to something of its original glory. It’s a truly remarkable piece of literature. The more I work with it the more I appreciate the Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse form. Iambic pentameter it is not–nor free verse. It’s a form unto itself. The possible word choices are heavily constrained by the alliteration requirement. The requirement for balanced couplets is equally constraining but also liberating. It’s no wonder there was so much compounding and word-coining.

  • Dr. Hostetter, I would like to know what you think of this rendering of lines 1-36. This rendering preserves or otherwise restores the Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse form but using words that have intuitively approachable meanings to modern readers. It reads almost word-for-word on the Anglo-Saxon. The meter is authentic Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse as near as I can tell.

    Oft him enclosed – is afforded,
    Maker mercies – though he be mood-caring
    beyond lake-lode – long should
    he-row with hands – hoarfrost-cold sea
    wading wretch-paths. – Weird-fate be fully fixed!
    So quoth earth-stepper, – earth-footman mindful,
    wrathful wound-slaughter – worshiped-kinfolks ruined:

    Oft I must alone – aurora-morns when
    my cares moan. – Now quick are none
    that I him dare – my heart-spirit share,
    surely speak. – I to sooth know
    that be in earls – ennobled habit
    that he his heart-fort – fast binds
    holds his hoard-cave – to consider as he will.

    No weary-mood kinsman – weird-fate can withstand
    Nor rough heart – can help perform.
    Thus the doom-prone – drearyness oft
    in his breast-cave – bindeth fast;
    So my mood-spirit – mine I must,
    oft anguish-caring – earth-home deprived
    free-kinfolks far – fetters fasten
    since years gone – gold-friend mine
    earthen hole-spot draped – and I humble thence
    waded winter-caring – over waves bound
    sought hall dreary – zinc bestower
    where I far or near – find might
    one in mead-hall who – my kinfolks knew,
    or me, friendless – comfort would,
    wean with delight. What thou knowest
    how joyless it-be to journey with sorrow
    when he little has – a loved protector:
    wretch-paths weary him, – not wound gold,
    heart-fort freezes him, – not folded earth-hoard.
    Recalls he kin-clans – and coin-clench,
    how he in younghood – his gold-friend
    weaned to feast. – Wonders all be-fallen!

    • Hi Bret, Still owe you comments on your Beowulf lines, but thank you for sharing these. I really like your work here, & totally get you’re trying to do. There are bits that REALLY work (morn moans, fort freezes folded, coin-clench, etc.) that I really covet having said. “Aurora-morn moans” for “uhtecearig” stops me a bit, though I see you are going for the similar vowel sounds in the start. I might go with, though it breaks the pattern, “Cracking-morn moans” since “uhte” is the moment before dawn. “Hole-spot” also stops me cold. But all poems require work and revision, so keep going. What you have here are amazing bones for further work!

      • Thanks for these comments. This is encouraging. My intent is to render the lines following the poetic meter and alliterative verse used by the Anglo-Saxons. In doing so there are sacrifices such as precise word meanings. However, Anglo-Saxon proper itself being a dead language, it’s apparent that all Anglo-Saxon dictionaries are to some extent or another all based on conjecture and speculation. We can never really appreciate nuanced word meanings from the time. However, we do have word roots and to the extent possible I have used them. That’s why I would stick with aurora-morns. The most important word in the line (possibly the poem) is alone–and it must alliterate with another vowel in the anglo-saxon form. The only modern word relating to the crack of dawn that starts with a vowel (that I could find) is aurora. It just so happens that the word “moan” makes a very good compound. I started with “dawn” but it works so well with “moan” that I used it. I also noted that the end of moan connects to “none” just like the end of cwiþan connects to “nan.” An alternate way to render the line is to use “call” for “moan” so the alliteration is preserved, but then the connection with “none” is lost. Word choices….

        If you don’t mind let me post the whole thing when I am done. It’s taking some time since I haven’t really formally studied Anglo-Saxon so I am learning it as I go.

        • Thank you Brett Randal for your stirring and heart-felt translations–this one and the one above. How I would love to see your translation of the complete poem. Hope you will publish it here. Amazing that you have not formally studied Anglo-Saxon.You must be a poet.

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