“How often the lone-dweller anticipates
some sign, this Measurer’s mercy
— must always must—
mind-caring, along the ocean’s windings,
stirring rime-chill seas, hands as oars
many long whiles, treading the tracks of exile—
the way of the world an open book always.” (1–5)

So spoke the earth-stepper, a memorial of miseries
slaughter of the wrathful, crumbling of kinsmen:

“Often, every daybreak, alone I must
bewail my cares. There’s now no one living
to whom I dare mumble my mind’s understanding.
I know as truth that it’s seen suitable
for anyone to bind fast their spirit’s closet,
hold onto the hoards, think whatever — (8–14)

“Can a weary mind weather the shitstorm?
I think not.
Can a roiling heart set itself free?
I don’t think so.
So often those hustling for the win must
clamp down grim mindings in their coffer,
just as I ought fetter my inborn conceit,
often wounded, wanting where I know,
kindred pulled away, how many winters now?
I shrouded my giver in dark earth
and wended away worrisome,
weather-watching the wrapful waves,
hall-wretched, seeking a center,
far or near, where they might be found,
in some mead-hall, who knows of my kind,
willing to adopt a friendless me,
though they be joyful enough. (15–29a)

“The well-travelled know how slicing
sorrow can be by one’s side,
short a struggle-friend, however dear.
The ways of wandering wind him round
not even a wire of wound gold—
a frigid fastness, hardly any fruits of the fold.
This one lists the hall-lads swilling rings,
giver-drenched in youngsome days,
in both furnishing and feasting.
Joys all flown, vanished all away! (29b-36)

“Therefore one knows who long forgoes
the friendly words of their first,
when sleep and sorrow stand together
clutching at the crestfallen alone.
Somehow seems that somewhere inside
this one enwraps his lord and kisses his lord,
and laps both hands and head
on his knee, when, once upon a year
blurry in time now, one thrived by the throne —
too soon rousing, a friendless singular
seeing all around a fallowness of waves,
sea-birds bathing, fanning their feathers,
ice and snow hurtling, heaved up with hail. (37-48)

“So heavy and heavier the hurt in heart
harrowing for the lost. Sorrow made new
whenever recalling pervades the mind,
greeting kindred joyfully, drinking in the look of them
fellowable and fathoming—
                                              they always swim away.
Gulls ghost-call — I don’t know their tongue too well,
much of their comfort weird. Worrying made new
to that one who must send more and more, every day,
a bleary soul back across the binding of 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 humans,
how suddenly they abandon their halls,
proud princes and young. Right here in the middle
it fumbles and falls every day — (58-63)

“No one can be wise before earning their lot of winters
in this world. The wise one, they stay patient:
not too heart-heated, not so hasty to harp,
not too weak-armed, nor too wan-headed,
nor too fearful nor too fey nor too fee-felching,
and never tripping the tongue too much, before it trips them. (64-9)

“That one bides their moment to make brag,
until the inner fire seizes its moment clearly,
to where their secret self veers them.

Who’s wise must fore-ken how ghostly it has been
when the world and its things stand wasted —
like you find, here and there, in this middle space now —
there walls totter, wailed around by winds,

gnashed by frost, the buildings snow-lapt.
The winehalls molder, their wielder lies
washed clean of joys, his peerage all perished,
proud by the wall. War ravaged a bunch
ferried along the forth-way, others a raptor ravished
over lofty seas, this one the hoary wolf
broke in its banes, the last a brother
graveled in the ground, tears as war-mask. (70-84)

“That’s the way it goes—
the Shaper mills middle-earth to waste
until they stand empty, the giants’ work and ancient,
drained of the dreams and joys of its dwellers.” (85-7)

Then one wisely regards this wall-stead,
deliberates a darkened existence,
aged in spirit, often remembering from afar
many war-slaughterings, and speaks these words: (88-91)

“Where has the horse gone?
Where are my kindred?
Where is the giver of treasure?
Where are the benches to bear us?
Joys of the hall to bring us together?
No more, the bright goblet!
All gone, the mailed warrior!
Lost for good, the pride of princes!

“How the space of years has spread —
growing gloomy beneath the night-helm,
as if it never was! (92-6)

“Tracks of the beloved multitude, all that remains
walls wondrous tall, serpents seething—
thanes stolen, pillaged by ashen foes
gear glutting for slaughter — we know this world’s way,
and the storms still batter these stony cliffs.
The tumbling snows stumble up the earth,
the clash of winter, when darkness descends.
Night-shadows benighten, sent down from the north,
raw showers of ice, who doesn’t hate humanity? (97-105)

All shot through in misery in earthly realms,
fortune’s turn turns the world under sky.
Here the cash was a loan.
Your friends were a loan.
Anyone at all, a loan.
Your family only ever a loan—
And this whole foundation of the earth wastes away!” (106-10)

So says the wise one, you don’t hear him at all,
sitting apart reading their own runes. (111)
It’s better to clutch at your counsel,
you ought never manifest your miseries
not too quickly where they well,
unless the balm is clear beforehand, 
keep whittling at your courage. (112-14a)

It will be well for those who seek the favor,
the comfort from our father in heaven,
where a battlement bulwarks us all. (114b-5)

 

Comments

  • This translation is so good. It keeps the “weird” syntax of Old English poem.
    I had done a poor translation of this poem in my Old English class and was touched when I figured out the story, feeling the power of every image and the emotion inside the poem. I found it quite strangely that when I read a translation of the poem which puts all the verses into correct modern English grammar, the power of the poem was completely gone.
    In reading this translation I feel the power of this wonderful poem again. Thank you.

  • Is it just me or do the last three lines about seeking mercy and consolation from the father in heaven seem so out of place? The whole tenor of the poem is full of arresting, earthy imagery relating to the stoic “anhaga”, the loner, in a hostile world. Nothing very Christian about any of it. Perhaps the monk/scribe felt obliged to tack it on at the end.

    • Hello, I mean possibly? But there is absolutely no evidence of trasnsmission or provenance or date of this poem. Even less for its origins in “pagan” or Christian. First of all, the binary distinction between was absolutely not the experience of the Early English. Practices termed “syncretic” were far more common (as can be attested from grave goods, the exchange of letters in Bede’s Historia at the end of Book One, and the survival of the so-called “Metrical Charms” [which you can see here]) — even modern Xtnty maintains many syncretic practices. Also the need to view OE poetry as “very old” and therefore “pagan” arises out of the nationalist needs of early scholars (Xtnty was Mediterranean, of Jewish origin, and therefore not Volkisch). So that’s a problematic area to get into. One off-shoot of this misconception is that Christian monks somehow “spoiled” the “native spirit” of Germanic poetry. Scholars just don’t view scribes, monks, and poets in such stark & needlessly binary terms.

      Even the so-called “stoic” spirit of the main speaker is pretty just the product of Germanic nationalistic fanstasies originating in Tacitus. My latest attempts to complicate the poem’s voice suggest a broad range of strong emotions in this character (emotions which research is being to suggest were quite common for even the toughest warrior). I mean, come on — homeslice loses their lord and is so wrought over it they project the actual end of the world. That’s some drama there!

    • I’m not sure if this helps, but I’m a student majoring in English and we did this poem as a part of our English Lit curriculum. The professor walked us through the possible interpretations and the common analyses of it. Generally, the poem is regarded as having four parts: the beginning and the end we added by the monk who recorded it, while the middle could be divided into two to show what the bard is talking about (reason for his exile and an almost instructive part of the poem). Hence, if we take this kind of division into consideration, the middle part of the poem was sung before the monk ever added his verses (the first and last three lines are speculated additions) which are clearly out of place, not just historical period wise, but also in regards to context.
      I hope this helps!

      • Hello — thanks for coming by! I do not mean to be disrespectful to either you or your instructor, but the model of monastic “interference” in “pure” Germanic poetry is WAAAAAAAY out of date. Literally no one seriously argues that any longer. That was Ezra Pound’s view of the “Seafarer” and though it was based in the scholarship of the time, that paradigm is not helpful at all (& based in some ugly narratives). Also, there is no reason to take the narrator(s)’ situation literally or biographically at all. This is fiction: authors are not the same as narrators. That’s basic literary interpretation.

  • 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.
    …………..
    THE LAST WARRIOR
    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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