Right about now, it’s already
time — I’d like to unspool
a spot of story in mad
slabs of gab about this kind
of fish or that, unreeled
from the soul’s folds
about the weighty whale. (1–3)

This one’s ever chanced upon
by the wave-dancing,
never by design — malign
and mean-spirited
to all humanity. (4–6a)

A hashtag was hatched
by them for this ancient
dreadnought of the draughts:
#phastitokalon (neat, huh?) (6b–7)

How like a mottled stone
is its coloring, like those
crumbling at the tide line,
hemmed round by dunes,
most regal of ocean reefs — (8–10)

so much so that surf-skifters
fancy they’re eye-glancing
some brand of island
and then they hitch
their high-necked decks
to that un-land
with anchoring ropes,
settling their sea-steeds,
their swimming’s all done.
Then the stiff-pithed among them
venture out onto that water-land —
keelboards clump clamped
at the shore, winding at the wash. (11–18)

Starch now gone slack,
these tide-tripping souls,
unmindful of the menace,
pitch their tents,
awaken their kindling,
kindling tall flames —
mournful men go glad
at heart, craving respite. (19–23)

When he perceives them,
one practiced in pranks
upon the salty way,
the journeying safe at sojourn,
keeping camp, watching the weather —
then without warning, this wraith
of the saw-toothed waves,
plunges into the abyss, seeking
its dreary bottom deceitfully
and then entombs them
in the drowning tomb,
the ship & every sucker aboard. (25–31a)

Such is this haunt’s habit,
its diabolical way, turning
a living by devious engine,
tromping the many troops,
and tempting decent-doers
into wrong, wheedling them
into willfulness —
so they should seek fiends
for comfort or cane, until
they choose camp, cleaving
there to the uncovenable. (31b–8)

When that one perceives
pent in perduring perishing,
that fiend, barbed in deceit
and pissy depravity,
measures that every mark,
the entire family of humanity,
ever be rooked to his ring —
he segues to slay
their souls with a slew
of slick trickeries, smacking flat
the lustful & the lowsome,
those who wickedly work
his intentions here, after
he rockets, rocking that
cozening caul, headlong
hellwards, gaping for goodness,
upbreak grasping for ground,
beneath enshrouding reek —
just like the mighty whale,
one who whelms wave-wending
sailors and their watery stallions. (39–49a)



This one has a second aspect,
this watery wraith, cocky yet curious.
When peckishness preoccupies
the peevish in the profundities
and all it longs for is a bite,
that deep-keeper gawps jaws,
its broad snarl — and there emerges
a pleasant odor from his own deeps,
so that other sorts of sea-fish
become beguiled through it,
come swimming so quickly
where that sweet scent pours forth. (49b–58a)

They venture therein, a host
unwary, until that gaping grin
is brimmed over —
at that moment, all at once
that gruesome gulf clashes
closed — claps round about
that plundering host,
itself plunder now. (58b–62a)

It’s much like this for all humanity:
the one who usually surveys
this loaned existence,
not thinking too hard about it,
allows their own enticing
by that fragrant perfume,
those deceptive desires,
until they glister with guilts
against the glory-king. (62b–67a)

Then the accursed unfurl hell
for them after their hurrying-hence,
for those who in all foolhardiment
played at the false pleasures of flesh,
in despite of all guidance for ghosts. (67b–70)

When the wicked has wriggled them
into his fortress ferociously proficient,
right up to the fountaining fire,
those who have fastened to him,
blame-bangled, & hankering before
to hearken to his heedings
in the days of their living,
then & only then — he crashes
closed his gruesome chaps
by cracking the soul fast,
those grates of hell. No grant
to turn away or escape
nor ever to pass beyond,
those who enter therein,
no more than those fishes,
wave-darting from the clutches
of that whale are allowed to escape. (71–81)

Therefore in all ways, ever oppose
these devils, by way of the lord of hosts,
with words & works, so that
we may be allowed to see the glory-king.
Let us always seek pledge in him,
safety in this swifting season,
so that we are granted
in praise enjoyment of glories
with one so beloved
to the fullness of life. (82–88)



  • Hello! I really like this translation, and it helped me a lot with my final assignment at university :) However, as I also had to translate it, I was wondering wether in line 9 it would make more sense to translate \”wōrian\” as \”wander\” or \”roam\” instead of \”crumble\”. That way the line would read \”His aspect is like a leprous stone, like one that wanders over by the water\”. Maybe that would make more sense in context?
    anyway, I love the translation!
    -An apprehensive OE novice

    • Hello! No need to be apprehensive, friend. I’m really a nice person.

      I hear your question & reply with another: why make that choice at all? Rocks don’t literally wander, but the whale (who looks like a rock) does, yet his rock-looking-ness depends on him otherwise doing what rocks on the seashore do. Become eroded by tide & storm. Crumble. This isn’t me averring I’m right but suggesting that “worian” might been chosen because of the polysemy & play it affords. Ideally a translation coiuld chose a word in all situations that sounds right & respects its multiplew connotations, but it’s not always possible to do.

  • Hello. Is there any info on the original author and original date? I’ve been unable to find it anywhere else and knowing Anglo-Saxon poetry, it wouldn’t be too far off to guess that its unknown

  • Hello! I loved this poem immensely and intend to utilize it for my assignment at Wichita State University regarding lesser known Anglo-Saxon texts that should be considered for addition to Secondary Education Curriculum. I have a feeling that I will return to your wonderful cite after my project just for fun in the future!

    Also, I know that some of the texts are a work in progress, so here’re to spots that I noticed something odd:

    ln 36-7, ‘until they choose confidently haunts there’ seems like a it would read smoother as ‘until their choice confidently haunts them”?
    ln 67, is ‘ups’ intended to be plural?

    -A New Fan

    • Hi there! Thanks for the kind words and thank 6you extra much for the corrections. I’ll see what happened there and fix it up!

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