She Laments

Oh, I can relate a tale right here, make myself
a map of miseries & trek right across.
I can say as much as you like —
how many gut-wretched nights ground over me
once I was a full-grown woman,
from early days to later nights,
never ever any more than right now. (1–4)

When is it never a struggle, a torment,
this arc of misfortune, mine alone?
It started when my man up and left,
who knows where, from his tribe
across the sleeplessness of waves.
I conceived a care at the dawning of dawn:
where did that man of a man go? (5–8)

Then I ferried myself forth, trying to dole
my part of the deal, a wretch drained of friends,
out a trembling need inside me. (9–10)

So it begins: his family starts scheming
moling up mountains of secret malice
to delve into our division,
make us survive along the widest wound of us —
could they be any more loathsome? —
and I became a longing inside. (11–14)

My love said to shack up in shadowy groves.
I was light in loved ones anyways in these lands,
in the loyalties of allegiance.
Therefore my brain brims with bitterness,
when I had located my likeness in him,
blessed with hard luck, heart-hollow,
painting over his intentions,
plotting the greatest of heists. (15–20)

Masked content, so many times
we swore that nothing but finality itself
could shave us in two, not them, not nothing.
The pivot was not long in coming,
it’s like, what did I hear a poet say once?
“as if it never was…”
that was our partnership. (21–25a)

Must I flag on flogging through feud,
far & near, of my many-beloved?
He was the one who said I should
go live in the woods or something,
sit under an oak-tree, in a gravel pit.
Let’s make it an earthen hall, musty & old,
where I’m all foreaten with longing:
Dales deep darkly, hills hedge me round,
fortresses of sharpness, bramble biting —
can a home be devoid of joy? (25b–32a)

For too many watches the wrathful from-ways
of my lord grabbed hold of me in this place.
Who could I count on? Buried.
Loved in their lives —
all they care about now are their beds. (32b–34)

Then I, when dawn still rumbles,
I wander the ways all alone,
under the oaks, around these graven walls.
There I can sit an endless summer day,
where I can rain me down for my wracking steps,
my collection of woes. So it goes —
never can I, in no wise, catch a break
from my cracking cares, nor this unfolding tear
that grasps me in this my entire life. (35–41)

The young should always keep their heart in check,
their inner kindlings cool, likewise
they must keep their faces frosty,
also the bubbling in their breast,
though crowded with swarming sorrows. (42–45a)

May all of his joys come at his own hand.
May his name be the name of infamy,
a snarl in faraway mouths, so that my good friend
will be sitting under a stony rain-break,
crusted by the gusty storms,
a man crushed at heart, flowing
in his own water, in his tearful timbering. (45b–50a)

That one, yeah, that man of mine
will drag his days under a mighty mind-caring.
He’ll remember every single morning
how full of pleasure was our home.
What woes are theirs who must
weather their worrying for love. (50b–53)




  • Hello! First of all many thanks for your work, it\’s amazing. We have used it in a lesson, just as you say it\’s supposed to be used! We don\’t really know much about Anglo-Saxon poetry but we do study poetry, poesy, those living spells, and this one is just mind-boggling. We\’ve likely missed all the clues but we\’ve really enjoyed looking at it anyway. Took us about 4 hours just to glance at the text. Hardly blowing on the surface, of course. Anyway, just letting you know that your work is really cool, helpful and beautiful. Thanks!

  • Dr. Hostetter, would you consider your translation of lines 42-52a to be of the “genteel” or “vindictive” school?

  • I love this poem. Is there an interpretation of this poem that would be suited for any kind of adaption in any way?

    • You mean set as though in a story? If so, I am not aware of any. Not much is known about the backstory or even if this a human relationship (and not spiritual). You’re free to invent whatever you like. You have a scholar’s permission, sir.

    • I first read this poem in 1976, translated by Michael Alexander, in an anthology of love poetry chosen by John Stallworthy. As an expression of intense heartache and longing these words have been with me ever since.
      “Some lovers in this world
      live dear to each other, lie warm together
      at day’s beginning; I go by myself
      about these earth caves under the oak tree.
      Here I must sit the summer day through,
      here weep out the woes of exile,
      the hardships heaped upon me. My heart shall never
      suddenly sail into slack water,
      all the longings of a lifetime answered.”

  • Dr. Hostetter,

    Is this your translation? I’m working on a paper and was looking for translations to compare to the one in the Norton anthology I have.

    • Hi Thalia,

      I’m guessing you have been assigned this for a class, as I have been receiving a few inquiries possibly from your classmates. I’ll tell you what I told them:

      The poem does not have an obviously historical or mythological references, though it is definitely allusive. We do not have an author identified, nor even a precise date of composition. It’s not even totally certain to pair with it “The Husband’s Message” that also appears in the Exeter Book. The story is vague and incomplete, of course. A character, identified as a woman, is some sort of exile situation after a doomed liaison with a man. This may or not be meant to be literally taken. One could argue she is a metaphor of the soul seeking its bridegroom in Christ, but that’s not necessary. Most clear, is that this is contemplation of great loss, and the narrator seeks a way to reconcile her loss and learn to move on and keep living. In this way it resembles the other so-called “elegies” of the Exeter Book, like “Wulf and Eadwacer”, “The Wanderer”, and “The Seafarer” (which you can find on my site).

      If you want my advice, try not to get hung up on the narrative possibilities suggested in the poem, and think more about the way it makes you feel and what wisdom it seems to impart.

      • I’m not sure about the speaker “moving on.” That seems a modern idea. To my ear, she sounds well satisfied with her creative and heartfelt curse.

        Thank you so much for these translations, I really feel the cadence of them. Much more heart-satisfying than the other translations I’ve been finding.

        • Hi Annie, thank you for your reply & comment. I hear your objection, but I don’t see it as a zero-sum or binary choice. Her empowerment that seems clearly expressed in her curses at the end are based in her work of reintegration & healing after trauma. That’s “moving on” but it’s moving on in a new capacity, as a new person. Not a victim.

          Does that make sense?

  • I think that her husband and all her friends are dead, she is alone with only her thoughts waiting for her time to come.

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