I wrack this riddle about myself
full miserable, my very own experience.
I can speak it—
what I endured in misery,
after I was grown, both new and old,
none greater than now. Always I suffered
the torment of my wracked ways. (ll. 1-5)

My lord departed at first, from his tribe here
over the tossing of waves—
I watched a sorrow at dawn
wondering where in these lands
my chieftain might be.
Then I departed myself to venture,
seeking his followers, a friendless wayfarer
out of woeful need. (ll. 6-10)

They insinuated, the kinsmen of that man,
by secret thought, to separate us two
so that we two, widest apart in the worldly realm,
should live most hatefully—and it harrowed me. (ll. 11-14)

My lord ordered me to take this grove
for a home — very few dear to me
in this land, almost no loyal friends. (ll. 15-17a)

Therefore my mind so miserable —
than I met a well-suited man for myself
so misfortunate and mind-sorrowing,
thought kept close, plotting a crime. (17b-20)

Keeping cheery, we vowed quite often
that none but death could separate us. (21-23a)

That soon changed…

it’s now as if it had never been —
our friendship. I must, far and near,
endure the feuding of my dearly beloved. (ll. 23b-26)

My husband ordered me anchored
in a woody grove, under an oak-tree
within this earthen cave.
Ancient is the earth-hall:
I am entirely longing— (27-29)

Dark are the valleys, the mountains so lofty,
bitter these hovels, overgrown with thorns.
Shelters without joy. So many times here
the disappearance of my husband
seizes me with a stewing. (ll. 30-33a)

All my friends dwell in the dirt,
I loved them while they lived,
now guarding their graves,
when I go forth alone
in the darkness of daybreak
under the oak-tree
outside this hollowed earth. (ll. 33b-36)

There I may sit a summer-long day,
where I can weep for my exiled path,
my many miseries—therefore I can never
rest from these my mind’s sorrowings,
not from all these longings
that seize me in my living. (ll. 37-41)

A young man must always be sad at heart,
hard in the thoughts inside,
also he must keep a happy bearing —
but also breast-cares, suffering never-ending grief— (ll. 42-45a)

May he depend only upon himself
for all his worldly pleasures.
May he be stained with guilt far and wide,
throughout the lands of distant folk,
so that my once-friend should sit under the stony cliffs,
rimed by storms, my weary-minded ally,
flowed around by waters in his dreary hall. (ll. 42-50a)

My former companion may know a great mind-sorrow—
remembering too often his joyful home. (ll. 50b-52a)

Woe be to that one who must
wait for their beloved with longing. (ll. 52b-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!

    If anyone\’s interested here are the recordings of that meeting (audio)

    Complete: https://vk.com/shakeyburns?w=wall-93579797_1066 – you might need to register (it\’s \”Russian Facebook\”, and it\’s free and it\’s in English too and it takes just a minute to get an account)

    or in two parts on YouTube (if that\’s easier), also audio only:

    pt1 – https://youtu.be/tDchBS651O0
    pt2 – https://youtu.be/0ls67FcE9l4

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

    • 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 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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