I started this project in my last semester in graduate school, as part of my final for Old English. “The Wanderer” is an obscure poem which was recorded in the Exeter Book. It has gone through multiple translations and interpretations, some based on the most likely literal meanings of the words from Old English, and others injecting contemporary concepts into the original text. My approach was a bit of both, though any “injections” I perpetrated were more about providing modern words which match the meaning implied by the old language, as well as mimic the syntax and cadence of the language itself. In any case, my goal was to be creative, while also honoring the source. I’ll leave judgment up to the reader:
“One adrift often awaits an oar for himself,
a mercy of the Maker, even if care-worn upon a liquid-lane
he had to row awhile the rime-cold sea with his hands,
had to wander wretched vistas.
5 The Wyrd is fully arrayed.”
So quoth the Hard-Stepper, mindful of hardships,
of wrathful wild-slaughters, of the ruin of wine-men:
“I often had to quote my care alone each dawn.
Now there is not one among the quick
10 with whom I’d dare to openly express my mind.
To surity, I know that it is a noble habit in a lord
that he might fastly bind his locked faith,
might hold his closed heart,
might hope as he might will.
15 A weary mind may not withstand the Wyrd,
nor may the rough heart frame help;
often therefore those eager for glory fastly bind
the sorrowful in their closed breast;
as I had to seal my mind, seal with fetters,
20 often hard-caring, bid away from earth, far from kinsmen,
after I formerly covered my golden friend
in a holster of earth long ago,
and wretched I thence wandered winter-wary
over the binding of waves, mourning the hall
25 thence sought the brightness of treasure,
sought where I might find far or near
him who knew mine own in the mead-hall,
or would befriend friendless me,
would wean me with wonders.”
30 he who has little of loved confidants for himself
kens how sly sorrow is as a friend.
The wretched vista wards him, not wound gold,
locked-faith frozen, not blood of the fold.
He remembers the hall-sworn and treasured thanks,
35 how his golden-friend weaned him to the feast
in youth a-gone. A wonder … all drained.
For he who knows must then long forsake
the wizened-lore of his loved noble friend.
Sorrow and sleep summed altogether
40 then often binds the harmed drifter,
thinking to himself that he might, in mind,
clasp and kiss his nobleman,
on knee lay hands and head, as ere awhile
in years agon he brooked a seat’s granting.
45 After then the friendless human awakens,
sights foul waves before him,
fowls of the brim bathe, feathers broaden,
rime and snow rush, mingled by hail.
The heart’s wounds are then the heavier,
50 the sore after the sweet. Sorrow is renewed…
then the mind wanders yond a reminder of men;
the sayer greets them with stated glee, yearningly scans yond
for the hall of the sworn. They swim aft on the way.
Fleeting faith never brings much there
55 of the quoted guidance known. Care is renewed
for he who shall so zealously send
a weary self over the waves’ binding.
Therefore yond this world I may be unable to think
for what my perception may be unable to shade,
60 when I think on all the lives of the lords,
how they verily gave up the hall,
the mighty manly thanes. So for everyone
of all days this middle-earth dries and falls.
For then a man may not wax wise, ere he gain a deal
65 of winters in the world’s richness. The wise should be yielding;
should too neither be hot-hearted nor rash with words
nor too weak a warrior nor too unwary
nor too afraid nor too fain nor too greedy for fees
nor never yearning too much for preening, ere he might well ken.
70 He should abide, when he speaks a boast,
until cold of faith he may well ken
whither the thought of hearts may will to whirl.
Lawful and hale he should recognize how ghastly it is,
when the wealth of all this world stands wasted,
75 as now variously yond this middle-earth
walls stand blown upon by the wind,
rime-raked, the doors ruined.
The wine-halls wear, elders lie
bedridden with a dream, the decorous all cringed,
80 noble by the wall. War forced some away,
ferried forth in a way: some a fowl bore
over its high home, some dealt death
by hoary wolf, some were hidden in an earth-cave
by a dreary leering elder.
85 So the Sculptor of elders ruined this earth
until the old works of the giants stood
idle and lacking the brightness of dwellers.
He, the Hard-Stepper, thinks on this then with wise thought
and deeply on this dark life,
90 old in faith, remembers often ere the worn
of the wild-slaughters, and quoth these words:
“Where went the mare? Where went the man? Where went the treasure-giver?
Where went the seats of the feast? Where are the dreams of the hall?
Alas bright cup! Alas burning warrior!
95 Alas the thrumming of the king! How that drag went,
napping under night’s helm, as if it were not.
Now a wall stands wondrously high
on the last of the loved dukes, adorned with the likeness of wyrms.
Throngs of ashen spears forsook the earls,
100 weapons wild with greed, the glorious Wyrd,
and storms clashed these slopes of stone,
a falling fever binds the surface,
the moan of winter, then comes the wan,
the night-shadow expands, sends from the north
105 in anger a rough hailstorm of hale thugs.
All richness of the earth is difficult:
the shaft of the Wyrd winds the world under heaven.
Here the fee be lent, here the friend be lent,
here the man be lent, here the maiden be lent,
110 all the steel of this earth weaves idle.”
So quoth the knowing one, in mind; sundered as he sat himself at rumination.
True be he who holds his trust; borne, shall never reveal what is torn
too rashly from his breasts, unless he as the earl may ere ken how
to frame the solution with zeal. Well be he who seeks an oar for himself,
a favor to the Father in the heavens, where all fastening stands for us.