Wulf ond Eadwacer

Leodum is minum swylce him mon lac gife.
Willað hy hine aþecgan, gif he on þreat cymeð?
Ungelic is us.

Wulf is on iege, ic on oþerre.
Fæst is þæt eglond, fenne biworpen.
Sindon wælreowe weras þær on ige.
Willað hy hine aþecgan, gif he on þreat cymeð?
Ungelice is us.

Wulfes ic mines widlastum wenum dogode,
þonne hit wæs renig weder ond ic reotugu sæt,
þonne mec se beaducafa bogum bilegde,
wæs me wyn to þon, wæs me hwæþre eac lað.
Wulf, min Wulf, wena me þine
seoce gedydon, þine seldcymas,
murnende mod, nales meteliste.

Gehyrest þu, Eadwacer? Uncerne earne hwelp
bireð Wulf to wuda.
þæt mon eaþe tosliteð þætte næfre gesomnad wæs,
uncer giedd geador.

...ond ic reotugu sæt
And in the quiet moments, I try not to think of what could have been.

Wulf and Eadwacer

For my people, it is as if one may give them a gift-
Will they feast him if he comes in force?
It is different, for us.

Wulf is on an isle, I on another.
Fast is that island, surrounded by fens.
There are bloodthirsty men on the isle;
will they feed on him if he comes in force?
It is different, for us.

I was hounded by far-tracked hopes for my Wulf;
when it was rainy weather and I, tearful, sat;
when the battle-bold one embraced me in his paws-
that was a pleasure to me, yet it was also loathsome.
Wulf! my Wulf! my hopes for you
sickened me, your seldom-comings,
a mourning heart- not at all a lack of meat.

Do you hear, Eadwacer? Our wretched whelp,
the Wulf bears it to the woods.
That is easily torn apart, what was never united:
the song of us two together.

Wulf and Eadwacer, this poem is called, and yet we only learn of Eadwacer in the very final lines. I suspect the (as always, anonymous) poet would be saddened by our modern title. It gives away the very ending of the poem, a spoiler hooked into the title of the film. Considering the careful way this linguistically delightful piece was constructed, Eadwacer must have been intended as a twist.

As with so much of Old English poetry, this hails from the Exeter Book, that tenth-century holy object without which we would all be lost in a sea of darkness without wonderful poetry to light our way. (Or something- I’m very tired.) It is difficult to place into a genre, as the piece has elegaic elements alongside a rather perverse riddling quality and the unusual nature of being written from a female perspective. Goodness!

The language of Wulf and Eadwacer is a slippery beast. I usually let these translations stand alone, but I cannot refrain from some comments.  ‘Our wretched whelp…’ (Uncerne earne hwelp…) is, as with the adjective for the song, a dual form. These don’t come up very often, but it is wretchedly unclear who the ‘two’ are. Is it the poet and Eadwacer? The poet and Wulf? Who is the father of the whelp?

Speaking of ‘whelp’, the language of the poem is awful bestial, do you not think? Partly this is to do with my translation which -following in the tracks of my supervisor , Doctor Dan- brings out the metaphors (perhaps) more strongly than they may be present in the original. Yet bogum is the dative plural for ‘forequarters’, and not ‘arms’ as many translators render it. The verb dogode is otherwise unattested, but if we pretend for a moment that it is an early form for ‘dogged’… One figure is called ‘Wulf’, and in combination this surely cannot be a coincidence.

There are elements hinting at weddings, gift-bearing, sex-clearly the loathsome-lovely dichotomy reverse to physical relations of some sort, but it is unclear what precisely. Is the woman-poet cheating on Eadwacer, her husband? Is she off with some Viking/pirate/enemy/literal wolf? Why is it a pleasure to her and yet loathsome? Is the poem anti-feminist in tone, and this is supposed to reference rape? I do not think so.

In the midst of all this life, there are little tidbits of wordplay. The verb aþecgan is scarcely attested elsewhere and could mean ‘kill’ ‘eat’ or ‘receive at a feast’. Doctor Dan suspects it may be a pun, similar to the Modern English ‘have for dinner.’ It’s quite clear that I have hedged my bets somewhat, above.

Speaking of dinner, what is Wulf intending to do with that whelp, anyway?