Ic þis giedd wrece bi me ful geomorre,
minre sylfre sið. Ic þæt secgan mæg,
hwæt ic yrmþa gebad, siþþan ic up weox,
niwes oþþe ealdes, no ma þonne nu.
A ic wite wonn minra wræcsiþa.
Ærest min hlaford gewat heonan of leodum
ofer yþa gelac; hæfde ic uhtceare
hwær min leodfruma londes wære.
Ða ic me feran gewat folgað secan,
wineleas wræcca, for minre weaþearfe,
ongunnon þæt þæs monnes magas hycgan
þurh dyrne geþoht, þæt hy todælden unc,
þæt wit gewidost in woruldrice
lifdon laðlicost, ond mec longade.
Het mec hlaford min herheard niman,
ahte ic leofra lyt on þissum londstede,
holdra freonda. For þon is min hyge geomor.
Ða ic me ful gemæcne monnan funde,
mod miþendne, morþor hycgendne.
bliþe gebæro. Ful oft wit beotedan
þæt unc ne gedælde nemne deað ana
owiht elles; eft is þæt onhworfen,
is nu swa hit næfre wære,
freondscipe uncer. Sceal ic feor ge neah
mines felaleofan fæhðu dreogan.
Heht mec mon wunian on wuda bearwe,
under actreo in þam eorðscræfe.
Eald is þes eorðsele, eal ic eom oflongad,
sindon dena dimme, duna uphea,
bitre burgtunas, brerum beweaxne,
wic wynna leas. Ful oft mec her wraþe begeat
fromsiþ frean. Frynd sind on eorþan,
leofe lifgende, leger weardiað,
þonne ic on uhtan ana gonge
under actreo geond þas eorðscrafu.
Þær ic sittan mot sumorlangne dæg,
Þær ic wepan mæg mine wræcsiþas,
earfoþa fela; forþon ic æfre ne mæg
þære modceare minre gerestan,
ne ealles þæs longaþes þe mec on þissum life begeat.
A scyle geong mon wesan geomormod,
heard heortan geþoht, swylce habban sceal
bliþe gebæro, eac þon breostceare,
sinsorgna gedreag, sy æt him sylfum gelong
eal his worulde wyn, sy ful wide fah
feorres folclondes, þæt min freond siteð
under stanhliþe storme behrimed,
wine werigmod, wætre beflowen
on dreorsele, dreogeð se min wine
micle modceare; he gemon to oft
wynlicran wic. Wa bið þam þe sceal
of langoþe leofes abidan.
The Wife’s Lament
I recite this fully sad song of myself,
my own experience. I can say that,
what I endured of hardships, since I grew up,
new or old, were never more than now.
Ever I suffered the torment of exile.
First my lord departed hence from the people,
over the tumult of the waves; I had dawn-cares:
where may my prince be in the land?
When I went, departed to seek the retinue,
a friendless wanderer, for my necessary woe,
this one’s kin began to plan,
through secret thought, that they should separate us,
that we most widely in the world-kingdom
will live most wretchedly- and me afflicted with longing.
My lord commanded me to dwell in a grove;
I have few of beloved ones in this landstead,
few of loyal friends; for this is my soul sad.
When I found for me a fully suitable man,
concealing his spirit, violence plotted
with a blithe demeanour. Fully often we vowed
that we would never separate- ought else save
death alone. Afterwards is that changed:
it is now as if it never were,
our friendship. I must -far or near-
endure the enmity of my dearly-loved.
I am commanded by one to dwell in a wooded grove,
under an oak-tree in this earth-cave.
Old is this earth-hall, I am all seized with longing.
Dim are the dales, high the hills,
bitter cities overgrown by briars,
the dwelling joyless. Fully often the lord’s departure
cruelly takes hold of me. friends are on earth,
living lovers occupy their bed,
when I, alone, wander in the pre-dawn
under an oak-tree, through these earth-caves.
There I may sit the summer-long day;
There I can weep for my miseries,
many of hardships; thus I can never
ease my heart-care there,
nor all this longing which this life bequeathed unto me.
Ever must a young one be sad of mood,
hard of heart in thought; thus he shall have
a blithe demeanour and also breast-cares,
endure constant sorrow; let him be dependent on himself
for all his worldly joy, be very widely outcast
far from his folk’s land, so that my friend sits
under a stormy stone-cliff, frost-covered,
my lord weary in mind, drenched by water
in a desolate hall; he suffers, my friend,
with great heart-grief; he remembers too often
a more delightful abode. Woe be to him who shall
await for long the beloved.
Ugh, that’s a terrible translation. I was so pleased, last week, at writing again! And then I got very, very sick. I will refrain from excessive commentary here. This is the Wife’s Lament, another elegaic poem from the Exeter Book- and like last week’s Wulf and Eadwacer, a poem with a female voice. Tres unusual for Old English poetry. The giveaway is in the opening lines: minre sylfre show feminine endings.
Like Wulf and Eadwacer, the interpretation here is difficult. Is this an anti-feminist poem, showing the hysterical raving of women? What exactly is this earth-cave? Where has her lord gone, anyway? To interpret him as leaving on exile is to read something that the text actually lacks. Is he gone to war? Why does his family hold her in distaste? Tricksome, tricksome.