The Wanderer

September 23, 2015 – 7:08 pm

This is not presented as a polished translation, just as a helper for my reading of the text. This is another of the texts that we prepare as ‘homework’ for an Anglo-Saxon group that is being run by Bill Krebs on Thursday afternoons. This poem is from the Exeter Book (Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501) and photos of the manuscript pages can be found conveniently at Rick McDonald’s website for The Wanderer Project – a labour of love on his part. (To go straight to the photos hit this link.) As before, note that the OE text is presented as in Mitchell & Robinson (2012) A Guide to Old English (8th edn) Wiley-Blackwell:UK pp. 261-3, and note that they make several emendations of the OE text, but only the reconstruction of line 12 is really significant. As usual in that text, ? and ? in the MS are replaced here by standard English letters, but ð, þ, and æ are retained. Length is marked by an underline, which I find less intrusive – and also a heckuvalot easier to type. 

Oft him anhaga are gebideð,
Ever the solitary man waits on mercy,

metudes miltse, þeah þe he modcearig
the favour of the Creator, while he, troubled in mind

geond lagulade longe sceolde
through the seaways longtime should

hreran mid hondum hrimcealde sæ,
stir with (his) hands the ice-cold sea,

5. wadan wræclastas. Wyrd bið ful aræd!
following the path of exile. Weird is quite inexorable!

Swa cwæð eardstapa, earfeþa gemyndig,
So says a ‘grasshopper,’ mindful of hardships,

wraþra wælsleahta, winemæga hryre:
of cruel battle, of the fall of beloved kinfolk:

Oft ic sceolde ana uhtna gehwylce
ever I must alone before each dawn

mine ceare cwiþan. Nis nu cwicra nan
my own cares lament. Nor is there now living any one

10. þe ic him modsefan minne durre
to whom I dare my concerns

sweotule asecgan. Ic to soþe wat
openly tell. I to be sure know

þæt biþ in eorle indryhten þeaw,
that it is a fitting habit in a man

þæt he his ferðlocan fæste binde,
to hold tight to his thought-hoard,

healde his hordcofan, hycge swa he wille.
hold on to his thought-store, think what he will.

15. Ne mæg werig mod wyrde wiðstondan,
Nor can weary mind withstand Weird

ne se hreo hyge helpe gefremman.
nor the troubled spirit bring help.

Forðon domgeorne dreorigne oft
And so the fame-hungry often a sadness

in hyra breostcofan bindað fæste;
in their breast-coffer bind fast;

swa ic modsefan minne sceolde,
so should I my own cares,

20. oft earmcearig, eðle bidæled,
full oft wretched, deprived of (his) homeland,

freomægum feor feterum sælan,
far from noble kin, in fetters bind,

siþþan geara iu goldwine minne
since yeara ago my gold-giving lord

hrusan heolstre biwrah, ond ic hean þonan
I wrapped in earth’s darkness, and I dejected therefrom

wod wintercearig ofer waþema gebind,
went in wintry desolation over the commingling waves,

25. sohte seledreorig sinces bryttan,
sought hall-bereft a giver of treasure,

hwær ic feor oþþe neah findan meahte
where I far or near could find

þone þe in meoduhealle mine wisse,
someone to recognise my (kin-line) in the mead-hall,

oþþe mec freondleasne frefran wolde,
or would comfort me in my friendless (state,)

weman mid wynnum. Wat se þe cunnað,
to entertain with joy. He knows well who knows at first hand

30. hu sliþen bið sorg to geferan,
how cruel is sorrow as a companion,

þam þe him lyt hafað leofra geholena.
To one who has few precious protectors.

Warað hine wræclast, nales wunden gold,
He occupies himself with the path of exile, not with wound gold,

ferðloca freorig, nalæs foldan blæd.
The chilled heart, and never the wealth of the Earth.

Gemon he selesecgas ond sincþege,
Remember the retainers and the receivers of treasure,

35. hu hine on geoguðe his goldwine
how him in his youth his gold-generous lord

wenede to wiste. Wyn eal gedreas!
was pleased to feast. Joy has all vanished.

    Forþon wat se þe sceal his winedryhtnes
    So he knows, who must of his beloved lord’s

leofes larcwidum longe forþolian,
counsel do without for a long time,

ðonne sorg ond slæp somod ætgædre
when sorrow and sleep together

40. earmne anhogan oft gebindað,
the wretched solitary one bind,

þinceð him on mode þæt he his mondryhten
he thinks to himself that he his liege-lord

clyppe ond cysse, ond on cneo lecge
embraces and busses, and on (his) knee lays

honda ond heafod, swa he hwilum ær
hand and head, as he sometimes previously

in geardagum giefstolas breac.
in days gone by used the throne.

45. ðonne onwæcneð eft wineleas guma,
Then awakened again the friendless man,

gesihð him biforan fealwe wegas,
sees before him dark waves,

baþian brimfuglas, brædan feþra,
seabirds swimming, feathers spreading,

hreosan hrim ond snaw, hagle gemenged.
falling frost and snow mingled with hail.

    þonne beoð þy hefigran heortan benne,
    Then are the heavier the wounds of the heart

50. sare æfter swæsne. Sorg bið geniwad,
painful with longing for the dear one. Sorrow is renewed.

þonne maga gemynd mod geondhweorfeð;
When remembrance of kin fills the mind;

greteð gliwstafum, georne geondsceawað
(he) greets with joy, eagerly examines every part

secga geseldan. Swimmað eft on weg!
of the companions of men. Things always drift away!

Fleotendra ferð no þær fela bringeð
The spirit of the seafarers does not bring there much

55. cuðra cwidegiedda. Cearo bið geniwad
well-known talk. Care is renewed

þam þe sendan sceal swiþe geneahhe
for he who must send very often

ofer waþema gebind werigne sefan.
over the commingling waters a weary heart.

    Forþon ic geþencan ne mæg geond þas woruld
    Thus I cannot think for all the world

for hwan modsefa min ne gesweorce,
why my spirit does not grow dark

60. þonne ic eorla lif eal geondþence,
when I consider the whole life of noble men,

hu hi færlice flet ofgeafon,
how they suddenly left the stage

modge maguþegnas. Swa þes middangeard
the bold young blades. So this middle earth

ealra dogra gehwam dreoseð ond fealleþ,
every day for everyone declines and fails,

forþon ne mæg weorþan wis wer, ær he age
so no man can become wise, before he passes

65. wintra dæl in woruldrice. Wita sceal geþyldig,
a deal of winters in this worldly realm. A wise man should be patient,

ne sceal no to hatheort ne to hrædwyrde,
must not be too hot-hearted nor too ready with words,

ne to wac wiga ne to wanhydig,
not too weak in the fight nor too lacking in thought,

ne to forht ne to fægen, ne to feohgifre
not too fearful nor too cheerful, nor too greedy

ne næfre gielpes to georn, ær he geare cunne.
nor ever too eager to make boasts, before he has properly experienced (things.)

70. Beorn sceal gebidan, þonne he beot spriceð,
A man must abide, when he makes oaths

oþþæt collenferð cunne gearwe
until the stout-hearted clearly knows

hwider hreþra gehygd hweorfan wille.
whither the inclination of the heart will go.

Ongietan sceal gleaw hæle hu gæstlic bið,
A wise man will know how ghastly it will be 

þonne ealre þisse worulde wela weste stondeð,
when all this world’s wealth stands wasted,

75. swa nu missenlice geond þisne middangeard
just as now in various places throughout the world

winde biwaune weallas stondaþ,
the walls stand wind-blown,

hrime bihrorene, hryðge þa ederas.
frost rimed, the buildings snow covered

Woriað þa winsalo, waldend licgað
the halls decay, the rulers lie

dreame bidrorene, duguþ eal gecrong,
deprived of their joy, their retainers all perished,

80. wlonc bi wealle. Sume wig fornom,
the proud ones beside the walls. Some war took off,

ferede in forðwege, sumne fugel oþbær
bore on the path out, some the bird bore off

ofer heanne holm, sumne se hara wulf
over a wretched sea, some the gray wolf

deaðe gedælde, sumne dreorighleor
dealt death, some a sad-faced

in eorðscræfe eorl gehydde.
lord concealed in the earth.

85. Yþde swa þisne eardgeard ælda scyppend
The maker of men had so marred this dwelling

oþþæt burgwara breahtma lease
that all without the noise of the town-dwellers 

eald enta geweorc idlu stodon.
the old giants’ works stand waste.

Se þonne þisne wealsteal wise geþohte
One who thought wisely on this foundation

ond þis deorce lif deope geondþenceð,
and considered deeply this dark life

90. frod in ferðe, feor oft gemon
wise in spirit, remembers often from afar

wælsleahta worn, ond þas word acwið:
numerous battles, and spake these words:

“Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?
“Where now is the horse? Where the rider? Where the treasure-giver?

Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
Where the seats at the feast? Where the mead-hall revels?

Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga!
Alas, bright cup! Alas, mail-clad warrior!

95. Eala þeodnes þrym! Hu seo þrag gewat,
Alas, the glory of the prince! How time passes,

genap under nihthelm, swa heo no wære.
grown dark under a helm of night, as if it never was.

Stondeð nu on laste leofre duguþe
There stands now in the way of  the dear comrades

weal wundrum heah, wyrmlicum fah.
a wall wondrous high, with worms ornamented.

Eorlas fornoman asca þryþe,
The power of ash-spears took off the princes,

100. wæpen wælgifru, wyrd seo mære,
a weapon greedy for slaughter, Fate the famous,

ond þas stanhleoþu stormas cnyssað,
and storms beat at the stone cliffs,

hrið hreosende hrusan bindeð,
a falling storm of snow fetters the earth,

wintres woma, þonne won cymeð,
a tumult of winter, then dimness comes,

nipeð nihtscua, norþan onsendeð
the shadow of night grows dark, from the North comes forth

105. hreo hæglfare hæleþum on andan.
a harsh hailstorm meaning ill to men.

Eall is earfoðlic eorþan rice,
All is fraught with hardship in earth’s realms,

onwendeð wyrda gesceaft weoruld under heofonum.
the fated course of events changes the world under heaven.

Her bið feoh læne, her bið freond læne,
Here wealth is fleting, here friends are fleeting,

her bið mon læne, her bið mæg læne,
here man is fleeting, here kinsman is fleeting,

110. eal þis eorþan gesteal idel weorþeð!’
all this earth’s foundation is made waste!”

Swa cwæð snottor on mode, gesæt him sundor æt rune.
So said a wise man to himself sitting apart in meditation.

Til biþ se þe his treowe gehealdeþ, ne sceal næfre his torn to rycene
He is good who keeps his faith, nor must a man ever his grief too quickly

beorn of his breostum acyþan, nemþe he ær þa bote cunne,
unburden from his heart, unless he already knows the remedy, 

eorl mid elne gefremman. Wel bið þam þe him are seceð,
a prince must act with courage. That is good for one who seeks mercy for himself,

115. frofre to fæder on heofonum, þær us eal seo fæstnung stondeð.
consolation from the Father in heaven, where for us all a mighty tower stands.

  1. One Response to “The Wanderer”

  2. Line 92 appears in Tolkien’s ‘The Two Towers’ (ch. 6) in a chant by Aragorn. It’s his translation I’ve used.

    The ‘fæstnung’ in the last line may be a reference to Psalm 46 – the one that inspired Luther’s hymn beginning ‘Ein feste burg ist unser Gott.’ (One of my favourite Bach arias.)

    By SteveGW on Sep 30, 2015

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