An Old English Poem

My posts haven’t exactly been coming thick and fast this month. The last couple of weeks have been a bit hectic for me and with an attempt to actually finish writing a book on the go, I have to admit that blogging has taken a bit of a back seat.  Even in the lead up to this post I’ve been feeling rather bereft of good ideas for something to write…maybe all my creativity is going into this book at the moment, I don’t know. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been anything interesting or worthy of attention going on around me or in the wider world, it just hasn’t shaped itself into a viable post yet; maybe there’s something there for the future. Because of this complete lack of inspiration, this blog post is basically just showing you the finished product of a side-project that’s been on the back-burner for a few weeks: the translation of the Old English poem Wulf and Eadwacer. Hopefully you’ll find this interesting and in any case it’s a little insight into one of the things that I’m doing at university.

Just a couple of words on the poem before you start reading: the meaning of the poem is ambiguous on both a word level and a wider thematic level. A lot of the lines are very hard to translate and would ave been impossible without the help of one of my course textbooks, and even with that guidance there were a lot of decisions that I had to make about certain words that were necessarily influenced by my own prior understanding of the poem. Furthermore, the genre of the poem is hard to pin down – is it a riddle, a love poem, what? There are so many possible meanings and ambiguities that no two people will share exactly the same opinions with regard to this poem. Anyway, I’ll stop yabbering and let you read it for yourself.

Old English

Leodum is minum          swylce him mon lac gife;

willađ hy hine aþecgan          gif he on þreat cymeđ.

Ungelic is us.

Wulf is on iege,          ic on oþerre

Fæst is þæt eglond,          fenne biworpen.

Sindon wælreowe          weras þær on ige;

willađ hy hine aþecgan          gif he on þreat cymeđ.

Ungelic is us.

Wulfes ic mines widlastum          wenum hogode.

Þonne hit wæs renig weder          ond is reotugu sæt,

þonne mec se baducafa          bogum bilegde,

wæs me wyn to þon,          wæs me hwæþre eas lađ.

Wulf, min Wulf!          Wena me þine

seoce gedydon,          þine seldcymas,

murnende mod,          nales meteliste.

Gehyrest þu, Eadwacer?          Uncerne eargne hwelp

biređ wulf to wuda.

Þæt mon eaþe tostileþ          þætte næfre gesomned wæs,

uncer giedd geador.


 Literal Translation:

The people are mine;

Like a gift he is given to them,

They desire to kill him if he comes to their troop.

We are not the same.

Wulf is on one island; I on another,

The island is secure, surrounded by a fen,

There are bloodthirsty men on the island;

They desire to kill him if he comes to their troop.

We are not the same.

[I thought Wulf’s long journeys were my hopes;] I thought in hopes of my Wulf’s wide-journeys

When the weather was rainy and I sat wailing,

Then the battle-strong man’s arms enclosed me.

It was a joy to me and yet it was hateful.

Wulf, my Wulf! [Your expectations make me sick,]

Your seldom comings, my anxious heart,

Not lack of food!

Do you hear, Eadwacer [wealth-watcher]? Wulf will

bear our wretched cub to the wood,

Because man easily tears apart that which was never united.

This is our tale together.


Prose Translation:

 They are my people; he is like a gift to them, a sacrifice. They will kill him if he comes too close to their warriors. But we are not the same.

The island is secure, surrounded by a fen and occupied by bloodthirsty men. Those men will kill him if he comes too close. But we are not the same.

I thought hopeful thoughts of my Wulf’s long journeys. When the rain came down and I sat wailing the arms of the man, strong in battle, enclosed me. It was a joy to me, but I hated it as well. Wulf, my Wufl! Hopes of you, your lack of visits and my own anxious heart made me sick, not lack of food!

Do you hear, Eadwacer? Wulf will take our wretched whelp to the woods. Man easily rips asunder that which was never united: the tale of the two of us together.


 Alliterative Verse Translation:

The people are mine.     If presented to them

He’ll be a sacrifice,           sent like a gift.

If he comes to them       they will kill him.

We are not the same.


This secure island,           fen surrounded,

Is watched by                    bloody warriors.

If he comes to them       they will kill him.

We are not the same.


My hopes were in           his long journeys.

When rain came               and weeping I sat

Battle-strong arms          embraced me.

There was pleasure,       but pain as well.


Wulf, my Wulf!                 I wait for you:

I’m sick from                      your seldom comings,

Hoping for you                  and my anxious heart,

Not lack of food                                or fainting hunger.


Hear me, Eadwacer!       O, watcher of wealth!

Wulf will take                     our whelp to the woods.

One easily tears                                what was never together.

The tale of the two of us.


One Comment Add yours

  1. jennykateb says:

    This is my undisputed favourite poem. I too studied Anglo-Saxon/am studying at university and I wrote on this poem not long ago. It blew me away and you are completely right when you say how difficult it is to think of the best fit to OE words for our modern usage. I adore Anglo-Saxon and its history, hopefully planning on being particularly wild for my dissertation as well. Stunning, stunning poem is our Wulf (I prefer to just call it Wulf!) ‘Wulf, min Wulf!’ is so declarative and emotive I always went for some form of love poem laced with riddling tendencies. ‘Wulfes ic mīnes wīdlāstum – wēnum hogode’ I preferred to translate myself to ‘I thought about the far-wanderings of my Wulf with hope’ – that’s my two cents! Really love any AS literature or consideration – it is an area I am trying to get into as much as possible now that I have properly discovered it (always aware but never immersed). Keep up the good Wulf work!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s