Ubi Sunt in Old English

The Ubi Sunt sensibility hovers throughout Old English poetry but only in The Wanderer (92-96) does it take a form  – and rhetorical refrain – so close to the more familiar neiges d’antan of Villon.

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?

Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?

Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga!

Eala þeodnes þrym! Hu seo þrag gewat,

genap under nihthelm, swa heo no wære.


Where has the horse gone? Where the warrior? Where the treasure?

Where the seats of feasts? Where are the hall joys?

Oh, the bright cup! Oh, the mailed warrior!

Oh, the prince’s glory! How that time departed,

grew dark under the night helmet as if it hadn’t been

(tr. Robert E. Bjork)


Tolkien lends a modified version of these lines to Aragorn in the Two Towers as he speaks of Rohan – “Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?”

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