And wandered off, bearing a winter sadness over the weft of waves …

Two versions of the Old English The Wanderer. The first – given in full – is Michael Alexander’s from his Earliest English Poems (which was later reprinted in a Penguin edition, though I haven’t seen it to check for changes). It is here for comparison, representing the more straightforward traditional translation. The second – given in part only because I don’t feel like typing 120 lines – is Christopher Patton’s from his Curious Masonry: Three Translations from the Anglo-Saxon. I found it by chance this morning and immediately liked his work on this (which he renders literally as The EarthWalker), The Seafarer, and The Ruin better than any other efforts I’ve seen. He has a site here with posts about this plus a more recent translation of several other Old English works (Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book).

The italicized lines from Alexander’s version are what I’ve given at bottom in Patton’s.

The Wanderer
Who liveth alone longeth for mercy,
Maker’s mercy. Though he must traverse
tracts of sea, sick at heart,
trouble with oars ice-cold waters,
the ways of exile – Wierd is set fast.

Thus spoke such a ‘grasshopper, old griefs in his mind,
cold slaughters, the death of dear kinsmen:

‘Alone am I driven each day before daybreak
to give my cares utterance.
None are there now among the living
to whom I dare declare me throughly,
tell my heart’s thought. Too truly I know
it is in a man no mean virtue
that he keep close his heart’s chest,
hold his thought-hoard, think as he may.

No weary mind may stand against Wierd
nor may a wrecked will work new hope;
wherefore, most often, those eager for fame
bind the dark mood fast in their breasts.

So must I also curb my mind,
cut off from country, from kind far distant,
by cares overworn, bind it in fetters;
this since, long ago, the ground’s shroud
enwrapped my gold-friend. Wretched I went thence,
winter-wearied, over the waves’ bound;
dreary I sought hall of a gold-giver,
where far or near I might find
him who in meadhall might take heed o f me,
furnish comfort to a man friendless,
win me with cheer.
He knows who makes trial

how harsh and bitter is care for companion
to him who hath few friends to shield him.
Track ever taketh him, never the torqued gold,
not earthly glory, but cold heart’s cave.
He minds him of hall-men, of treasure-giving,
how in his youth his gold-friend
gave him to feast. Fallen all this joy.

He knows this who is forced to forgo his lord’s,
his friend’s counsels, to lack them for long:
oft sorrow and sleep, banded together,
come to bind the lone outcast;
he thinks in his heart then that he his lord
claspeth and kisseth, and on knee layeth
hand and head, as he had at otherwhiles
in days now gone, when he enjoyed the gift-stool

Awakeneth after this friendless man,
seeth before him fallow waves,
seabirds bathing, broading out feathers,
snow and hail swirl, hoar-frost falling.
Then all the heavier his heart’s wounds,
sore for his loved lord. Sorrow freshens.

Remembered kinsmen press through his mind;
he singeth out gladly, scanneth eagerly
men from the same hearth. They swim away.
Sailors’ ghosts bring not many
known songs there. Care grows fresh
in him who shall send forth too often
over locked waves his weary spirit.

Therefore I may not think, throughout this world,
why cloud cometh not on my mind
when I think over all the life of earls,
how at a stroke they have given up hall,
mood-proud thanes. So this middle earth
each of all days ageth and falleth.’

Wherefore no man grows wise without he have
his share of winters.
A wise man holds out;
he is not too hot-hearted, nor too hasty in speech,
nor too weak a warrior, not wanting in fore-thought,
nor too greedy of goods, nor too glad, nor too mild,
nor ever too eager to boast, ere he knows alL

A man should forbear boastmaking
until his fierce mind fully knows
which w ay his spleen shall expend itself.

A wise man may grasp how ghastly it shall be
when all this world ’s wealth standeth waste,
even as now , in many places, over the earth
walls stand, wind-beaten,
hung with hoar-frost; ruined habitations.
The wine-halls crumble; their wielders lie
bereft of bliss, the band all fallen
proud by the wall. War took off some,
carried them on their course hence; one a bird bore
over the high sea; one the hoar wolf
dealt to death; one his drear-cheeked
earl stretched in an earthen trench.

The Maker of men hath so marred this dwelling
that human laughter is not heard about it
and idle stand these old giant-works.
A man who on these walls wisely looked
who sounded deeply this dark life
would think back to the blood spilt here,
weigh it in his wit. His word would be this:
‘ Where is that horse now ? Where are those men? Where is
the hoard-sharer?
Where is the house of the feast? Where is the hall’s uproar?

Alas, bright cup! Alas, burnished fighter!
Alas, proud prince! How that time has passed,
dark under night’s helm, as though it never had been!

There stands in the stead of staunch thanes
a towering wall wrought with worm-shapes;
the earls are off-taken by the ash-spear’s point,
that thirsty weapon. Their Wierd is glorious.

Storms break on the stone hillside,
the ground bound by driving sleet,
winter’s wrath. Then wanness cometh,
night’s shade spreadeth, sendeth from north
the rough hail to harry mankind.

In the earth-realm all is crossed;
Wierd’s will changeth the world.
Wealth is lent us, friends arc lent us,
man is lent, kin is lent;
all this earth’s frame shall stand empty.’

So spoke the sage in his heart; he sat apart in thought.
Good is he who keeps faith: nor should care too fast
be out o f a man’s breast before he first know the cure:
a warrior fights on bravely. Well is it for him who seeks
the Heavenly Father’s solace, in whom all our fastness stands

And starting around line 40 in Patton’s, covering the italicized section above:

Even so, and wretched with sorrow,
far from homeland and noble kinsman,
I have bound heart and mind in chains,
since years ago I covered a goldfriend
in the dark of earth and wandered off,
bearing a winter sadness over the weft
of waves, seeking, homesick, near or
far, some patron who knew my people,
who might in meadhall offer to comfort
a friendless wanderer, to draw him out,
delight him. Sorrow, all know who know,
is cruel companion to the one who holds
none dear, and none hold so. For him no
ring of wrought gold, nor earthly glory,
but an icy heart at the hearth of exile.
Sometimes he calls to mind hallfriends
of his youth, the giving of gifts, feasts
where his gracious patron would lavish
favours on all of them. Joy is a ruin.

As anyone knows who must go long
without the word of his beloved lord.
Then sorrow and sleep together bind
the wretched solitary, in his dream
he embraces and kisses his dear lord
once more, lays in his lap his head
and hands, as once he did in days
gone by, kneeling at the high seat.
Then the friendless one awakens,
sees the fallow waves before him,
seabirds splaying feathers, bathing
as snow falls shot through with hail,
the heart’s wounds are heavier now,
raw with a longing for loved ones
long departed. His sorrow deepens
when remembered kin pass through
his mind, as singing he greets them,
gazing on them in joy as they fly
away, floating spirits that bear no
familiar voices, as sorrow deepens,
to one who sends, across the weft
of waves, a weary spirit after them.

I cannot see, for all the world, why
my mind does not go dark entirely
when I think how the lives of men
give way abruptly, they leave the hall
bold warriors. The great earth itself
falls and decays each day, and no man
may be wise who has not passed many
winters on it…..

2 thoughts on “And wandered off, bearing a winter sadness over the weft of waves …

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