It’s a song. Or a riddle. It’s sorrow.

From Christopher Patton’s Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book. I’d been so impressed a few months back with Patton’s translations of Anglo-Saxon in Curious Masonry (post here) that I’d bought this sequel-expansion right away – but then, in flightiness, failed to open it until yesterday. Patton is considerably more aggressive than most in his translations and since I can’t find a decent way of including his 7 pages of justifying notes here, I’m hoping that Craig Williamson’s more ‘normal’ rendering from his Complete Old English Poems can serve as something like anchoring comparison.

Her Case
It’s a song. Or a riddle. It’s sorrow.
I will lay it out for you, the disorder
I went through as a young woman;
it’s not in the past, nor just for now,
I am always in the dark of this bind,
that started when my lord went off
from home over seaplay; each dawn
me wondering what land he was in.

Then I went to seek and serve him –
bereft of husband, miserable wretch-
his family started to think it through,
in secret, how to divide us, some way
that we should live two worlds apart,
with me here wanting, and him there.

My lord’s told me to hold hard here.
I’ve few friends at this patch of earth.
Few to love, and my thoughts are sad.

When I found a man as fitted as he
was – out of luck, and melancholy,
hoard-thoughted, murder-minded,
our hearts were giddy as we swore
we’d not be parted except by death
– nothing else – that’s been turned
round now thought, as if it’d never
been, our friendship. Near and far
I endure my heartfriend’s hatred.
He said to me, wait in these woods,
under this oak, in an earthhollow.
It’s a hall of old soil. I am all desire.

The hills are high here, valleys dim,
sharp thorns guard the enclosure,
a joyless berth. Often I’m caught
in rage at his going. Earthfriends
live and love in their beds, alone
I dawn in the earth under an oak
alone, abiding the summer’s long
day, bereaved, banished, weeping
for thoughts that give me no rest –

and the desire that seized this life?
that young man, though sad inside
and hard of mind, must bear himself
cheerfully as he suffers breastcares,
endless swarms of sorrow. Whether
all the world’s joys are his, or he sits
in guilt at the hill’s stone foot, rimed
by storm, a tired lord surrounded by
water, in some drear hall abides my
fried. And often he brings to mind
a kindlier hearth – woe to that one
who lives to long for what he loved.

And Williamson:

The Wife’s Lament
I tell this story from my grasp of sorrow—
I tear this song from a clutch of grief.
My stretch of misery from birth to bed rest
Has been unending, no more than now.
My mind wanders—my heart hurts.

My husband, my lord, left hearth and home,
Crossing the sea- road, the clash of waves.
My heart heaved each dawn, not knowing
Where in the world my lord had gone.

I followed, wandering a wretched road,
Seeking some service, knowing my need
For a sheltering home. I fled from woe.

His cruel kinsmen began to plot,
Scheming in secret to split us apart.
They forced us to live like exiles
Wretched, distant lives. Now I lie with longing.

My lord commanded me to live here
Where I have few friends, little love,
And no sense of home. Now my heart mourns.

I had found the best man for me,
My husband and companion, hiding his mind,
Closing his heart, bound in torment,
Brooding on murder beneath a gentle bearing.

How often we promised each other at night
Th at nothing would part us except death.
But fate is twisted—everything’s turned.
Our love is undone, our closeness uncoupled.
The web of our wedding is unwoven.

Something now seems as if it never was—
Our friendship together. Far and near,
I must suffer the feud of my dear lord’s brooding.

I was forced to live in a cold earth- cave,
Under an oak tree in an unhappy wood.
My earth-house is old. I lie with longing.

Here are steep hills and gloomy valleys,
Dark hideouts under twisted briars,
Bitter homes without joy. My lord’s leaving
Seizes my mind, harrows my heart.

Somewhere friends share a lover’s bed,
Couples clinging to their closeness at dawn,
While I sing each morning’s sorrow
Outside my earth-cave, under my oak tree,
Where I spend the summer- long day,
Mourning my exile, the cares of my heart,
Th e wandering of my tormented mind.
My spirit cannot rest, my heart be healed,
My mind be free from this life’s longing.

A young man must surely wake at dawn
With hard-edged sadness in his lonely heart.
He must brook misery beneath a gentle bearing
While he suffers his own stretch of sorrow,
Endless and undoing. May he look for joy
In an empty bed, exiled also in an alien land—
So that my friend sits under stone cliffs,
Pelted by storms, stranded by waves,
Chilled to the bone in his cruel hall.
In the comfort of cold, the embrace of anguish,
He may remember a kinder hearth and home.
Woe waits for the lover who lies longing.

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