Deor

translation by Jesse Glass

Welund him be wurman         wrces cunnade,
anhydig eorl         earfoa dreag,
hfde him to gesie         sorge ond longa,
wintercealde wrce;         wean oft onfond,
sian hine Nihad on         nede legde,
swoncre seonobende         on syllan monn.
                   s ofereode,         isses swa mg!
Beadohilde ne ws         hyre brora dea
on sefan swa sar         swa hyre sylfre ing,
t heo gearolice         ongieten hfde
t heo eacen ws;         fre ne meahte
riste geencan,         hu ymb t sceolde.
                   s ofereode,         isses swa mg!
We t Mhilde         monge gefrugnon
wurdon grundlease         Geates frige,
t hi seo sorglufu         slp ealle binom.
s ofereode,         isses swa mg!
eodric ahte         ritig wintra
Mringa burg;         t ws monegum cu.
                   s ofereode,         isses swa mg!
We geascodan         Eormanrices
wylfenne geoht;         ahte wide folc
Gotena rices.         t ws grim cyning.
St secg monig         sorgum gebunden,
wean on wenan,         wyscte geneahhe
t s cynerices         ofercumen wre.
                   s ofereode,         isses swa mg!
Site sorgcearig,         slum bidled,
on sefan sweorce,         sylfum ince
t sy endeleas         earfoa dl.
Mg onne geencan,         t geond as woruld
witig dryhten         wende geneahhe,
eorle monegum         are gesceawa,
wislicne bld,         sumum weana dl.
t ic bi me sylfum         secgan wille,
t ic hwile ws         Heodeninga scop,
dryhtne dyre.         Me ws Deor noma.
Ahte ic fela wintra         folga tilne,
holdne hlaford,         ot Heorrenda nu,
leocrftig monn         londryht geah,
t me eorla hleo         r gesealde.
                   s ofereode,         isses swa mg!

Wieland felt grim misery, wrack knew
this stubborn maker, suffered hardships,
sorrow, longing his boon companions;
faced an exiles freezing winter, trouble, teen, of every manner
once Nithad hacked the heels, so cunningly to cage
this far worthier man.
                 That changed, this may too.
Beadohilde little mourned her murdered brothers
her mind was burdened by her own condition
as dimly she guessed a child moved within her
her bold mind fled, in fear she saw the future.
                 That changed, this may too.
Weve heard of Maethild, hapless wife
her Geats strong love, their love so sorrowful
all sleep was driven from that harried couple.
                 That changed, this may too.
Kind Theodoric ruled Maeringburg fortress
thirty hard winters; his fame was known to many.
 That changed, this may too.
Weve heard the lay of fierce Eomanrics
wolf-like bearing: so cruelly he captained
the wide-spread Goths, spread sorrow among them
stacked hell upon hell, till nobles wished
his rule overthrown.
                 That changed, this may too.
Anxious, sad, gloomy at heart
a man feels hardships portion without end.
Then he must think, throughout this gray world
Heavens wise Lord, comes often, giving
gifts to many, enduring blessings;
to some apportions woe.
As for this singer, I will tell you
I once was the scop of Hoedeninga,
beloved of my Lord.  My name was Deor.
I spent many winters, gem of his retinue.
He valued my service, but nowHeorrenda
master of poemcraft is gifted with landgift
my Lord and fair protector once gave to me.
                 That changed, this may too.

Ive always been attracted by the Old English poem Deor (Day-Or), a name which means wild beast. There is the poignant image of the Anglo-Saxon bard himself, dispossessed of his Lords gift of security, and offering himself and others, the cold comfort of his stoicism. Then there are the allusions to the old legends, so exotic to us now.  Wieland, for instance, is a Daedelus-like figurean ingenious worker of goldwho falls afoul of King Nithad of Sweden. Nithad hamstrings Wieland to keep him from breaking free from imprisonment, but the smith fashions metal wings and escapes his clever cage. Before he does, however, he stops to drug and rape Nithads daughter Beadohilde as well as murder his two sons.

The details of the Tristan and Isolde-like story of Maethild and the Geat have been lost to all but the most imaginative scholars, who presume that the star-crossed lovers were reunited.

King Theodoric the Ostrogoth is an historic figure. He was known as an oppressive king, but not as terrible a ruler as the perverse Eomanric.

Yet another feature that makes this poem almost unique in the 11th century Exeter Book is its song-like refrain. Only one other poem in the collection has this structure, the striking Wulf and Eadwacer, which gives further credence to the idea that Deor was originally meant to be recited to the five or six string harp.

This translation is dedicated to the memory of Cid Corman.

J. G.