Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Wanderer

I was reading a side by side translation of this poem and became frustrated at some of the discrepancies I could see between the Anglo-Saxon and the English so I translated some of it myself. The problem with translating the old poems, I am more familiar with Anglo-Saxon and Norse, is that the original poems were created by one, or more likely many, brilliant poets. Sadly their translators (I suspect) are more qualified linguistically than poetically. Add to this the scops and bards love of multiple layers of meaning via their kennings and a true translation becomes a virtually impossible task. However, here's my translation of stanzas 1-28 of the Wanderer...  

The Wanderer vs 1-28
my translation

Often the recluse
remains honourable
with a resigned attitude
though they be much caring
though they're beyond the sea.

Long I sculled
crucified amid the oars, shaking,
wading wretchedly
Across the cold rimed sea;
"wyrd drives ever forward".

Quoth the world-walker
mindful of misfortune
and the shore of slaughter
and decaying wine mates:

Often I sculled alone
in the morning, everyone
of my cares released.
I am not able, now none is alive,
to say my mind;
I don't dare declare
my spirit plainly.

I know, in truth,
it is courtly conduct
that a man's fears are locked,
fastly bound,
held in his heart's locket,
where he keeps his soul.

A weary soul has no desire
to withstand his wyrd
neither can a thin will
help free him;
Indeed, doom desirers
keep dreary thoughts
fastly bound,
held in their heart's locket.

So my inner heart,
often scolding and sad,
deprived of hearth,
far from friends,
is fettered and sealed.
Since long ago,
my gold and wine mates
I laid in the dark earth's bower.

I, humbled and destitute,
sadly sought a new hall
of a blood baron
a bright gold giver.
Where'er, near or far,
I might find
he in the meadhall
of my mind; wise
and offering friendship.
Consolation to a friendless man.
Of course Tolkien famously translated and used some of the later Stanzas in his Lament for the Rohirrim in The Two Towers. It's part of the reason I stopped where I did. I don't think I can compete with him...  

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? 
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing? 
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing? 
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing? 
They have passed like rain on the mountain, 
like a wind in the meadow; 
The days have gone down in the West 
behind the hills into shadow. 
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning, 
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

A full translation of the Wanderer is here

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