In the interest of continuing to promote appreciation of Old English poetry and the anonymous poets behind the poems, and because it’s Friday, here’s a reading of an Old English poem.
This poem appears in the Exeter Book between the two big sets of riddles. It may not actually be a fragment, and you can see from the editorial title (“Homiletic Fragment II”) that it hasn’t received much love from editors and scholars of Old English literature. But I think it’s a nice little work, offering an exhortation to wisdom in light of the sweep of salvation history, and based in part on Ephesians 4:5-6. It does a lot in a little bit of room.
I thought it was interesting enough to have Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO and Sr. Sarah Schwartzberg do readings of the poem in a forum essay I did in the journal Religion & Literature too, and they mined monastic riches from it readily.
Anyhow, here’s the poem and my translation. It’s included in my chapbook Lofsangas: Poems Old and New, which features translations of oft-neglected Old English poems like this one.
Gefeoh nu on ferðe ond to frofre geþeoh
dryhtne þinum, ond þinne dom arær,
heald hordlocan, hyge fæste bind
mid modsefan. Monig biþ uncuþ
treowgeþofta, teorað hwilum,
waciaþ wordbeot; swa þeos woruld fareð,
scurum scyndeð ond gesceap dreogeð.
An is geleafa, an lifgende,
an is fulwiht, an fæder ece,
siþþan geong aweox
mægeð modhwatu mid moncynne;
ðær gelicade þa… …op
in þam hordfate, halgan gæste,
beorht on br… …e scan,
an is folces fruma, se þas foldan gesceop,
duguðe ond dreamas. Dom siþþan weox,
þeah þeos læne gesceaft longe stode
heolstre gehyded, helme …edygled,
biþeaht wel treowum, þystre oferfæðmed,
se wæs ordfruma ealles leohtes.
Let your spirit rejoice, take solace, and thrive—
set your glory in God’s service.
Hold well the inner wealth of your thoughts,
boldly binding your mind and heart,
for true friends often turn out
to be strangers: their big words stray
from the truth. And so this world sails on,
disturbed by storms and enduring its destiny.
There is one faith, one eternal Father,
one baptism, and one blessed Lord.
There is one Creator who made the world,
its goods and its joys. Its glory grew—
although this passing world was wrapped
in darkness, covered in cloud, totally
enveloped in a vast thicket of gloom.
Among Adam’s kin a girl grew,
a virgin and vessel for great wealth.
That handmaiden pleased the Holy Spirit,
and the Son shone bright from her breast:
he, the origin of all Light.