New Elf-charm translation in _Ancient Exchanges_

One thing I enjoy about the early medieval period is that folks still recognized elves, mares (think: “night-mare”), dwarves, etc. as existing. Not as a throwback or counter-cultural belief, but it was “just the way things were”—to the point that they had medical recipes and “charms” or incantations or spells (or something!) called galdru (singular: galdor) to help those who fell victim to them.

I’ve been translating several of these verse compositions in Old English that deal with how to handle elves, dwarves, worts (plants), in ways that are what most of us would refer to as “magical.” Several are forthcoming, but here’s the first in the journal Ancient Exchanges, with text and audio: “Against the Water-Elf-Disease.”

“Unus Deus et Pater Omnium,” a translation of the Old English “Homiletic Fragment II”

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.

Original text:

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.

*

Translation:

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.

A (Very) Short Old English Poem for February

As it continues snowing here in southeastern Wisconsin, it is a prime season for reading Old English poetry, which seems so at home in the cold and frost and dreary skies.

So, I thought I’d send a short Old English poem out into the world. I translated this little poem (mircro-poetry before micro-poetry!) in my chapbook that St. Francis University Press put out several years ago. Its editorial title is “A Proverb of Winfrid’s Time” and is found in an early-tenth-century manuscript copy of St. Bonfiace’s (born “Winfrid”) letters. It’s the earliest independent verse proverb in the English language that we know of. Text and audio below.

.

Old English:

Oft daedlata dome foreldit,

sigisitha gahuem, suuyltit thi ana.

.

Present Day English:

The idle man puts off glory

and fruitful deeds—then dies alone.

If you’re interested in some poetic translations of less frequently translated Old English poems, and some originals, you can pick up a copy of the chapbook on Amazon here.

New Short Poem in _The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls_

Delighted to have a short poem of mine from a couple years back featured in The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls!

Based on an afternoon spent on the shores of Lake Michigan up in Door County, the scene is shaped into a basic imitation of the Old English alliterative long line. (Four stresses, a caesura dividing the stresses in two, alliteration bridging the caesura.)

While you’re there, check out the other poems going on!

Audio of Old English and Modern English “A Journey Galdor”

For anyone wondering what a magico-protective prayer for journeys from the eleventh-century sounded like (who isn’t?!), I’ve recorded a reading of the original Old English version and my translation published in Trinity House Review.

This poem/prayer was written in the margins of an eleventh-century copy of the Old English version of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. The book was one of those given by Bishop Leofric to Exeter Cathedral.

You can hear it immediately below, and below the audio is further description from my earlier post when the translation was published.

–From earlier post: My translation of the Old English “A Journey Galdor” (usually called “A Journey Charm” by editors) appears in the issue. The galdru are a strange “genre” of poetic and prose texts in Old English: half-prayer, half-magic, half-recipe. (!) They are a relic of a time when the self was more porous than moderns tend to think of it.

“A Journey Galdor” is one of my favorites of the genre, because it is a prayer for protection (and so, very practical) and because of its vague mentioning of various kinds of early Germanic “terrors”. This is a world in which elves and dragons and other wights are still very much a live option and need to be defended against. It’s a hoot, and deadly earnest.

A Nomination for the Pushcart!

It’s an honor and a pleasure to share that the literary journal Presence has nominated my translation of the Old English poem “The Ruin” for the 2021 Pushcart Prize.

“The Ruin” is a poem composed in Old English and copied down in the tenth-century Exeter Book, the first anthology of English poetry. My translation brings the poem into Present Day English but also “translates” the poem’s scene (an Anglo-Saxon looking at Roman ruins in Britain) to a modern one (a Midwesterner looking at the Middle Woodland mound in Lake Park, Milwaukee).

It’s good fun, if a bit morose, and I’m so pleased to have it nominated. Thanks, Presence, anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet and scribe, and Woodlanders!

New Old English Translation in _Trinity House Review_

Today saw the release of Trinity House Review‘s premier issue! THR is a journal dedicated to serious poets doing work that tends to the transcendent in human life, to craft, and to “the hallows of a haunted age” (from their opening editorial). It’s an honor to be included in its pages and with such terrific poets.

My translation of the Old English “A Journey Galdor” (usually called “A Journey Charm” by editors) appears in the issue. The galdru are a strange “genre” of poetic and prose texts in Old English: half-prayer, half-magic, half-recipe. (!) They are a relic of a time when the self was more porous than moderns tend to think of it.

“A Journey Galdor” is one of my favorites of the genre, because it is a prayer for protection (and so, very practical) and because of its vague mentioning of various kinds of early Germanic “terrors”. This is a world in which elves and dragons and other wights are still very much a live option and need to be defended against. It’s a hoot, and deadly earnest.

You can read it here, on pgs 47-49. Enjoy!

New Book for Advent: Translation of a Thousand-Year-Old Poem with Commentary

I always say I’m excited to announce a new book. But this time I’m even more excited than normal. Gracewing in the UK has done me a great favor in bringing out a book that pulls out all the stops. O Shining Light: Old English Meditations for Advent and Christmastide is the first stand-alone, poetic translation of the Old English Advent Lyrics, a poem that opens the Exeter Book. (The Exeter Book is the first anthology of English poetry, copied down in the southwest of England sometime in the later tenth century.) You can get a copy here!

The Advent Lyrics are a set of short meditations on the “O Antiphons” sung at Vespers leading up to Christmas, and several others. (O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is based on the O Antiphons too.) The early English poet gave us a heartfelt, brooding, and celebratory poem. At the same time, it can be hard for modern readers to see what he is doing clearly at first blush, so we’ve included commentary that breaks open the poetic and theological riches of the poem too. Guides for individual and group reflection too make the book perfect for devotional Advent reading.

I’m particularly delighted because of the following features: my wife Mamie and I collaborated on the Introduction and Commentary; Daniel Mitsui provided illustrations inspired by Anglo-Saxon manuscript illustrations that frame the poem thru-out; Br. Paul Quenon, a terrific poet, photographer, and Cistercian monk, provided a welcoming and astute foreword; and the crew at Gracewing set the work in splendid typeface imitative of Anglo-Saxon script. It’s a poet’s (this poet’s) dream book.

Oh, and for anyone who might want to hear the original poem read aloud, I have posted audio files of myself reading the lyrics here. You can follow along in your book, just like when we were kids! 🙂

Translation of the Old English “Ruin” in Presence–Audio

I’m delighted to (belatedly) announce that my translation of the Old English poem “The Ruin” appears in the newest issue of Presence, a great journal run by great people.

I read the poem in the audio file below, but here’s some basic context too:

“The Ruin” is a poem found in the tenth-century Exeter Book, which is the first anthology of English poems and a great treasure of English speakers’ literary inheritance. The poem is spoken by an Anglo-Saxon as he stands before what seems to be a Roman ruin in Britain, and he meditates on the transience of culture and human life as he marvels at what the ruin suggests about the creative energies that once existed where he stands. In my translation, I take this scene and “update” it to a Euro-American standing in front of a Middle Woodland burial mound in Milwaukee, WI’s Lake Park, with the same kind of brooding on transience etc.

The picture below shows the Lake Park mound (the green slope between trees with the stone marker on top) and the audio provides a reading of part of the original Old English and of the whole Modern English translation.

I hope you enjoy what was an immensely rewarding project for me.

lake park mound

 

 

An Award for Æthelwold!

I am very humbled to announce that my book, The Old English Rule of Saint Benedict with Related Old English Texts, recently won the International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England‘ biennial award for Best Translation or Edition of an Anglo-Saxon Text.

I am very grateful to the selection committee, especially because this was Cistercian Publications‘ first foray into the Old English textual world and because the volume attempts to find a somewhat new audience for Old English literary culture. I was also pleasantly surprised because there are especially so many solid and important editions of Old English and Anglo-Latin texts being done by respected scholars every year.

Thank you, ISAS, Cistercian Publications, and Saint Æthelwold!