Old English Poems - Translated into the Original Meter Together with Short Selections from Old English Prose
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Translated into the Original Meter Together with Short Selections from Old English Prose


COSETTE FAUST, Ph.D. Associate Professor of English in the Southern Methodist University


STITH THOMPSON, Ph.D. Instructor in English in The University of Texas

Scott, Foresman and Company Chicago New York

Copyright, 1918 By Scott, Foresman and Company

Robert O. Law Company Edition Book Manufacturers Chicago, U.S.A.



1. EPIC OR HEROIC GROUP PAGE Widsith 15 Deor's Lament 26 Waldhere 29 The Fight at Finnsburg 34

2. GNOMIC GROUP Charms 1. Charm for Bewitched Land 38 2. Charm for a Sudden Stitch 42 Riddles 1. A Storm 44 2. A Storm 45 3. A Storm 46 5. A Shield 48 7. A Swan 49 8. A Nightingale 49 14. A Horn 50 15. A Badger 51 23. A Bow 52 26. A Bible 52 45. Dough 54 47. A Bookworm 54 60. A Reed 54 Exeter Gnomes 56 The Fates of Men 58

3. ELEGIAC GROUP The Wanderer 62 The Seafarer 68 The Wife's Lament 72 The Husband's Message 75 The Ruin 78


1. CAEDMONIAN SCHOOL. Caedmon's Hymn 83 Bede's Death Song 84 Selection From Genesis—The Offering of Isaac 85 Selection From Exodus—The Crossing of the Red Sea 90

2. CYNEWULF AND HIS SCHOOL a. Cynewulf (1) Selections from Christ 95 1. Hymn to Christ 96 2. Hymn to Jerusalem 96 3. Joseph and Mary 97 4. Runic Passage 100 (2) Selections from Elene 103 1. The Vision of the Cross 103 2. The Discovery of the Cross 105 b. Anonymous Poems of the Cynewulfian School (1) The Dream of the Rood 108 (2) Judith 116 (3) The Phoenix 132 (4) The Grave 157

III. POEMS FROM THE CHRONICLE The Battle of Brunnanburg 159 The Battle of Maldon 163

APPENDIX—PROSE SELECTIONS Account of the Poet Caedmon 179 Alfred's Preface to His Translation of Gregory's "Pastoral Care" 183 Conversion of Edwin 187 Voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan 189


These selections from Old English poetry have been translated to meet the needs of that ever-increasing body of students who cannot read the poems in their original form, but who wish nevertheless to enjoy to some extent the heritage of verse which our early English ancestors have left for us. Especially in the rapid survey of English literature given in most of our colleges, a collection of translations covering the Anglo-Saxon period and reflecting the form and spirit of the original poems should add much to a fuller appreciation of the varied and rich, though uneven, literary output of our earliest singers.

In subject-matter these Old English poems are full of the keenest interest to students of history, of customs, of legend, of folk-lore, and of art. They form a truly national literature; so that one who has read them all has learned much not only of the life of the early English, but of the feelings that inspired these folk, of their hopes, their fears, and their superstitions, of their whole outlook on life. They took their poetry seriously, as they did everything about them, and often in spite of crudity of expression, of narrow vision, and of conventionalized modes of speech, this very "high seriousness" raises an otherwise mediocre poem to the level of real literature. Whatever may be said of the limitations of Old English poetry, of its lack of humor, of the narrow range of its sentiments, of the imitativeness of many of its most representative specimens, it cannot be denied the name of real literature; for it is the direct expression of the civilization that gave it birth—a civilization that we must understand if we are to appreciate the characteristics of its more important descendants of our own time.

Although the contents of these poems can be satisfactorily studied in any translation, the effect of the peculiar meter that reinforces the stirring spirit of Old English poetry is lost unless an attempt is made to reproduce this metrical form in the modern English rendering. The possibility of retaining the original meter in an adequate translation was formerly the subject of much debate, but since Professor Gummere's excellent version of Beowulf and the minor epic poems,[footnote: The Oldest English Epic, New York, 1909.] and other recent successful translations of poems in the Old English meter, there can be no question of the possibility of putting Anglo-Saxon poems into readable English verse that reproduces in large measure the effect of the original. To do this for the principal Old English poems, with the exception of Beowulf, is the purpose of the present volume.

Except for the subtlest distinctions between the types of half verse, strict Old English rules for the alliterative meter have been adhered to. These rules may be stated as follows:

1. The lines are divided into two half-lines, the division being indicated by a space in the middle.

2. The half-lines consist of two accented and a varying number of unaccented syllables. Each half-line contains at least four syllables. Occasional half-lines are lengthened to three accented syllables, possibly for the purpose of producing an effect of solemnity.

3. The two half-lines are bound together by beginning-rime or alliteration; i.e., an agreement in sound between the beginning letters of any accented syllables in the line. For example, in the line

Guthhere there gave me a goodly jewel

the g's form the alliteration. The third accent sets the alliteration for the line and is known as the "rime-giver." With it agree the first and the second accent, or either of them. The fourth accent must not, however, agree with the rime-giver. Occasionally the first and third accents will alliterate together and the second and fourth, as,

The weary in heart against Wyrd has no help;

or the first and fourth may have the alliteration on one letter, while the second and third have it on another, as,

Then heavier grows the grief of his heart.

These two latter forms are somewhat unusual. The standard line is that given above:

Guthhere there gave me a goodly jewel,


A hundred generations; hoary and stained with red,


With rings of gold and gilded cups.

All consonants alliterate with themselves, though usually sh, sp, and st agree only with the same combination. Vowels alliterate with one another.

In the following passage the alliterating letters are indicated by italics: [transcriber's note: enclosed by underscore characters]

Then a band of bold knights busily gathered, Keen men at the conflict; with courage they stepped forth, Bearing banners, brave-hearted companions, And fared to the fight, forth in right order, Heroes under helmets from the holy city At the dawning of day; dinned forth their shields A loud-voiced alarm. Now listened in joy The lank wolf in the wood and the wan raven, Battle-hungry bird, both knowing well That the gallant people would give them soon A feast on the fated; now flew on their track The deadly devourer, the dewy-winged eagle, Singing his war song, the swart-coated bird, The horned of beak.

Judith, vv. 199-212.

Besides the distinctive meter in which the Old English poems are written, there are several qualities of style for which they are peculiar. No one can read a page of these poems without being struck by the parallel structure that permeates the whole body of Old English verse. Expressions are changed slightly and repeated from a new point of view, sometimes with a good effect but quite as often to the detriment of the lines. These parallelisms have been retained in the translation in so far as it has been possible, but sometimes the lack of inflectional endings in English has prevented their literal translation.

Accompanying these parallelisms, and often a part of them, are the frequent synonyms so characteristic of Old English poetry. These synonymous expressions are known as "kennings." They are not to be thought of as occasional metaphors employed at the whim of the poet; they had, in most cases, already received a conventional meaning. Thus the king was always spoken of as "ring giver," "protector of earls," or "bracelet bestower." The queen was the "weaver of peace"; the sea the "ship road," or "whale path," or "gannet's bath."

Old English poetry is conventionalized to a remarkable degree. Even those aspects of nature that the poets evidently enjoyed are often described in the most conventional of words and phrases. More than half of so fine a poem as The Battle of Brunnanburg is taken bodily from other poems. No description of a battle was complete without a picture of the birds of prey hovering over the field. Heroes were always assembling for banquets and receiving rewards of rings at the hand of the king. These conventional phrases and situations, added to a thorough knowledge of a large number of old Germanic myths, constituted a great part of the equipment of the typical Old English minstrel or scop, such as one finds described in Widsith or Deor's Lament.

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that the poems are convention and nothing more. A sympathetic reading will undoubtedly show many high poetic qualities. Serious and grave these poems always are, but they do express certain of the darker moods with a sincerity and power that is far from commonplace. At times they give vivid glimpses of the spirit of man under the blighting influence of the "dark ages." After reading these poems, we come to understand better the pessimistic mood of the author of The Wanderer when he says,

All on earth is irksome to man.

And we see how the winsome meadows of the land of the Phoenix must by their contrast have delighted the souls of men who were harassed on every side as our ancestors were.

All of these distinguishing features of Old English poetry—the regular alliterative meter, the frequent parallelisms, the "kennings," and the general dark outlook on life will be found illustrated in the poems selected in this book. They cover the entire period of Old English literature and embrace every "school."

The order in which the poems are printed is in no sense original, but is that followed in most standard textbooks. Naturally such artificial divisions as "Pagan" and "Christian" are inexact. The "pagan" poems are only largely pagan; the "Christian" predominatingly Christian. On the whole, the grouping is perhaps accurate enough for practical purposes, and the conformity to existing textbooks makes the volume convenient for those who wish to use it to supplement these books.

In addition to the poems, four short prose passages referred to by most historians of the literature have been included so as to add to the usefulness of the volume.

In the translation of the poems the original meaning and word-order has been kept as nearly as modern English idiom and the exigencies of the meter would allow. Nowhere, we believe, has the possibility of an attractive alliteration caused violence to be done to the sense of the poem.

The best diction to be used in such a translation is difficult to determine. The temptation is ever present to use the modern English descendant of the Anglo-Saxon word, even when it is very archaic in flavor. This tendency has been resisted, for it was desired to reproduce the effect of the original; and, though Old English poetry was conventional, it was probably not archaic: it was not out of date at the time it was written. Since the diction of these poems was usually very simple, it has been the policy of the translators to exclude all sophisticated expressions, and to retain words of Germanic origin or simple words of Latin derivation that do not suggest subtleties foreign to the mind of the Old English poet.

The texts used as a standard for translation are indicated in the introductory notes to the different poems. Whenever a good critical edition of a poem has been available, it has been followed. Variations from the readings used in these texts are usually indicated where they are of any importance. In the punctuation and paragraphing of the poems, the varying usage of the different editors has been disregarded and a uniform practice adopted throughout.

Following these principles, the translators have attempted to reproduce for modern English readers the meaning and movement of the Old English originals. It is their earnest hope that something of the fine spirit that breathes through much of this poetry will be found to remain in the translation.

Cosette Faust. Stith Thompson.

March, 1918.




[Critical edition: R. W. Chambers, Widsith: a Study in Old English Heroic Legend. Cambridge, 1912.

Date: Probably late sixth or early seventh century.

Alliterative translation: Gummere, Oldest English Epic (1910), p. 191.

"Widsith—'Farway'—the ideal wandering minstrel, tells of all the tribes among whom he has sojourned, of all the chieftains he has known. The first English students of the poem regarded it as autobiographical, as the actual record of his wanderings written by a scop; and were inclined to dismiss as interpolations passages mentioning princes whom it was chronologically impossible for a man who had met Ermanric to have known. This view was reduced to an absurdity by Haigh.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"The more we study the growth of German heroic tradition, the more clear does it become that Widsith and Deor reflect that tradition. They are not the actual outpourings of actual poets at the court of Ermanric or the Heodenings. What the poems sung in the court of Ermanric were like we shall never know: but we can safely say that they were unlike Widsith.... The Traveller's tale is a fantasy of some man, keenly interested in the old stories, who depicts an ideal wandering singer, and makes him move hither and thither among the tribes and the heroes whose stories he loves. In the names of its chiefs, in the names of its tribes, and above all in its spirit, Widsith reflects the heroic age of the migrations, an age which had hardly begun in the days of Ermanric."—Chambers, p. 4.

Lines 75, 82-84 are almost certainly interpolated. With these rejected "the poem leaves upon us," says Chambers, "a very definite impression. It is a catalogue of the tribes and heroes of Germany, and many of these heroes, though they may have been half legendary already to the writer of the poem, are historic characters who can be dated with accuracy."]

Note.—In the footnotes, no attempt is made to discuss peoples or persons mentioned in this poem unless they are definitely known and are of importance for an understanding of the meaning of the lines.

Widsith now spoke, his word-hoard unlocked, He who traveled the widest among tribes of men, Farthest among folk: on the floor he received The rarest of gifts. From the race of the Myrgings 5 His ancestors sprang. With Ealhhild the gracious, The fair framer of peace, for the first time He sought the home of the Hraeda king, From the Angles in the East —of Eormanric, Fell and faithless. Freely he spoke forth: 10 "Many a royal ruler of a realm I have known; Every leader should live a life of virtue; One earl after the other shall order his land, He who wishes and works for the weal of his throne! Of these for a while was Hwala the best, 15 But Alexander of all of men Was most famous of lords, and he flourished the most Of all the earls whom on earth I have known. Attila ruled the Huns, Eormanric the Goths, Becca the Banings, the Burgundians Gifica. 20 Caesar ruled the Greeks and Caelic the Finns, Hagena the Holm-Rugians and Heoden the Glommas. Witta ruled the Swabians, Wada the Haelsings, Meaca the Myrgings, Mearchealf the Hundings, Theodoric ruled the Franks, Thyle the Rondings, 25 Breoca the Brondings, Billing the Wernas. Oswine ruled the Eowas and the Ytas Gefwulf; Finn Folcwalding ruled the Frisian people. Sigehere ruled longest the Sea-Dane's kingdom. Hnaef ruled the Hocings, Helm the Wulfings, 30 Wald the Woings, Wod the Thuringians, Saeferth the Secgans, the Swedes Ongentheow. Sceafthere ruled the Ymbrians, Sceafa the Lombards, Hun the Haetweras and Holen the Wrosnas. Hringweald was called the king of the pirates. 35 Offa ruled the Angles, Alewih the Danes: Among these men he was mightiest of all, But he equalled not Offa in earl-like deeds. For Offa by arms while only a child, First among fighters won the fairest of kingdoms; 40 Not any of his age in earlship surpassed him. In a single combat in the siege of battle He fixed the frontier at Fifeldore Against the host of the Myrgings, which was held thenceforth By Angles and Swabians as Offa had marked it. 45 Hrothwulf and Hrothgar held for a long time A neighborly compact, the nephew and uncle, After they had vanquished the Viking races And Ingeld's array was overridden, Hewed down at Heorot the Heathobard troop. 50 So forth I fared in foreign lands All over the earth; of evil and good There I made trial, torn from my people; Far from my folk I have followed my travels. Therefore I sing the song of my wanderings, 55 Declare before the company in the crowded mead-hall, How gifts have been given me by the great men of earth. I was with the Huns and with the Hraeda-Goths, With the Swedes and with the Geats and with the southern Danes, With the Wenlas I was and with the Vikings and with the Waerna folk. 60 With the Gepidae I was and with the Wends and with the Gefligas. With the Angles I was and with the Swaefe and with the Aenenas. With the Saxons I was and with the Secgans and with the Suardones. With the Hronas I was and with the Deanas and with the Heatho-Raemas. With the Thuringians I was and with the Throwendas; 65 And with the Burgundians, where a bracelet was given me. Guthhere there gave me a goodly jewel, As reward for my song: not slothful that king! With the Franks I was and with the Frisians and with the Frumtingas. With the Rugians I was and with the Glommas and with the Roman strangers. 70 Likewise in Italy with Aelfwine I was: He had, as I have heard, a hand the readiest For praiseworthy deeds of prowess and daring; With liberal heart he lavished his treasures, Shining armlets —the son of Eadwine. 75 I was with the Saracens and with the Serings; With the Greeks I was and with the Finns and with far-famed Caesar, Who sat in rule over the cities of revelry— Over the riches and wealth of the realm of the Welsh. With the Scots I was and with the Picts and with the Scride-Finns. 80 With the Lidwicingas I was and with the Leonas and with the Longobards, With the Haethnas and with the Haerethas and with the Hundings; With the Israelites I was and with the Assyrians, And with the Hebrews and with the Egyptians and with the Hindus I was, With the Medes I was and with the Persians and with the Myrging folk, 85 And with the Mofdings I was and against the Myrging band, And with the Amothingians. With the East Thuringians I was And with the Eolas and with the Istians and with the Idumingas. And I was with Eormanric all of the time; There the king of the Goths gave me in honor 90 The choicest of bracelets —the chief of the burghers— On which were six hundred pieces of precious gold, Of shining metal in shillings counted; I gave over this armlet to Eadgils then, To my kind protector when I came to my home, 95 To my beloved prince, the lord of the Myrgings, Who gave me the land that was left by my father; And Ealhhild then also another ring gave me, Queen of the doughty ones, the daughter of Eadwine. Her praise has passed to all parts of the world, 100 Wherever in song I sought to tell Where I knew under heavens the noblest of queens, Golden-adorned, giving forth treasures. Then in company with Scilling, in clear ringing voice 'Fore our beloved lord I uplifted my song; 105 Loudly the harp in harmony sounded; Then many men with minds discerning Spoke of our lay in unsparing praise, That they never had heard a nobler song. Then I roamed through all the realm of the Goths; 110 Unceasing I sought the surest of friends, The crowd of comrades of the court of Eormanric. Hethca sought I and Beadeca and the Harlungs, Emerca sought I and Fridla and East-Gota, Sage and noble, the sire of Unwen. 115 Secca sought I and Becca, Seafola and Theodoric, Heathoric and Sifeca, Hlithe and Incgentheow. Eadwine sought I and Elsa Aegelmund and Hungar And the worthy troop of the With-Myrgings. Wulfhere sought I and Wyrmhere: there war was seldom lacking 120 When the host of the Hraedas with hardened swords Must wage their wars by the woods of Vistula To hold their homes from the hordes of Attila. Raedhere sought I and Rondhere, Rumstan and Gislhere, Withergield and Freotheric, Wudga and Hama: 125 These warriors were not the worst of comrades, Though their names at the last of my list are numbered. Full oft from that host the hissing spear Fiercely flew on the foemen's troopers. There the wretches ruled with royal treasure, 130 Wudga and Hama, over women and men. So I ever have found as I fared among men That in all the land most beloved is he To whom God giveth a goodly kingdom To hold as long as he liveth here. 135 Thus wandering widely through the world there go Minstrels of men through many lands, Express their needs and speak their thanks. Ever south and north some one they meet Skillful in song who scatters gifts, 140 To further his fame before his chieftains, To do deeds of honor, till all shall depart, Light and life together: lasting praise he gains, And has under heaven the highest of honor.

4. Myrging. Nothing is known with any degree of certainty about this tribe. Chambers concludes that they dwelt south of the River Eider, which is the present boundary between Schleswig and Holstein, and that they belonged to the Suevic stock of peoples. See vv. 84, 85, below.

5. Ealhhild. See notes to vv. 8 and 97, below. Much discussion has taken place as to who Ealhhild was. Summing up his lengthy discussion, Chambers says (Widsith, p. 28): "For these reasons it seems best to regard Ealhhild as the murdered wife of Eormanric, the Anglian equivalent of the Gothic Sunilda and the Northern Swanhild."

7. Hraeda king. That is, the Gothic king.

8. Angles. One of the Low Germanic tribes that later settled in Britain, and from whom the name England is derived. Their original home was in the modern Schleswig-Holstein. Eormanric. See v. 88, below, and Deor's Lament, v. 21. He was a king of the Goths. After his death, about 375 A.D., he came to be known as the typical bad king, covetous, fierce, and cruel. According to the Scandinavian form of the story, the king sends his son and a treacherous councillor, Bikki (the Becca of v. 19) to woo and bring to the court the maiden Swanhild. Bikki urges the son to woo her for himself and then betrays him to his father, who has him hanged and causes Swanhild to be trampled to death by horses. Her brothers revenge her death and wound the king. At this juncture the Huns attack him, and during the attack Eormanric dies.

11. The proverb, or "gnomic verse," is very common in Old English poetry.

14. Hwala appears in the West Saxon genealogies as son of Beowi, son of Sceaf (see Beowulf, vv. 4, 18).

15. Alexander [the Great]. The writer speaks of many celebrities who were obviously too early for him to know personally. This passage is usually considered to be an interpolation.

18. Becca. See note to v. 8. The Banings are not definitely identified. The Burgundians were originally an East Germanic tribe. During the second and third centuries they were neighbors of the Goths and lived in the modern Posen. Later they moved west, and finally threatened Gaul, where in the middle of the fifth century they were defeated by the Roman general, Aetius. Shortly afterward they were defeated by the Huns. The remnant settled in Savoy, where they gradually recovered, and by the middle of the sixth century became an important nation. Gifica (or Gibica) was traditionally spoken of as an early king who ruled over the Burgundians while they were still in the east, living as neighbors of the Goths on the Vistula.

20. Caesar, was the name given to the Emperor of the East—the "Greek Emperor." The Finns were at that time located in their present home in Finland.

21, 22. Hagena, Heoden, Wada. These heroes all belong to one myth-cycle, which was told in Europe for many centuries. It is difficult to reconstruct the story as it was known at the time Widsith was written, for it has received many additions at the hands of subsequent writers. The essential parts of the tale seem to be these: Heoden asks his servant, the sweet-singing Heorrenda, for help in wooing Hild, the daughter of Hagena. Heorrenda, enlisting the services of Wada, the renowned sea-monster (or sea-god) goes to woo Hild. By means of Wada's frightful appearance and skill in swordsmanship they attract Hild's attention, and Heorrenda then sings so that the birds are shamed into silence. They then woo Hild and flee with her from her father's court. Hagena pursues, and Heoden, after marrying Hild, engages him in battle. Each evening Hild goes to the battlefield and by magic awakens the warriors who have fallen, and they fight the same battle over day after day without ceasing. Heorrenda, the sweet singer of the Heodenings (i.e., of the court of Heoden) is mentioned in Deor's Lament, vv. 36 and 39. Wada is a widely-known legendary character. He had power over the sea. He was the father of Weland, the Vulcan of Norse myth (see Deor's Lament, and Waldhere, A, v. 2). The Holm-Rugians and the Haelsings were in the fourth century on the Baltic coast of Germany. The Glommas are unknown.

24. Theodoric, son of Chlodowech, king of the Franks, is meant, and not the famous Gothic king. Cf. v. 115, below.

25. Breoca: the same as Breca, prince of the Brondings, the opponent of Beowulf in his famous swimming match (Beowulf, vv. 499-606).

27, 28. Finn Folcwalding was the traditional hero of the Frisians. For fragments of the stories connected with him, see Beowulf, vv. 1068-1159, and the fragmentary poem, The Fight at Finnsburg (p. 34, below). Hnaef, son of Hoc (hence ruler of the Hocings) also figures in the Finn story. Hnaef's sister marries Finn. For a summary of the story see the Introduction to The Fight at Finnsburg.

30. Thuringians. These people dwelt near the mouths of the Rhine and the Maas.

31. Ongentheow, the king of Sweden, is frequently mentioned in Beowulf (e.g., vv. 2476 and 2783). The Secgans are unknown, but they are mentioned in v. 62, below, and in The Fight at Finnsburg, v. 26.

32. The ancient home of the Longobards (or Lombards) was between the Baltic and the Elbe.

35. Offa: a legendary king of the Angles, while they still lived on the continent toward the end of the fourth century. Legends of him are found in Denmark and in England. Chambers concludes that the Danish form is perhaps very near that known to the author of Widsith. Offa, the son of the king, though a giant in stature, is dumb from his youth, and when the German prince from the south challenges the aged king to send a champion to defend his realm in single combat, Offa's speech is restored and he goes to the combat. The fight was held at Fifeldore, the River Eider, which was along the frontier between the Germans and the Danes. Here Offa fought against two champions and defeated them both, thus establishing the frontier for many years. Note that the author of Widsith, who is of the Myrging race, is here celebrating the defeat of his own people.

44. Swabians probably refers to the Myrgings, who were of the stock of the Suevi.

45. Hrothwulf and Hrothgar. See Beowulf, vv. 1017 and 1181 ff. Hrothgar is Hrothwulf's uncle, and they live on friendly terms at Heorot (Hrothgar's hall). Later it seems that Hrothwulf fails to perform his duties as the guardian of Hrothgar's son, thus bringing to an end his years of friendliness to Hrothgar and his sons. The fight referred to is against Ingeld, Hrothgar's son-in-law who invaded the Danish kingdom. (See Beowulf, vv. 84, 2024 ff.)

57. See v. 18, above.

58. The Geats were probably settled in southern Sweden. They were the tribe to which Beowulf belonged.

60. The Gepidae were closely related to the Goths and were originally located near them at the mouth of the Vistula River. The Wends were a Slavonic tribe who finally pressed up into the lands vacated in the great migrations by the Germans between the Elbe and the Vistula.

61. Angles. See vv. 8 and 44, above. Swaefe. See line 44, above.

62. The Saxons, who with the Angles and Jutes settled Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries, lived originally near the mouth of the Elbe.

63. The Heatho-Raemas dwelt near the modern Christiania in Norway. See Beowulf, line 518, in which Breca in the swimming match reaches their land.

65. Burgundians. See v. 19.

66. Guthhere was a ruler of the Burgundians (v. 19). He was probably at Worms when he gave the jewel to Widsith. Guthhere, because of his great battle with Attila and his tragic defeat, became a great legendary hero. (See Waldhere, B, v. 14.)

67. The Franks and the Frisians are spoken of together in Beowulf (vv. 1207, 1210, 2917), where they together repulse an attack made by Hygelac. The Frisians probably dwelt west of the Zuider Zee.

68. The Rugians and the Glommas. See note to v. 21, above.

70. Aelfwine: (otherwise known as Alboin), the Lombard conqueror of Italy. He was the son of Audoin (Eadwine).

75-87. Most scholars agree that these lines are interpolated, since they do not fit in with the rest of the poem.

75. Serings: possibly Syrians.

78. Welsh: a term applied to the Romans by the Old English writers.

79. The Scride-Finns were settled in northern Norway—not in Finland, where the main body of Finns were found. They are perhaps to be identified with the modern Lapps.

80. Lidwicingas: the inhabitants of Armorica. Longobards. See v. 32.

81. The Hundings are also mentioned in line 23.

84, 85. Myrging. See line 4.

86. East Thuringians. Probably those Thuringians dwelling in the sixth century east of the Elbe.

87. Istians. Probably the Esthonians mentioned in the Voyage of Wulfstan. (See p. 194, line 151, below.) The Idumingas were neighbors of the Istians. Both were probably Lettish or Lithuanian tribes.

88. Eormanric. See note to v. 8, above.

93. Eadgils was king of the Myrgings.

97. Ealhhild. See note to v. 5, above. She was (v. 98) daughter of Eadwine, King of the Lombards (v. 74). The meaning here is not absolutely clear, but Chambers makes a good case for considering her the wife of Eormanric. He thinks that she followed her husband's gift to Widsith by a gift of another ring, in return for which Widsith sings her praises.

112, 113. Emerca and Fridla, the Harlungs, were murdered by their uncle, Eormanric. East-Gota, or Ostrogotha, the king of the united Goths in the middle of the third century, was a direct ancestor of Eormanric.

115. Becca. See note to v. 8. Seafola and Theodoric: probably Theodoric of Verona and his retainer, Sabene of Ravenna. On the other hand, the references may be to Theoderic the Frank. (See v. 24.)

116. Sifeca: probably the evil councillor who brought about the murder by Eormanric of his nephews, the Harlungs. (See vv. 112, 113, note.)

117-119. These names are all very obscure.

120. Hraedas: the Goths.

121. The struggle between the Goths and the Huns did not actually occur in the Vistula wood, but after the Goths had left the Vistula.

124, 130. Wudga and Hama. The typical outlaws of German tradition. Hama appears in Beowulf (v. 1198) as a fugitive who has stolen the Brising necklace and fled from Eormanric. Wudga, the Widia of Waldhere (B, vv. 4, 9) came finally to be known for his treachery. He was connected with the court of Theodoric and received gifts from him, but he is later represented as having betrayed the king. The traditions about both of these men are badly confused.

135-143. One of the passages that give us a definite impression of the scop, or minstrel, and his life. It serves very well for the conclusion of a poem descriptive of the life of a minstrel.


[Critical text and translation: Dickins, Runic and Heroic Poems, Cambridge University Press, 1915, p. 70.

Alliterative translation: Gummere, Oldest English Epic (1910), p. 186.

The metrical arrangement of this poem into strophes with a constant refrain is very unusual in the poetry of the Anglo-Saxons, though it is common among their Scandinavian kinsmen. This fact has led some scholars to believe that we have here a translation from the Old Norse. Professor Gummere, however, makes a good case against this assumption.

The first three strophes refer to the widely known story of Weland, or Wayland, the Vulcan of Norse myth. The crafty king, Nithhad, captures Weland, fetters him (according to some accounts, hamstrings him), and robs him of the magic ring that gives him power to fly. Beadohild, Nithhad's daughter, accompanied by her brothers, goes to Weland and has him mend rings for her. In this way he recovers his own ring and his power to fly. Before leaving he kills the sons of Nithhad, and, stupefying Beadohild with liquor, puts her to shame.]

To Weland came woes and wearisome trial, And cares oppressed the constant earl; His lifelong companions were pain and sorrow, And winter-cold weeping: his ways were oft hard, 5 After Nithhad had struck the strong man low, Cut the supple sinew-bands of the sorrowful earl. That has passed over: so this may depart!

Beadohild bore her brothers' death Less sorely in soul than herself and her plight 10 When she clearly discovered her cursed condition, That unwed she should bear a babe to the world. She never could think of the thing that must happen. That has passed over: so this may depart!

Much have we learned of Maethhild's life: 15 How the courtship of Geat was crowned with grief, How love and its sorrows allowed him no sleep. That has passed over: so this may depart!

Theodoric held for thirty winters The town of the Maerings: that was told unto many. 20 That has passed over: so this may depart!

We all have heard of Eormanric Of the wolfish heart: a wide realm he had Of the Gothic kingdom. Grim was the king. Many men sat and bemoaned their sorrows, 25 Woefully watching and wishing always That the cruel king might be conquered at last. That has passed over: so this may depart!

Sad in his soul he sitteth joyless, Mournful in mood. He many times thinks 30 That no end will e'er come to the cares he endures. Then must he think how throughout the world The gracious God often gives his help And manifold honors to many an earl And sends wide his fame; but to some he gives woes. 35 Of myself and my sorrows I may say in truth That I was happy once as the Heodenings' scop, Dear to my lord. Deor was my name. Many winters I found a worthy following, Held my lord's heart, till Heorrenda came, 40 The skillful singer, and received the land-right That the proud helm of earls had once promised to me! That has passed over: so this may depart!

1. Weland, or Wayland; the blacksmith of the Norse gods. He is represented as being the son of Wada (see Widsith, v. 22, note).

8. Beadohild was violated by Weland, and this stanza refers to the approaching birth of her son Widia (or Wudga). (See Widsith, vv. 124, 130, and Waldhere, B, vv. 4-10.)

14. The exact meaning of the third strophe as here translated is not clear. To make it refer to the story of Nithhad and Weland, it is necessary to make certain changes suggested by Professor Tupper (Modern Philology, October, 1911; Anglia, xxxvii, 118). Thus amended, this stanza would read: "Of the violation of (Beadu)hild many of us have heard. The affections of the Geat (i.e., Nithhad) were boundless, so that sorrowing love deprived him of all sleep." This grief of Nithhad would be that caused by the killing of his sons and the shame brought on his daughter. Thus the first three stanzas of the poem would refer to (1) Weland's torture, (2) Beadohild's shame, and (3) Nithhad's grief.

18. Strophe four refers to Theodoric the Goth (see Widsith, v. 115, and Waldhere, B, v. 4, note). He was banished to Attila's court for thirty years.

19. Maerings: a name applied to the Ostrogoths.

21. Eormanric was king of the Goths and uncle to Theodoric. He died about 375 A.D. He put his only son to death, had his wife torn to pieces, and ruined the happiness of many people. For an account of his crimes see the notes to Widsith, v. 8.

36. See, for the connection of the Heodenings and the sweet-singing Heorrenda, the note to Widsith, v. 21.


[Critical text and translation: Dickins, Runic and Heroic Poems, p. 56.

Date: Probably eighth century.

Information as to the story is found in a number of continental sources. Its best known treatment is in a Latin poem, Waltharius, by Ekkehard of St. Gall, dating from the first half of the tenth century. Ekkehard's story is thus summarized in the Cambridge History of English Literature: "Alphere, king of Aquitaine, had a son named Waltharius, and Heriricus, king of Burgundy, an only daughter named Hiltgund, who was betrothed to Waltharius. While they were yet children, however, Attila, king of the Huns, invaded Gaul, and the kings seeing no hope in resistance, gave up their children to him as hostages, together with much treasure. Under like compulsion treasure was obtained also from Gibicho, king of the Franks, who sent as hostage a youth of noble birth named Hagano. In Attila's service, Waltharius and Hagano won great renown as warriors, but the latter eventually made his escape. When Waltharius grew up, he became Attila's chief general; yet he remembered his old engagement with Hiltgund. On his return from a victorious campaign he made a great feast for the king and his court, and when all were sunk in their drunken sleep, he and Hiltgund fled laden with much gold. On their way home they had to cross the Rhine near Worms. There the king of the Franks, Guntharius, the son of Gibicho, heard from the ferryman of the gold they were carrying and determined to secure it. Accompanied by Hagano and eleven other picked warriors, he overtook them as they rested in a cave in the Vosges. Waltharius offered him a large share of the gold in order to obtain peace; but the king demanded the whole, together with Hiltgund and the horses. Stimulated by the promise of great rewards, the eleven warriors now attacked Waltharius one after another, but he slew them all. Hagano had tried to dissuade Guntharius from the attack; but now, since his nephew was among the slain, he formed a plan with the king for surprising Waltharius. On the following day they both fell upon him after he had quitted his stronghold, and, in the struggle that ensued, all three were maimed. Waltharius, however, was able to proceed on his way with Hiltgund, and the story ends happily with their marriage."

Both our fragments, which are found on two leaves in the Royal Library at Copenhagen, refer to a time immediately before the final encounter. The first is spoken by the lady; the second by the man. We cannot tell how long this poem may have been. What we have may be leaves from a long epic, or a short poem, or an episode in a long epic.]


. . . . . . . . . . she eagerly heartened him: "Lo, the work of Weland shall not weaken or fail For the man who the mighty Mimming can wield, The frightful brand. Oft in battle have fallen 5 Sword-wounded warriors one after the other. 6 Vanguard of Attila, thy valor must ever Endure the conflict! The day is now come, 9 When fate shall award you one or the other: 10 To lose your life or have lasting glory, Through all the ages, O Aelfhere's son! No fault do I find, my faithful lover, Saying I have seen thee at sword-play weaken, Yield like a coward to a conqueror's arms, 15 Flee from the field of fight and escape, Protect thy body, though bands of the foemen Were smiting thy burnies with broad-edged swords; But unfalt'ring still farther the fight thou pursuedst Over the line of battle; hence, my lord, I am burdened 20 With fear that too fiercely to the fight thou shalt rush To the place of encountering thy opponent in conflict, To wage on him war. Be worthy of thyself In glorious deeds while thy God protects thee! Have no fear as to sword for the fine-gemmed weapon 25 Has been given thee to aid us: on Guthhere with it Thou shalt pay back the wrong of unrighteously seeking To stir up the struggle and strife of battle; He rejected that sword and the jewelled treasure, The lustrous gems; now, leaving them all, 30 He shall flee from this field to find his lord, His ancient land, or lie here forever Asleep, if he . . . . . . . ."

1. The speaker is Hildegyth (the Old English form for Hiltgund).

2. Weland: the blacksmith of Teutonic myth. See Deor's Lament, introductory note, and notes to vv. 1 and 8.

3. Mimming was the most famous of the swords made by Weland.

28. Waldhere had offered Guthhere a large share of the treasure as an inducement for him to desist from the attack, and Guthhere had refused it.


" . . . . . . . . a better sword Except that other, which also I have Closely encased in its cover of jewels. I know that Theodoric thought that to Widia 5 Himself he would send it, and the sword he would join With large measure of jewels and many other brands, Worked all with gold. This reward he would send Because, when a captive, the kinsman of Nithhad, Weland's son, Widia, from his woes had released him— 10 Thus in haste he escaped from the hands of the giants." Waldhere spoke, the warrior brave; He held in his hand his helper in battle, He grasped his weapon, shouting words of defiance: "Indeed, thou hadst faith, O friend of the Burgundians, 15 That the hand of Hagena had held me in battle, Defeated me on foot. Fetch now, if thou darest, From me weary with war my worthy gray corselet! It lies on my shoulder as 'twas left me by Aelfhere, Goodly and gorgeous and gold-bedecked, 20 The most honorable of all for an atheling to hold When he goes into battle to guard his life, To fight with his foes: fail me it will never When a stranger band shall strive to encounter me, Besiege me with swords, as thou soughtest to do. 25 He alone will vouchsafe the victory who always Is eager and ready to aid every right: He who hopes for the help of the holy Lord, For the grace of God, shall gain it surely, If his earlier work has earned the reward. 30 Well may the brave warriors then their wealth enjoy, Take pride in their property! That is . . . ."

1. The opening of the second fragment finds the two champions ready for the final struggle. Guthhere is finishing his boast, in which he praises his equipment.

3. The meaning of this passage is obscure, but the translation here given seems to be the most reasonable conjecture. He probably refers to a sword that he has at hand in a jewelled case ready for use.

4. Stopping thus to give a history of the weapon calls to mind many similar passages in the Homeric poems. The particular story in mind here is the escape of Theodoric from the giants. He loses his way and falls into the hands of one of the twelve giants who guard Duke Nitger. He gains the favor of Nitger's sister, and through her lets his retainers, Hildebrand, Witige, and Heime know of his plight. They defeat the giants and release him. Witige and Heime are the Middle High German forms for the old English Widia (see Deor's Lament, v. 8, note), or Wudga and Hama (see Widsith, vv. 124, 130, note).

14. Friend of the Burgundians: a usual old English expression for "king." Guthhere was king of the Burgundians in the middle of the fifth century (see Widsith, vv. 19, 66, notes).

15. Hagena is now the only one of Guthhere's comrades that has not been killed by Waldhere. Cf. Widsith, v. 21.


[Edition used: Chambers, Beowulf, p. 158. See also Dickins, Runic and Heroic Poems, p. 64.

Alliterative translation, Gummere, Oldest English Epic, p. 160.

The manuscript is now lost. We have only an inaccurate version printed by Hickes at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Many difficulties are therefore found in the text. For a good discussion of the text, see an article by Mackie in The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, xvi, 250.

This fragment belongs to the epic story of Finn which is alluded to at some length in Beowulf (vv. 1068-1159). The saga can be reconstructed in its broad outlines, though it is impossible to be sure of details. One of the most puzzling of these details is the position in which the "Fight" occurs. In the story are two fights, either one of which may be the one described in the fragment. The weight of opinion seems to favor the first conflict, that in which Hnaef is killed. As summarized by Moeller, the Finn story is briefly as follows:

"Finn, king of the Frisians, had carried off Hildeburh, daughter of Hoc (Beowulf, v. 1076), probably with her consent. Her father Hoc seems to have pursued the fugitives, and to have been slain in the fight which ensued on his overtaking them. After the lapse of some twenty years, Hoc's sons Hnaef and Hengest, were old enough to undertake the duty of avenging their father's death. They make an inroad into Finn's country and a battle takes place in which many warriors, among them Hnaef and a son of Finn (1074, 1079, 1115), are killed. Peace is therefore solemnly concluded, and the slain warriors are burnt (1068-1124).

"As the year is too far advanced for Hengest to return home (1130 ff.), he and those of his men who survive remain for the winter in the Frisian country with Finn. But Hengest's thoughts dwell constantly on the death of his brother Hnaef, and he would gladly welcome any excuse to break the peace which had been sworn by both parties. His ill concealed desire for revenge is noticed by the Frisians, who anticipate it by themselves taking the initiative and attacking Hengest and his men whilst they are sleeping in the hall. This is the night attack described in the "Fight." It would seem that after a brave and desperate resistance Hengest himself falls in this fight at the hands of Hunlafing (1143), but two of his retainers, Guthlaf and Oslaf, succeed in cutting their way through their enemies and in escaping to their own land. They return with fresh troops, attack and slay Finn, and carry his queen, Hildeburh, off with them (1125-1159)."—Wyatt, Beowulf, (1901), p. 145.

Professor Gummere finds in the fragment an example bearing out his theory of the development of the epic. "The qualities which difference it from Beowulf," he says, "are mainly negative; it lacks sentiment, moralizing, the leisure of the writer; it did not attempt probably to cover more than a single event; and one will not err in finding it a fair type of the epic songs which roving singers were wont to sing before lord and liegeman in hall and which were used with more or less fidelity by makers of complete epic poems."]

". . . . . . . . Are the gables not burning?" Boldly replied then the battle-young king: "The day is not dawning; no dragon is flying, And the high gable-horns of the hall are not burning, 5 But the brave men are bearing the battle line forward, While bloodthirsty sing the birds of slaughter. Now clangs the gray corselet, clashes the war-wood, Shield answers shaft. Now shineth the moon, Through its cover of clouds. Now cruel days press us 10 That will drive this folk to deadly fight. But wake at once, my warriors bold, Stand now to your armor and strive for honor; Fight at the front unafraid and undaunted." Then arose from their rest, ready and valiant, 15 Gold-bedecked soldiers, and girded their swords. The noble knights went now to the door And seized their swords, Sigeferth and Eaha, And to the other door Ordlaf and Guthlaf, And Hengest who followed to help the defense. 20 Now Guthere restrained Garulf from strife, Lest fearless at the first of the fight he rush To the door and daringly endanger his life, Since now it was stormed by so stalwart a hero. But unchecked by these words a challenge he shouted, 25 Boldly demanding what man held the door. "I am Sigferth," he said, "the Secgan's prince; Wide have I wandered; many woes have I known And bitter battles. Be it bad or good Thou shalt surely receive what thou seekest from me." 30 At the wall by the door rose the din of battle; In the hands of heroes the hollow bucklers Shattered the shields. Shook then the hall floor Till there fell in the fight the faithful Garulf, Most daring and doughty of the dwellers on earth, 35 The son of Guthlaf; and scores fell with him. O'er the corpses hovered the hungry raven, Swarthy and sallow-brown. A sword-gleam blazed As though all Finnsburg in flames were burning. Never heard I of heroes more hardy in war, 40 Of sixty who strove more strongly or bravely, Of swains who repaid their sweet mead better Than his loyal liegemen to their loved Hnaef. Five days they fought, but there fell not a one Of the daring band, though the doors they held always. 45 Now went from the warfare a wounded chief. He said that his burnie was broken asunder, His precious war-gear, and pierced was his helmet. Then questioned their chief and inquired of him How the warriors recovered from the wounds they received, 50 Or which of the youths . . . . . . .

1. The fragment begins in the middle of a word.

2. The "battle-young king" is probably the Hengest of v. 19. Possibly he is to be identified with Hengest, the conqueror of Kent.

5, 6. In the original these lines seem to be incomplete. The translation attempts to keep the intended meaning.

14, 15. In the original these appear as a single greatly expanded line, which was probably at one time two lines.

17. Sigeferth (see also line 26), prince of the Secgans is probably identical with Saeferth who ruled the Secgans in Widsith, v. 31.

18. Ordlaf and Guthlaf appear in the account in Beowulf (vv. 1148, ff.) as Oslaf and Guthlaf. They are the avengers of Hnaef.

20. From the construction it is impossible to tell who is the speaker and who is being restrained. But from line 33 it is seen to be Garulf who neglects the advice and is killed. Garulf and Guthere are, of course, of the attacking band.

26. Sigferth, one of the defenders. See v. 17, above.

28, 29. These lines are obscure. Probably they mean that Garulf may have as good as he sends in the way of a fight.

35. Guthlaf, the father of Garulf (the assailant) was probably not the Guthalf of line 18, who was a defender. If we have here a conflict between father and son, very little is made of it.

45. It is impossible to tell who the wounded warrior was or which chief is referred to in line 48.



[Edition used: Kluge, Angelsaechsisches Lesebuch.

Critical edition and discussion of most of the charms: Felix Grendon, Journal of American Folk-lore, xxii, 105 ff. See that article for bibliography.

Grendon divides the charms into five classes:

1. Exorcisms of diseases and disease spirits. 2. Herbal charms. 3. Charms for transferring disease. 4. Amulet charms. 5. Charm remedies.

These charms contain some of the most interesting relics of the old heathen religion of the Anglo-Saxons incongruously mingled with Christian practices. They were probably written down at so late a time that the churchmen felt they could no longer do harm.]

I. For Bewitched Land

Here is the remedy by which thou mayst improve thy fields if they will not produce well or if any evil thing is done to them by means of sorcery or witchcraft:

5 Take at night, before daybreak, four pieces of turf from the four corners of the land and mark the places where they have stood. Take then oil and honey and yeast and the milk of every kind of cattle that is on that land and a piece of every kind of tree that is grown 10 on that land, except hard wood, and a piece of every kind of herb known by name, except burdock alone. Then put holy water on these and dip it thrice in the base of the turfs and say these words: Crescite, grow, et multiplicamini, and multiply, et replete, and fill, terram, 15 this earth, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti sint benedicti; and Pater Noster as often as anything else.

Then carry the turfs to the church and have the priest sing four masses over them and have the green sides 20 turned toward the altar. Then bring them back before sunset to the place where they were at first. Now make four crosses of aspen and write on the end of each Matheus and Marcus and Lucas and Johannes. Lay the crosses on the bottom of each hole and then say: 25 Crux Matheus, crux Marcus, crux Lucas, crux Sanctus Johannes. Then take the sods and lay them on top and say nine times the word Crescite, and the Pater Noster as often. Turn then to the east and bow humbly nine times and say these words:

30 Eastward I stand, for honors I pray; I pray to the God of glory; I pray to the gracious Lord; I pray to the high and holy Heavenly Father; I pray to the earth and all of the heavens, And to the true and virtuous virgin Saint Mary, 35 And to the high hall of Heaven and its power, That with God's blessing I may unbind this spell With my open teeth, and through trusty thought May awaken the growth for our worldly advantage, May fill these fields by fast belief, 40 May improve this planting, for the prophet saith That he hath honors on earth whose alms are free, Who wisely gives, by the will of God.

Then turn three times following the course of the sun, stretch thyself prostrate, and chant the litanies. 45 Then say Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus through to the end. Then chant Benedicte with outstretched arms, and the Magnificat and Pater Noster three times and commend thy prayer to the praise and glory of Christ and Saint Mary and the Holy Rood, and to the honor 50 of him who owns the land and to all those that are subject to him. When all this is done, get some unknown seed from beggars, and give them twice as much as thou takest from them. Then gather all thy plowing gear together and bore a hole in the beam and put in 55 it incense and fennel and consecrated soap and consecrated salt. Take the seed and put it on the body of the plow, and then say:

Erce, Erce, Erce, of earth the mother, May he graciously grant thee, God Eternal, 60 To have fertile fields and fruitful harvests, Growing in profit and gaining in power; A host of products and harvests in plenty, Bright with the broad barley harvest; And heavy with the white harvest of wheat, 65 And all the harvest of the earth. May the Almighty Lord grant And all his saints who are seated in heaven, That against all of the enemies this earth may be guarded, Protected and made proof against the powers of evil, Against sorceries and spells dispersed through the land. 70 Now I pray to the Power who planned the creation That no woman of witchcraft, no worker of magic, May change or unspell the charm I have spoken.

Then drive forth the plow and turn the first furrow and say:

75 Hail to thee, Earth, of all men the mother, Be goodly thy growth in God's embrace, Filled with food as a favor to men.

Then take meal of every kind and bake a loaf as broad as it will lie between the two hands, kneading 80 it with milk and with holy water, and lay it under the first furrow. Say then:

Full be the field with food for mankind, Blossoming brightly. Blessed by thou By the holy name of Heaven's Creator, 85 And the maker of Earth, which men inhabit. May God who created the ground grant us growing gifts, That each kernel of corn may come to use.

Say then three times, Crescite in nomine patris, sint benedicti. Amen and Pater Noster three times.

30. Irregularities in the meter in the translations are imitations of similar irregularities in the original.

58. Erce: probably the name of an old Teutonic deity, the Mother of Earth. This reference is all we have to preserve the name.

75. The conception of a goddess as Mother of Earth and of Earth as Mother of Men is entirely pagan. This charm is a peculiar complex of Christian and pagan ideas.

II. Against a Sudden Stitch

Against a sudden stitch take feverfew, and the red nettle that grows through the house, and plantain. Boil in butter.

Loud were they, lo loud, as over the lea they rode; 5 Resolute they were when they rode over the land. Protect thyself that thy trouble become cured and healed. Out, little stick, if it still is I stood under the linden, under the light shield, Where the mighty women their magic prepared, 10 And they sent their spears spinning and whistling. But I will send them a spear in return, Unerringly aim an arrow against them. Out, little stick, if it still is within! There sat a smith and a small knife forged 15 . . . . . . . sharply with a stroke of iron. Out little stick if it still is within! Six smiths sat and worked their war-spears. Out, spear! be not in, spear! If it still is there, the stick of iron, 20 The work of the witches, away it shall melt. If thou wert shot in the skin, or sore wounded in the flesh, If in the blood thou wert shot, or in the bone thou wert shot, If in the joint thou wert shot, there will be no jeopardy to your life. If some deity shot it, or some devil shot it, 25 Or if some witch has shot it, now I am willing to help thee. This is a remedy for a deity's shot; this is a remedy for a devil's shot; This is a remedy for a witch's shot. I am willing to help thee. Flee there into the forests . . . . . . . Be thou wholly healed. Thy help be from God.

30 Then take the knife and put it into the liquid.

1. The sudden stitch in the side (or rheumatic pain) is here thought of as coming from the arrows shot by the "mighty women"—the witches.

21-28. These irregular lines are imitated from the original.


[Critical editions: Wyatt, Tupper, and Trautmann. Wyatt (Boston, 1912, Belles Lettres edition) used as a basis for these translations. His numbering is always one lower than the other editions, since he rejects one riddle.

Date: Probably eighth century for most of them.

For translations of other riddles than those here given see Brooke, English Literature from the Beginning to the Norman Conquest, Pancoast and Spaeth, Early English Poems, and Cook and Tinker, Selections from Old English Poetry.

There is no proof as to the authorship. There were probably one hundred of them in the original collection though only about ninety are left. Many of them are translations from the Latin. Some are true folk-riddles and some are learned.

In the riddles we find particulars of Anglo-Saxon life that we cannot find elsewhere. The Cambridge History of English Literature sums their effect up in the following sentence: "Furthermore, the author or authors of the Old English riddles borrow themes from native folk-songs and saga; in their hands inanimate objects become endowed with life and personality; the powers of nature become objects of worship such as they were in olden times; they describe the scenery of their own country, the fen, the river, and the sea, the horror of the untrodden forest, sun and moon engaged in perpetual pursuit of each other, the nightingale and the swan, the plow guided by the 'gray-haired enemy of the wood,' the bull breaking up clods left unturned by the plow, the falcon, the arm-companion of aethelings—scenes, events, characters familiar in the England of that day."]

I. A Storm

What man is so clever, so crafty of mind, As to say for a truth who sends me a-traveling? When I rise in my wrath, raging at times, Savage is my sound. Sometimes I travel, 5 Go forth among the folk, set fire to their homes And ravage and rob them; then rolls the smoke Gray over the gables; great is the noise, The death-struggle of the stricken. Then I stir up the woods And the fruitful forests; I fell the trees, 10 I, roofed over with rain, on my reckless journey, Wandering widely at the will of heaven. I bear on my back the bodily raiment, The fortunes of folk, their flesh and their spirits, Together to sea. Say who may cover me, 15 Or what I am called, who carry this burden?

1. Some scholars feel that the first three riddles, all of which describe storms, are in reality one, with three divisions. There is little to indicate whether the scribe thought of them as separate or not.

II. A Storm

At times I travel in tracks undreamed of, In vasty wave-depths to visit the earth, The floor of the ocean. Fierce is the sea . . . . . . . the foam rolls high; 5 The whale-pool roars and rages loudly; The streams beat the shores, and they sling at times Great stones and sand on the steep cliffs, With weeds and waves, while wildly striving Under the burden of billows on the bottom of ocean 10 The sea-ground I shake. My shield of waters I leave not ere he lets me who leads me always In all my travels. Tell me, wise man, Who was it that drew me from the depth of the ocean When the streams again became still and quiet, 15 Who before had forced me in fury to rage?

III. A Storm

At times I am fast confined by my Master, Who sendeth forth under the fertile plain My broad bosom, but bridles me in. He drives in the dark a dangerous power 5 To a narrow cave, where crushing my back Sits the weight of the world. No way of escape Can I find from the torment; so I tumble about The homes of heroes. The halls with their gables, The tribe-dwellings tremble; the trusty walls shake, 10 Steep over the head. Still seems the air Over all the country and calm the waters, Till I press in my fury from my prison below, Obeying His bidding who bound me fast In fetters at first when he fashioned the world, 15 In bonds and in chains, with no chance of escape From his power who points out the paths I must follow. Downward at times I drive the waves, Stir up the streams; to the strand I press The flint-gray flood: the foamy wave 20 Lashes the wall. A lurid mountain Rises on the deep; dark in its trail Stirred up with the sea a second one comes, And close to the coast it clashes and strikes On the lofty hills. Loud soundeth the boat, 25 The shouting of shipmen. Unshaken abide The stone cliffs steep through the strife of the waters, The dashing of waves, when the deadly tumult Crowds to the coast. Of cruel strife The sailors are certain if the sea drive their craft 30 With its terrified guests on the grim rolling tide; They are sure that the ship will be shorn of its power, Be deprived of its rule, and will ride foam-covered On the ridge of the waves. Then ariseth a panic, Fear among folk of the force that commands me, 35 Strong on my storm-track. Who shall still that power? At times I drive through the dark wave-vessels That ride on my back, and wrench them asunder And lash them with sea-streams; or I let them again Glide back together. It is the greatest of noises, 40 Of clamoring crowds, of crashes the loudest, When clouds as they strive in their courses shall strike Edge against edge; inky of hue In flight o'er the folk bright fire they sweat, A stream of flame; destruction they carry 45 Dark over men with a mighty din. Fighting they fare. They let fall from their bosom A deafening rain of rattling liquid, Of storm from their bellies. In battle they strive, The awful army; anguish arises, 50 Terror of mind to the tribes of men, Distress in the strongholds, when the stalking goblins, The pale ghosts shoot with their sharp weapons. The fool alone fears not their fatal spears; But he perishes too if the true God send 55 Straight from above in streams of rain, Whizzing and whistling the whirlwind's arrows, The flying death. Few shall survive Whom that violent guest in his grimness shall visit. I always stir up that strife and commotion; 60 Then I bear my course to the battle of clouds, Powerfully strive and press through the tumult, Over the bosom of the billows; bursteth loudly The gathering of elements. Then again I descend In my helmet of air and hover near the land, 65 And lift on my back the load I must bear, Minding the mandates of the mighty Lord. So I, a tried servant, sometimes contend: Now under the earth; now from over the waves I drive to the depths; now dropping from heaven, 70 I stir up the streams, or strive to the skies, Where I war with the welkin. Wide do I travel, Swift and noisily. Say now my name, Or who raises me up when rest is denied me, Or who stays my course when stillness comes to me?

V. A Shield

A lonely warrior, I am wounded with iron, Scarred with sword-points, sated with battle-play, Weary of weapons. I have witnessed much fighting, Much stubborn strife. From the strokes of war 5 I have no hope for help or release Ere I pass from the world with the proud warrior band. With brands and billies they beat upon me; The hard edges hack me; the handwork of smiths In crowds I encounter; with courage I endure 10 Ever bitterer battles. No balm may I find, And no doctor to heal me in the whole field of battle, To bind me with ointments and bring me to health, But my grievous gashes grow ever sorer Through death-dealing strokes by day and night.

VII. A Swan

My robe is noiseless when I roam the earth, Or stay in my home, or stir up the water. At times I am lifted o'er the lodgings of men By the aid of my trappings and the air above. 5 The strength of the clouds then carries me far, Bears me on its bosom. My beautiful ornament, My raiment rustles and raises a song, Sings without tiring. I touch not the earth But wander a stranger over stream and wood.

VIII. A Nightingale

With my mouth I am master of many a language; Cunningly I carol; I discourse full oft In melodious lays; loud do I call, Ever mindful of melody, undiminished in voice. 5 An old evening-scop, to earls I bring Solace in cities; when, skillful in music, My voice I raise, restful at home They sit in silence. Say what is my name, That call so clearly and cleverly imitate 10 The song of the scop, and sing unto men Words full welcome with my wonderful voice.

XIV. A Horn

I was once an armed warrior. Now the worthy youth Gorgeously gears me with gold and silver, Curiously twisted. At times men kiss me. Sometimes I sound and summon to battle 5 The stalwart company. A steed now carries me Across the border. The courser of the sea Now bears me o'er the billows, bright in my trappings. Now a comely maiden covered with jewels Fills my bosom with beer. On the board now I lie 10 Lidless and lonely and lacking my trappings. Now fair in my fretwork at the feast I hang In my place on the wall while warriors drink. Now brightened for battle, on the back of a steed A war-chief shall bear me. Then the wind I shall breathe, 15 Shall swell with sound from someone's bosom. At times with my voice I invite the heroes, The warriors to wine; or I watch for my master, And sound an alarm and save his goods, Put the robber to flight. Now find out my name.

8. Cosijn's reading has been adopted for the first half line.

XV. A Badger

My throat is like snow, and my sides and my head Are a swarthy brown; I am swift in flight. Battle-weapons I bear; on my back stand hairs, And also on my cheeks. O'er my eyes on high 5 Two ears tower; with my toes I step On the green grass. Grief comes upon me If the slaughter-grim hunter shall see me in hiding, Shall find me alone where I fashion my dwelling, Bold with my brood. I abide in this place 10 With my strong young children till a stranger shall come And bring dread to my door. Death then is certain. Hence, trembling I carry my terrified children Far from their home and flee unto safety. If he crowds me close as he comes behind, 15 I bare my breast. In my burrow I dare not Meet my furious foe (it were foolish to do so), But, wildly rushing, I work a road Through the high hill with my hands and feet. I fail not in defending my family's lives; 20 If I lead the little ones below to safety, Through a secret hole inside the hill, My beloved brood, no longer need I Fear the offense of the fierce-battling dogs. 25 Whenever the hostile one hunts on my trail, Follows me close, he will fail not of conflict, Of a warm encounter, when he comes on my war-path, If I reach, in my rage, through the roof of my hill And deal my deadly darts of battle 30 On the foe I have feared and fled from long.

29. The "deadly darts of battle" have caused "porcupine" to be proposed as a solution to this riddle, though when all the details are considered "badger" seems on the whole the more reasonable.


My name is spelled AGOB with the order reversed. I am marvelously fashioned and made for fighting. When I am bent and my bosom sends forth Its poisoned stings, I straightway prepare 5 My deadly darts to deal afar. As soon as my master, who made me for torment, Loosens my limbs, my length is increased Till I vomit the venom with violent motions, The swift-killing poison I swallowed before. 10 Not any man shall make his escape, Not one that I spoke of shall speed from the fight, If there falls on him first what flies from my belly. He pays with his strength for the poisonous drink, For the fatal cup which forfeits his life. 15 Except when fettered fast, I am useless. Unbound I shall fail. Now find out my name.

XXVI. A Bible

A stern destroyer struck out my life, Deprived me of power; he put me to soak, Dipped me in water, dried me again, And set me in the sun, where I straightway lost 5 The hairs that I had. Then the hard edge Of the keen knife cut me and cleansed me of soil; Then fingers folded me. The fleet quill of the bird With speedy drops spread tracks often Over the brown surface, swallowed the tree-dye, 10 A deal of the stream, stepped again on me, Traveled a black track. With protecting boards Then a crafty one covered me, enclosed me with hide, Made me gorgeous with gold. Hence I am glad and rejoice At the smith's fair work with its wondrous adornments. 15 Now may these rich trappings, and the red dye's tracings, And all works of wisdom spread wide the fame Of the Sovereign of nations! Read me not as a penance! If the children of men will cherish and use me, They shall be safer and sounder and surer of victory, 20 More heroic of heart and happier in spirit, More unfailing in wisdom. More friends shall they have, Dear and trusty, and true and good, And faithful always, whose honors and riches Shall increase with their love, and who cover their friends 25 With kindness and favors and clasp them fast With loving arms. I ask how men call me Who aid them in need. My name is far famed. I am helpful to men, and am holy myself.

1. Here, of course, a "codex," or manuscript of a Bible is in the writer's mind. He describes first the killing of the animal and the preparation of the skin for writing. Then the writing and binding of the book is described. Last of all, the writer considers the use the book will be to men.

XLV. Dough

In a corner I heard a curious weak thing Swelling and sounding and stirring its cover. On that boneless body a beautiful woman Laid hold with her hands; the high-swelled thing She covered with a cloth, the clever lord's daughter.

XLVII. A Bookworm

A moth ate a word. To me that seemed A curious happening when I heard of that wonder, That a worm should swallow the word of a man, A thief in the dark eat a thoughtful discourse 5 And the strong base it stood on. He stole, but he was not A whit the wiser when the word had been swallowed.

LX. A Reed

I stood on the strand to the sea-cliffs near, Hard by the billows. To the home of my birth Fast was I fixed. Few indeed are there Of men who have ever at any time 5 Beheld my home in the hard waste-land. In the brown embrace of the billows and waves I was locked each dawn. Little I dreamed That early or late I ever should With men at the mead-feast mouthless speak forth 10 Words of wisdom. It is a wondrous thing, And strange to the sight when one sees it first That the edge of a knife and the active hand And wit of the earl who wields the blade Should bring it about that I bear unto thee 15 A secret message, meant for thee only, Boldly announce it, so that no other man May speak our secrets or spread them abroad.

1. This riddle occurs in the manuscript just before The Husband's Message, and some editors think that in the riddle we have a proper beginning for the poem. First is the account of the growth of the reed, or block of wood, then the account of its voyages, and last the message conveyed. There is really no way of telling whether the poems were meant to go together.


[Critical edition: Blanche Colton Williams, Gnomic Poetry in Anglo-Saxon, New York, 1914.

There are two sets of gnomes or proverbs in Old English. The Exeter collection, from which these are taken, consists of three groups. The second group, which contains the justly popular lines about the Frisian wife, is typical of the whole set.]

Group II

All frost shall freeze, fire consume wood, Earth grow its fruits. Ice shall bridge water, Which shall carry its cover and cunningly lock 75 The herbs of earth. One only shall loose The fetter of frost, the Father Almighty. Winter shall away, the weather be fair, The sun hot in summer. The sea shall be restless. The deep way of death is the darkest of secrets. 80 Holly flames on the fire. Afar shall be scattered The goods of a dead man. Glory is best. A king shall with cups secure his queen, Buy her with bracelets. Both shall at first Be generous with gifts. Then shall grow in the man 85 The pride of war, and his wife shall prosper, Cherished by the folk; cheerful of mood, She shall keep all counsel and in kindness of heart Give horses and treasure; before the train of heroes With full measure of mead on many occasions 90 She shall lovingly greet her gracious lord, Shall hold the cup high and hand him to drink Like a worthy wife. Wisely shall counsel The two who hold their home together. The ship shall be nailed, the shield be bound, 95 The light linden-wood. When he lands in the haven, To the Frisian wife is the welcome one dear: The boat is at hand and her bread-winner home, Her own provider. She invites him in And washes his sea-stained garments and gives him new ones to wear: 100 It is pleasant on land when the loved one awaits you. Woman shall be wedded to man, and her wickedness oft shall disgrace him; Some are firm in their faith, some forward and curious And shall love a stranger while their lord is afar. A sailor is long on his course, but his loved one awaits his coming, 105 Abides what can not be controlled, for the time will come at last For his home return, if his health permit, and the heaving waters High over his head do not hold him imprisoned.


[Text: Grein-Wuelcker, Bibliothek der Angelsaechischen Poesie, iii, 148. The poem is typical of a large group of Old English poems which give well-known sayings or proverbs. Other poems of this group are The Gifts of Men, The Wonders of Creation, A Father's Instructions to His Son, and the like.]

Full often through the grace of God it happens That man and wife to the world bring forth A babe by birth; they brightly adorn it, And tend it and teach it till the time comes on 5 With the passing of years when the young child's limbs Have grown in strength and sturdy grace. It is fondled and fed by father and mother And gladdened with gifts. God alone knows What fate shall be his in the fast-moving years. 10 To one it chances in his childhood days To be snatched away by sudden death In woeful wise. The wolf shall devour him, The hoary heath-dweller. Heart-sick with grief, His mother shall mourn him; but man cannot change it. 15 One of hunger shall starve; one the storm shall drown. One the spear shall pierce; one shall perish in war. One shall lead his life without light in his eyes, Shall feel his way fearing. Infirm in his step, One his wounds shall bewail, his woeful pains— 20 Mournful in mind shall lament his fate. One from the top of a tree in the woods Without feathers shall fall, but he flies none the less, Swoops in descent till he seems no longer The forest tree's fruit: at its foot on the ground 25 He sinks in silence, his soul departed— On the roots now lies his lifeless body. One shall fare afoot on far-away paths, Shall bear on his back his burdensome load, Tread the dewy track among tribes unfriendly 30 Amid foreign foemen. Few are alive To welcome the wanderer. The woeful face Of the hapless outcast is hateful to men. One shall end life on the lofty gallows; Dead shall he hang till the house of his soul, 35 His bloody body is broken and mangled: His eyes shall be plucked by the plundering raven, The sallow-hued spoiler, while soulless he lies, And helpless to fight with his hands in defense Against the grim thief. Gone is his life. 40 With his skin plucked off and his soul departed, The body all bleached shall abide its fate; The death-mist shall drown him— doomed to disgrace. The body of one shall burn on the fire; The flame shall feed on the fated man, 45 And death shall descend full sudden upon him In the lurid glow. Loud weeps the mother As her boy in the brands is burned to ashes. One the sword shall slay as he sits in the mead-hall Angry with ale; it shall end his life, 50 Wine-sated warrior: his words were too reckless! One shall meet his death through the drinking of beer, Maddened with mead, when no measure he sets To the words of his mouth through wisdom of mind; He shall lose his life in loathsome wise, 55 Shall shamefully suffer, shut off from joy, And men shall know him by the name of self-slayer, Shall deplore with their mouths the mead-drinker's fall. One his hardships of youth through the help of God Overcomes and brings his burdens to naught, 60 And his age when it comes shall be crowned with joy; He shall prosper in pleasure, in plenty and wealth, With flourishing family and flowing mead— For such worthy rewards may one well wish to live! Thus many the fortunes the mighty Lord 65 All over the earth to everyone grants, Dispenses powers as his pleasure shall lead him. One is favored with fortune; one failure in life; One pleasure in youth; one prowess in war, The sternest of strife; one in striking and shooting 70 Earns his honors. And often in games One is crafty and cunning. A clerk shall one be, Weighted with wisdom. Wonderful skill Is one granted to gain in the goldsmith's art; Full often he decks and adorns in glory 75 A great king's noble, who gives him rewards, Grants him broad lands, which he gladly receives. One shall give pleasure to people assembled On the benches at beer, shall bring to them mirth, Where drinkers are draining their draughts of joy. 80 One holding his harp in his hands, at the feet Of his lord shall sit and receive a reward; Fast shall his fingers fly o'er the strings; Daringly dancing and darting across, With his nails he shall pluck them. His need is great. 85 One shall make tame the towering falcon, The hawk on his hand, till the haughty bird Grows quiet and gentle; jesses he makes him, Feeds in fetters the feather-proud hawk, The daring air-treader with daintiest morsels, 90 Till the falcon performs the feeder's will: Hooded and belled, he obeys his master, Tamed and trained as his teacher desires. Thus in wondrous wise the Warden of Glory Through every land has allotted to men 95 Cunning and craft; his decrees go forth To all men on earth of every race. For the graces granted let us give him thanks— For his manifold mercies to the men of earth.



[Text used: Kluge, Angelsaechsisches Lesebuch. It is also given in Bright's Anglo-Saxon Reader.

Alliterative translations: Edward Fulton, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. xii (1898); Pancoast and Spaeth, Early English Poems, p. 65.

Lines 77 ff. and 101 ff. have been compared to a passage in Keats's Hyperion (book ii, 34-38).]

Often the lonely one longs for honors, The grace of God, though, grieved in his soul, Over the waste of the waters far and wide he shall Row with his hands through the rime-cold sea, 5 Travel the exile tracks: full determined is fate! So the wanderer spake, his woes remembering, His misfortunes in fighting and the fall of his kinsmen: "Often alone at early dawn I make my moan! Not a man now lives 10 To whom I can speak forth my heart and soul And tell of its trials. In truth I know well That there belongs to a lord an illustrious trait, To fetter his feelings fast in his breast, To keep his own counsel though cares oppress him. 15 The weary in heart against Wyrd has no help Nor may the troubled in thought attempt to get aid. Therefore the thane who is thinking of glory Binds in his breast his bitterest thoughts. So I fasten with fetters, confine in my breast 20 My sorrows of soul, though sick oft at heart, In a foreign country far from my kinsmen. I long ago laid my loyal patron In sorrow under the sod; since then I have gone Weary with winter-care over the wave's foamy track, 25 In sadness have sought a solace to find In the home and the hall of a host and ring-giver, Who, mindful of mercy in the mead-hall free, In kindness would comfort and care for me friendless, Would treat me with tenderness. The tried man knows 30 How stern is sorrow, how distressing a comrade For him who has few of friends and loved ones: He trails the track of the exile; no treasure he has, But heart-chilling frost— no fame upon earth. He recalls his comrades and the costly hall-gifts 35 Of his gracious gold-friend, which he gave him in youth To expend as he pleased: his pleasure has vanished! He who lacks for long his lord's advice, His love and his wisdom, learns full well How sorrow and slumber soothe together 40 The way-worn wanderer to welcome peace. He seems in his sleep to see his lord; He kisses and clasps him, and inclines on his knee His hands and his head as in happier days When he experienced the pleasure of his prince's favors. 45 From his sleep then awakens the sorrowful wanderer; He sees full before him the fallow waves, The sea-birds bathing and beating their wings, Frost and snow falling with freezing hail. Then heavier grows the grief of his heart, 50 Sad after his dream; he sorrows anew. His kinsmen's memory he calls to his mind, And eagerly greets it; in gladness he sees His valiant comrades. Then they vanish away. In the soul of a sailor no songs burst forth, 55 No familiar refrains. Fresh is his care Who sends his soul o'er the sea full oft, Over the welling waves his wearied heart. Hence I may not marvel, when I am mindful of life, That my sorrowing soul grows sick and dark, 60 When I look at the lives of lords and earls, How they are suddenly snatched from the seats of their power, In their princely pride. So passes this world, And droops and dies each day and hour; And no man is sage who knows not his share 65 Of winter in the world. The wise man is patient, Not too hot in his heart, nor too hasty in words, Nor too weak in war, nor unwise in his rashness, Nor too forward nor fain, nor fearful of death, Nor too eager and arrogant till he equal his boasting. 70 The wise man will wait with his words of boasting Till, restraining his thoughts, he thoroughly knows Where his vain words of vaunting eventually will lead him. The sage man perceives how sorrowful it is When all the wealth of the world lies wasted and scattered. 75 So now over the earth in every land Stormed on by winds the walls are standing Rimy with hoar-frost, and the roofs of the houses; The wine-halls are wasted; far away are the rulers, Deprived of their pleasure. All the proud ones have fallen, 80 The warriors by the wall: some war has borne off, In its bloody embrace; some birds have carried Over the high seas; to some the hoar wolf Has dealt their death; some with dreary faces By earls have been exiled in earth-caves to dwell: 85 So has wasted this world through the wisdom of God, Till the proud one's pleasure has perished utterly, And the old work of the giants stands worthless and joyless. He who the waste of this wall-stead wisely considers, And looks down deep at the darkness of life, 90 Mournful in mind, remembers of old Much struggle and spoil and speaks these words: 'Where are the horses? Where are the heroes? Where are the high treasure-givers? Where are the proud pleasure-seekers? Where are the palace and its joys? Alas the bright wine-cup! Alas the burnie-warriors! 95 Alas the prince's pride! How passes the time Under the shadow of night as it never had been! Over the trusty troop now towers full high A wall adorned with wondrous dragons. The strength of the spear has destroyed the earls, 100 War-greedy weapons, Wyrd inexorable; And the storms strike down on the stony cliffs; The snows descend and seize all the earth In the dread of winter; then darkness comes And dusky night-shade. Down from the north 105 The hated hail-storms beat on heroes with fury. All on earth is irksome to man; Oft changes the work of the fates, the world under the firmament. Here treasure is fleeting; here true friends are fleeting; Here comrades are fleeting; here kinsmen are fleeting. 110 All idle and empty the earth has become.' So says the sage one in mind, as he sits and secretly ponders. Good is the man who is true to his trust; never should he betray anger, Divulge the rage of his heart till the remedy he knows That quickly will quiet his spirit. The quest of honor is a noble pursuit; 115 Glory be to God on high, who grants us our salvation!"

1. These opening lines are typical of the group of poems usually known as the "Elegies"—this and the next four poems in the book. It is probable that the poems of this group have no relation with one another save in general tone—a deep melancholy that, though present in the other old English poems is blackest in these.

15. Wyrd: the "Fate" of the Germanic peoples. The Anglo-Saxon's life was overshadowed by the power of Wyrd, though Beowulf says that "a man may escape his Wyrd—if he be good enough."

87. Ancient fortifications and cities are often referred to in Anglo-Saxon poetry as "the old work of the giants."


[Edition used: Kluge, Angelsaechsisches Lesebuch.

Up to line 65 this is one of the finest specimens of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It expresses as few poems in English have done the spirit of adventure, the wanderlust of springtime. The author was a remarkable painter of the sea and its conditions. From line 65 to the end the poem consists of a very tedious homily that must surely be a later addition.

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