Monday, June 25, 2007

Deor

Several things recently have conspired to send me back to this Old English poem. Yesterday I dusted off my old Pope edition, and read it again; and today I tried to render it in Modern English in the same form of verse that Seamus Heaney used for Beowulf (though without those caesuras I so dislike). Whether the poem makes sense, without lots of notes explaining the legends it refers to, I don't know. It might help to know that Weland was a famous artificer, in the Daedalus line, and that Nithhad was an evil king who cut his hamstrings so as to keep him captive; part of Weland's revenge was raping Nithhad's daughter, Beaduhild. Time presents ironies to layer on top of the poem's -- no one knows now who Theodric was, or where the city of the Maerings might have been, where his "well-known" reign took place. You can find a text, with someone else's translation, here

Weland, limping, learned the rack of exile;
A one-minded man, he endured hardship;
He had as his friends fear and longing,
Cold winter and want.
He found out miseries: Nithhad laid on him
Supple fetters, sinew-bonds.
That is over and done with; this may be too.

Her brothers' deaths were not so great a burden
On Beaduhild's spirit as her own business --
She perceived quickly that she was pregnant
But she could not resolve on a way around it.
That is over and done with; this may be too.

We are given to know that the grieving of Maethilde,
Dear to Yayot, became endlessly deeper;
Separated from sleep by her love's sorrow.
That is over and done with; this may be too.

Theodric mastered the city of the Maerings
For thirty winters, as is well known.
That is over and done with; this may be too.

And we have heard of Eormanric's
Wolfish thoughts; he ruled a wide
Land of the Goths, a bloody lord:
Many men sat bound in sorrow
Wishing his power were overcome.
That is over and done with; this may be too.

When a man is cast down, cut off from delight,
His mind darkens, and he thinks his measure
Of affliction will be endless.
Let him think then that a lord who knows
Turns his way often through this world
Showing gentleness to some, and flowering joy,
As well as, to some, their share of woe.

I will say so much of myself --
I held the post of the Hedenings poet,
And was dear to their lord. My name was Deor.
I composed, many winters, for a kind master;
But a song-skilled newcomer now enjoys the estate
The guardian of men once gave to me.
That is over and done with; this may be too.

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