Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Wanderer (II)

A man who must long forgo his friend-lord's counsel
When sorrow and sleep
Both together bind him
He imagines he embraces his lord
Holds him and kisses him, lays hands and head
On his knee, as he used to, years of days ago,
When his lord still gave gifts from the throne.
Then the friendless warrior wakes again
Sees before him the fallow waves,
The sea-birds swimming and spreading their feathers
Snow and frost, and falling hail.

Then his heart-wounds are the heavier,
Yearning for the beloved. Longing is renewed
When the memory of kinsmen runs through his mind;
He meets with song-staves, eagerly searches for
The faces of hall-friends. They swim far away;
The fleeting spirits will not speak.
Sorrow is renewed when a man often sends
His weary mind over the lacing waves.

The lacing waves is the best I can do for wathuma gebind, literally "the binding of the waves." The image is clear to me -- the way that, after staring at the sea for a long time, you see the waves start to form interweaving patterns, to tie knots in the water. But I didn't like "binding," which has for me its chief connotations with ski technology. I like the sound of "lacing," but it loses an important resonance with the overriding images of constriction and imprisonment. I've played with words for tangling and snaring and knitting and knotting and tying, but nothing has quite come together.

I can't tell why, wandering this world,
My mind does not darken. I think of the lives of men:
How suddenly bold men leave the board;
How this middle earth, every day,
Withers and fails. No man becomes wise
Without a share of winters, in this world's dominion.
A thoughtful man must bide his time: he cannot be
Too hot-hearted or too hasty with words,
Too timid, too rash, too greedy for goods,
Nor too quick to boast, unless he knows best.
Before he promises, let him pause
Until he knows the turn
Of other men's hearts.

I cheat sometimes with the alliteration. Here are the rules of alliteration, in brief:

The first sounds of stressed syllables are the only candidates for it. In the first half-line one or both of the two most heavily stressed syllables must begin with the same sound; in the second half-line the first heavily stressed syllable must begin with that sound, and the second must not. My rules have been more lax: I have only required that at least one heavily stressed syllable in each half-line alliterate, and I often alliterate on the second stressed syllable of the second half-line.

What is "the same sound"? In old english, 'sp' and 'st' are their own sounds, and can only rhyme with themselves, not with any old initial 's'. Otherwise things are pretty much as you'd expect, except that any initial vowel rhymes with any other initial vowel -- the absence of a consonant, at the start of a stressed syllable, is perceived, you might say, as a particular sound. Hence my lines such as "He is attended by exile, not golden armrings," where the alliteration is on Exile and Armrings. I have extended this un-consonant to include 'h', since the Modern English 'h' has dwindled from its former throat-clearing rasp to a barely-there aspiration; hence "Of other men's hearts," where I mean Other to alliterate with Hearts. I've taken a few other liberties that an Old English poet would not have allowed himself -- in "He imagines he embraces his lord," for instance, I allowed iMagine to alliterate with emBrace, because to my ear the 'b' in embrace, smothered between its 'm' and 'r', is nearly the same sound as the strong 'm' of imagine. And for me 's' alliterates with 'sp' and 'st', if it has to. Cynewulf would shudder.

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