Monday, July 09, 2007

The Wanderer (III)

A man with eyes will understand
How ghostly it will be when the good
Of the world is all laid waste;
As now here and there, throughout this earth,
Walls stand, swept by the wind,
Frost-white, the courts frozen,
The mead-halls crumbling, their masters lying
Far from the feast; all of them fallen
Proud by the door-posts.

All borne away. Some have been taken in war;
Some, scavenger-birds have scattered
Over the high sea; some the pale wolf
Has shared out with death; some, blood-dabbled,
Have been hidden by friends in scrapes of earth.
The One who made the generations of men
Emptied this earthyard, until --
The noise of its townsmen stopped --
Its old giants' work stood idle.

Giants. What to do with the giants? Giants to us are irresistably fairy-tale and comic -- since we don't believe in them -- and their presence here can only mystify most modern readers, who can't be expected to know that any impressive stonework of forgotten origin was assumed by the Anglo-Saxons to be the work of giants -- a race struck down by God, ages ago, for their pride and presumption. It is not the first time, that is to say, that God has depopulated this place. At first I tried just leaving the giants out, and no doubt if I had been able to settle on a good line about ancient ruins standing empty I would have done so.

I have to confess that the warriors of this deserted place did not really fall proud by the door-posts. They fell proud by the wall -- wlanc be wealle, one of my favorite formulas of Old English verse. Though to tell the truth though I'm not quite sure what falling proud by the wall means -- possibly it connotes last-ditch struggle -- backs against the wall -- fighting to the last man. But anyway, Modern English has no initial 'wl' sound, more's the pity, and it has no word for pride that I could think of that begins even with plain 'w', and there are already too many "walls" in this section of the poem for my taste -- and more to come -- so I made them fall by the door, with posts to alliterate with proud. (Plus I've always loved the compound "door-post" -- I don't know why. If I were a scholar I couldn't do this, but I'm a massage therapist, and I can do whatever I like.)

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