translated from Anglo-Saxon by Harry Thomas

Wayland in Värmland
suffered adversities,
that strong-minded man
knew misery.
Bitter setbacks, pains
of winter cold, these
were his companions.
His truck was with trouble
after Nithhad had done
the violence to him—
hacking his hamstrings,
hobbling the better man.
—That was endured;
so may this be.

Beadohilde despaired
when her brothers were butchered,
but when she was sure
she carried a child—
that was what wrecked her.
She couldn’t conceive
of a future.
—That was endured
so may this be.

We’ve all of us heard
how the Geat loved Mathilde,
loved her without limit,
loved with such love
his sleep was shattered.
—That was endured;
so may this be.

Thirty years Theodric
ruled the Maeringa’s town.
The facts are all known.
—That was endured;
so may this be.

We all know of Eormanric
and his wolflike ways—
subjugating subjects
the length of Gotland.
He was a cruel king!
Men sat unmoving,
shackled to sorrow,
thinking just one thing—
to cut the king down.
—That was endured;
so may this be.

Of myself I’ll say this:
I was once the poet
of the Heodingas,
dear to my lord.
My name was Deor.
Winter to winter
I had a good holding,
a lavishing lord.
Now one Heorrenda,
a masterly man,
finds praise in the place
until lately my lord
gave to me.
—That was endured;
so may this be.


Translator’s Note:

“Deor” is preserved in the Exeter Book, an anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry that was donated to the Exeter cathedral library, where it still is, in 1071, by Leofric, the first bishop of Exeter. The poem is probably the work of a scop of the 9th century. It contains lines of Christian consolation that, feeling them to be at odds with the spirit of the poem, and disliking them, I have omitted. In his translation, published in The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation (2010), Seamus Heaney retains the lines.

“Deor” is the first poem in the book Some Complicities by Harry Thomas, published in 2013 by Un-gyve Press in Boston.

Catalogue (pdf).

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