Monday, November 30, 2015

"The Death of Alfred," translated by Robert Hass

The Death of Alfred

This poem is found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for 1036.

[Original text in Anglo-Saxon]

Her com Ælfred, se unsceððiga æþeling, Æþelrædes
sunu cinges, hider inn and wolde to his meder, þe on Win-
cestre sæt, ac hit him ne geþafode Godwine eorl, ne ec oþre
men þe mycel mihton wealdan, forðan hit hleoðrode þa
swiðe toward Haraldes, þeh hit unriht wære.
Ac Godwine hine þa gelette      and hine on hæft sette,
and his geferan he todraf,       and sume mislice ofsloh;
sume hi man wið feo sealde,       sume hreowlice acwealde,
sume hi man bende,       sume hi man blende,
sume hamelode,       sume hættode.
Ne wearð dreorlicre dæd      gedon on þison earde,
syþþan Dene comon      and her frið namon.
Nu is to gelyfenne      to ðan leofan gode,
þæt hi blission      bliðe mid Criste
þe wæron butan scylde      swa earmlice acwealde.
Se æþeling lyfode þa gyt;       ælc yfel man him gehet,
oðþæt man gerædde      þæt man hine lædde
to Eligbyrig      swa gebundenne.
Sona swa he lende,       on scype man hine blende,
and hine swa blindne      brohte to ðam munecon,
and he þar wunode      ða hwile þe he lyfode.
Syððan hine man byrigde,       swa him wel gebyrede,
ful wurðlice,       swa he wyrðe wæs,
æt þam westende,       þam styple ful gehende,
on þam suðportice;       seo saul is mid Criste.

[Translation into modern English by Robert Hass]

The Death of Alfred

1036. In this year Alfred, innocent prince, son of King Æthelred, came
into the country and wished to go to his mother who was living at
Winchester, but Godwin did not permit him to do this, nor the other
barons, because—wrong as it was—sentiment had swung to Harald.

So Godwin seized the young prince and put him in prison.
The retinue he destroyed; he found various ways to kill them:
Some were sold for cash, some cut down cruelly,
Some put in fetters, some were blinded,
Some hamstrung,    and some of them scalped.
No bloodier deed was ever done in this land,
Not since the Danes came and made peace here.
Now it’s to be believed that the hands of God
Have put them in bliss with Jesus Christ,
For they were guiltless and wretchedly slain.
The prince was kept alive,    set about by every evil,
Until, under advisement, they led him
As they had bound him to Ely-in-the-Fens.
As soon as he landed, he was blinded,
Right there on shipboard, and, blinded,
He was brought to the good monks
And he dwelled there as long as he lived
And afterward he was buried, as befitted him,
Very worthily, for he was a worthy man,
At the west end of the chapel, very near the steeple,
Under the church porch.  His soul is with Christ.

Source of the text – The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation, edited by Greg Delanty and Michael Matto.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011, p. 118-119.

TJB: Wag hagiography. A biased chronicler turns poet—apposed, part alliterative, part rhymed—to matter-of-factly relate a prince’s wretched end.

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