Monday, October 9, 2023

"The Wife's Complaint," anonymous Anglo-Saxon lyric

 The Wife’s Complaint


[Text of the poem in the original Anglo-Saxon]

    Ic  þis  giedd  wrece        bi  me  ful  geomorre

minre  sylfre  sið        ic  þæt  secgan  mæg

hwæt  ic  yrmþa  gebad        siþþan  ic  up  [a]weox

niwes  oþþe  ealdes            þonne 

a  ic  wite  wonn        minra  wræcsiþa

ærest  min  hlaford  gewat        heonan  of  leodum

ofer  yþa  gelac        hæfde  ic  uhtceare

hwær  min  leodfruma        londes  wære ·

ða  ic  me  feran  gewat        folgað  secan

wineleas  wrecca        for  minre  weaþearfe ·

ongunnon  þæt  þæs  monnes        magas  hycgan

þurh  dyrne  geþoht        þæt  hy  todælden  unc

þæt  wit  gewidost        in  woruldrice

lifdon  laðlicost        ond  mec  longade ·

het  mec  hlaford  min        her  heard  niman

ahte  ic  leofra  lyt        on  þissum  londstede

holdra  freonda        forþon  is  min  hyge  geomor ·

ða  ic  me  ful  gemæcne        monnan  funde

heardsæligne        hygegeomorne

mod  miþendne        morþor  hycgend[n]e

    bliþe  gebæro        ful  oft  wit  beotedan

þæt  unc  ne  gedælde        nemne  deað  ana ·

owiht  elles        eft  is  þæt  onhworfen

is  nu        swa  hit  no  wære

freondscipe  uncer        s[c]eal  ic  feor  ge  neah

mines  fela  leofan        fæhðu  dreogan

heht  mec  mon  wunian        on  wuda  bearwe

under  actreo        in  þam  eorðscræfe ·

eald  is  þes  eorðsele        eal  ic  eom  oflongad ·

sindon  dena  dimme        duna  uphéa

bitre  burgtunas        brerum  beweaxne

wic  wynna  leas        ful  oft  mec  her  wraþe  begeat

fromsiþ  frean        frynd  sind  on  eorþan

leofe  lifgende        leger  weardiað

þonne  ic  on  uhtan        ana  gonge

under  actreo        geond  þas  eorðscrafu

þær  ic  sittan  mot        sumorlangne ·  dæg

þær  ic  wepan  mæg        mine  wræcsiþas

earfoþa  fela        forþon  ic  æfre  ne  mæg

þære  modceare        minre  gerestan ·

ne  ealles  þæs  longaþes        þe  mec  on  þissum  life  begeat

    a  scyle  geong  mon        wesan  geomormod

heard  heortan  geþoht        swylce  habban  sceal

bliþe  gebæro        eac  þon  breostceare

sinsorgna  gedreag        sy  æt  him  sylfum  gelong

eal  his  worulde  wyn        sy  ful  wide  fah

feorres  folclondes        þæt  min  freond  siteð

under  stanhliþe        storme  behrimed

wine  werigmod        wætre  beflowen

on  dreorsele        dreogeð  se  min  wine

micle  modceare        he  gemon  to  oft

wynlicran  wic        wa  bið  þam  þe  sceal

of  langoþe        leofes  abidan  : 



[English translation by W.S. Mackie]


I compose this lay about my own wretched self,
about my own experience. I can tell
what miseries new or old I have endured
since I grew up, and never more than now.
I have always been struggling against my cruel sorrows.
First of all my lord went away from his people here
over the tossing waves; I was sleepless with anxiety,
not knowing in what land my prince might be.
Then, on account of my woeful need, I went forth,
a friendless wretch, to seek service.
The kinsmen of my husband began in secret counsel
to devise how they might estrange us,
so that we two lived in the world far apart
and alienated, and I was weary with longing.
My stern lord bade me be taken here—
I had few dear and loyal friends
in this country. And so my heart is sad,
since I found the man who was my true mate
to be unhappy, sorrowful of heart,
concealing his purpose, meditating crime.
Blithe in demeanour we two had very often vowed
that nothing else should part us
but death alone. That has changed since;
our love is now
as if it never had been. Far and near I must endure
the enmity of my dearly beloved.
I was bidden dwell in the cave in the earth
under the oak-tree in the forest grove.
This hall in the earth is old, and I am wearied with longing.
There are dark dells, hills precipitous,
ugly fortress-like thickets overgrown with briars—
a joyless dwelling. Very often did the absence of my lord
afflict me here with bitter sorrow. On the earth there are lovers
who live dear to each other, sharing one bed,
while I at dawn walk alone
under the oak-tree through these caves in the earth.
There must I sit during the long summer day,
there can I weep my miseries,
my many hardships. For I can never
find rest from my anxiety of mind
or from all the longing that has afflicted me in this life.
Ever may the young man be sad of mind,
bitter the thought of his heart; whatever blithe demeanour
he shall have, may he also have anxiety
and a throng of constant sorrows. May all his worldly joy
be dependent on himself alone, may he be far banished
in a distant land, since my lover,
my disconsolate lord, sits under a rocky cliff,
covered with sleet by the storm, encompassed by water
in a hall of sorrow. My lord suffers
great anxiety of mind; he remembers too often
a more joyful dwelling. Woe befalls him who must
wait with sad longing for his beloved.

Source of the text in Anglo-Saxon and in translation – The Exeter Book, Part II: Poems IX-XXXII, edited by W.S. Mackie. London: The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1934 (reprinted 1958), pages 152-155.

TJB: Inclement lament. In beautiful, enigmatic Anglo-Saxon accentuals, a wife of constant sorrow with trouble all her days whispers the whole night through.




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