Unlikeness Is Us

My book of translations from Old English came out winter past from Gaspereau Press. In Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book, I’ve translated a few greatest hits, Wanderer Seafarer and such, also a smatter of riddles, and a sequence of maxims hardly anyone has done whole cloth.

All the poems are from the Exeter Book, a miscellany of OE verse thrown together by persons and for reasons unknown. It suffered obscurity lange wile – enduring because useful for storing gold leaf, and as a cutting board, beer coaster, rest for a hot poker. I imagine one day translating it start to cindery end.

UNLIKENESS jacket – main
Click to go to the publisher’s site & purchase

Unlikeness comes with critical intro plus commentaries and textual notes. The intro covers basic features of Anglo-Saxon verse (alliterative line, parataxis, kenning, that good stuff) and tackles, too, a tension the poems suffer between their investments in the tangible world (not to mention their own thingliness, & haecceity, as poems) and their express and to me oppressive yearning for some deity outside the sky.

Along the way, I read the poems through Louis Zukofsky’s objectivist poetics, W. C. Williams’s Spring and All, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s rhizome, and the crises of white supremacy and rape culture. The title, a mistranslation of Ungelīc is ūs (“It is different with for andor between us”), gestures towards heterogeneities both in and of  the poems. Also suggests that, though they are literally the Anglo-Saxon in WASP, they might extend our thinking about diversifying canons and perceptions.

Here’s a poem usually called Wulf and Eadwacer. In Old English it goes

The Wolf

Lē­odum is mīnum          swylce him mon lāc gife.
Willað hȳ hine āþecgan          gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
        Ungelīc is ūs.
Wulf is on īege,          ic on ōþerre.
Faest is þæt ēglond,          fenne biworpen.
Sindon wælrēowe          weras þǣr on ige;
willað hȳ hine āþecgan           gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
        Ungelīce is us.
Wulfes ic mīnes wīdlāstum          w­ēnum dogode.
Þonne hit wæs rēnig weder          ond ic reotugu sæt.
Þonne mec se beaducāfa          bōgum bilegde,
wæs mē wyn tō þon,           wæs mē hwæþre ēac lāð.
Wulf, min Wulf,           wēna mē þīne
sēoce gedydon,           þīne seldcymas,
murnende mōd,           nāles metelīste.
Gehyrest þu, ead wacer,           uncerne earmne hwelp
        bireð wulf tō wuda.
Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð          þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs,
        uncer giedd geador.

and in translation (a woman speaks):

The Wolf

As if one had made the people an offering.
They will receive him if he comes in violence.
        Unlikeness is us.
The wolf is on an island. I am on another.
Mine is secured and surrounded by marsh.
The men on that island are glad at war –
they’ll receive him if he comes in violence.
        Unlikeness is us.
I have borne a wolf on thought’s pathways.
Then it was rainy weather and I sat crying.
When the war-swift one took me in arms,
the joy he gave me, it was that much pain.
Wolf – my Wolf – thoughts of you
sicken me. How seldom you come
makes me anxious, not my hunger.
Listen, overseer, to our miserable whelp
       a wolf bears to woods.
Easy to part what was never joined;
       our song together.

More on the speaker’s aporiae in the 1st post hole below. I drafted this for the jacket:

So. Here are fourteen translations of Old English poems from the tenth-century Exeter Book. Some are well known and widely loved: “The Seafarer,” “The Ruin.” One, “Maxims I,” is hardly ever seen whole; when it is translated, small crucial marks in the source are ignored, and the deft shape of its thought-in-action is lost. Christopher Patton’s translations, which draw the alliterative Anglo-Saxon verse into a richly patterned four-beat line, convey the projective qualities of the poems more than is usually done. He emphasizes their concrete, tangible being as they are bedded in matter – scribal errors, fire damage, irreducible ambiguities – over the otherworldly values some of them espouse. With critical introduction, commentaries, and notes.

The image up top is part of folio 124v, the end of The Ruin, itself partly ruined.

Post Holes

Some blog posts about & from the book.


An Anglo-Saxon #metoo?
The Wolf, with commentary, notes, & thoughts on ties to #metoo

Paperwhite 4

Ancestral White Interiors
Translating poems from the pre-dawn of white supremacy


Constructions of Whiteness
Anglo-Saxon ties to Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Stó:lo Nation, John Cage

White Supremacists March with Torches in Charlottesville

Augustine, whiteness, alienation
The Exeter poems do speak to Trump’s America


Vagrant introduction, first para
Vagrancy, diversity, ADHD as formal practice


On The Seafarer
Commentary on the poem, & on Ezra Pound’s translation of it

starling cloud

A clutter of starlings
Riddle 57 (starlings) with commentary & notes


A bookworm
Riddle 47 (bookworm), with commentary & notes

103r - cropped

The Swan
Riddle 7 (swan), with commentary & notes


Messages across seas
A setting in Asymptote of His Message (aka The Husband’s Message)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s