Unlikeness Is Us

My most recent book is a series of translations from Old English called Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book. Just out from Gaspereau Press.

The Exeter Book is a miscellany of Anglo-Saxon verse – elegies, homilies, riddles, maxims, and nones of the above, thrown together somewhat chaosily. I’ve translated a few of its greatest hits (“The Wanderer,” “The Seafarer”), a smattering of riddles, and a sequence of maxims (aka “gnomic verses”) hardly anyone does whole cloth, and I get why, though I’m glad I have.

I try in a critical introduction to unpack a tension between the the poems’ material commitments – to the present things of the world and to their own manifest thingliness as poems – and their transcendental yearnings for a deity who lives way far beyond the sky. At the back, commentaries and textual notes. It’s not, by a long shot, a scholarly work, but I hope the translations and the apparatus around them are sound enough to make the book useful in an undergrad classroom.

Here’s one, a poem usually called “Wulf and Eadwacer,” first in Old English:


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 now in translation:


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.

And a draft of the jacket copy:

Click to go to publisher’s site & purchase

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.

Post Holes

Following, 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 )

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s