Unlikeness Is Us

My most recent book is a series of translations from Old English called Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book. Due out any day now 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:

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 now in translation:

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.

And a draft of the jacket copy:

UNLIKENESS jacket – main
Link to publisher to come

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.

Following, some blog posts about & from the book.


Post Holes

as-womans-graveAn Anglo-Saxon #metoo?
“The Wolf,” with commentary, notes, & thoughts on ties to #metoo

Paperwhite 4Ancestral White Interiors
Translating poems from the pre-dawn of white supremacy

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

White Supremacists March with Torches in CharlottesvilleAugustine, whiteness, alienation
The Exeter poems do speak to Trump’s America

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

ezra-poundOn “The Seafarer”
Commentary on the poem, & on Ezra Pound’s translation of it

starling cloudA clutter of starlings
Riddle 57 (“starlings”), with commentary & notes

frankscasketA bookworm
Riddle 47 (“bookworm”), with commentary & notes

103r - croppedThe Swan
Riddle 7 (“swan”), with commentary & notes

123vMessages across seas
A setting in Asymptote of “His Message” (aka “The Husband’s Message”)

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