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:
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:
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.