Posts filed under 'old english'

Translating Longing : A Novice Translator’s First Transgressions

"In the text the girl sings: This earth cell is old—I am full of longing. She is under the oak. There is ambiguity. "

I’m translating “The Wife’s Lament,” from the Anglo-Saxon (among other poems), and—though I am in the habit of calling my drafts “transgressions”—there is a palpable sense of longing breaking through which I think may be possible to understand. What I mean by “even now,” has to do with the ideas of immediacy prevalent (one could say saturated) in the current collective consciousness.

I just read an article eulogizing the long email. And who even talks on the phone anymore. We interact in quick bursts, with no breaks. Both of these things being, of course, enemies of longing. We do not allow ourselves the luxury of longing. For to long, literally, takes “length.” Long stretches of absence and time—for which nobody has time for anymore.

The girl I’m trying to write (the wife lamenting) gets left to long by herself under an oak tree. This oak tree intrigues me. There is so much symbolism here. Pagans had their sacred groves. Druids had oak knowledge. I have also read about the linguistic link between the Celtic word for oak and the Sanskrit word for door—the connection between knowledge and doors apparently reaches pretty far back, but the other thing has to do with the oak as a portal, a door to another world. In the text the girl sings: This earth cell is oldI am full of longing. She is under the oak. There is ambiguity. Is she even alive?


Translation Tuesday: “The Seafarer,” from the Book of Exodus

Translated from the Old English by Spenser Santos

The Seafarer 


May I utter truth for myself,

to say of trials, how in the times of toil

I often withstood wearisome times,

bitter breastcare, how I have bided,

come to know on a ship, abode of much care,

the terrible seawave’s rolling often held me there,

anxious nightwatch at the boat’s prow,

when it pitched against cliffs. Pinched by cold

were my feet, frostbound

with cold fetters, there the sighs of care

were hot around the heart; hunger tore from within

the mereweary mood. That the man,

to whom the most pleasant on earth befalls, knows not

how I, wretched and sorrowful, on the ice-cold sea

dwelled in winter in the paths of an exile,

bereft of beloved kinsmen and

hung with icicles; hail flew in showers.

There I heard naught but the sea to roar,

the frigid wave. Sometimes the swan’s song

did I take for entertainment, the gannet’s cry

and curlew’s sound for men’s laughter,

the seagull’s singing for mead.

Storms there beat the stony cliffs, where

the tern, the icy-feathered one, answers him,

very often the eagle screamed round about,

the dewy-feathered one; not any protecting kinsmen

could comfort the wretched spirit. READ MORE…