(My Translation of) Wulf and Eadwacer

To my pack he is but a blood-gift.
They would devour him if he appeared,
but it is different than that for us.
Wulf on one island, myself on another.

His land is secured by a swamp,
a place prowled by blood-thirsty men.
They would devour him if he appeared,
but it is different than that for us.
My way-faring heart tracked Wulf like a hound.

I wept in the rain-wracked weather,
when his battle-hardened arms encircled me.
I knew such pleasure even through my pain!
Wulf! My Wulf! My longing for you,
the ache I feel in your absence,

it is a grief worse than any hunger.
Do you hear, Eadwacer? Our wretched whelp
was borne by a wolf into the woods.
One easily severs what was never united:
Our song together.

A Reading in the Original Old English

Commentary

Wulf and Eadwacer is my favorite poem, famously open to multiple interpretations. Written in Old English, the author is an unknown woman–among the first female poets of the English language. Here is a fantastic site with alternate translations, and two scholarly articles which examine the poem further than I am able to. In any case, while I always found the poem to be very moving and unashamedly lustful, each translation I found had one or two lines which missed the mark for me. So I tried my own hand at it, with the goal of preserving what I believe, to the best of my abilities, was the author’s intent while also making it sound more pleasing to the ear of a Modern English speaker.

I wanted to not only preserve but also accentuate the imagery of wolves and hunger that were already in the poem and make them into clear motifs. For example, using the word “pack” as opposed to tribe/clan/troop and “devour” as opposed to kill/injure/capture etc. I think this, including the comparison of the speaker’s hopes to a hound, and the references to blood gives the poem the feeling of carnal desire, the Call of the Wild quality that really makes it special.

One of the two lines that repeat: “but it is different than that for us” could also be translated as “we are so different/unalike” which gives it a whole new meaning. I went with the former to make it clear the speaker and Wulf are in love, and give the poem a complimenting Romeo & Juliet, forbidden romance quality. It’s a softer, more modern romantic ideal to contrast the aforementioned primal side of the poem.

Old English poetry also used a lot of keatings (essentially, compound words) and relied on alliteration as opposed to rhyming, so I tried to add to and preserve as much of those elements as I could.

Even though “Eadwacer” might not be a name, and can be translated as “land lord,” “property watcher” or “heaven watcher” I left it as Eadwacer. The inclusion of that specific word is so iconic that it became part of the makeshift title, Wulf and Eadwacer itself. And I like how, this way, it’s more ambiguous who this person is in relation to our speaker. It’s possible that Eadwacer is actually a title for Wulf himself, and the speaker has abandoned their illegitimate child to a wolf to be carried into the woods since having an unexplainable offspring might raise suspicion in her own tribe. Or, Eadwacer could be a person from the woman’s own tribe who’s guarding or otherwise married to her. In this case, either she abandoned her and Eadwacer’s baby to a wolf because she doesn’t love Eadwacer, or perhaps the baby is still Wulf’s and our speaker abandoned the child reluctantly because she didn’t want Eadwacer recognizing that his child looks nothing like him.

In some interpretations, it’s not a wolf but rather Wulf himself who carries the child into the woods, presumably because it’s his. I tried to keep it ambiguous whether a wolf carried off the speaker’s baby to be eaten or Wulf sired and/or abducted the child in the woods when he and the speaker were together. This is why I opted to use the word “borne” as opposed to other synonyms, like carried/taken/stolen, etc.

The last line can also be translated as “our tale/story together” or “our riddle together.” I kept it as “song” because that’s the version I’ve seen most often. What’s more, I think “song together” evokes the most emotional resonance for the reader out of the possible options. It further adds to the same Call of the Wild style of imagery the poem embodies. It’s as if the speaker and Wulf are real wolves howling into the night for each other. I find that to be far more romantic imagery than a mere story or riddle. And finally, in Ancient times, great stories were often told in poetic/song form anyway, so the “story/tale together” meaning is not lost by using the word “song.”

Sourced From: http://wyrdeswegas.com/2013/12/wulf-ond-eadwacer/


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