Saturday, October 25, 2008

Guthlac B II posted

Now with the majority of my applications posted and a comfortable teaching routine established, I thought I'd take a moment to post some new translation on Guthlac B. The challenge of this section has been to figure out a lot of weird kennings (the notes, given below, outline what I've done with them). I am also experiencing the sense that Sievers was not looking at Guthlac when he developed his metrical types. The meter is anything but typical, which makes me wonder about other ways to scan and organize the lines.

Oh yes, and Juliana was the winner in the poll. The people have spoken. Thank you for your input!


Often to that habitation came a death-powered* host of devils, in gangs shorn of glory,
bearing down on him where the sainted and resolute servant of valor defended
his dwelling. There they raised a resounding army-shout with many voices,
of diverse noise, in the waste, denied shape and deprived of their joys.
The champion of the Lord, the bold battle-leader, ably withstood the swarming
enemy. The hour of horrid ghasts was never delayed, nor was it long to await
the crime-wrights to heave up a war-cry, joylessly clamoring, audibly moving to and fro. (76-88)

Sometimes the furious ones would cry like wild animals in packs, sometimes again
the malicious man-harmers turned into human shape with the greatest noise,
and other times the accursed pledge-breakers drew themselves into the form
of dragons, pained and plague-clad,* spewing forth venom. Always they found
Guthlac prepared and prudent of thought. He awaited them patiently, though
the band of fiends should menace him with life-killing. (89-97)

Sometimes the kindred of birds flew to his hands, urged by hunger, where
they would assuredly find sustenance and worthied him with insistent chirping.*
Sometimes again human messengers humbly sought him and there, journey-bold
on the triumph-plain, they found help at the hand of the holy servant,
and solace of the soul. Indeed there were none that journeyed back again
ashamed, abased, without hope—
rather the holy man healed through virtuous power both body and soul
of every man that tormented sought him in need, heroes heart-sorrowed
as long as the Warden of Life, the Eternal Almighty, wished to grant
that Guthlac be allowed to enjoy the fruits of life here on Earth. (98-114a)

Then the ending-day of Guthlac’s earthly struggle and miseries pressed closely,
the enforced separation of life. Then, fifteen years after he had chosen
his dwelling-place in the desert, the Spirit of Succor blessedly was sent from above
to the Law’s proclaimer, holy from the heights. Guthlac burned with his breast,
goaded unto his going-forth. Suddenly disease shot through him. Yet in courage
undismayed, he awaited the bright promises, restful in his refuge.
His bone-close was oppressed closely during the night-gloom, his breast-hoard
enfeebled. His joyful spirit was eager for the forth-way. (114b-127a)

The Father of Angels did not wish to allow him to endure in this miserable
worldly life a long-space after that, that sinless man who pleased him in his deeds
here during his days’ time with acts of quick spirit. Then the Help-mighty*
let his hand come where his sainted servant waited, brave-minded and doom-blessed
in his secret cell, stern and strong-hearted. Guthlac’s joy was renewed,
the bliss in his breast. His bone-coffer was kindled in sickness, fixed with inward
bands; his body-hoard unclosed. His limbs heavied, persecuted by pains. (127b-39a)

Guthlac recognized the truth that the Almighty sought him from above, the Maker
for his mercies. He fortified his heart’s mind stoutly against the hedging-fear*
of the fiends’ struggles. Yet he was not afraid—neither taloned disease* nor
death-parting was terrifying in his mind. Instead the praise of the Lord burned
in his breast, his brand-hot love triumph-true in his spirit, which had always surpassed
his every pain. Nor was there pained anxiety in this loaned time, though his body
and soul, a conjugal pair, should soon separated their precious joined-meal.* (139b-52a)

The days bounced by, the night-helms’ darkness. The moment was near
when he must satisfy that former-deed through the arrival of death,
draw lots for glory, even that same death as our fallen parents assumed of old,
and as that first race of creatures did before them.* (152b-158)


76) deofla deað-mægen duguþa: Literally, "death-strong," but I like the sound and sense of "death-powered," which is strikes me as acceptably defamiliarized.

94) earme adl-oman: A hapax legomenon of uncertain derivation. Most editors and translators take its parts as ad "fire" and loma "lame." There is no reason why it couldn't be from adl "disease, sickness" and some form of hama or homa "skin" or "home" (dropping the h), giving the kenning a meaning like "plague-clad." Like adl-þracu below, Guthlac B uses a great many compounds with adl- as its first element that are otherwise unattested.

98-9) Hwilum him to honda hungre geþreatad/ fleag fugla cyn: The sudden break in expected progression, set up by the anaphora on hwilum, is particularly satisfying, extended by using the menacing-ounding geþreatad "crowded, thronged" and changing the imitation wild beasts from line 89 into various kinds of birds. The parallel is continued through describing their insistent voices; their meaglum stefnum contrasting the cacophonous voices of the devils (mislice mongum reordum (80), breahtma mæste (92)). The anaphora will be continued in lines 101a-5a, with the arrival of human visitors to be healed and comforted. The effect of all three hwilum statements is to emphasize that all three types of visitors demonstrate Guthlac's sanctity. For "insistent chirping," see the note on A 734.

132b) se hæl-mihtiga: The only time this word appears in either Guthlac: it is usually taken for a error for Æl-mihtig "Almighty," and emended without comment. BT has no entry for the word, nor does it list it as a known variant of ælmihtig. The Dictionary of the Old English Corpus lists only one occurrence for the compound, in Ælfric's Letter to Wulfgeat, line 7: "Nu sæde ic þe ær on ðam ærrum gewritum, hu se hælmihtiga god, se ðe ne ongan næfre, se þe ana is soð god, gesceop ealle þing gesewenlice and ungesewenlice þurh his soðan wisdom" [Now I said to you before the first scripture, how the Almighty God, he that never began, he that alone is the true god, shaped al things visible and invisible through his true wisdom.] (in Angelsächsische Homilien und Heiligenleben, ed. Assmann (Kassel, 1889): 1-12. Repr. with intro. by P. Clemoes (Darmstadt, 1964).)

There may well be a relationship between the two passages, given the unusual spelling and nominative ending -a, clarified by the pronoun se. Beyond that the Ælfric does not help that much: the word in his passage seems almost certainly to be mean "Almighty," especially given the kenning's close proximity to two very standard epithets for God.

I have attempted to puzzle out a possible meaning for the kenning as it is spelled here; taking hæl- as deriving from the noun hælu "health, safety, salvation." That has been a common word throghout the poem, and seems to be particularly relevant in the account of Guthlac's final disease.

142) wið þam fær-hagan: Another hapax legomenon, this one has been interpreted variously as either "peril," "assault," or a "perilous enclosure." I like the idea of enclosure in haga ("home" or "hedge") alongside the poem's emphasis on the enclosing structures of the body.

144) seo adl-þracu: Yet another hapax legomenon, this one combines "disease" and "force, violence." The context seems to imply swiftness and seizure, which I feel "taloned" connotes effectively.

151) hyra som-wiste: BT defines sam-wist as "A living together, cohabitation, matrimony." Like æt-wist above, the word signifies human relationships founded by and maintained with shared food.

157-8) swa him biforan worhton /þa ærestan ælda cynnes: A problematic ending to the sentence. We have already regressed to the start of human history with Adam and Eve, returning to the meditation that started Guthlac B, and this final clause seems to suggest that there were a race of humans before even them. Bradley translates this passage just that way, but it seems more likely that ærestan ælda cynnes should be understood less literally, signifying the fallen angels. The line is metrically difficult too, like many in Guthlac B so far.