Saturday, November 1, 2008

Guthlac B III & IV now posted

The third & fourth installments of Guthlac B are now online. I have finally found the urgency I was wanting for the translation, discovering a fine poetic voice in the original that feels distorted and blunted in the available translations. Although I am not sure that I am expressing that voice any more effectively, I hope that these two parts give a sense of the undeniable and unique powers of the poet of Guthlac B. The drinking metaphor of 162-4 is worth the price of admission alone, and the verse does not stop there. The personification of Death and the description of Guthlac's illness are very affecting. Finally, the narrator's invocation of Easter's repeating narrative (280-6) creates a powerful frame that situates Guthlac's death and miracles within a universal pattern, revealing the fragility of that sense of time. Guthlac's final lesson on Easter Sunday, even though it coincides exactly with that noble hour (in þa æþelan tid (287)) and demonstrates how the fate of Adam and Eve are overcome during a human's lifetime, also reveals how depedent the cycling of ecclesiastical time is on repetition through didactic example and personal emulation. Guthlac's death is a moment where narrative is at its most vulnerable, in need of the next voice to perpetuate or else it will pass away forever.


Then was Guthlac’s strength wearied in that dire moment, the heart so stern
and steadfast of courage. The disease was terrible, hot and savage. His breast welled
within, his bone-case burned. The barrel was tapped that Eve brewed for Adam*
at the start of the world. The Enemy first poured it for that woman—
and afterwards she served up that bitter tankard for Adam, her own dear husband. (158-67a)

Ever since their children have paid a terrible price for these former deeds:
so that none of the human race, no man on the earth after its start, has been able
to defend himself and avoid that miserable drink, the deep death-cup, instead
in that cruel moment the door opens itself at once, revealing the entrance to him. (167b-75a)

Powerful or humble no one can, caught up in flesh, oppose that end with his life,
but it rushes upon him with greedy claws. So, cruel and solitary and close to Guthlac,
after the night-shade, Death was encroaching nearby, a slaughter-greedy warrior.* (175b-81a)

A single serving-man dwelt with him, who visited him every day.
Deep-hearted and wise-minded, he went to God's temple, where he knew
the native apostle, his chosen teacher most dear, would be and when he went inside
to speak blessedly, he wished to hearken to the saint’s instruction, conversation
with the meek man. Then he found his patron wearied with his disease, a fact
that fell heavy upon his heart. Heart-sorrow moved him, a great mind-care. (181b-92a)

Guthlac’s servant then asked him: “How has it happened, my cherished lord,
my father, shelter to his friends, that your spirit is thus afflicted and closely assailed?
I have never found you, dearest lord, distressed like this before. Can you muster
a word in conversation? It seems to my mind that some weakness from the onset
of disease has afflicted you during the recent night, persecuting you with pained wounds.
That will be the keenest of sorrows in my breast until you comfort my heart and spirit.
Do you know, my generous lord, what end must be decreed for this illness?” (192b-204)

After a moment Guthlac replied to him—he could not immediately draw in a breath:
this bitter bane-sickness had sunk within him. The bold one spoke, blessed in courage,
and gave answer: “I wish to say that agony has reached out to me, pain wading
through in this wan night, unlocking my body-hoard. My limbs grow heavy,
beset by pains. This soul-house, this fated flesh-home must be covered
over in its earth-lodge, my limbs in a loamy shroud, and, fixed upon my final bed,
abide upon the couch of death. The warrior approaches, quick to battle-play.
My wait for soul-parting will be no longer than seven nights’ time-mark,
when my spirit will seek its end hence on the eighth day that passes. Then my days
upon this mould-way will have bounced by: my sorrow will have abated and then
I might be allowed to gain my meed, renewed gifts at the knees of the Creator,
and to follow the Lamb of God ever after in perpetual joys. Now my soul is eager
and ready for the journey there. Now you readily know of my limbs’ life-parting.
Long is the lingering of this worldly life.” (205-229a)

There was wailing and lamentation then: the heart was newly sad and the mind
mourning after the serving-man heard that the saint was eager for the going forth.
For that fearful news he knew sorrow for his patron, heavy in his heart. His breast darkened within, his regretful mind anxious after he saw his lord eager for death.
He could hardly keep composure for this, but let his burning tears flow,
suffering his grief, welling wave-drops. The world’s way could not contain life,
that dear ornament, in anyone fated to go for longer than was ordained for them. (229b-41)


Holy of soul, Guthlac perceived the pensive heart of his sad-minded servant.
Then that shelter of the multitude, glad at heart and dear to God, cheered the younger man,
speaking in words to his dearest friend: “Don’t be upset, though this disease burns me within.
It is no hardship to suffer the will of the Prince, my Lord: I have no sorrow in my mind
for death in this infirm hour, nor do I dread much the reaving raiders of Hell’s thegns,
nor can sin’s first-born set any torment or frailty of body upon me. Instead they must be
frustrated in flame, seething in pain and welling in sorrow, weeping in the wrack-way,
beshorn of pleasures in that Death-hall, of every glory, of love and leniency.
My cherished child, do not be so sick at heart. I am hastening to the journey to take up
my heavenly home, eager for its rewards in eternal joy,
and to see, for my life-deeds, the Victorious Lord. (242-62a)

“My beloved son, there will be no suffering or struggle, when I seek the God of Glory,
the Heaven-King, where is peace and bliss, the joy of the glory-fast, and the Lord is present,
who I in this dreary hour have readily satisfied with soul-secrets and deeds, with mind
and might. Faultless I will know at that moment my reward, my perpetual recompense,
holy on the heights. There my hope guides me to seek, my soul aspires from this body-vessel
towards those enduring joys in blessed weal. There is no homeland for me, neither pain
nor sorrow. I know there is an eternal requital after the body’s crumbling.” (262b-275)

Then glory’s servant grew still, the stout secret-keeper: he was in need of rest
and weary-minded. The sky grew dark over the children of men, the count of nights
passing by, dark over their multitudes. Then the day arrived when the Living God,
The Lord and Eternal Almighty was joyfully resurrected within his body-shroud;
when he arose from death, in single dominion of the earth at Easter-tide, Majesty of All
Majesties, heaving up the greatest crowd to the heavens; when he climbed up from hell. (276-86)

So then on that bright day, in that noble hour, clamorous with grace, the blessed man,
mild and modest, not soft in strength, worked courageously. Then the joy of noble men,
stern and heart-wise, rose as quickly as he could, weary from his great affliction.
Then his mind confirmed his dazzling belief, and Guthlac offered thanksgiving in God’s temple,
meditating upon soul-mysteries according to the will of the Lord. And Guthlac began
to proclaim the good news unto his thegn, as the Lord rose through the grace of the spirit,
to speak in triumph-tokens. He strengthened his servant’s mind by miracles of glory
and happy weal in that lovely creation, as he had never heard in this loaned time,
no other lesson like it, before nor since nor ever in his life—nor the secrets of the Lord
so deeply narrated, in such broad understanding, by human mouth. It seemed to him
more likely that it was the word of a heaven-kindred angel down from the soaring-joys,
a much greater servant of power than the teaching of any man among earthly men.
The sight seemed to him to be the greatest miracle, that such learning-craft was kept
in the breast of any noble man among the children of men. Every word, all his wisdom
was so profound and the composure of this man, his mind and mighty skill
that the Maker of Angels, the Succour of Souls had given to Guthlac. (287-315)


162-4) Bryþen wæs ongunnen: Literally, “A brewing was started that Eve brewed for Adam at the world’s start.” My translation takes only the liberty of adapting the verb onginnan to suit the drinking metaphor, and switching through metonymy “barrel” in for bryðen. For the unusual nature of the word bryðen, see Smithers, “Five Notes on Old English Texts,” English and German Studies 4 (1951-2), 74 n. 9; Roberts, 166; Muir II.441-2. A sorg-byrðen appears in Andreas 1532, and is the only other appearance of the word in the extant Anglo-Saxon corpus.

No comments: