Saturday, February 12, 2011

Elene factus est!

In what has turned out to be a dynamite week, I finally managed to finish the final part of Elene. This was a difficult one: the first stanza of the epilogue is a masterpiece of rhyme and alliteration, something rare in even one line of Anglo-Saxon verse, much less across 16 lines. I of course could not even begin to approximate the kind of sound relations at play here -- maybe over time the way will become clearer.

Here is the passage in Old English:

Þus ic frod ond fus þurh þæt fæcne hus
word-cræftum wæf ond wundrum læs,
þragum þreodude ond geþanc reodode
nihtes nearwe. Nysse ic gearwe
be ðære rode riht ær me rumran geþeaht
þurh ða mæran miht on modes þeaht
wisdom onwreah. Ic wæs weorcum fah,
synnum asæled, sorgum gewæled,
bitrum gebunden, bisgum beþrungen,
ær me lare onlag þurh leohtne had
gamelum to geoce, gife unscynde
mægen-cyning amæt ond on gemynd begeat,
torht ontynde, tidum gerymde,
ban-cofan onband, breost-locan onwand,
leoðu-cræft onleac. Þæs ic lustum breac,
willum in worlde.

Here you can see the leonine rhymes, assonance and alliteration at play throughout the stanza. The best I could do was to accommodate one line's rhyme. For the others, I feel I need to discover a way to express the rhymes without relying on strange syntax or overly-archaic diction. As much as Anglo-Saxon poetry can sound natural, Cynewulf makes this passage sound unstrained and effortless.

Here is the entire epilogue for your reading pleasure:



Thus I have woven with word-craft — aged and hurrying
to depart this uncertain house — and at times
I have miraculously gleaned, deliberating
and sifting my thoughts in the closeness of night.
I did not know the truth of that rood exactly
before the capacious counsel disclosed its wisdom to me
into the thoughts of my mind, by that glorious power.
I was stained by my deeds, wrapped up with my sins,
plagued by my sorrows, bitterly fettered, surrounded by affliction—
before he bestowed his teaching to me by the light’s form
as a comfort to the old ones, a noble gift the Might-King measures out
and begets in the memory, the brightness disclosed, and at times extended,
the bone-coffer unbound, the breast-lock unwound,
verse-skill unlocked, which I have enjoyed joyfully
and willingly in this world. (1236-51a)*

Not once but often have I remembered that Tree of Glory
before I uncovered the miracle of the bright cross,
as I found it in books, in the course of events, known in writings
about that Beacon of Victory. Until then man was always
tossed about by the surge of grief, a sinking torch (C)
even though he received treasures in the mead-hall, appled gold.*
The drinking-horn (Y) grieved for his needful (N) companion,
enduring its close affliction, a narrow secret,
where before him his horse (E) measured the mile-paths—
the proud ran adorned with wires.
Joy (W) is diminished, delight after the years—youth is transformed,
the olden pomp. The radiance of youth was formerly ours (U).
Now are the year-days departed forth, after the appointed time,
life-joys departed, just as the waters (L) have fled,
floods driven onwards. Wealth (F) is but loaned for all
under the breeze, the ornaments of this land are
departed under the heavens very much like the wind,
when it rises loudly before men, when it stalks along the clouds,
raging as it goes and suddenly—silence, closely constrained
in its prison again, by threats trodden under foot. (1251b-76)*

So this whole world will disappear
and the hungry flame will also seize those that were born here
when the Lord himself seeks out judgment with an army of angels.
Every one of the voice-bearers must hear correctly there
about all of their deeds through the mouth of the Deemer,
and they must be held to account for all of their unwise words
spoken of old, their shameless thoughts. (1277-86a)

Then he will divide into thirds all of the people,
those that have ever lived across the broad earth,
into the embrace of fire. The truth-fast will be
uppermost in that fire, the host of the blessed,
that multitude eager for judgment, as they can bear it
and easily endure without torments, the strength of the proud.
The Lord will moderate the burning radiance for them all
just as pleases him best and will be easiest to bear for them.
The sinful, humans sad-minded, mingled with wickedness,
will be thrown into that hot surging, tormented in the middle,
overwhelmed by the fumes. The third part, the accursed sinners,
and the false man-haters, will be fastened in flame, in the abyss of welling heat,
through their former deeds, a school of the impious, in the grip of gledes.
Never again will they come from that murder-house into the memory of God
the Glory-King, yet his bitter foes shall be thrown
from that fearsome fire into hell’s pit. (1286b-1306a)

It will be unlike that for the other two parts—
the Lord of Angels they will be allowed to see.
They will be purified, sundered from their sins,
just as smelted gold which through the furnace
has been entirely cleansed, refined and melted.
So all of mankind will be severed and separated
from their every fault, their deepest crimes,
through the flames of judgment.
Than they will be allowed to brook peace and the perpetual weal of the blessed.
For them the Warden of Angels will be mild and blithe,
for they have renounced every wickedness, their sinful deeds,
and called out wordfully to the Son of the Maker.
Therefore they now shine in the face just like angels,
and enjoy the inheritance of the Glory-King
to the fullest extent of spirit. Amen. (1306b-21)


Thank you for your patience and comments as I took a leisurely time in translating Elene. Stay tuned for the Genesis.

1 comment:

Ruslan said...

This is really great! Last time I saw this verse I was in high school years ago, reading how the "fake house" reference is actually to the human body. Where did you learn OE?