Habakkuk 1:1-4 "Why, God? Why?" (From Biblical Hebrew)

Just a little more Biblical poetry, this time from one of the Twelve "Minor" Prophets. The recording continues my habit of reading the Bible in a reconstruction of medieval Tiberian Hebrew phonology.

Audio recording of me chanting the original text in Tiberian Hebrew


"Why, God?"
Habakkuk 1:1-4
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The message that came in a vision upon prophet Habakkuk:

 How long, Yahweh, shall I cry out
  and You not listen?
 I shriek OUTRAGE to You,
  and You do not deliver!
 Why do You show me horror,
  tolerate godawful things?
 Plunder and outrage are all before me
  combat and conflict all about.
 So the laws as taught are crippled,
  and justice comes out never.
 For the wicked are closing in on the good
  so justice comes out crooked.

The Original:

הַמַּשָּׂא֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר חָזָ֔ה חֲבַקּ֖וּק הַנָּבִֽיא׃ 
עַד־אָ֧נָה יְהֹוָ֛ה שִׁוַּ֖עְתִּי וְלֹ֣א תִשְׁמָ֑ע 
אֶזְעַ֥ק אֵלֶ֛יךָ חָמָ֖ס וְלֹ֥א תוֹשִֽׁיעַ׃ 
לָ֣מָּה תַרְאֵ֤נִי אָ֙וֶן֙ וְעָמָ֣ל תַּבִּ֔יט 
וְשֹׁ֥ד וְחָמָ֖ס לְנֶגְדִּ֑י וַיְהִ֧י רִ֦יב וּמָד֖וֹן יִשָּֽׂא׃ 
עַל־כֵּן֙ תָּפ֣וּג תּוֹרָ֔ה וְלֹא־יֵצֵ֥א לָנֶ֖צַח מִשְׁפָּ֑ט 
כִּ֤י רָשָׁע֙ מַכְתִּ֣יר אֶת־הַצַּדִּ֔יק 
עַל־כֵּ֛ן יֵצֵ֥א מִשְׁפָּ֖ט מְעֻקָּֽל׃ 

Psalm 137 "By The Streams of Babylon" (From Biblical Hebrew)

Another Biblical one, and again I've included an audio recording of me reading the text in reconstructed Tiberian Hebrew pronunciation. I think I'll do that with all my Biblical Hebrew stuff from now on. (Mind you, this is NOT how the text was originally pronounced in the 6th century BC. It is a reconstruction of how the text was pronounced by the Masoretes who produced the now-standard vocalized version of the Hebrew text in the 7th-10th centuries AD.)

By the Streams of Babylon
Psalm 137
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Audio recording of me chanting the original text using reconstructed Tiberian Hebrew pronunciation


By the streams of Babylon,
There we sat and oh did we weep
When we recalled our Zion.
There, on the branches of the poplars
We hung up our lyres.
For there our captors asked us to sing,
Our plunderers bade us rejoice:
"Sing us one of your Zionite songs!"

But how can we sing the song of Yahweh 

On foreign soil?
If I should forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand fall paralyzed!
Let my tongue cleave up to my palate
If I do not recall you,
If I do not keep Jerusalem
At the peak of all my joys.

Recall, O Yahweh, the Edomites
On that day of Jerusalem, saying:
"Flatten it, flatten it
Down to the foundation"

O Daughter of Babylon!
Daughter destroyer!
Happy the man who deals in kind
With you as you dealt with us.
Happy the man who seizes and smashes
Your babies against the boulders.


The Original:

עַל נַהֲרוֹת, בָּבֶל
שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ, גַּם-בָּכִינוּ:
בְּזָכְרֵנוּ, אֶת-צִיּוֹן.
עַל-עֲרָבִים בְּתוֹכָהּ--
תָּלִינוּ, כִּנֹּרוֹתֵינוּ.
כִּי שָׁם שְׁאֵלוּנוּ שׁוֹבֵינוּ, דִּבְרֵי-שִׁיר
וְתוֹלָלֵינוּ שִׂמְחָה:
שִׁירוּ לָנוּ,
מִשִּׁיר צִיּוֹן.
אֵיךְ--נָשִׁיר אֶת-שִׁיר-יְהוָה:
עַל, אַדְמַת נֵכָר.
אִם-אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם
תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי.
תִּדְבַּק-לְשׁוֹנִי, לְחִכִּי-
אִם-לֹא אֶזְכְּרֵכִי:
אִם-לֹא אַעֲלֶה, אֶת-יְרוּשָׁלִַם
עַל, רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתִי.
זְכֹר יְהוָה, לִבְנֵי אֱדוֹם--
אֵת, יוֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָם:
הָאֹמְרִים, עָרוּ עָרוּ
עַד, הַיְסוֹד בָּהּ.
בַּת-בָּבֶל
הַשְּׁדוּדָה
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם-לָךְ
אֶת-גְּמוּלֵךְ, שֶׁגָּמַלְתְּ לָנוּ
אַשְׁרֵי, שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ אֶת-עֹלָלַיִךְ
אֶל-הַסָּלַע.

Song of Songs: [8:5-7] "The Seal of Love" (From Hebrew)

The Seal of Love
Song of Songs [8:5-7]
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Audio recording of me chanting the original text using reconstructed Tiberian Hebrew pronunciation


(He speaks:)
Who is that coming up from the wildlands,
Her head on her lover's shoulder?

(She speaks:)
Beneath the apple tree I aroused you.
Beneath that tree I received you
There where your mother conceived you
Where your mother gave birth to you.
Bind me now as a seal on your heart,
As an amulet upon your arm.
For love is fierce as death,
But jealousy cruel as the grave.
Even its shards are the sparks of fire,
Of an almighty flame.
Whole oceans cannot put love out,
Nor any river sweep it away.
Any man who tried
To barter his live savings for love,
Would be paid in full with shame.


The Original:

מִי זֹאת, עֹלָה מִן-הַמִּדְבָּר,
מִתְרַפֶּקֶת, עַל-דּוֹדָהּ;

תַּחַת הַתַּפּוּחַ, עוֹרַרְתִּיךָ-
-שָׁמָּה חִבְּלַתְךָ אִמֶּךָ,
שָׁמָּה חִבְּלָה יְלָדַתְךָ.
שִׂימֵנִי כַחוֹתָם עַל-לִבֶּךָ,
כַּחוֹתָם עַל-זְרוֹעֶךָ-
כִּי-עַזָּה כַמָּוֶת אַהֲבָה,
קָשָׁה כִשְׁאוֹל קִנְאָה:
רְשָׁפֶיהָ-רִשְׁפֵּי אֵשׁ
שַׁלְהֶבֶתְיָה.
מַיִם רַבִּים, לֹא יוּכְלוּ
לְכַבּוֹת אֶת-הָאַהֲבָה
, וּנְהָרוֹת, לֹא יִשְׁטְפוּהָ;
אִם-יִתֵּן אִישׁ
אֶת-כָּל-הוֹן בֵּיתוֹ, בָּאַהֲבָה
בּוֹז, יָבוּזוּ לוֹ

Aleksey Zhokhov: Arctic End (From Russian)

Aleksey Nikolayevich Zhokhov (1885-1915) was my first cousin thrice removed (my great grandfather's cousin). He was a Russian arctic explorer and cartographer who participated in the first polar expedition to navigate the entire Arctic coast from end to end. He discovered a small Siberian island which was posthumously named after him. He himself died on the expedition, and was buried in the Arctic. In this poem of his, the speaker imagines the lonely death of a wanderer in the Arctic. Aleksey was of course unaware that he himself would die such a death, and that this spookily prescient poem would be inscribed on a metal plaque over his grave.

Arctic End
By Aleksey Zhokhov
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Under an icy clod of cold Taymyr
Where a snowfox, startled to a somber bark,
Alone speaks of the drear life of this world
A bleary poet rests in peace and dark.

Morning Aurora's beam will shine no gold
On the forgotten singer's lyre beneath these skies.
The grave is deep as Tuscarora's Rift,
Deep as one woman's dear, beloved eyes.

If only he could reverence them once more,
Gaze on them even from afar across this sweep,
Then death herself would not be so severe,
The bottom of the grave would not seem deep.

The Original:

Под глыбой льда холодного Таймыра,
Где лаем сумрачным испуганный песец
Один лишь говорит о тусклой жизни мира,
Найдет покой измученный певец.

Не кинет золотом луч утренней Авроры
На лиру чуткую забытого певца —
Могила глубока, как бездна Тускароры,
Как милой женщины любимые глаза.

Когда б он мог на них молиться снова,
Глядеть на них хотя б издалека,
Сама бы смерть была не так сурова
И не казалась бы могила глубока.

Imru' al-Qays: From the Muˁallaqa: The Thunderstorm (From Arabic)

A terrific thunderstorm rages over the mountains on the northern edge of the Najd. The scene is imagined over so vast an area that it must be poetic fiction. (As the medieval commentators note:  Sitār, Yaḏbul and Qaṭan cannot possibly all be seen from the same place.) 

From the Muˁallaqa: A Mountain Storm
Attributed to Imru' al-Qays
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Friend, can you see the lightning? There: its flash
bolting like hands in a crownbright cloudheap, quick
to shed light on all things; there: like the lamps
of a hermit who has oiled each coily wick.
I sat to watch it with my friends, between
Ḍārij and Al-ˁUdhayb. Oh I gazed far
enough to see the storm raise its right arm
on Mount Qaṭan, and its left on Al-Sitār,
dumping its rainload hard around Kutayfa
and blowing flat the great Kanahbul trees.
Its shower bucked out over Mount Qanān
panicking all the whitefoot Ibices.
At Taymā' it left not one palm-trunk standing
nor rampart made of anything but rock,
Mount Thabīr in its water-onslaught stood
like a tribe's chieftain in a stripelined cloak.
Come dawn, the upper peaks of Al-Mujaymir
stood spindle-whirled with storm-debris all round,
the flood's bale flung on Al-Ghabīṭ like cloth-sacks
dropped by a Yemeni merchant to the ground.
Come morning, finches noised about the dales
as if blind drunk on pepper-fiery wine.
Come evening, raptors lay drowned at its edge
like squill-roots twisted into a freakish twine.

Audio recording in reconstructed Early Classical Arabic pronunciation

A more rhythmicized recitation


The Arabic of my audio recording is in what I choose to call "Early Classical Arabic" pronunciation. To put it grandiosely, it is a kind of Arabic that hasn't been heard for over a thousand years. To put it plainly, it is a speculative reconstruction of the kind of Arabic pronunciation the grammarian Sibawayh might have used, based on his description of Arabic speech-sounds, and augmented with some inference based on typology. The main differences from textbook Classical Arabic as it is taught and learned today are as follows:

The ج was /ɟ/ (not /dʒ/)
The ش was /ɕ/ (not /ʃ/) 
The ص was (for an indeterminate number of speakers including Sibawayh) an affricate /t͡sˤ/ rather than the fricative /sˁ/.  (For reasoning behind this reconstruction see this article by Ahmad Al-Jallad).
The ض was a pharyngealized lateral, probably /ɮˤ/ or /d͡ɮˤ/ (the modern /dˁ/ pronunciation is much more recent)
The ت and ك appear to have been quite strongly aspirated /kʰ tʰ/. 
In addition to the familiar three vowels /a: i: u:/ there existed /e:/ for many speakers (and, more marginally, /o:/ for some.) 
The vowel /a:/ was optionally raised to [e:] due to i-mutation under a complex of different circumstances, partially neutralizing the contrast between /a:/ and phonemic /e:/ and giving the realizations of /a:/ a range and distribution not commonly heard in modern elevated poetic recitations. 

Although I render ش as alveolo-palatal /ɕ/, full disclosure requires noting that another possibility would be a true palatal non-sibilant /ç/, which is what many (perhaps most) posit based on a strict interpretation of Sibawayhi's statement. Now, Sibawayhi, who doesn't get enough credit as a phonetician, could probably have distinguished palatal from alveolo-palatal articulation. But whether he would have cared to is a different question. Although he groups ي ش ج at the same place of articulation, it is only ش which causes assimilation of the definite article. Thus there was something about šīn that made it pattern, for assimilation purposes, with the coronals rather than the dorsals. The most straightforward interpretation would be that this is because šīn was indeed a sibilant. Sibilants as an articulatory class involve a centerline grooved tongue focusing the airstream such that it strikes the teeth. Whereas non-sibilant fricatives do not involve the teeth as a secondary articulator. Sibilants, probably because of the need to involve the teeth, are always coronal. Alveolo-palatal articulation sits uneasily in a no-man's land between the dorsal and coronals, and is as far back as you can go and still produce a sound that behaves acoustically and structurally like a sibilant. For /ç/ to function as a sibilant, it must thus have front articulation [ç̟], which (notational and theoretical games aside) makes it functionally /ɕ/. 

One phonologically interesting way in which Sibawayhi's Arabic was likely counterintuitive from the standpoint of many modern accents of the standard language, and doubly so for non-native Arabic speakers given how they tend to be taught, is that what we normally think of as voiced plain stops /b d ɟ/ and voiceless plain stops /t k/ did not — strictly speaking — have presence or absence of voicing per se as their distinguishing feature. In this, Sibawayh's Arabic would align with certain modern dialects like San'ani Arabic. (See Phonation and glottal states in Modern South Arabian and San’ani Arabic by Janet Watson and Barry Heselwood for this and more, including a good explanation of a crucial articulatory category in Sibawayh's description.) The chief featural distinction between the two sets was probably aspiration in the latter and non-aspiration (with adductive glottal tension) in the former. In a dialect like this, although /b d ɟ/ probably did not have fully specified voicing, much of the time this would be of little phonetic consequence since in most positions voicing would be triggered positionally. In post-pausal position, however, although /b d ɟ/ would trigger a glottal prephonation state, their actual voice-onset time would not necessarily be different from that of a voiceless non-aspirated stop. 


The Original:

أصَاحِ تَرَِى بَرْقاً أُرِيْكَ وَمِيضَـهُ
كَلَمْـعِ اليَدَيْنِ فِي حَبِيٍّ مُكَلَّـلِ
يُضِيءُ سَنَاهُ أَوْ مَصَابِيْحُ رَاهِـبٍ
أهَانَ السَّلِيْـطَ بِالذُّبَالِ المُفَتَّـلِ
قَعَدْتُ لَهُ وصُحْبَتِي بَيْنَ ضَـارِجٍ
وبَيْنَ العـُذَيْبِ بُعْدَمَا مُتَأَمَّـلِ
عَلَى قَطَنٍ بِالشَّيْمِ أَيْمَنُ صَوْبِـهِ
وَأَيْسَـرُهُ عَلَى السِّتَارِ فَيَذْبُـلِ
فَأَضْحَى يَسُحُّ المَاءَ حَوْلَ كُتَيْفَةٍ
يَكُبُّ عَلَى الأذْقَانِ دَوْحَ الكَنَهْبَلِ
ومَـرَّ عَلَى القَنَـانِ مِنْ نَفَيَانِـهِ
فَأَنْزَلَ مِنْهُ العُصْمَ مِنْ كُلِّ مَنْـزِلِ
وتَيْمَاءَ لَمْ يَتْرُكْ بِهَا جِذْعَ نَخْلَـةٍ
وَلاَ أٌجُماً إِلاَّ مَشِيْداً بِجِنْـدَلِ
كَأَنَّ ثَبِيْـراً فِي عَرَانِيْـنِ وَبْلِـهِ
كَبِيْـرُ أُنَاسٍ فِي بِجَـادٍ مُزَمَّـلِ
كَأَنَّ ذُرَى رَأْسِ المُجَيْمِرِ غُـدْوَةً
مِنَ السَّيْلِ وَالأَغثَاءِ فَلْكَةُ مِغْـزَلِ
وأَلْقَى بِصَحْـرَاءِ الغَبيْطِ بَعَاعَـهُ
نُزُوْلَ اليَمَانِي ذِي العِيَابِ المُحَمَّلِ
كَأَنَّ مَكَـاكِيَّ الجِـوَاءِ غُدَّبَـةً
صُبِحْنَ سُلافاً مِنْ رَحيقٍ مُفَلْفَـلِ
كَأَنَّ السِّبَـاعَ فِيْهِ غَرْقَى عَشِيَّـةً
بِأَرْجَائِهِ القُصْوَى أَنَابِيْشُ عُنْصُـلِ

Homeric Hymn to Ares (From Greek)

Hymn to Ares
(C. 2nd-4th century A.D.)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

God-brawned Ares, gold-helmed driver
of the chariot in the stars.  Stout-spirit shieldman
bronzed in armor!  Bulwark of Olympus,
Guardian of cities  and spear-potent
Father of Victory, the fine dame at war!
Enemy-harrowing ally of Justice,
the righteous man's commander in chief,
scepter-master   of manly good
wheeling Your fireball  amid the wayfaring
planets' seven  paths through cosmic
air where Your firesteeds  forever bear You
over the thirdmost orbit immortal.

Hear me, bequeather of brave youth's bloom,
matchless ally  of mortalkind,
blaze a gentle beam from Your planet
straight into our life with strength of war
to finally beat the bite of cowardice
now and ever from out my skull.

Give my mind clout to crush the soul's
treacherous impulses, help me temper
the spirit-furies that spur me into
bloody mayhem, and make me brave
enough to keep within the kindly
laws of peace,  O Lord of War. 
Help me flee the fray of foul rancor,
and dodge the wraiths of a violent death.

The Original:

Ἆρες ὑπερμενέτα, βρισάρματε, χρυσεοπήληξ,
ὀβριμόθυμε, φέρασπι, πολισσόε, χαλκοκορυστά,
καρτερόχειρ, ἀμόγητε, δορισθενές, ἕρκος Ὀλύμπου,
Νίκης εὐπολέμοιο πάτερ, συναρωγὲ Θέμιστος,
ἀντιβίοισι τύραννε, δικαιοτάτων ἀγὲ φωτῶν,
ἠνορέης σκηπτοῦχε, πυραυγέα κύκλον ἑλίσσων
αἰθέρος ἑπταπόροις ἐνὶ τείρεσιν, ἔνθα σε πῶλοι
ζαφλεγέες τριτάτης ὑπὲρ ἄντυγος αἰὲν ἔχουσι:
κλῦθι, βροτῶν ἐπίκουρε, δοτὴρ εὐθαρσέος ἥβης,
πρηὺ καταστίλβων σέλας ὑψόθεν ἐς βιότητα
ἡμετέρην καὶ κάρτος ἀρήιον, ὥς κε δυναίμην
σεύασθαι κακότητα πικρὴν ἀπ᾽ ἐμοῖο καρήνου,
καὶ ψυχῆς ἀπατηλὸν ὑπογνάμψαι φρεσὶν ὁρμήν,
θυμοῦ αὖ μένος ὀξὺ κατισχέμεν, ὅς μ᾽ ἐρέθῃσι
φυλόπιδος κρυερῆς ἐπιβαινέμεν: ἀλλὰ σὺ θάρσος
δός, μάκαρ, εἰρήνης τε μένειν ἐν ἀπήμοσι θεσμοῖς
δυσμενέων προφυγόντα μόθον Κῆράς τε βιαίους.

Homeric Hymn to Poseidon (Greek)

Hymn to Poseidon
(Ca. 6th century BC)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

My song begins for great Poseidon
the Earthmover,  endless shifter
of the gaping deep; god of waters,
Lord of Helicon, homed in the expanse
of ancient Aegae.  Earthshaker, you
the gods endowed with double honor
to be tamer of steeds and savior of ships.
Hail, Poseidon sire of waveroads
the blue-haired god  who girds the earth.
Blessed one, I pray your broad kind heart
take care of us who cross your seas.

The Original:

Εἲς Ποσειδῶνα

ἀμφὶ Ποσειδάωτα, μέγαν θεόν, ἄρχομ᾽ ἀείδειν,
γαίης κινητῆρα καὶ ἀτρυγέτοιο θαλάσσης,
πόντιον, ὅσθ᾽ Ἑλικῶνα καὶ εὐρείας ἔχει Αἰγάς.
διχθά τοι, Ἐννοσίγαιε, θεοὶ τιμὴν ἐδάσαντο,
ἵππων τε δμητῆρ᾽ ἔμεναι σωτῆρά τε νηῶν.
χαῖρε, Ποσείδαον γαιήοχε, κυανοχαῖτα,
καί, μάκαρ, εὐμενὲς ἦτορ ἔχων πλώουσιν ἄρηγε.

Abraham Sutzkever: To Say A Prayer (From Yiddish)

To Say A Prayer
By Abraham Sutzkever
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Yiddish

I have the urge to say a prayer. I do not know to whom.   
He who once gave me comfort will not hear it, should it come.  
   To whom, then, would I pray? 
   I am its choked-up prey.  

Maybe I should entreat a star up there: "old distant friend,  
Come substitute for my lost speech. I am at my words' end."  
   That good star deep in ether 
   Won't hear my prayer either.  

But I have got to say a prayer. Someone very near,  
Somebody in my soul is tortured, and demands a prayer.  
   So I jabber on and on 
   Senselessly until dawn.

- Vilna Ghetto, January 1942


The Original:
גלוסט זיך מיר צו טאָן אַ תּפֿילה
אבֿרהם סוצקעווער

גלוסט זיך מיר צו טאָן אַ תּפֿילה – ווייס איך ניט צו וועמען,
דער, וואָס האָט אַ מאָל געטרייסט מיך וועט זי ניט פֿאַרנעמען, 
   ווייס איך ניט צו וועמען – 
   האַלט זי מיך אין קלעמען. 

אפֿשר זאָל איך בעטן בײַ אַ שטערן: ’’פֿרײַנד מײַן ווײַטער,
כ׳האָב מײַן וואָרט פֿאַרלוירן, קום און זײַ אים אַ פֿאַרבײַטער!‘‘
   אויך דער גוטער שטערן
   וועט עס ניט דערהערן. 

נאָר אַ תּפֿילה זאָגן מוז איך, עמעץ גאָר אַ נאָנטער
פּײַניקט זיך אין מײַן נשמה און די תּפֿילה מאָנט ער, –
   וועל איך אָן אַ זינען
   פּלאַפּלען ביז באַגינען. 

ווילנער געטאָ, יאַנואַר 1942

Abraham Sutzkever: Song for the Men Taking to the Woods (From Yiddish)

For Rokhl. Wherever you are these days, רחלע, this one is for you. 

A poem for Jews who had escaped the Vilna ghetto and fled to the forests, in order to participate in bushwhacking guerrilla warfare against the Nazis. Sutzkever dated all his wartime poems. This one, importantly, is dated two days before Sutzkever and his wife would follow the men here hymned, escaping to the woods themselves, eventually joining a Jewish resistance unit commanded by Moshe Rudnitski.

Song For the Men Taking to the Woods
By Abraham Sutzkever
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Yiddish

Sprout up! Staunch heroes, adamantine lads, go take your ground.
Sprout up! Sons of the future, make the world know what you are,
For all the will of all a people, swallowed underground,
Condenses — swelling lava in your breast beneath a scar. 

Now, if the sword has gone to rust in vagabond confusion,
Then file off all the yesterdays, and sharpen its today. 
Never is it too late to show the people's retribution.
Redeem the age-old sin with steel. There is a price to pay.  

Cities have all flown their true colors, turned to stone betrayers,
And riveted your way to sizzling graves at every hand. 
But forests welcome you with singing leaves to safer lairs:
"Come, come to us our darlings, and refine your fair demand."

Our new anointed Jewish rangers, striders of the trees, 
Against the brink that lay in wait, your feet kick back with No. 
Such glory glints within you! Glory of the Maccabees
As once it did in our land two millennia ago. 

There always will be those who bend to earth, who tire, who kneel.
Pity the slave that rests his hope in mercy from a slave.
Be men and Maccabees. Blast for rebellion, and in steel
Let honor shine again with every melée of the brave.

— Vilna Ghetto, September 10th, 1943

The Original:




באַגלייטליד בײַם אַוועקגיין אין וואַלד
אבֿרהם סוצקעווער

וואַקסט אַרויס, איר העלדן — פֿעסטע אײַנגעשפּאַרטע יונגען
וואַקסט אַרויס, איר צוקונפֿטזין, און זײַט דער וועלט באַוואוסט!
גאָר דער ווילן פֿונעם פֿאָלק, אין אונטערערד פֿאַרשלונגען,
קלייעט זיך — אַ לאַוועדיקער שטראָם אין אײַער ברוסט. 

אויב עס האָט פֿאַרזשאַווערט אין דער וואָגלעניש דאָס אײַזן
פֿײַלט פֿון אים אַראָפּ די נעכטנס און אים שלײַפֿט אַצינד. 
קיין מאָל איז ניט שפּעט דעם פֿאָלקס נקמה צו באַווײַזן, 
אויסצוקויפֿן מיט געווער די דורותֿדיקע זינד. 

ס׳האָבן שטעט פֿאַרוואַנדלט זיך אין שטיינערנע פֿאררעטער
צוגעשמידט צו זידנדיקע גריבער אײַער גאַנג. 
האָבן וועלדער אײַך באַגריסט מיט זינגענדיקע בלעטער:
— קומט צו אונדז, איר טײַערע, און לײַטערט דעם פֿאַרלאַנג.

לויב צו אײַך, איר נײַ-געזאַלבטע גבֿורהדיקע גייער,
אײַער פֿוס האָט אָפּעשטופּט דעם לאָקערדיקן ראַנד.
ס׳האָט אין אײַך אַ גלאַנץ געטאָן דער רום פֿון מכּבּייער,
ווי מיט יאָרן צווייטויזנט צוריק אין אייגן לאַנד.

שטענדיק זענען דאָ צו דר׳ערד געבויגענע און מידע. 
וויי דעם קנעכט אין האָפֿענונג אויף רחמים — בײַ אַ קנעכט. 
ווי די מכּבּייער בלאָזט פֿונאַנדער די מרידה,
זאָל דער כּבֿוד אויפֿלויכטן אין שווערדיקן געפֿֿעכט!

ווילנער געטאָ, 10טן סעפּטעמבער 1943

H Leivick: The Holy Poem (From Yiddish)

(This translation first appeared in Asymptote Magazine)

The Holy Poem
By H. Leivick
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Yiddish

With my holy poem
Clenched between my teeth
From my wolfcave — my hole, my home —
I go out and I roam
From street to street:
As a wolf with a wretched bone
Clenched between his teeth alone.

There is prey enough in the street
to sate a wolven hate,
and sweet
is the humid blood that drips
from flesh, but sweeter still
is the dry dust settling
down on jammed lips.

Struggle on the street,
The call of throats.
Let me this once come out tonight,
A deathtooth bite.
That bite is me.
But I don't come to gnaw.
I hunch into my little self
With head beneath my paw.

Back to my hole I head
And lump onto my bed,
But I am awake,
Untired from holding clenched
Between my teeth alone
This holy poem
As the wolf his wretched bone.

The Original:


מיטן הייליקן ליד
צווישן געקלאַמערטע ציין,
פֿון וואָלפֿישער הייל – מײַן הויז –
לאָז איך אַוועק זיך
גאַס אײַן, גאַס אויס,
ווי אַ וואָלף מיט אַן עלנטן ביין
צווישן געקלאַמערטע ציין. 

אין גאַסן – פֿאַר וואָלפֿישער שנאה
גענוג איז דאָ רויב,
און זיס איז פונ לײַבער
דאָס דאַמפֿיקע בלוט;
נאָר זיסער דער טרוקענער שטויב
אויף א ליפּן פֿאַרהאַקטע, וואָס רוט. 

אויף ראָגן – געראַנגלֹ, 
פֿון העלדזער – דער רוף:
זאָל איין מאָל שוין קומען
דער טויטלעכער ביס,
דער ביס דאָס בין איך,
נאָר – איך קום ניט. 
איך האָרבע צוואַמען מײַן גוף,
דעם קאָפּ ביז אַרונטער די פֿיס. 



H. Leivick: "Gates, Open" (From Yiddish)

H. Leivick (the pen name of Leivick Halpern) was born in 1888 in Chervyn, in the Russian Empire. In 1905 he joined the revolutionary Jewish Bund. The next year, he was arrested by Russian Imperial authorities for distributing revolutionary literature. He refused any legal assistance during his trial and instead delivered a thunderous speech denouncing the tsarism and autocracy. He was sentenced to four years of hard labor (in Minsk, Moscow and St. Petersburg) followed by permanent exile in Siberia, to which he was forcibly marched, on foot, in 1912, over the course of four months. He was finally smuggled out of Siberia with aid of Jewish revolutionaries in the US, and sailed to the America in the summer of 1913. He returned in 1925 to what was by then the Soviet Union, where he was welcomed as a great denouncer of tsarism, and his works printed widely. The feeling, however, was not at all mutual. He returned to the US, quite un-enthusiastic about the Soviet Union, about Soviet life, and about the future of Soviet Jews.

The poem here is the first in his book Lider Fun Gan Eydn: 1932-1936 "Lyrics from Eden: 1932-1936" (downloadable in Yiddish here) a collection of poems written during his four-year stay in a tuberculosis Sanatorium in Colorado a few years after his return from the Soviet Union.
The steppes of Siberia and of Colorado are fused and confused in the poet's mind. Part of him is still in the snow of Siberian exile, even as his body is in the flames of tubercular fever in Colorado. The poem calls to mind the ninth part of his long cycle אין שניי In Snow about his Siberian experience. In that poem, he comes to a gate and asks to be allowed in, to warm himself from the freezing cold, but is denied after people ask who he is and why he is on the road. Here, after having door on door shut to him, as a Russian Jew, as a political prisoner, then again as a Jew rejected while freezing his way through Siberia, he finds the gates and doors open to him in America — a country which he came to love probably more deeply and gratefully than any non-immigrant ever could. But what do these gates and doors in "The Land Colorado" lead to? Life or death? Unknown. As he survived the snow of Siberia, can he survive the tubercular fire here in Colorado? America is also where in the end he is to lay down his burden, his זאַק מיט געשריי, the sack of ache and screams he has born on his proverbial shoulders.
The first line also calls to mind the Nileh, the prayer recited on Yom Kippur, which reads פתח לנו שער בעת נעילת שער כי פנה יום psakh lonu shaar b'eys nilas shaar ki fono yoym "open to us the gates at the time of closing gates wherefore the day has turned." The referent is the gates of heaven, which are about to be closed, but the supplicant asks that they be open for just a bit longer to receive the final prayers. Here, however, he asks the gates themselves to open, not God (as in the prayer) or any corporeal resident (as in In Snow) to open them for him. The celestial is supplanted by, transformed into, the terrestrial.
There is also the matter of the שוועל shvel — the threshold. The liminal place where worlds meet. The poet does not know whether he will leave the sanatorium dead or alive. That shvel is — as we find out in later poems in the collection — a meeting-place of death and life, and of God and Man (or would be if God could ever meet with Man.) This becomes important in later poems in the book which deal with Spinoza and Spinoza's God.
That an avowed unreligious secularist who loathed the chains of tradition should allude to Jewish prayer and mysticism in this fashion, and even demonstrate a mystical yearning, is not in the least surprising. He would also have had every reason to expect his secular readers, many of them, to "get it."

Gates, Open
By H. Leivick
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Yiddish

Gates, open! Draw closer, 
Threshold! You'll tell. 
I come once again
To my snug little cell.

My body — fire,
My head — snow;
And on my shoulders
A sack of woe. 

Goodbye. Goodbye.
Hands. Eyes. That day.  
Farewell on the lips
Burnt out — burned away.

Farewell to whom?
Fled whom? What past?
The eternal questions...
This time do not ask. 

In fire, in flames
The steppeland spreads,
And snow in the flames
On the mountains' heads. 

Look: gate and door
Are open to me!1
Hospital or prison?   
Or a monastery?  

I lay down at your feet
My sack of woe,
Land Colorado
Of fire and snow!

1 - Language-play here. In Yiddish, בײַ אים איז אָפֿן טיר און טויער ba im iz ofn tir un toyer "door and gate are open to him" is a way of saying "he's doing well in life, he's made it."


The Original:


עפֿן זיך טויער
ה. לייוויק

עפֿן זיך, טויער,
נעענטער זיך, שוועל, –
איך קום צו דיר ווידער,
צימערל–צעל. 

מײַן לײַב – פֿײַער,
מײַן קאָפּ – שנײ;
און אויף מײַנע אַקסלען
אַ זאַק מיט געשריי.

אָפּשייד. אָפּשייד. 
אויגן. הענט.
אַדיע אויף די ליפּן 
דערברענט – פֿאַרברענט. 

מיט וועמען צעשיידט זיך? 
פֿון וועמען אַוועק? – 
דאָס אייביקע פֿרעגן
דאָס מאָל ניט פֿרעג. 

אין פֿײַער. אין פֿלאַקער
אַרומיקער סטעפּ. 
און שניי אינעם פֿלאַקער
אויף בערגיקע קעפּ. 

זע, ס׳איז שוין אָפֿן
טויער און טיר; – 
שפּיטאָל ווידער תּפֿיסה? 
צי גאָר מאָנאַסטיר?

איך לייג צו די פיס דיר
מײַן זאַק מיט געשריי,
לאַנד קאָלאָראַדאָ,
פֿון פֿײַער און שניי.

Epitaph of Gnaeus Naevius (From Latin)

Epitaph of Naevius
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Were mourning mortals right for immortals
The godly Muses would mourn their Naevius.
For once he was stowed in the Deathlord's storehouse
Rome's tongue lost its Latin language.

The Original:

Naevius' epitaph in his own time might have looked something like this if inscribed somewhere in the orthography of the 3rd century BC

IMORTALES·MORTALES·SEI·FORET·FAS·FLERE
FLERENT·DEIVAI·CAMENAI·NAIVIOM·POETAM
ITAQVE·POSTQUAM·EST·ORCI·TRADITUS·TESAVROD
OBLITEI·SONT·ROMANEI·LOQVIER·LINGVAD·LATINAD

Here's a possible and highly speculative idea of how it might have been pronounced:


Here's how it occurred in Aulus Gellius with spelling regularized in accordance with modern editorial practice:

Inmortales mortales si foret fas flere,
flerent diuae Camenae Naeuium poetam.
itaque postquam est Orchi traditus thesauro,
obliti sunt Romani loquier lingua Latina.

Here's a possibility for how that might have sounded:







Francisco de Quevedo: Giganton (From Spanish)

gigante or gigantón was an enormous stuffed effigy paraded through town streets on certain holidays during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. They were usually made out of flammable materials, and were often set on fire in celebration. This sonnet has been misunderstood by many — even trained hispanists — who didn't grasp that this poem's "giant" is in fact such a gigantón. Willis Barnstone, for example, completely misses this in his translation and so bungles a number of lines which don't make much sense unless one knows what a gigantón is.

Disillusionment with External Appearances, whence an Examination of Inner Truth
By Francisco de Quevedo
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

See how that paunchy wicker-giant struts
Along the street, all pride and gravity?
Well, he's got rags and kindling-brush for guts.
A flunkey props him up for all to see,
Whose soul he feeds upon to move as well.
He waves his grandeur anywhere he wants,
But any who examine his stiff shell
Will sneer at all that frippery he flaunts.

Such is the seeming splendor of the vile 
Tyrants who live by ludicrous illusion, 
An eminent, fantastic garbage pile. 
See how they blaze in purple as they girt
Their hands with gems in colorful profusion. 
Inside, they are all nausea, worms, and dirt.


The Original:

Desengaño de la Exterior Aparencia, con el Examen Interior y Verdadero

¿Miras este Gigante corpulento
Que con soberbia y gravedad camina?
Pues por de dentro es trapos y fajina,
Y un ganapán le sirve de cimiento.
Con su alma vive y tiene movimiento,
Y adonde quiere su grandeza inclina,
Mas quien su aspecto rígido examina
Desprecia su figura y ornamento.

Tales son las grandezas aparentes
De la vana ilusión de los Tiranos,
Fantásticas escorias eminentes.
¿Veslos arder en púrpura, y sus manos
En diamantes y piedras diferentes?
Pues asco dentro son, tierra y gusanos.

Notas Léxicas:

Fajina: conjunto de ramitas, cortezas y otros despojos de las plantas, que se solía emplear para hacer rellenos de diversas clases; en este case, la materia de la que se compone el gigantón.

Escorias: en un sentido literal, las heces vidriosas que flotan a la superficie de los hornos de fundir metales; y en otro figurado, cualquier cosa vil, desechada y de ningún valor.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Galadriel Sings Her Song in Old Mercian

Second of three Tolkien passages requested by "Karpalima" who made a generous donation. Thank you for your support. Galadriel's song — as per the request — is translated into the meter of the original, so that it can be sung to all the various melodies to which the original has been set.

Click here for an audio recording of me reading this passage in 11th century West Saxon. (I decided not to implement smoothing of ea in velar environments, unlike my previous recording.)

Click here if you want to read this text in a more "authentic" insular minuscule.

Galadriel Sings in Mercian: from Se Hringa Hlāford
By J.R.R. Tolkien
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Requested by "Karpalima"

"The Company was arranged in this way: Aragorn, Frodo, and Sam..."

Þus wæs se Gedryht gelōgod: Aragorn, Frōda and Sam in bāte, Boromeor, Myrig and Elsīþ in ōðerre. In þridda bāte wǣron Legolas and Gimli, þe nū eaxlgesteallan wǣron. In þissum endenīehstan bāte wǣron feorme and sēamas mǣst ongēan gelegd. Þā bātas wǣron gescofen and gestīerd mid scortgehæftedum rōðorspadum þǣra þe blæd brūdon brād in brimme.
Þā eall gearu wæs, Aragorn hīe ealle lǣdde on cunnungryne þǣre Seolforlāde ūp. Swift wæs sēo strēamfaru, and hīe slāwlīce, stæpmǣlum forþēodon. Sam sæt in scipbōge, sīdan on gehwæðere hand wiþfōnde, geornungcearig, framlōciende þǣm strande. Sunnelēoht on ēa āblīcende him ēagan āblende.
Þā hīe forþēodon begeondan þǣre Tungan grēne feld, þā trēow drōgon niðer þām ōfre. Hidres þidres flogettedon and flotigedon gyldenu lēaf on þǣm fripliendan strēame. Full beorht wæs sēo lyft. Stilnes þǣr wæs, būtan lāwercena hēagum feorsange.
In strēame wendon hīe æt sticolre gebyge, and þǣr sāwon micelne swan wlanclīce him tōlīðende. Þæt wæter friplode on gehwæðere hand þæs hwītan brēostes under his bogehtum hneccan. Scān his nebb swylce gefeormed gold, and his ēagan glintedon swylce gagātes in geolustānum geseted. His grēat hwīt fiðeru healf-ūphafen wǣron. Cwōm glēodrēam andlang þæs strēames þā hē nēalǣhte. Samnunga wiston þæt hē sum scip wæs, mid ælfcræfte gecorfen and geworht on fugles anlīcnesse and gelīcnesse. Twā hwītwerede ylfe hit stīerdon mid blaccum rōðorspadum.
Tōmiddes þǣm scipe sæt Celebeorn, and æthindan him stōd Galadriġel, hēah and hwīt. In hira hǣrum wæs goldblōstmena bēag. Hearpan hæfde on hande, and sang. Sārig and sweotol wæs hira stefne swēg on cōlre lyfte.

Hwæt! Ic sang lēaf allgyldenu,  ond gyldne lēafblēd grēow
Ic windas sang, ond wind þēr cwōm  þe innon bōgum blēow.
Begeondan mōnanrond ond sōl  þet fām on flōde flēow.
Et Ilmærines stronde þēr  fullgrēow þet gyldne trēow.
Hwēr sprong Sinēfnes tungolfeld,  þēr scān hit berht ond hēh
Et Eldæmæres aldbyrig,  elfcynnes walle nēh.
Þēr grēowon longe gyldnu lēaf  on ġēra bōge long
þā ofer slītendum sǣm hēr felþ  elftēar on eorðan wong
Ō Lōrien! Cymþ winter þīn,  bær lēafum īdel deg
Fallaþ þā lēaf in ferhes strēam.  Flōweþ sēo ēa āweg
Ō Lōrien! On stronde þīn  ic longe nū me wrēh
ond þrēow þīn gyldne Ēlænōr  in sēariendne bēh.
Ō Lōrien! Þīn lēoþ ic sang!  Æc hwet tōdeg eom ic?
Mīn hlūtor hond on eorðan lond  felþ ēce egelic.
Æc gif ic scipu sunge nū,  hwelc scip mē cume? Ǣ,
Hwelc scip mē ǣfre ferede  ofer þes wīde sǣ?

Notes: 

Most of the proper names here are self-evident. Legolas and Gimli don't need anglicizing. Merry is simply turned into his cognate Myrig. The word Ever-eve can be translated morpheme-for-morpheme as Sinæfen (or rather Sinefen in Galadriel's Mercian dialect.) The names Galadriel and Lorien are given a purely diacritic glide <ġ> to indicated that the <i> and <e> are not part of the same syllable. But Pippin is Elsīþ. Supposedly his Westron name Razanur was the name of a famous traveler, with morphemes meaning "foreign" or "strange". Since Wīdsīþ is a famous fictional traveler to Anglo-Saxonists, I took that name and simply replaced Wīd- with the appropriate El- ("exo-"). The resulting name might mean "Alien Journeyer" or "Traveler Abroad".

I had to coin a few terms for things that simply do not exist in attested Old English, such as *friplian "to ripple".

The main dialect of this Old English translation is "Standard" West Saxon. I decided, though, that Elves would speak in Mercian to give them a distinct coloring. Having the Elves speak Mercian has an interesting metalinguistic effect. The ælf is an obscure but rather unpleasant entity in attested Old English, able to cause nightmares and illness, quite unlike their modern and Tolkienien cognates. This may not have always been so, and various onomastic forms as well as adjectives like ælfscȳne may be vestiges of a state affairs when the ælf was regarded as a kind of supernatural person rather than a demon or a monster. In any case, my Middle Earthers speaking the West Saxon norm call an elf an "ælf", perhaps with its overtones of the frightening. But an elf speaking Mercian will refer to herself as an "elf", perhaps calling to mind the "softer" being that this word has denoted in English since the 20th century. It seems doubly fitting, given that it is the Mercian form of the word which was inherited into English as we know it. (Otherwise the word today would be *alf.)  Thus, Galadriel sings in Mercian here, and even uses a rhyme that would not work in West Saxon.

The term eorðan wang (plain of earth) in Galadriel's song is deliberately chosen, as a call-back to the etymologically mysterious neorxnawang, an obscure word that translates the Christian concept of Paradise in the Old English Bible. If a "neorxna plain" is paradise, then the eorðan wang is the opposite. It seemed a good way to evoke the idea of Galadriel seemingly stuck in the wrong world.

Literal Back-Translation of Galadriel's Song

I sang of all-gold leaves, and golden leafage grew. I sang of wind, and wind came there that blew in the boughs. Beyond the moondisc and the sun, the foam flowed on the sea. At the strand of Ilmarin that golden tree grew to its full. Where the star-field of Ever-eve spread, there it shone bright and high near the ancient city in Eldamar, near the walls of Elvenkind. There for long the golden leaves have grown long on the bough of years, while over the sundering seas here the elf tear falls onto the plane of earth. Oh Lorien, thy winter comes, a bare leaf-bereft day. The leaves fall in the stream of life. The river flows away. Oh Lorien upon your strand I have long concealed myself, and twined your golden Elanor into a withering crown. Oh Lorien I have sung your song. But what am I today? My pure hand on the land of the earth falls eternally horrid. But if I sang of ships now, what ship would come to me, alas? What ship would ever bear me over a sea as wide as this?

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Page from the Lord of the Rings in Old English

Some anonymous soul decided to donate to this blog and request a translation of a specific page from the Lord of the Rings into Old English. So here you go, "Karpalima" whoever you are.

If you want to read this passage in an Anglo-Saxon minuscule font, click here.

Click here for an audio recording of me reading this passage in a reconstruction of 11th century West Saxon. (A few things, like unstressed vowel reduction, are inconsistently implemented, and you'll hear a few very late features like West Saxon velar smoothing.)

A Page From Se Hringa Hlāford
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Requested by "Karpalima"

Ne gewearþ þām hringe nǣnig gesīenelic wending. Ymbe stycce ārās Gandælf, bedyde þone locan būtan þām ēagþyrle and drōg þā fensterhrægl geador. Se cōfa swearciode and swygode, þeah þe se clacca þāra scēara Samwīsan, nēara nū þām ēagþyrlum, wæs gīet smale gehīerdendlic in þām wyrtgearde. Ānre beorhthwīle stōd se drȳ behealdende þæt fȳr. Þā gebēah and mid fȳrtangan ūtdrōg þone hring on heorþ, and hraðe hine genam. Frōda fǣroðode.
"Hē is ealle cōl" cwæþ Gandælf. "Nim hine!" Frōda hine genam on his clingende folme; him geþūhte þiccra and hefigra þonne ǣfre ǣror.
"Heald hine ūp!" cwæþ Gandælf. "And lōca smēalīce!"
Þā hē swā dyde, nū seah smæle līnan, smælran þonne þā smælestan feðerlīnan, andlang þæs hringes ymbewritene innan and ūtan: fȳrlīnan þe him geþūhte gestrīcan flōwendes gewrites stafas. Scearpe
beorhte scinon hīe, ac ēac ungehende, swylce of sīdre dēopnesse. 
"Ne can ic þā fȳrstafas rǣdan" cwæþ Frōda reordes bifiende.
"Nā" cwæþ Gandælf, "ac ic can. Þā stafas sindon Ælfisc, on ealdum wrītungcynne. Ac Mordorlandes is sēo sprǣc þe ic ne sceal hēr wrecan wihte. Þisne secgaþ hīe in Geþēodiscre Tungan, mǣst nēahlīce:

Ānhring þe hīe ealle rīcsaþ  ānhring þe hīe ealle findeþ
ānhring þe hīe ealle bringeþ and in ealdþȳstrum bindeþ

Sindon efne twā lēoðstyccu of lēoþcwide lange cūðum in þām Ælflāre.

Þrēo hringas þām Ælfa cyningum under ūprodres hrōfum
Seofon þām Dweorga Hlāfordum þe delfaþ in stāna telde
Nigon þām drēosendum mannum oþ dēaþsele beadurōfum 
Ān þām deorcan dryhtne þe rīcsaþ on deorcum selde
  In Mordorlandum myrce drōfum
Ānhring þe hīe ealle rīcsaþ  ānhring þe hīe ealle findeþ
ānhring þe hīe ealle bringeþ and in ealdþȳstrum bindeþ
  In Mordorlandum myrce drōfum

Notes:

The proper names, on this page at least, presented no problem. Frodo is a name borrowed from Old English in the first place, so I simply had to restore its original inflectional class. "Gandalf" is a loan from Norse Gandálfr (meaning something like "Elf of the Mage Staff"). I half-anglicized it into Gandælf. The gand part would be opaque in OE, but the ælf would be quite clear. The word "Mordor" in English evokes various dark things that contain the syllable mor-. Tolkien's intent was, I think, to have a toponym that could mean nothing at all while evoking terrible and ghastly things. In Old English, this effect can be had by keeping the word "Mordor" as it is. Morðor is the OE word for "Murder". But ð before about 750 was not consistently distinguished from d. "Mordor" from an OE perspective could be either an exotic name or an old spelling of the word for murder. So I took it over as is. Also like the word morðor, the scansion I have used for the Ring Verse requires it to be a strong a-stem noun with a parasiting vowel. 

I had to get creative coining a couple other things, and one is a joke for Germanic philologists. 

The Ring Verse is rendered into hypermetric lines, though the refrain uses a normal four-position line. If anyone's wondering, the literal translation of the OE version is: "Three rings for the Elf kings under the firmament-roofs. Seven for the Dwarves' lords who delve under the canopy of stone. Nine to transient men, battle-brave unto the halls of death. One to the dark lord who rules on the dark throne in the gloom-troubled Mordorlands. Onering that rules them all, onering that finds them all, one ring that brings them all and in ancient darkness binds (them), in the gloom-troubled Mordorlands."

Update:

Changed "Þeodisc Tunge" to "Geþeodisc Tunge" after reconsideration of the semantics involved

From Frank Herbert's Dune: The Litany Against Fear (Translated into Old English and Old Norse)

Why did I end up doing this? It's a long story, involving a tattoo and a friend meeting someone in a bar. But half of the answer is "because it's fucking fun".

Both of these translations are in verse. The Old English is rendered into the usual verse-line you'd expect. The Old Norse is rendered into lines of Málaháttr. (I originally wanted to do it into a Skaldic meter, but then I realized what a mess I was getting into.) For some reason, it felt less jarring to render this into Old Norse than Old English. And not just because I couldn't find any way not to alliterate on the same morpheme in the first line. The mood of lines like this seems like it has more precedent to build on in Norse.

For the Old English, the scansion relies on an archaic metrical value of symbel as if it were *syml without vocalic parasiting.

"I shall not fear. Fear is the mind-killer...."

Old English


Iċ ne forhtiġe wiht.
 Fyrhtu biþ mōdbana.
Fyrhtu biþ smældēaþ
 þe mē on symbel dīedeþ
Swelte iċ unforht
 āne sīðe

Old Norse


Ekki mun ek óttask.
 Ótti er móðbani.
Ótti er smádauðinn
 er optliga deyðir.
Óttalauss dey ek
 einu sinni.

In Anglo-Saxon Runes


In Medieval Norse Runes

Anonymous: Deor (From Old English)

This poem refers to stock characters — real and fictional — from Germanic lore. Some of the figures are now obscure, and most are not known directly from Old English versions of the story.

I originally included some thoughts about the dating of this and other Old English poems dealing with Germanic lore, but it mushroomed into a big honking piece of tl;dr, so I moved all that to this page on my other blog.

I have modernized many of the names, giving them forms that would be plausible as Modern English versions of the name. The biggest exception is Wayland, whose Old English name would actually have been Weeland had it survived into the modern period.

Wayland (Old English Wēland, Old Norse Vǫlundr, Old High German Wiolant) was a smith renowned for his metal working ability. He was forced to work for Nithad (OE Niþhad, ON Níðuðr) who hamstrung him to stop his escape. Wayland avenged himself by killing the king's sons, raping his daughter Beadild (OE Beadohilde, ON Bǫðvildr). Mathild and Geat are opaque. They appear to be famous lovers that met a tragic end, like Romeo and Juliet, or Layla and Majnun. The ablest guess is that they correspond to Magnhild and Gaute of a Scandinavian ballad tale recorded in the 19th century, but even if so the story as it was known to the poet's English audience may well have differed greatly from the version known from Scandinavia a thousand years later. Thedric is Theodoric, the Ostrogothic emperor who ruled in Italy from 493 to 526. Armenric is Ermanaric the Goth, another famous tyrant, known to us from Beowulf and Widsith. (I confected the form Armenric by positing that the vowel of Eormanric underwent pre-rhotic lowering to /a/ in Late Middle English and, as in most native words, failed to raise again in the Early Modern period. Eormanric -> Armenric just like feorr, deorc->far, dark.)

In coming up with a phonology for my audio recording, the question "what did this poem sound like when it was first composed?" does not afford a very useful answer. My bet would be that it was composed in some Anglian dialect, some time in the 8th or early 9th century, but that would just be guessing apart from being uselessly broad. It is much easier to imagine what this poem sounded like when it was read by an early reader of the Exeter book, whose proposed dates for compilation run from roughly 950 to 990. However old or new this poem (or song?) may be, somebody was copying it out in the late 10th century into an MS which wound up in the hands of Leofric the Bishop of Exeter. What you hear in my audio recording is my best guess at what the poem might have sounded like when read aloud by Leofric, i.e. pretty much the same pronunciation I used for the West Saxon version of Bede's Death Song. I posit, following Minkova and Hogg, that reduction of inflectional vowels to /ǝ/ at this point was largely complete, with perhaps sporadic differentiation in careful spelling-based pronunciation. The monophthongization of the "short" diphthongs is a done deal as well. The sounds spelled eo and ēo in normalized orthography are now /ø/ and /øː ~ øɵ̯/. I also effect the so-called "Late West Saxon Smoothing" of <ea> in various environments.

Audio of me reciting the original text in (Very) Late West Saxon


Deor
By Anonymnous
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

In Wormland, Wayland went through harrows,
The strongminded smith suffered in exile.
His soul-companions were sorrow and cold
In wintry exile. He ached for escape
When Nithad caught and crippled him,
And strung him down with severed sinews,
Binding a slave of the better man.

That passed in time. This can too. 

To Beadild's mind her brothers' deaths
Weren't as wounding as what she faced
Herself when she came to clearly see
That she was pregnant. That princess unmarried
Could not know what would come of her,
Tried not to recall the rape had happened.

That passed in time. This can too.

In a hundred songs we have heard the pang
Of Mathild and Geat who grew a bottomless
And baneful love   that banished sleep.

That passed in time. This can too.

We all know how Thedrick for thirty winters
Ruled the Mearings then reigned no more.

That passed in time. This can too.

We all have heard of Armenrick's
Wolfsick mind. He was one cruel king
Who ruled over the outland Goths.
His state was set in strung-up hearts 
As strongmen sat in sorrow-shackles
Awaiting the worst, wishing often
For a foe to liberate the land of their king.

That passed in time. This can too.

A man sits mournful, his mind ripped from joy,
His spirit in dark and deeming himself
Foredoomed to endure ordeals forever.
Then he may think how throughout the Midworld
The Wise God goes and works around:
Meting out grace, mercy and certain
Success to some, suffering to many.

Of myself I have this much to say:
I was songmaker for a time  to the tribe of Heden,
Dear to my master. "Deor" was my name.
For many seasons  I sang in that hall
To the heart of my king. But Herrend now
Has reaped the riches and rights of land
That guardian of men  once granted me,
Stolen my place  with a poet's skill. 

That passed in time. This can too.



The Original:

Wēland him be wurman  wræċes cunnade,
ānhȳdiġ eorl  earfoða drēag,
hæfde him tō ġesīþþe  sorge ond longaþ,
winterċealde wræċe;  wēan oft onfond,
siþþan hine Nīþhād on  nēde leġde,
swoncre seonobende  on syllan monn.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Beadohilde ne wæs  hyre brōðra dēaþ
on sefan swā sār  swā hyre sylfre þing,
þæt hēo ġearolīċe  onġieten hæfde
þæt hēo ēacen wæs;  ǣfre ne meahte
þrīste ġeþencan,  hū ymb þæt ṡċeolde.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Wē þæt Mæþhilde  monġe ġefrūnon
wurdon grundlēase  Ġēates frīge,
þæt him sēo sorglufu  slǣp ealle binom.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Þēodrīċ āhte  þrītiġ wintra
Mǣringa burh;  þæt wæs monegum cūþ.

Þæs oferēode, þisses swā mæġ.

Wē ġeāscodan  Ēormanrīċes
wylfenne ġeþōht;  āhte wīde folc
Gotena rīċes.  Þæt wæs grim cyning.
Sæt seċġ moniġ  sorgum ġebunden,
wēan on wēnan,  wyscte ġeneahhe
þæt þæs cynerīċes  ofercumen wǣre.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Siteþ sorgċeariġ,  sǣlum bidǣled,
on sefan sweorceþ,  sylfum þinceþ
þæt sȳ endelēas  earfoða dæl.
Mæġ þonne ġeþencan,  þæt ġeond þās woruld
wītiġ dryhten  wendeþ geneahhe,
eorle monegum  āre geṡċeawaþ,
wīslīcne blǣd,  sumum wēana dǣl.

Þæt iċ bi mē sylfum  secgan wille,
þæt iċ hwīle  wæs Heodeninga scop,
dryhtne dȳre.  Mē wæs Dēor nama.
Āhte iċ fela wintra  folgaþ tilne,
holdne hlāford,  oþþæt Heorrenda nū,
lēoþcræftiġ monn  londryht ġeþāh,
þæt mē eorla hlēo  ǣr ġesealde.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Manuscript of Dēor in the Exeter Book: