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:

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