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 am going to table that for now.

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 Wéland, 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 in some dialects at least, 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

By Anonymnous
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Wayland in Wormland went through harrows,
The strongminded smith suffered in exile.
He had as sole comrades  sorrow and longing,
Winter-raw anguish. He ached for escape
After King Nithad cramped his sinews 
And bound a slave of the better man.

That passed in time. So too can this. 

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 unwed
Could not handle what would come of that,
Tried not to recall that the rape happened.

That passed in time. So too can this.

We know the tale   of tragic Mathild
The Geat bore her a bottomless passion
Till her baneful love   banished all sleep

That passed in time. So too can this.

Tyrant Thedrick for thirty winters
Ruled the Mearings, as many know.

That passed in time. So too can this.

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 strong men sat in sorrow-chains
Awaiting the worst, and wishing so much
For a foe to liberate the land of their king.

That passed in time. So too can this.

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. So too can this.

The Original:

Wélund him be wurman  wræċes cunnade,
ánhýdiġ eorl  earfoða dréag,
hæfde him tó ġesíþþe  sorge ond longaþ,
winterċealde wræċe;  wéan oft onfond,
siþþan hine Níþhád on  néde leġde,
swoncre seonobende  on syllan monn.

Þæs oferéode,  þisses swá mæġ.

Beadohilde ne wæs  hyre bróðra déaþ
on sefan swá sár  swá hyre sylfre þing,
þæt héo ġearolíċe  onġieten hæfde
þæt héo éacen wæs;  ǽfre ne meahte
þríste ġeþencan,  hú ymb þæt ṡċeolde.

Þæs oferéode,  þisses swá mæġ.

Wé þæt Mǽþhilde  monġe ġefrugnon
wurdon grundléase  Ġéates fríge,
þæt him séo sorglufu  slǽp ealle binom.

Þæs oferéode,  þisses swá mæġ.

Þéodríċ áhte  þrítiġ wintra
Mǽringa burh;  þæt wæs monegum cúþ.

Þæs oferéode, þisses swá mæġ.

Wé ġeáscodan  Éormanríċes
wylfenne ġeþóht;  áhte wíde folc
Gotena ríċes.  Þæt wæs grim cyning.
Sæt seċġ moniġ  sorgum ġebunden,
wéan on wénan,  wyṡċte ġeneahhe
þæt þæs cyneríċes  ofercumen wǽre.

Þæs oferéode,  þisses swá mæġ.

Siteþ sorgċeariġ,  sǽlum bidǽled,
on sefan sweorċeþ,  sylfum þinceþ
þæt sý endeléas  earfoða dæl.
Mæġ þonne ġeþencan,  þæt ġeond þás woruld
wítiġ dryhten  wendeþ geneahhe,
eorle monegum  áre geṡċeawaþ,
wíslícne blǽd,  sumum wéana dǽl.

Þæt iċ bi mé sylfum  seċġan wille,
þæt iċ hwíle  wæs Heodeninga sċop,
dryhtne dýre.  Mé wæs Déor nama.
Áhte iċ fela wintra  folgaþ tilne,
holdne hláford,  oþþæt Heorrenda nú,
léoþcræftiġ monn  londryht ġeþáh,
þæt mé eorla hléo  ǽr ġesealde.

Þæs oferéode,  þisses swá mæġ.

Manuscript of Dēor in the Exeter Book:

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