The Wolf

What I been working on. With a deadline pushing. Speaks tonight to my condition too, a bit lone a bit ferocious. So a bite from Unlikeness Is Us, fourteen carried o’er from the Old English, to come from Gaspereau fall 2017.


THE WOLF

As if one had made the people an offering.
They will receive him if he comes in violence.
      Unlikeness is us.
The wolf is on an island. I am on another.
Mine is secured and surrounded by marsh.
The men on that island are glad at war—
they’ll receive him if he comes in violence.
      Unlikeness is us.
I have borne a wolf on thought’s pathways.
Then it was rainy weather and I sat crying.
When the war-swift one took me in arms,
the joy he gave me, it was that much pain.
Wolf—my Wolf—thoughts of you
sicken me. How seldom you come
makes me anxious, not my hunger.
Listen, overseer, to our miserable whelp
     wolf bears to woods.
Easy to make two what was never one;
     our song together.


THE WOLF

Lē­odum is mīnum          swylce him mon lāc° gife.
Willað hȳ hine āþecgan°          gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
      Ungelīc is ūs.°
Wulf is on īege,          ic on ōþerre.
Faest is þæt ēglond,          fenne biworpen.                                   (5)
Sindon wælrēowe          weras þǣr on ige;
willað hȳ hine āþecgan           gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
      Ungelīce is us.
Wulfes ic mīnes wīdlāstum          w­ēnum dogode°.
Þonne hit wæs rēnig weder          ond ic reotugu sæt.              (10)
Þonne mec se beaducāfa          bōgum bilegde,
wæs mē wyn tō þon,           wæs mē hwæþre ēac lāð.
Wulf, min Wulf,           wēna mē þīne
sēoce gedydon,           þīne seldcymas,
murnende mōd,           nāles metelīste.                                          (15)
Gehyrest þu, ead wacer°,           uncerne earmne hwelp
      bireð wulf tō wuda.°
Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð          þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs,°
      uncer° giedd geador.


COMMENTARY

More commonly “Wulf and Eadwacer.” A woman speaks. She’s pregnant and her people are hostile to the father of the child. Not much else is settled about the poem. Wulf may be a raider from another clan; is their encounter a rape, as has often been thought? That makes her longing for him awfully hard to account for. Something more mutual then. Still though the poem is riven with her ambivalence – she wants him to come, and wants him not to come, and the doubleness in her thought sickens her.

Her ambivalence streaks the poem with ambiguities. A refrain, Ungelīc is ūs, as odd in composition and placement as Stein’s “The difference is spreading.” A female speaker whose relation to the masculine warrior ethos is intimate but aslant and has, for us, only a few interpretive helpmates in the Anglo-Saxon corpus (primarily “Her Case”). Verbs that appear nowhere else in the literature and must be defined in a context as nearly unprecedented as they are. A scribal practice of leaving names uncapitalized that makes it difficult to discern person from epithet from animal. When is wulf a wolf and when is it her Wulf? An oral tradition, not long left behind, in which the utterance “wulf” could function without trouble as both. The scribe, following his lowercase practice, could preserve this ambiguity, but a modern editor has to decide.

I take ead wacer as an epithet, not a name, which plucks out the third party usually thought to be involved – a husband cuckolded by the raider Wulf. That’s extra, a late entry throwing off a poem exquisitely balanced dramatically. Her people and her own mind are opponent enough. Other readers have doubted this third party too: one has, for instance, read the compound as an epithet for Wulf himself, “joy guardian.”

In this translation, which is literally anachronistic, ead wacer is the one who gehyreþ the spoken poem, the wacer of the written poem, the listener, the reader. Not that we’re her imprisoner exactly – but if we weren’t here, she wouldn’t be, either. She’s been hurt into a consciousness so sharp it tears the fabric that gives it voice. Tears the air or page that binds her to, as it divides her from, her first and last interlocutor, us.


NOTES

  1. lāc. Offering or gift, especially in a ritual sense. A sacrifice; in some contexts a message.
  1. āþecgan. The verb appears to mean “receive” in the sense of food, with a suggestion of killing, destruction, consumption.
  1. ungelīc is ūs. Literally, “(it) is different (with) us” or “(it) is different (between) us.” Disagreement whether the difference is between the speaker and Wulf, or between speaker-and-Wulf and the speaker’s people, or both.
  1. dogode. Possibly the past tense of an otherwise unrecorded dogian, meaning something like “to suffer” or “to follow,” maybe here in imagination (Marsden). Some amend to hogode, past tense of hogian, “to consider, to dwell upon” (Muir). My translation draws from both senses.
  1. ead wacer. Most take this as proper name, that of the speaker’s husband. Ead, “riches, prosperity, joy, property.” Wacher, “watcher.” A possessive spouse and enemy to Wulf. However, because the scribe does not use capital letters to distinguish names, the compound can also be taken as an epithet; one reader reads the compound as an epithet for Wulf himself: “joy guardian” (Marsden). I’ve translated something I hear near the core of the phrase, a sense of being thronged by eyes all round. Note that she calls on the watcher not to see but to hear. She will rip him if she can out of his crowning sense function.
  1. bireð wulf tō wuda. The verb, “bears,” may be in either the present or the future tense. Is she crying wolf here or naming her Wolf? Which is it carries, or will, her newborn whelp to the woods and to what end?
  1. Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð | þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs. Literally, “The man easily tears apart what was never joined.” The line doesn’t alliterate. Muir: “[It] has the ring of a gnomic utterance, and may well be an Anglo-Saxon rendering of the biblical ‘Quod ergo Deus coniunxit, homo non separet’ [Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate] (Matt. 19:6), which might account for its not following an accepted alliterative pattern.”
  1. uncer. First-person dual genitive – “of us two.” Ours as in yours and mine.

Image atop, a belt buckle recovered from Sutton Hoo burial site. Shining instance of orþoncbendum, inborn shaping, cunning clasping, what I am more and the more finding in these poems. Sneaky snakework of this mind.

Messages across seas

Delighted to share with you a translation just now out in the wonderful journal Asymptote. I love this journal, its global intention attention & compass. Check out this map of their scope and multiplicity.

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Click for a live version

My little poem is a pre-modern throwback in an issue otherwise on translation’s front edge. (Okay, there’s some Tzara, too, but he’s still.) Grateful they thought to find room for it. Thematically it does I guess fit an issue called “People from the In-between.” It’s got people at a loss, unbridgeable textual gaps, and runes – runes how to make meaning from which is all dispute.

Well see what you think it’s here. With floating footnotes, and the Old English, and me reading said Old English badly, should you wish to go there.

Whole issue’s rad. Especially worth your time and heart, the special feature on “literature from banned countries,” i.e. those seven or six singled out by the present US administration’s unconscionable incoherent & never mind that they’re unconstitutional travel bans. I’m having a little trouble finding the special section as a cluster, but here’s the headline piece, then you can just wander over borders, as surely mostly we should be.

Wander or sojourn or flee as our luck has it. I avoid the word “privilege” as calcified but I am luck-filled. Many on the map above are not. Many pressed against borders are getting fucked by the stick of the world. May you come to places of rest. You should have, & it’s in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Trumpwad, so you’re a signatory, you should have a place to live that’s safe for you to love & work & love more & live & die meaningful lives and deaths.

Didn’t expect to go there. (As I say always to my students, boringly to them, let the track of your writing startle you.) Got to get to work on something blah & bureaucratic, plan for the annual fundraising drive for the Zen centre I somehow ended up on the board of, & what why me. But reading this article in The New Yorker has shocked the living shit out of me.

These women and girls and men are moving up Africa along the old slave-trading routes. And what they endure on the journey and when they arrive, if they do arrive, seems to this far away safely sheltered reader impotently empathizing no less than what the slaves did in olden days when they were fuelling the economic growth of the Americas.

Got more on this. For instance bringing it to my nonfiction workshop’s notice, and putting it beside Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, and his effort to broaden a indictment of systemic American racism into a critique of global inequality, including climate change. That’s for another post. God and damn it’s all connected. Where to snip the thread? Thank you friend. May I call you friend? If you’ve read this far.

Found poem (w/ rune painting)

A near perfect haiku came from my love by text earlier this eve.

Im making my moms
moms cake for dessert , it
is called “my cake”

I get pissy about 5-7-5 for haiku in English. Wordy. Haiku’s genre for us not form, moment of unanticipated in-seeing. Count your blesses! not your sylls!

Also the search has been on since at least Kerouac for authentic American haiku. Now and then one’s found, and this looks to me like one.

Serendipitous also, her rune tanka, 5-7-5-7-7, pigments made of ochres from the whole planet. No fool I haven’t counted the sylls. It’s a five-realm rainbow.

Heidi - runes 2

H. painted it in quick accord with these runes in the OE poem “His Message.” The which no one knows how for sure to read

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Have a trans. of it coming out soon in Asymptote, will post a link of it when up.

Hwæt (the movie)

Last week I had the pleasure of reading in the epic recital of Beowulf at Bellingham’s local meadery, Honey Moon, þæt wæs good fun. The opening lines wouldn’t quit me after so I kept messing with them. Here’s the result.

My first movie. Crude stuff, okay, but what I’m keen on? Putting images I’ve made by hand in motion and putting sound and voice to them. Doubt I’m done exploring that.

Check out, while I’m channeling the pre-mod, Benjamin Bagby’s astonishing recreation of these same lines. My Old English is too crappy for me to know for sure, but I think he’s probably the Olivier, the Brannagh, of the scop set.

Be wheat and sway hey la hey

This one composted from a homophonic translation of folio 89V of The Exeter Book.

89V ED
Click once and twice for a zoom happening.

Been a long teaching stretch. They’re working hard and tired, I’m working hard and tired, these compressed summer courses, hmm. Well, we’re halfway there. They’ve spent the week getting blogs up and running, and are making some interesting forays. Latte art, penny textures, Vonnegut on where the sun don’t shine. Over the next while I mean to post ties (ligatures, holdfasts) to their adventures.

Something rhizomatic about blog world. Someone should write something about that sometime.

Mm, quick check says, rhizome’s got co-opted by some digitalists and some corporatists, so nevermind maybe. But here’s a picture from/of the origin. Fans of Deleuze and Guattari will know that’s a bad joke.

From Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus