Wulf and Eadwacer

The 10th Century Exeter Book contains this interesting Old English poem.  The poem describes a lament of an unarmed woman who was involved with two men, possibly her husband and her captor.  In the poem, the woman is separated from her love through some threat of violence, possibly from her own people.

The following Old English original and the translation of that same poem present one of the earliest known Old English poems, and the noted scholar Michael Alexander provided his own translation in his book The Earliest English Poems (Penguin, 1973).

Old English Version

Leodum is minum swylce him mon lac gife;
willað hy hine aþecgan, gif he on þreat cymeð.
Ungelic is us.
Wulf is on iege, ic on oþerre.

Fæst is þæt eglond, fenne biworpen.
Sindon wælreowe weras þær on ige;
willað hy hine aþecgan, gif he on þreat cymeð.
Ungelice is us.
Wulfes ic mines widlastum wenum dogode;

þonne hit wæs renig weder ond ic reotugu sæt,
þonne mec se beaducafa bogum bilegde,
wæs me wyn to þon, wæs me hwæþre eac lað.
Wulf, min Wulf, wena me þine
seoce gedydon, þine seldcymas,

murnende mod, nales meteliste.
Gehyrest þu, Eadwacer? Uncerne earne hwelp
bireð Wulf to wuda.
þæt mon eaþe tosliteð þætte næfre gesomnad wæs,
uncer giedd geador.

English Translation

It is to my people as if someone gave them my gift.
They want to kill him, if he comes with a troop.
It is different for us.
Wulf is on one island I on another.

That island, surrounded by fens, is secure.
There on the island are bloodthirsty men.
They want to kill him, if he comes with a troop.
It is different for us.
I thought of my Wulf with far-wandering hopes,

Whenever it was rainy weather, and I sat tearfully,
Whenever the warrior bold in battle encompassed me with his arms.
To me it was pleasure in that, it was also painful.
Wulf, my Wulf, my hopes for you have caused
My sickness, your infrequent visits,

A mourning spirit, not at all a lack of food.
Do you hear, Eadwacer? A wolf is carrying
our wretched whelp to the forest,
that one easily sunders which was never united:
our song together.

Posted by Twobears79                                                                                                                        Thomas “Two Bears” is a guest blogger for Discover and Defend.  He maintains his own travel blog Twenty-Eight Days Later which covers the same trip, but in a different style.

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3 Responses to Wulf and Eadwacer

  1. I fell in love with this poem the first time I read it … so much in love I ended up doing my own loose translation of the poem:


    Michael R. Burch

    • twobears79 says:

      Thank you for sharing your translation of this poem, Michael. I found your version to be vibrant and exciting; creating a very pleasing translation of this old poem. I find myself thinking about the unnamed author from time to time; trying to think of what she was going through at the time while trying to understand why this particular poem has survived for so long. Any thoughts?

      • Mike Burch says:

        I’m glad you liked my translation. I have thought about the woman and her plight many times. It seems to be an old story that has been often repeated: a woman is separated from her husband or lover by war. She ends up being raped by one of the “winners.” She bears him a child and something terrible happens. The poem is ambiguous and there are other possible interpretations. But for me the poem tells a powerful, haunting story. I think it’s one of the best poems in the English language. And it’s possible that the first great English poem was written a woman, and a rape victim.

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