The Wife's Lament Pages

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Translation Explanation

In my translation of "The Wife's Lament," I tried to capture the woman's obvious sorrow and distress over her separation from her husband. The language of the poem does not seem to have as much flow or rhythm to it as other Anglo-Saxon poems I have translated. Perhaps this is because of the worried and fearful nature expressed in the tone of the poem. Usually, when someone is upset, he or she will not express himself or herself as clearly as when things are going well.

An example of a line that sounds distressful in the original text is line twelve: "žurh dyrne gežoht, žęt hy todęlden unc . . ." It has a harsh, broken sound and feel to it. The wife is obviously distressed at this point in the poem, since she is talking about how her husband's kinsmen were plotting against her to separate her from her lord.

In my Anglo-Saxon class at UVSC, we used a grammar book by Robert E. Diamond, which contained original Anglo-Saxon texts, along with Diamond's translations of them. Because I used this book to assist me in my own translations, I have chosen to compare my translation of "The Wife's Lament" with Diamond's. Diamond tends to take more liberties in his translations than I do in mine. For example, Diamond translates line eleven and part of line twelve as "The man's kinsmen began to plot (lit. consider) secretly (lit. through secret thought) . . ." I did not think it was necessary to use my own words and add parenthetical explanations for the literal translations. I translated the same portion as follows: "The man's kinsmen undertook and intended through secret thought . . ." I think that "secret thought," a more literal translation of "dyrne gežoht," conveys the evil intent of the man's kinsmen better than "secretly."

My intent in my translation was to use words that were as close to literal translation as possible, while conveying the most sorrow of feeling. For instance, I translated the second part of line seventeen as "Therefore is my spirit mournful . . ." Diamond translates the same line as "Therefore my heart is sad . . ." I think that a mournful spirit intimates more of a sorrow of being than does a sad heart. There are obviously some times in the poem when it is necessary to use filler words, but I tried to be as loyal to the original text as I could.

I find it interesting that Diamond translates line fifteen as "My lord commanded me to take up my dwelling here . . ." I suppose that Anglo-Saxon wives would take command from their husbands, but I chose to translate the line in a more kind way. It seems that the wife would not be as mournful for her husband if she felt he had forced her to live somewhere that she was unhappy. I translated the line thus: "My lord bid me to take my home here . . ." In my translation, I was trying to show that the blame for their separation should fall on the husband's kinsmen, and not on the husband himself. Diamond uses the same translation again in line twenty-seven. I believe that either the husband wanted her to move to a safe cave to avoid persecution from his family or his family forced the move upon her.

Another interesting thing about the poem is that the wife knows her husband is guilty of murderous feelings, and yet she still loves him and longs for him. Diamond translated "moržor hycgendne" as "plotting a deadly sin." I thought that "murderous intent" fit the meaning better and avoided adding unnecessary extra words.

I interpreted the middle of line thirty-four through line thirty-seven to have a different meaning from Diamond's translation of the same lines. Diamond's translation reads, "There are beloved friends (i.e. Lovers) living on earth, (who) occupy their bed, while (lit. when) I am walking alone at dawn under the oak tree through these caves in the earth." Since "le’er" can mean "bed" or "grave," I interpreted it to mean "deathbed." Also, "eoršscrafu" can means "graves," so I pictured the wife wandering through a graveyard, worrying about her husband and the possibility that he has already been killed.

Although "mon" is usually translated as "man," I felt that line forty-two did not keep to the feeling of the rest of the poem. I think the wife is actually speaking of herself and her inability to show pain and grief to her husband's family. Although it uncommon to translate it thus, I chose to use "young woman" instead of "young man" for "’eong mon." I assessed that since "mon" could also mean "one," "someone," or "person," she could just as easily be describing a young woman as a young man.

"The Wife's Lament" is an apt name for the poem. Throughout it, the wife is mourning her separation from her husband and complaining about her horrible circumstances. Most things she encounters are described in harsh, hateful tones. It made me wonder what her life was like when her husband was with her.