Full Text Translation of Deor

  Copyright:  Sean Miller available at http://www.anglo-saxons.net/hwaet

Welund him be wurman [#] Weland himself, by means of worms (swords?),
wræces cunnade, experienced agony,
anhydig eorl the strong-minded noble
earfoþa dreag, endured troubles;
hæfde him to gesiþþe he had for his companions
sorge and longaþ, sorrow and longing,
4a wintercealde wræce, winter-bitter wrack,
wean oft onfond he often found misery
siþþan hine Niðhad on after Niðhad
nede legde, put fetters on him,
swoncre seonobende supple sinew-bonds
on syllan monn. on the better man.
Þæs ofereode, That was overcome,
þisses swa mæg. [#] so may this be.


8a Beadohilde ne wæs Beadohild was not
hyre broþra deaþ as sad in mind
on sefan swa sar for the death of her brothers
swa hyre sylfre þing, as for her own trouble,
þæt heo gearolice she had
ongietan hæfde clearly realized
þæt heo eacen wæs; that she was pregnant;
æfre ne meahte she could never
12a þriste geþencan think resolutely
hu ymb þæt sceolde. of how that would have to (turn out).
Þæs ofereode, That was overcome,
þisses swa mæg. so may this be.


We þæt Mæðhilde [#] We heard that
mone gefrugnon the moans of Matilda,
wurdon grundlease of the lady of Geat,
Geates frige, were numberless
16a þæt hi seo sorglufu so that (her) sorrowful love
slæp ealle binom. entirely deprived of sleep.
Þæs ofereode, That was overcome,
þisses swa mæg. so may this be.


Ðeodric ahte [#] Theodric ruled
þritig wintra for thirty winters
Mæringa burg; the city of the Mærings;
þæt wæs monegum cuþ. that was known to many.
20a Þæs ofereode, That was overcome,
þisses swa mæg. so may this be.


We geascodan We heard
Eormanrices [#] Ermanaric’s
wylfenne geþoht; wolfish thought;
ahte wide folc he ruled widely the people
Gotena rices; of the kingdom of the Goths –
þæt wæs grim cyning. That was a grim king!
24a Sæt secg monig Many a warrior sat,
sorgum gebunden, bound up by cares,
wean on wenan, woes in mind,
wyscte geneahhe wished constantly
þæt þæs cynerices that the kingdom
ofercumen wære. were overcome.
Þæs ofereode, That was overcome,
þisses swa mæg. so may this be.


28a Siteð sorgcearig, He sits sorrowful and anxious,
sælum bidæled, bereft of joy,
on sefan sweorceð, darkening in his mind,
sylfum þinceð he thinks to himself
þæt sy endeleas that (it) is endless
earfoða dæl, the (his) part of troubles;
mæg þonne geþencan then he can consider
þæt geond þas woruld that throughout this world
32a witig Dryhten the wise Lord
wendeþ geneahhe, always goes,
eorle monegum to many men
are gesceawað, he shows honour,
wislicne blæd, sure glory,
sumum weana dæl. to some a share of troubles.


Þæt ic bi me sylfum I, for myself,
secgan wille, want to say this,
36a þæt ic hwile wæs that for a while I was
Heodeninga scop, the scop (bard) of the Hedenings,
dryhtne dyre; dear to my lord;
me wæs Deor noma. [#] my name was Deor.
Ahte ic fela wintra I had for many winters
folgað tilne, a good position,
holdne hlaford, a loyal lord,
oþ þæt Heorrenda nu, until Heorrenda now,
40a leoðcræftig monn, a man skilful in songs,
londryht geþah has taken the estate
þæt me eorla hleo that the protector (hleo) of warriors (eorla)
ær gesealde. before (ær) gave to me.
Þæs ofereode, That was overcome,
þisses swa mæg. so may this be.



line 1a: Welund is better known in English folklore as Wayland the Smith. (Beowulf’s armour was said to be Weland’s work, and King Alfred, in a series of wonderings of where famous things have got to, wonders where are the bones of Weland the wise, the master goldsmith who was most famous in days gone by. A barrow in Oxfordshire is called Wayland’s Smithy to this day.)

An Old Norse poem from the Edda, Völundarkviða, gives us a fuller account of his life. He and his two brothers came upon three swan-maidens on a lake’s shore, and loved them, and lived with them happily for seven years, but then the swan-maidens flew away again. His brothers left, but Weland stayed on the spot, and turned to smithing, and made beautiful gold rings against his wife’s return. King Nithuthr hears of this, steals one of the rings, takes him captive, hamstrings him to keep him prisoner, and keeps him on an offshore island and forces him to make pretty things. Weland takes his revenge by killing Nithuthr’s two sons, cutting off their heads for silver bowls, cutting out their eyes for gemstones, cutting out their teeth for brooches, and presenting these to Nithuthr and his wife. Weland also gets Nithuthr’s daughter Bothvild (Beadohild) with child, though it is unclear whether this is part of malicious revenge — Bothvild is said to weep at Weland’s departure, and Weland insists to Nithuthr that Bothvild is his bride and should not be killed. Finally, Weland, most cunning of smiths, fashions wings and so flies away in spite of his infirmity. Farther than that we cannot follow him.

line 7b: The obvious question one is left asking is what precisely does “Thaes ofereode, thisses swa maeg” mean? A more literal if less compact rendering might be “It was overcome in respect of that, and so it might be in respect of this”. This is ambiguous: you can’t tell whether the speaker hopes that things will work out the same way (“may it be so”) or is simply admitting the possibility (“it may be so”). The same ambiguity exists in the original, down to the same word mæg, which may have meant either.

From the context of the author listing the various heroes and heroines of the Germanic past, who had their troubles but these troubles passed in the end, and then linking his own story into the chain, one gets the impression that the narrator is hoping that just as all these troubles passed away, so he hopes his will too.

It reminds me of Aunt Bee in Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, standing in the churchyard after telling the rector her troubles and remembering the rival smiths with their fierce battle back in 1723, who were now sleeping peacefully in the same plot of Clare earth, and thinking that someday her problems too would just be an old song, that it was simply a matter of keeping a sense of proportion. Or indeed of John Cleese as Basil Fawlty having just dealt with some minor difficulties and then remembering that he had had to lock Sybil up in order to sort them out, and going to release her with the dread words, “So far so good; now for the tricky bit.”

line 14a: Maethhild (Matilda) and Geat may have been as famous as Romeo and Juliet in their day, but only a fragment more has survived to ours, and that not from mediaeval sources but from Scandianavian ballads recorded in the nineteenth century. Magnild (Maethhild) wept, apparently, because she foretold she would drown in the river. Gauti (Geat) retorts that he will build a bridge over the river, but she notes that none can flee fate. Sure enough, she is drowned (either falls off the bridge, or the bridge collapses). Gauti calls for his harp, and, like a Germanic Orpheus, plays so well that his wife’s body rises out of the waters. In one version she returns alive; in the darker version, she is dead, but Gauti buries her properly and makes new strings for his harp from her hair.

line 18a: That Theodoric ruled the city of the Maerings for thirty years may have been known to many in the poet’s day, but the details are lost to ours. In this case a ninth-century runic inscription comes to our aid, which notes that nine generations ago a Theodric, lord of the Maerings, landed in Geatland (confusingly, nothing to do with Maethhild’s husband Geat) and was killed there. In the early sixth century there was a Frankish king called Theoderic, and certainly the last battle of the Geatish king Hygelac, Beowulf’s patron, was against the Franks: it may be that we should read a long feud here, barely hinted at. But we have no real details to go on. [For more on the runestone and the possibilities, see Kemp Malone’s Deor.] A good many allusions to nearly lost Germanic myth like this are somewhat like overhearing people talking enthusiastically about a soap opera which you don’t follow yourself — who Edmund and Margaret and Megan are you have no idea, and you aren’t any the wiser from animated conversation about them because the people talking know all the basic details and don’t bother to explain them.

line 21b: Eormenric, on the other hand, is much better known. In history he was a great king of the Ostrogoths, who died in about 375; according to Ammianus Marcellinus, he killed himself out of fear of the invading Huns. According to other Old Norse Eddic poems, Guðrúnarhvöt and Hamðismál, Iormunrekkr (Eormenric) had his wife Svannhildr trampled by horses because he suspected her of having an affair with his son. Unfortunately, Svannhildr was also the daughter of the formidable Guthrun (wife of Sigurthr, more famously known as Siegfried the Dragon-slayer), who incited her sons, Hamthir and Sorli, to go and take revenge, which they did, by cutting off his hands and feet. And so indeed Eormenric’s rule was overcome.

line 37b: Deor has left no trace, and may simply be authorial fiction. Heorrenda, on the other hand, seems to appear (as Horant) in a thirteenth century German epic Kudrun, as a follower of King Hetel. It is said that Horant sang so sweetly that birds fell silent at his song, and fish and animals in the wood fell motionless. “

Entirely copied from http://www.anglo-saxons.net/hwaet