The Wife's Lament


    Unlike other translators, I feel that the hlaford first mentioned in the poem is not the speaker's husband, but the leader of her tribe, perhaps a kinsman, brother or uncle, or a chief whose household she lives in and whose concubine she may be.  When this hlaford he leads a retinue of thanes off to raid or settle another country, she follows him not wanting to be left behind where she evidently has little family or support (and perhaps some enemies in the chief's household.)
    Once she finds the comitatus, her lord's male kinsmen convince him to marry her to a potentially traitorous thane in hopes that the marriage will keep a feud from breaking out [a typical political strategy in which the weaver person (wifman) was supposed to become the weaver of peace.]
    The plan does not work, and the speaker finds herself rejected by her husband.  Her lord apparently ends up living in the sorrow caused by a feud within his comitatus, under cold walls, in an empty, rain-drenched hall.

    Please understand that this is a difficult poem to translate, and that all reconstructions of its situation and its meaning are greatly dependent upon the translator's imagination.


I this riddle work  by me full sad,
mine own journey.  That I may say--
what hardships I suffered   since I grew up,
new or old,   none more than now.
Always I know suffering  in my grievous need.

    Erstwhile, my lord went   from here, from the people,
over the rolling waves.  I had grief before dawn
wondering where my people-leader  was in the lands.
Therefore, I set out, I went,  I sought the retinue,
a joyless wretch,   because of my grievous need.

They began, that person's    kinsmen, to think
through secret thought,   that they separate us,
that we two the widest   in the world-kingdom
live most hatefully   and me in longing.
My lord ordered me  to take up here my hard fate.
I had little love  in this country,
loyal friends.  Therefore is my heart grieving.

Then I found me   a full suitable person--
unfortunate,  pained in spirit,
withdrawn in mind,  meditating murder,
outwardly bearing bliss.  Full often we boasted
that we two would never part  except for death alone,
nothing else.   Afterwards is that as if the woof unravelled [onhworfen];
it is now   as if it never was,
our friendship.   I must, far and near,
my dearly loved one  in feud painfully experience.

    The person ordered me   to live in the wood grove
under oaktree  in that earthscraping [cave?  mud hut?].
Old is this earth-home;   I am all seized with longing.
The valleys are dim,  dunes heave up,
bitter hedges  grow with briars;
a joyless habitation.  Full often here anger drenches me,
the departed lord.   Friends are on earth,
lovers living life   take to their bed
when I in the time just prior to dawn  go alone
under oaktree   around this earthscraping.
There I must sit  summerlong day.
There I may weep   my miseries,
many hardships;  for that, I never may
on account of that mindcare  rest myself
nor all that longing  that lays hold on me in this life.

    Ever might a young person be sadminded,
heart heart's-thought,  while s/he must have
blissful outward bearing   and that breast-care,
sin-sorrow suffering.  Insofar as to himself belongs
all his world's joy,  so it is that full widely outcast,
in far folklands,   my friend sits
under stonewalls   berimed with storm,
protector [wine] weary in mind,  water flowing
on the sorrow-hall,  he suffers, my protector,
great mind-care;   he groans too often
for his wine-like* [delightful] home.  Woe is to him who must
abide loves of longing!

* Wynlic, with a possible pun on winelic or "protector-like" and at the same time, ironically, on winn: "war, strife"; so that the friend's home, for which he longs, is simultaneously like the delights of wine and being surrounded by protectors, and full of strife, a reference perhaps, to the feud which the lord and the thane tried to suppress but which finally broke out and destroyed the comitatus.

      This final passage thus becomes a criticism of both the lord and the feuding thane whom the speaker married at the lord's insistence.  Both men thought that they could act without consideration for the feelings of others in the tribe (in particular, the speaker), and the result of their choices has brought everyone to exile.

                           --Susan Oldrieve
                             Baldwin-Wallace College
                             Berea, Ohio
                             Copyright  c  1995