The Wonder of Widsith

        With a unique style and minstrel of mythical proportions, Widsith is a wonderfully entertaining and historically telling poem.  It is the speech of a bard, his travels and days, personal encounters, and professional skills and rewards.  The poem is basically comprised of a prologue in lines 1-9, the speech of the mythical Widsith through lines 10-34 containing the lists of tribes and rulers for which the poem is known, and ending with an epilogue in lines 135-143.  Of much interest to readers and scholars, there have been many issues and characteristics within Widsith receiving attention, with focus varying from pure debate to criticism or praise.  Some of these issues include the original written date of the poem, linguistic detail, and historiographical information, especially in the naming of tribes and rulers.  Other significant characteristics in the poem include Widsith, the bard of mythical proportions and his role, as well as the overall meaning of the poem.  

        The date of Widsith has been under much debate, and among the suggestions for the original date in which the poem was written down are the fourth and tenth century. However, the strongest and most sensible argument has been made for the seventh century by Widsith scholars.  Their basis for evidence includes some of the historical names mentioned within the piece, with the assumption that names would not be written unless they were from a time period already passed.  Consequently, this logic allows the poet to be familiar with the historical names and supposedly be more knowledgeable about what he’s writing.  Although that is often a preferred method of argument for newcomers to the field, most of the evidence is strongly tied to the linguistic arguments.

        Joyce Hill describes the debate that arises from the date of written origin best in saying that, “it is proper to ask how much the poem may have been changed in the intervening centuries by expansion, substitution, or omission,” for these are the biggest problems addressed when debating the date of the poem (12).  They are often used as textual evidence in arguments for one date over another, such as arguing that the poem includes many expansions in the years after it was first written, meaning it must be dated earlier.  Following this argument, one can see how linguistic-based evidence is used as ‘proof’ for the date of Widsith.
        Kemp Malone, for instance, denies one claim by Reynolds that the tribes are listed chronologically as a basis for evidence that the later tribes give proof of a tenth century origin for the poem because “tribes are hard to date, even by century, since a tribe, unlike a human being, may be in existence for many centuries” (Malone, 12).     In his book on Widsith, Malone notes that metrical tests have been applied to the text in an effort to determine the possibility of an interpolation, the conclusions of which were “several clear cases of earlier metrical usage […] pointing to an early date of composition” (Malone, 117).  Malone himself used the Franks Casket[1], an Anglo-Saxon box of whalebone dating in the first half of the eighth century, to form his rejection of Reynolds’ argument and as the basis for his own argument[2].  His argument is against others, such as Reynolds, who claim that it would have been impossible to compose certain names at an earlier date, therefore giving the poem a later written date.  Malone argues that it was not actually impossible to be written by the original poet:

If a heathen Englishman living in sixth century Goul could carve scenes and write the runes of the Franks Casket, drawing upon biblical and classical as we all northern lore for his matter, a traveled English scop of the same century might have composed a thula that listed not only Germanic tribes and their neighbors but also biblical peoples (Malone, 16-17).

While it is clear that the Widsith scholars will never completely agree about the exact date of Widsith, the date of composition generally accepted by most is the seventh century, as agreed upon by the two leading Widsith scholars, Chambers and Malone, and noted by Joyce Hill (Hill, 12).

            As hinted at before, the Anglo-Saxonist community also takes enjoyment in arguing over the precise extractions, additions, or changes made to the manuscript.  Just as scholars relied on a variety of tools to argue their point concerning the date of composition, they have made use of many linguistic and historical resources to argue the language details of the text.  Two suggestions for interpolations[3] within the poem are lines 14-17 and lines 82-83, for which the reasons differ.  Concerning lines 14-17, Malone seems to have rejected “them on the basis of the double vowel alliteration in the manuscript version of line 15,” thereby finding their context out of place, and considering all four lines to be added later by a different person than the original poet (qtd. in Fry, 41).  Donald Fry disagrees with Malone, finding the lines instead to be not accidentally out of place, but rather an intentional reference to Hwala and Alexander the Great, “one obviously legendary and the other the greatest conqueror of all time” that then “sets a tone of hyperbole for all that follows” and even suggests that the intentional change in meter is a poetic technique used a few times in other places within the poem (41-42).       Malone makes a connection between lines 14-17 and 82-83, considering them to be added by the same author.  While it has been argued that lines 82-83 are interpolations due to the far-fetched biblical references, Malone says it is not an interpolation for this reason but rather “because of its serious departures from the metrical pattern otherwise rigidly held to,” the same reasoning for lines 14-17 (17).  Joyce Hill seems to come to agreement with Malone that they were “interpolations made during the course of transmission in an attempt to make the catalogue” of names and tribes “more complete” (12).  Taking an entirely different view, Fry suggests that they are instead the poet’s attempt at humour:

Any Christian audience might chuckle at a scop who supposedly visited both the Israelites and the Hebrews without noticing they were the same people.  […] I prefer to think the poet composed them in striking, unusual meter to highlight them, to coincide with the audience’s jolt at the comic shift from Germanic to Biblical tribes (43).

The argument for either suggestion has good reasoning, although Malone’s rejection of lines 82-83 has received little criticism.  It is very possible that both theories have their truth to them, that possibly it is an interpolation meant to be humorous and an attempt to lengthen the catalogue of tribes visited by Widsith.

            Other linguistic details of interest include the unique use of words and names in Widsith, namely the way in which the poem is basically a list, sometimes uses nouns for tribes, and makes use of ‘exile’ words and descriptions in relation to Widsith the scop.  John Niles describes the phenomena of Widsith’s listing quality best, stating that “it names, without comment, tribe after tribe and ruler after ruler of the ancient world” in such a way that “defies literary analysis” (1).  The use and purpose of these lists has been suggested in connection with the main purpose of the poem, and will be discussed later.  An interesting point by Joyce Hill to mention here, however, is that the manuscript hæleþum (heroes) is sometimes changed or translated to Hæreþum of Norway (line 81), and sweordwerum (swordsmen) to Suardones of Tacitus (line 62), two nouns modified in the assumption that they were meant to be specific tribal names.  It is interesting to note that the original manuscript, and the first author to write the poem down, specifically used nouns here, possibly to refer to a group of people that the audience of his time would have recognized, but of whom we no longer have any knowledge of or no longer have the information to make a connection to them.  Joyce Hill even suggests that if the use of nouns for descriptions of groups of people had been the case, that “later scribes and audiences may not have recognized this and may have been content to accept the familiar common nouns at face value as general terms that could be passed off for the moment as tribal names” (13).  I do not see the need to assume the nouns should be adapted to tribal names, and dislike changing the original wording when it could have a significant value, so in my translation I have used the original nouns found in the manuscript.

            The last linguistic detail of interest is the use of language similar to that found in the Wanderer or Seafarer, specifically descriptions given to exiles.  In the poem, the mythical scop Widsith gives himself a very good reputation and many visitations with very influential people, but at the same time it includes much traveling, most likely alone, and within the epilogue of the poem there are hints of destruction or belittling of material items.  The wandering of Widsith and his, or the poet’s, hint at the freedom from material items in favor of a reputation in a more celestial context is rather similar to some of the language in both the Wanderer and the Seafarer.  Joyce Hill describes this interesting contradiction well: “Although he enjoys the benefits of the comitatus and plays his part in presenting the legends of society and in advancing the reputation of those he serves, the poet is set apart from other men in loving a wandering life akin to that of the exile” (Hill, 14).  It is almost as though the poet is giving Widsith just one more characteristic of his mythical proportions by allowing him the freedom of both a rich, social life and the wandering, independent life of an exile.

            Most of the historiographical information taken from Widsith has been taken from the lists within the poem of the many tribes and rulers, as they are usually the main focus for most researchers and scholars.  Many of the tribes in the poem can be found in other Anglo-Saxon literature or in historical sources, while some are rarely found anywhere and some seem to be purely fictional.  Along the same line, some of the tribes are neatly connected to their greatest or most famous of rulers, while others are given a lesser king and still others have no ruler to speak of.  The reasons for these variances are suggested by Niles, when he says that, “one tribe after another is named with no mention of its archetypal ruler.  The Scots and Picts go kingless (79a), as comes as no surprise in what is not only an English poem but also a kind of English propaganda piece” (9).  As for the tribes with a given, named ruler, he suggests that the ruler chosen for the tribe is meant to do one of two things.  It could be meant to evoke an association “with that period of Northern European history that was so much the creation of heroic legend that modern scholars have called it the Heroic Age” in a way that indirectly elevates England’s connection with them (Niles, 10).  Or, it could be meant to belittle them, such as in the case of the Danes’ ruler Aleweh, who, Niles points out, is not only

“said to be inferior to Offa in the performance of heroic deeds,” but also              “is literally a non-entity, a name alone; for such a king is unknown in historical sources outside this poem.  The Danes are therefore belittled through the medium of praise.  They are a great tribe ruled by a brave nobody” (10). 

            Most scholars are more concerned with only the historically real tribes and rulers of the poem, but Niles makes a convincing argument that the non-existent ones can have a meaning equally important and vital to the poem.  It is basic reasoning, after all, to assume that they, whether non-existent or just altogether missing from the poem, would not be so unless the poet had a reason for them to be.

            In contrast, it is has been generally accepted that the most importance is placed on those tribes and rulers given the most emphasis in the poem, the first of which would be Eormanric and the Goths.  In a poem where the majority of tribes and rulers are listed merely in passing, the length and depth of description awarded to Eormanric and the Goths clearly has some kind of meaning, noted particularly by Ray Brown (286), Malone (76-77), and Niles (1-2, 13). 

            The ‘inconsistency’ that exists between the description of Eormanric as a ‘glory-king’ one moment and a ‘cruel faith-breaker’ the next is also debated, not so much as to whether they are intentionally meant to be in the poem, but as to what purpose they play within the poem.  Ray Brown argues that the whole point in including Eormanric so many times and with two different descriptions is to further create an image of Widsith as an ideal scop, to enforce his character as having done everything and seen everything.  His point follows that “it would not do, naturally, to have such a poet beg from just any king.  Widsith would have the most to gain and the most to lose if he were to beg from Eormanric, the most generous and most dangerous king of all time,” the two reputations of Eormanric brought up in the poem (Brown, 286).  Niles somewhat agrees, saying that “Eormanric stands out as a grand figure suggestive of the idealized archetypal king of former times, just as Widsith is the idealized bard who is imagined to have entertained him” (1). 

            However, Niles also takes a step back to look at the bigger picture that Eormanric and the other historiographical information in the poem represents.  He cites and seemingly encourages a modern critic[4] who regarded “the poem not so much as a source of information about the past as a source of insight into how the Anglo-Saxons idealized the past,” along similar lines but clearly taking a  larger and slightly different scope on what Eormanric’s inclusion in the poem could mean (Niles, 2).  He also makes a specific point regarding Widsith’s journey with Ealhhild to Eormanric’s court, which by his reasoning is a marriage for which Widsith was the personal escort, a way to yet again raise his idealized reputation.  Niles claims that the supposed marriage has another purpose, which is “to raise the status of the Angles by marrying them into the Goths, whose stature they thereby approximate” (Niles, 13). 

            Finally, Fry seems to regard this detail more lightly than the others, viewing the inconsistency in description as a “deliberate ambiguity, a slight paradox” by which “the poet tickles the minds of his audience” (Fry, 40).  This is possible in his argument, as he sees the two descriptions coming from two different places, the positive attribute from Widsith the scop and negative attribute directly from the poet itself.

            The final bit of interest here is a hint of Norse and Scandinavian influence within Widsith.  Scholars admit that it will be impossible to ever have any agreement or concrete evidence on the subject, such as Roberta Frank who, in her essay encouraging the exploration of Old English poetry and Scandinavian influence, admits that, “Anglo-Saxonists cannot confidently distinguish late Old English poems from early ones, let alone Scandinavian motifs from native English or common Germanic imagery; And Nordicists have dating troubles of their own” (Frank, 75).  It is clear that any argument whatsoever for correlations and overlaps that hint at influences will be very difficult and under harsh scrutiny.   

            Joyce Hill’s connection between Old Norse lore and Widsith, then, are not only interesting to this poem in particular but to Old English studies in general:

On a higher plane, the fiction of the far-traveller implies that a poet is a man of extraordinary knowledge and insight that is gained in an exceptional way.  It is a claim that is indirectly made also in Old Norse tradition. Oðinn, who possessed both wisdom and the gift of poetry, also enjoyed shamanistic powers which enabled him to wander through far-off lands and other worlds, often in disguise, in search of knowledge, and in some of the sagas and short stories there are seer-like figures who, in ways reminiscent of Widsith, recite catalogues of tribes and chieftains that they claim to have visited (14).

At least Joyce Hill is not alone in seeing this possible connection, as Malone also mentions it, making a connection to not only the Oðinn of Old Norse tradition, but to “the Welsh legendary bard Taliesin” who also possessed similar mythical qualities (77-78).

            It is these mythical qualities of Widsith that partly bring so much interest to the poem, in addition to being a major focus of the poem.  His name itself means “far-traveller” or “far-journey,” a detail interesting and appropriate for a bard as widely traveled as Widsith supposedly is.  The obvious exaggeration of time and travels have especially received attention, particularly the more far-flung places included in his lists of tribes and rulers.  As I have consistently described him, Widsith is an idealized scop whose supposed travels and skills are to be believed by the reader, though perhaps only in a way in which they would believe a story of myth or magic.  The far travels and the time in which he is supposed to have done them are impossible more than unlikely, as Fry tells us, “the historical kings he claimed he visited and served range from Eastgota, of the middle of the third century, to Ælfwine, murdered about A.D. 573; and their courts lie from Arctic Norway to Greece, excluding more obvious exaggeration in the Medes and the Persians” (44) but work together to conjure an image of a wonderfully mythical or magical quality to Widsith. 

            Also of particular interest is that Widsith claims to have been with Eormanric ‘the entire time,’ generally accepted to mean throughout his entire reign, which is “a rather striking feat, since the Gothic king lived to the ripe old age of 110,” making it difficult to have spent a realistic human lifespan with even one king and court (Fry, 44).  The timelessness Widsith embodies is agreed upon by many to be essential to the nature of the poem, for in order to give whatever Widsith said within the poem any value, it would have to come from a person of value, and vice versa.  Malone says that it was “only through his longevity” that he would be able “to seek out and serve the kings of the Heroic Age famous in English story, and only through such service could his words gain the weight needful for the greatest and wisest of scops” and it is this wisdom that allows him to be an ideal scop who “was more than a teller of stories” but also a “historian and a sage” (Malone, 79).  Fittingly it seems that what is at the heart of Widsith is none other than Widsith himself, a source of value, entertainment, and interest for the poem that without would surely be lacking. 

            What most scholars giving anything more than a passing commentary delightfully focus on and debate back and forth is the overall meaning of the poem.  A variety of suggestions have been made, using every detail one could imagine, including the main points of interests previously described and some that have not been mentioned.  Brown used Widsith’s role as an idealized scop as his focal point for the argument that the only thing Widsith is about is the role of a begging scop and disregards everything else.  He argues that it is the “colorful, exotic, quasi-allegorical figure of a superscop/everyscop” that is most important characteristic within the poem, making it “central to the composition of the poem and may have been an important part of whatever appeal it had for its Anglo-Saxon audience” (Brown, 285). 

            Fry, on the other hand, taking much more interest in every detail of the poem, argues for an overall religious meaning in Widsith while comparing it to the Wanderer, pointing out that both “use two voices, the poet and a fictional wanderer; both plant a hint in the beginning” and, finally, “the elegiac wanderer details the disasters of earthly heroic life while the scop Widsith exults in its joys” (51).  He claims that the majority of the poem is mainly for entertainment purposes only, while a hint at the beginning and end of the poem “supercede” the rest “with a notion of heavenly stability” that thereby is supposed to be an obvious reflection of “the medieval hierarchy of values” (Fry, 51). 

            Niles opts for a slightly more integrative view, proposing, in a sense, a combination of entertainment, educational, historical, and social meaning in Widsith.  He says that it “synthesizes historical and geographical knowledge so as to justify an emergent Anglo-Saxon social order” which is somewhat explored within the poem (Niles, 8).  That social order is given the reputation of the past “while wrapping its controlling ethos in an aura of rightness or inevitability” provided by the mythical Widsith (Niles, 8).  All of these lesser purposes and ideas are combined for an even greater purpose to “assert and naturalize a set of claims to status,” for the English, reasoning that altogether makes sense when considering the precision with which the poet went through to choose and describe certain tribes and rulers over others (Niles, 16). 

            My personal favorite is that of Rollman, who argues that the point of Widsith is to create an argument and convince its audience of the artistic ability of poetry.  He suggests that the poet of Widsith intentionally tried to convey to its own audience that “poetry instructs, it enables a reader to expand on the horizons of his own experience, and it provides the only immortality that any of us will witness on this side of the grave” which he does through “example, both general and specific in clever modulation, and by association with a certain genre” (Rollman, 438).  Widsith as pure artistic propaganda is an interesting view that has not yet been really taken to the extent Rollman takes it.  Any one of these arguments could be true or nowhere near the truth.  A combination of all of them could have very well been what the poet of Widsith was aiming for.  We will never be able to come to a concrete conclusion about the poet’s intentional meaning, although it is certain there are plenty of possibilities and potential for debate on the subject.  No matter what the original meaning, we can still find interest and enjoyment in Widsith today.

            It is this interest and enjoyment of Widsith that led me to choose it for a translation.  My interest was first sparked by the clever way Widsith describes his travels, rewards, and praise of rulers, and then hints at a bit of a warning that without that reward those rulers would not be receiving such praise, implying that whatever court he is entertaining at should cough up something in return for his clearly wonderful services, sought in so many places!  The unique style in listing, the near-magical quality and timelessness of Widsith the bard, and some of the more linguistic-based details, such as the fascinating wordhord (word-hoarde) are what got me hooked into the world created within the poem.

            In my translation, I hope to present an understandable piece of Old English poetry that interests the undergraduate and high school reader.  I want to do this by first and foremost making Widsith understandable to the reader, proving the text in a comprehensible language.  By presenting an understandable text, they can first understand the text itself and then make their own interpretations and deeper insights. 

            Regarding the content of the poem, I aim to stay true to the cultural authenticity, keeping as many cultural elements as possible without losing clarity.  I hope to stay true to the original Old English as much as I can, to break up the monotony of the lists, and to provide an emphasis on significant areas within the poem, such as the importance of Eormanric & the Goths or the exile language, to help guide the reader in their evaluation of the poem. 

            Concerning technique, I will try to keep as many of the poetic and language elements as I can, which for this poem includes alliteration, assonance, consonance, and the kennings.  I realize that at times one of these elements may have to be compromised in order to meet the other, and I will make that choice based on which aspect I think to be the most important for the reader to have within the given context, most likely clarity. 

            My reasoning for wanting to present an Old English text to the undergraduate audience and get them interested is that I want to give them an understanding of the Anglo-Saxon culture and Old English language.  An understanding of the Anglo-Saxon culture would give them an enlightening and better-cultured view of the world, even if that culture is now a part of history.  Furthermore, learning about another culture can bring forth information and new light to areas of their own culture, letting them see the world they live in differently.  Finally, if both of these are accomplished, they can form and develop connections between the past and their lives in the present, through their interest and knowledge of Anglo-Saxon culture within the literature.

            With this translation alone, however, I aim not to form a whole-hearted fan of Anglo-Saxon literature and Old English, but to at least present an understandable and enjoyable text to the reader, and perhaps spark their interest in the subject. 

            The four translations I consulted in evaluating this poem brought out different aspects within the poem, which I paid attention to in making the criteria for my own translation.  Robert Gordon’s translation lacked in many areas.  It was presented with more of a prose form than a poetic one, losing the Old English poetic form that Widsith provides.  For instance he translates lines 50-56 into one summed up sentence, leaving behind the poetic nature of the lines in favor of bland language and description with “Wherefore I may sing and utter a measure; recite before the company in the mead hall how the noble ones were liberal to me in their generosity” (68).  He also provides footnoting of historical references regarding some of the rulers which, while certainly helpful if the poem were being evaluated in a historical context, only weighs down the reading of the poem when presented in an otherwise English context.  During the lists of the many tribes and rulers, he tended to become monotonous, merely listing them matter-of-factly: 

Ætla ruled the Huns, Eormanric the Goths, Becca the Banings, Gifica the Burgundians.  Cæsar ruled the Greeks and Cælic the Finns, Hagena the Island-Rugians and Heoden the Glommas.  Witta the Swabians, Wade the Hælsings, Meaca the Myrgings, Mearcheald the Hundings.  (67-8)

  Within this passage alone he references four foot notes about Attila, Becca, Heoden,  and Wade and their places in history.  While this is true to the translation, the monotony and extra baggage in the footnotes loses the interest of the reader, something I believe is very important to keep in a translation. 

            Henry Morley presents a very memorable translation, one in which I felt as though Widsith were really speaking to me.  He does this when he manages to break up the monotony a little bit, clearly used the language of the exile phraseology, and used a few rich, interesting and captivating word choices. The exile phraseology of lines 50-55 are more easily felt in his translation:

Thus far I traveled through strange lands, and learnt             50

Of good and evil in the spacious world;

Parted from home-friends and dear kindred, far

The ways I followed.  Therefore I can sing

And tell a tale, recount in the mead-hall

How men of high race gave rich gifts to me.  (5).

The passage here clearly gives off a feeling of exilenes, in addition to a more fantastical/mythical quality, as though a real person were speaking.  He manages this feat in part with his interesting and captivating word choices.  One such example is his use of ‘unceasing war’ in line 119, as opposed to Gordon’s wordy ‘full often there war did not fail’ and Michael Alexander’s boring ‘war did not often slacken there’.  Considering that he meets my own translation criteria, to keep to the original language, present it as a poem, and gives significance to his words, I will do best to take after the efforts of Morley.

            The bilingual translation Alexander presents falls somewhere between the quality level of Gordon and Morley.  It is more poetic than Gordon’s, but does not evoke the same feeling within me that Morley captivates so well.   Once again, I refer to the unique exile language in the poem:

So fared I on through foreign lands   50

Over the ground’s breadth.  Both good and evil

I came to know there; of no kinship,

From family far, I followed many.

So I may sing, and stories tell;

I can in hall rehearse before the gathering

How men of kingly birth were kinglike toward me (42).

            Alexander’s translation is not nearly as bland as Gordon’s, but it does not quite reach the captivating level of Morley, either.  He does a fine job of translating the passage pretty true to the original Old English, but does not seem to make much effort beyond that, putting no personal oomph or pizzazz into it to either interest the reader or make the translation his own unique creation  The latter is not in my criteria, but the interest of the reader certainly is, and it feels as though Alexander does little to try to obtain it. 

            He also takes the liberty to translate words that are not in the original text, making them wordier than they need to be.  For instance, he translates the Old English Widsið maðolade, in line 1, as ‘This is the testimony of Widsith’ when he could simply say, like most other translations, ‘Widsith spoke’.  These additions only confuse the text, making it harder to read than it really is, and therefore not in keeping with the clarity or original Old English language I think a translation should keep to. 

            Bradley’s translation also fell somewhat in between, giving the poem a more prose form than it should have, but seems to do okay in keeping to the original meaning and wording.  He, however, makes no effort to relieve the monotony or give any interest to the wording, even separating the lists of the poem from the more descriptive parts, as though they are a passage of the poem worth skipping over.  He does not seem to particularly care if he keeps the original meaning or not, although he does not seem to take it upon himself to make too many changes, and seems to regard the lists of the poem as insignificant.  I feel that this fails to present the poem as a unified whole with importance and meaning, something which the reader needs to understand if they are to appreciate the text and the more detailed aspects of it.   While this is the translation that first interested me in the poem, it was the poem itself which caught my eye, and not Bradley’s presentation of it.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was able to see the poem through the translation it was covered in.



Works Cited

Alexander, Michael.  The Earliest English Poems. Trans. Michael Alexander.  Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1970.

Bradley, A. J.  Anglo-Saxon Poetry.  London: J. M. Dent Orion Publishing Group and Tuttle Publishing, 2003.

Brown, Ray.  “The Begging Scop and the Generous King in Widsith.”  Neophilologus.  73.2 (1989 April): 281-292.

Cook, Albert S. and Chauncey B. Tinker. Select Translations from Old English Poetry.  Trans. Morley, Henry. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926.

Frank, Roberta.  “Anglo-Scandinavian Poetic Relations.”  ANQ.  3.2 (1990 April): 74-79.

Fry, Donald K.  “Two Voices in Widsith.”  Mediævalia: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Medieval Studies Worldwide.  6 (1980): 37-56.

Gordon, Robert Kay, M.A.  Anglo-Saxon Poetry. Trans. Robert Kay Gordon, M.A.  New York, E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1954.

Hill, Joyce, ed. Old English Minor Heroic Poems.  Durham, England: Department of English Language and Medieval Literature, University of Durham & Department of English, Durham and St. Andrews Medieval Texts, no.4, 1987.

Malone, Kemp.  “The Franks Casket and the Date of Widsith.”  Nordica et Anglica: Studies in Honor of Stefan Einarsson.  Ed. Allan, Orrick.  The Hague: Mouton, 1968.  10-18.

---, Widsith.  Denmark: Rosenkilde & Bagger, 1962.

Niles, John D.  “Widsith and the Anthropology of the Past.”  Philological Quarterly 78.1-2 (1999): 171-213.

Rollman, David.  “Widsith as an Anglo-Saxon defense of Poetry.” Neophilologus 66:3 (1982, July): 431-439.


Additional Notes:

1)      In an attempt to offset the monotonous (although beautifully repetitive) listing of rulers and tribes, I have offered alternative names or descriptions for some of them.  These alternatives, such as gloaming Glomms in line 21, are derived from the name itself, i.e. Glomm can be interpreted to mean gloam, or twilight.

2)      I have also tried to put an emphasis on the exile phraseology of lines 50-56, in this case choosing an exile meaning over other choices that may have better suited my criteria.

3)      In line 85, I specifically chose to use “again” instead of “against” to emphasize the importance of the poet’s repetition of his own people, who are not known to exist anywhere in history.

4)      Concerning line 130, Hama is referred to in Beowulf and although probably male, I made the choice to couple his name with wife, anyway.  I choose to do this in order to keep the wording and meaning of line 129 as I have it written.  Other translations vary in how to translate this line, so I do not feel completely unjustified in doing so myself.  Also, that is only the first impression when reading the line, but upon a closer read, it can be interpreted that those are the two ruling the defeated people.

5)      The references to God and heaven are a little vague in order to let the reader interpret the words for themselves on whether or not religion is a part of the meaning or purpose of this poem.

6)      I enjoyed translating this poem, hope that any readers will enjoy reading it, and have decided that Anglo-Saxon poets were sneaky.

[1] A picture of the Franks Casket and more information can be found here:

[2] Interestingly, the Franks Casket has also inspired a poetry webzine.

[3] An interpolation in this context is a piece of text that is believed to be added at a later time than when the whole text was originally written, and assumed to be by a different author.

[4] Robert P. Creed, "Widsith's Journey through Germanic Tradition," Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Essays in Appreciation, ed. Lewis E. Nicholson and Dolores W. Frese (U. of Notre Dame Press, 1975), 376-87.