On the surface, Deor
appears to be a poem about a man named Weland who, after encountering difficult
situations, is resolved that he can get through it because all bad things pass
away over time. The hardships in his life are the result of his
interactions with people whose pasts are not explained in the poem, but are
only alluded to, so it is not known why Deor uses these stories to reflect his
own. Therefore, there is a lot of leeway in this short poem’s
interpretation, since no one knows for sure exactly what the poet meant when
One problem in translating Deor is the interpretation of the refrain: “Paes ofereode, pisses swa maeg.” The refrain mentions an unknown unfortunate incident and indicates that Deor has suffered a traumatic event, and is convincing himself that, like the hardships of the other people in the poem, so will his misfortune eventually pass away. This interpretation works well until the sixth stanza where Lee Ash says, “Here the poet identifies himself and his misfortune in a stanza which unlike all the others has two parts: 1) an announcement of his former happy state and 2) a specification of his current misfortune” (35). It is unclear whether the stanza is related to the preceding stanzas, or if it stands alone.
Jacqueline Banerjee offers another translation of the refrain. She says that the fatalistic translation of “that passed away, so may this” does not take into account “the cumulative effect of the various accounts of past suffering…[and] does not properly take into account the genitive cases of the two demonstratives, nor the stronger sense of the verb magan, ‘to be able’ (not simply ‘may’)” (4-5). However, I decided not to deal with this issue, as it isn’t crucial to my translation.
Another translation problem is determining the relationship between the refrain and the stanzas. Thomas Tuggle suggests that the refrain has two possible relations to the stanzas. It is possible that Deor is composed of stanzas that are related by theme, but are otherwise independent (229). The people we see in each stanza have no relation to each other besides being historical figures and examples known by the speaker, used to illustrate the point that “that passed away, so may this.” Tuggle also says that “Deor possesses either an intellectual or an associational pattern of development” that creates parts of an argument (229). Deor, like the writer of a persuasive essay, says that Fate may dictate certain patterns and events in our lives, but reminds us that suffering is impermanent, and that like the suffering of the people he mentions, his (and by extension ours) will pass away and become simply a memory. Instead of the stanzas merely being stories of hardship that Deor relates to, he could be using these stories to contribute to his argument against his treatment. By connecting himself to past victims of injustice, Deor illustrates by association how guiltless he is, and how unfair his treatment by the king is; these people were treated unfairly by a cruel world and hostile people, as is Deor.
Another problem, according to Edward Condren, is the poem’s meaning as it relates to its form. Frederick Biggs interprets Deor as a blame poem. He says that the poem was written by the poet to try and convince the king to give him his job back, and that by not directly naming what king mistreated him, in fact brought more attention upon the king’s wrongdoing (298). I think this interpretation is the best because it seems to me like that is the message of this poem. For him, losing his job and home is as bad as a woman who is pregnant and does not know what to do with her child, or a kingdom that suffers under a tyrannical king. Though he does not directly state his anger, clearly he is deeply angered by his previous king’s treatment of him.
Lastly, there is the Maedhild-Geat crux in Deor. The problem lies in the translation of the word “monge.” Most translators interpret the word as a derivativeof the word “many.” However, Kemp Malone translates the word “monge” as a derivative of “mone” which means moans or lamentations, and the word “frige” as being related to the word “freo” which means “lady.” However, according to Kiernan, by translating the word that way, he also has to amend the rest of the poem in order to make that change work. By changing important words in the Maedhilde stanza, he completely changes the stanza’s meaning. He changes a verb into a noun, and has to move the subjects and verbs around accordingly. I decided to translate “monge” for many, since the verb applies to the men, and not to the Geat’s lady.
Kiernan thinks the solution to this problem lies in the translation of the word “slaep” to mean not only “sleep” but “sleep of death” (99). This interpretation, he suggests, allows the rest of the words to keep their original meaning. The word does not simply mean to sleep, but has a deeper connotation that might indicate depression. Need the end citation for this second point. Here you just need to read Kiernan’s essay (see her works cited page and search for it in the MLA bibliography to find what journal it’s in) and just add the page number. Don’t try to add any interpretation for her, but if you can make transitions between the sections that make sense, do that. For example, move her criteria up here.
I think the purpose of translation is, most importantly, to convey the Anglo-Saxon language so the reader can learn about and gain an appreciation for the Anglo-Saxon culture. It is important to remain true to the OE as much as possible because I feel that modernization of the language takes away from the overall value of the work. Everything written during that time has its own artistic value, whether we enjoyed reading it or not. While I can understand why someone would want to alter or change a poem in order to reach a contemporary audience, I think it is important to reach the audience by retaining the OE and cultural elements, thereby educating the reader through these elements. My translation will therefore strive to keep the cultural and poetic elements and the syntax. I will remain as true as possible to the original language, unless my translation would confuse the reader, in which case, the confusing sections or meaningless small words will be amended. Translating directly from the Old English, instead of completely modernizing the text, will allow the reader to understand Anglo-Saxon history through their use of language.
One translation I looked at was Bradley’s. I did not find much fault with it. After all, I would not have chosen this poem if his translation was so poor as to render it boring and confusing. His word choices, however, are not what I would choose. For example, Bradley uses the word “trammels” in the first line, a word that I have never seen as a noun before. I also don’t think “trammels” is a very common word, and if the reader does not understand a word, that might lead to confusion about the poem’s message.
Also, sometimes his language seems too passive. He uses “grows dark” where I use “darkening.” These little problems are ones I hope to solve in my translation.
Deor is a poem that everyone can relate to. The language is not so elevated or repetitive that undergraduates become bored or confused by the reading, and it also involves a subject matter that everyone, in some way, can understand. Weland is a regular guy who was disrespected by his boss. Students don’t have to be craftspeople to experience feelings of rejection, anger, grief. These universal themes allow the poem to transcend the 9th or 10th century into the 21st century without it’s feeling stale or outdated to the reader. I hope to accomplish a translation that retains as much of the Anglo-Saxon syntax as possible while maintaining comprehension and clarity.
Banerjee, Jacqueline. “Deor: The Refrain.” P 4-6. Needs full reference
Biggs, Frederick M. “Deor’s Threatened ‘Blame Poem.’ Studies in Philology. 1004 (1997): 297-320.
Condren, Edward. “Deor’s Artistic Triumph.” North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press: 1981. Needs full reference—journal information
“Deor.” anglosaxons.net: The Leading World History Site on the Net. 2004. 12 December 2004. <http://www.anglo-saxons.net>.
“Deor.” Anglo-Saxon Poetry. Trans. S.A. Bradley. London: Orion Publishing Group, 2003.
Kiernan, K.S. “A Solution to the Maedhild-Geat Crux in Deor.” Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky. Needs journal information
Markland, Murray. “Deor: Paes Ofereode; Pisses Swa Maeg.” Washington: Washington State University. Needs journal information
Tuggle, Thomas. “The Structure of Deor.” Studies in Philology. 74 (1977): 229-242.