Saturday, May 04, 2019


The Wasteland

The Wanderer, lines 73-110 (tr. Constance B. Hieatt):
The clear-sighted man will know how terrible it will be when all the wealth of this world stands waste, as now in many places everywhere on earth there stand walls beaten by the wind and covered with frost, snow-swept buildings. The wine-hall falls in ruins and its ruler lies cut off from joy; the band of proud retainers has all fallen by the wall. War took off some, sweeping them away; this one was carried over the high seas by a bird of prey, and the gray wolf shared another one with death; that one was buried in a grave by a dreary-­faced warrior. The Creator of men laid waste to this stronghold until the clamor of the citizens died away and the work of giants of old stood quite empty. He who considered wisely the foundations of these walls and deeply pondered over this dark life with a discerning mind often recalled many combats long ago and spoke these words:

"Where is the horse now, and where is the young rider? Where is the ruler, the giver of treasure? Where are the seats at the banquet and the joys of the hall? Alas for the bright cup, and the warrior in his mail! Alas for the glory of the lord! How their time has departed, vanished under shades of night as if it had never been! Now there stands no trace of the band of comrades except a wall, wonderfully high, decorated with serpentine marks. Strong spears, weapons greedy for slaughter, destroyed the warriors—that was their glorious destiny. Now storms beat at the stony slopes and falling frost binds the earth. When darkness comes, the black shadow of night, wintry tumult sends bitter hail from the north in spite against mankind. All is wretched in the realms of earth. Here reward is fleeting; here friends are fleeting; here man is fleeting; here woman is fleeting. All the foundations of the earth grow useless."
The same (tr. Craig Williamson):
The wise warrior knows how ghostly it will be
When all this world's wealth is a wasteland,
As middle-earth is now in many places—
Wall fragments stand, blasted by winds,
Covered by frost—ruined hallways in snow.
Wine-halls decay, lords lie dead,
Deprived of joys—the proud troop
Has fallen by the wall. War took some
On a long death-road; a bird bore one
Over the deep sea; the gray wolf shared
One with death; a sad-faced earl
Hid one in an earth-hole, a bleak barrow.
So the Maker of men laid waste to the world,
Until the old works of giants stood idle
And empty of the hall-joys of men.
The wise man who ponders this ruin of a life—
The hall that crumbles into a broken wall,
The hall-guest now only memory's ghost—
Remembers slaughter and strife, crying out:

Where has the horse gone? Where is the rider?
Where is the giver of gifts?
Where is the seat of feasting? Where is the hall-joy?
Gone is the bright cup. Gone is the mailed warrior.
Gone is the glory of the prince. How the time has slipped
Down under the night-helmet as if it never was.
The only thing left is traces of the tribe,
A strange, high wall with serpentine shapes,
Worm-like strokes, what's left of runes.
The strength of spears has borne off earls,
Weapons greedy for slaughter. Some glorious fate!
Raging storms crash against stone-cliffs;
Swirling snow blankets and binds the earth.
Winter howls as the pale night-shadow darkens,
Sending rough hail-storms from the north,
Bringing savagery and strife to the children of men.
Hardship and suffering descend on the land;
The shape of fate is twisted under heaven.
Life is on loan: Here goods are fleeting,
Here friends are fleeting, here man is fleeting,
Here kith and kin are fleeting. Everything passes—
All this earthly foundation stands empty and idle.
Old English here.

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