Monday, November 12, 2012

Translation Postponed

It's been a little while since there has been an update. I must confess that I am having motivational difficulties getting through the Metres of Boethius. It desperately needs an updated translation, but I am beginning to think that I am not the one to produce it.

See, the problem is that Boethius must be the most boring, sententious poet out there. I understand that as a metrical innovator he is quite spectacular and a great deal is lost in the transmission from Latin to Anglo-Saxon and then into my own modern English. But thematically the Metres are a concatenation on one tiresome note. There is precious little of the dynamic tension (now we are in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I guess) I am accustomed to seeing the narrative poems, a dazzling vitality that I have felt equal to reproducing in my translations. Nope, the Metres is just a frog-march, and my own lyrical inadequacies make the process even more painful to endure. So I am giving it up for the time being. Maybe I will come back to it later. Who knows?

So, I think I should get back into the few remaining narrative poems. That would be just Daniel and the latter two parts of Christ. Perhaps I will start them soon. I have been missing the process and pleasures of translation a great deal.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


The Metres of Boethius is a versification of selections from the Anglo-Saxon translation of Boethius's wildly-popular work De Consolatio Philosophiae, a work often attributed to the translation program of King Alfred the Great. The proem of the work claims that the Metres are the work of the king himself, and many scholars have taken the claim as fact (and there's really no reason to believe or disbelieve it).

The Metres consist of 32 poems, and are found in two versions: London British Library Cotton MS Otho, an incomplete parchment manuscript which was badly damaged in the fire at Ashburnham House, and Oxford Bodley Library MS Junius 12, a paper manuscript transcription of Otho by Franciscus Junius in the late seventeenth century. Junius is the only record of many of the individual lyrics.

The collection of poems is not a complete rendering of the metra of Boethius's work, and are presented in a very different order from the original. This is because the Metres were made from the Anglo-Saxon translation, which compresses much of Boethius and presents material taken from Latin commentaries on the Consolation as integral parts of the tract. An example of this usage of the commentaries can be found in the first poem of the Metres, which versifies a traditional introductory description of the events that led to the composition of the Consolation.

The poems of the Metres of Boethius are presented in posts organized by their number in the manuscript.

The text of the poems is taken from George Philip Krapp's 1932 edition published in the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records series. So far I have not been able to locate a more recent edition than this.

Metres Proem-4


In this way Alfred, the king of the West-Saxons,
narrated this old story to us, announcing his art,
the skill of a song-maker. In him was a great desire
to proclaim these poems unto his peoples, a mirth for men,
these miscellaneous songs, so that his ardor would drive out
the arrogant man—then the one who is ill-equipped
in such things would correct him for his pride.
Yet I shall speak this counsel known to the people,
taking it up in verse, and say unto men. Listen who will!


It was long ago that the eastern Goths
led their shields from Scythia,
hurrying in a horde, into many settled lands,
setting out southward, two victorious peoples—
the realm of the Goths grew year by year.
They had two kings of their own kind,
Raedgod and Alaric. Their rule prospered.
Then many Goths horded over the Alps,
full of boasting, yearning for war
and the struggles between peoples.
Their banners waved, bright upon the bole.
Their warriors thought to overcome
all of Italy and its shielded soldiers.

They so endured even from the Alps
unto the noted shores where Sicily,
a great island in the sea-currents,
makes her illustrious homeland.

Then was won the realm of the Romans,
the choicest of cities broken apart.
Rome was opened by the battle-warriors.
Raedgod and Alaric went into the fortress.
The Caesar fled with his nobles into Greece.

Nor could the survivors resist them by warfare,
the Goths with battle. The home-guards gave up
unwillingly the treasures of their elders
and holy oaths. There was woe everywhere.
Although the pride of warriors was with the Greeks,
if they dared to follow the people’s chieftains.
He stood for a time among that nation.

The people were conquered
for many winters, until events decreed
that the thanes and earls must obey Theodoric.
There was the chieftain dedicated to Christ,
the king himself took on the custom of baptism.
Every child of Rome rejoiced
and swiftly begged for peace from him.

Theodoric firmly commanded that
they should continue to enjoy
all of their ancient rights
in that wealthy city,
so long as God would allow him
to possess power over the Goths.
But he deceived them all.

The heresy of Arrian was preferable
to that nobleman than the Lord’s law.
He ordered that John, the good pope,
would have his head chopped off—
that was not a noble deed.
There were countless other evils
that the Goth performed
against all of the good people.

Then there was a certain wealthy man
in the city of Rome, elevated to consul,
and dear to his lord while
the Greeks held the throne.
That man was righteous; there was not
among the Rome-dwellers
a more generous giver of treasure
for long afterwards.

He was wise in the world, eager for honor,
a man learned in books, Boethius
was he called, who received much fame.
The evil and disgrace revealed by foreign kings
was very much in his memory, at all times.
He was faithful to the Greeks,
remembering the honor and ancient rights
that his ancestors long possessed among them,
the affection and the favor.

He pondered only one desperate desire,
how to convince the Greeks to invade
so that the Caesar would be allowed
to possess power again over the Romans.

He secretly sent a message to his old masters,
and begged them for their former troth to their lord
to come into the city soon, and allow the Greek counselors
to advise the Rome-dwellers, and to allow
the country to enjoy their rights.

When Theodoric Amuling perceived that instruction,
he seized his thegn, ordering that
the nation’s nobles keep fast their consul.
His mind was turbulent, terrified
of that earl. He ordered him to be
locked within a prison cell.

Then was the understanding of Boethius
greatly troubled. He had enjoyed long before
his pride beneath the sky.
He could suffer worse at that time,
when things became difficult.

Then the nobleman grew to despair,
he could not turn towards his former favor
nor could remember the comforts in that fastness,
but he fell upon the floor, stretched out and prostrate,
beneath the hillside, ands spoke many words,
severely despairing.

Nor did he ever turn from there
or come out of his chains.
He called out to the Lord
in voice more miserable,
and sang out in this manner:


Listen! One time long ago I sang many songs heartily—
but now I am a wretched outcast lamenting
troubled by my own wailing. I must sing painful tunes.

I have suppressed my sighing and my sobs
and so I cannot compose so completely
these songs, though I have been allowed to set down

many truthful refrains in former times, when I was happier.
Often I completely fail to speak clearly
and at times my words are found too rough.

These worldly blessings enjoyed by all
have abandoned me, foolish and
blinded in this darksome hole,

and then I was robbed of counsel and comfort
for their treachery of this world,
which I always trusted in the most.

They turned their bitter backs to me,
and their bliss turned away from me.
Why do you wish, my worldly friend,

to say and to sing that I was a blessed man
in this existence? These words are not true,
and these boons can not always abide.


Alas! In what grim and groundless pit
does the troubled mind labor?
When the strong storms of worldly affairs
beat upon it. When its own light

abandons it, struggling and alone.
And, amid the woes thronging in the darkness
of this world, it forgets, perturbed by sorrows,
these eternal joys. Such has occurred now

to this mind, now that it knows nothing more
of the good of God except mourning,
estranged from the world.
Such a man needs comfort.


O, you the shaper of the stars that shine,
the heavens and the earth. You on your lofty throne
reign for eternity, and you swiftly
orbit the whole universe, and through your holy power
compel the stars to obey you.
The sun is likewise quenched by the shadows
of the dark night through your might.

The glowing stars with their pure light
govern the moon through your magnificence,
while sometimes the sun is deprived
of her own bright illumination, when it can be hidden
and when it is sufficient by necessity.

Likewise the greatest morning-star,
which we also call the Even-star, obeys
that call, when you compel him to attend
to the journey of the sun—every year
he must come before his companion.

Listen Father, you transform
the summer-long days so warm
into winter-days wondrously short
and determine their time.
You give the trees all their leaves,
which, in the south and the west,
the north and the east, that black storm
had earlier seized by its hateful wind.

And lo! all creation hears your command,
and performs it on earth just as in the heavens,
with all their heart and ability,
all except for humanity alone,
who very often works against your will.

Alas! you are the Eternal and the Almighty,
the Shaper and the Director of all creation —
your arms are a mercy, the seeds of the earth
are mankind, all through your magnificence.

Why then, God Eternal, would you ever wish
that fortune should turn upon your desire
toward the evils of all men so prevalent?
She very often injures the innocent.

Wicked men sit throughout the realm of earth
upon high thrones, oppressing the righteous
under their feet. It is unknown to men
why fortune should turn out so perverse.
So these bright skills are hidden
here in this world throughout many cities.

The unrighteous for all time wickedly
possess those things which belongs to them.
Those wiser of right, more worthy of rule—
vain treachery will be theirs for many years,
clothed with trickery. Here in the world
now wicked oaths are not impaired by men.

If you, Wielder, will not now steer events
but allow them to degrade of your self-will,
then I know that men of the world will know doubt
across the corners of the earth, without one joy.

Alas, my Lord, you who oversee all
the world’s creation, look upon mankind now
with mild eyes, now the multitude here
struggles and strives against the waves of the world,
the miserable citizens of the earth—
be merciful to them now.

Metres 5-9


You can perceive clearly by the sun
and by all the other stars which brightest shine across the cities.
If the dark clouds should hang before them,
then they could not send down their rays so radiant,
until the thick clouds become thinned.

So often the south wind grimly stirs up
the smooth sea, grey and glassy-clear,
when they are mixed by a great tempest,
moving the whale-waters—then they are false
whose face was gleaming before.

So often the wellspring washes forth
from the hoary cliffs, cool and pure,
and flows straight down by rights,
running along with its landscape,
until the mountain’s mighty stone
cleaves it from within, and lies in its midst,
rolling away from that peak.
Afterwards it becomes separated into two—
the brightness of the brook is disturbed and blended,
the stream is diverted from its straight course,
running apart in rivulets.

So now the shadows of your heart
wishes to withstand the light of my teaching
and greatly disturb your heart-thoughts.
But if you now desire it, as well as you might,
to plainly perceive that true light,
that bright belief, you must forsake
this idle and excessive delight, this useless joy.

You must as well abandon the wicked fear
of earthly miseries, nor may you despair for them all,
nor ever allow yourself to be weakened by pride,
lest you become disgraced with your arrogance soon,
and raised up with carelessness and worldly delight.
Nor despair even so weakly in any good things,
when your adversary fattens you for the world,
you may be oppressed by these matters and you
may dread them very strongly. Because the mind
will always be greatly bound up with confusion,
if both of these evils may vex it and toil within.

Therefore these two misfortunes draw together
against the mind before the mist of error,
that the eternal sun may not illuminate it within,
due to the dark clouds, before they melt away.


Then Lady Wisdom unlocked her word-hoard,
singing truth-saws and speaking in this way:

“When the sun is shining its clearest and brightest
from heaven, it quickly becomes obscured
all over the earth by another object in space,
and then its brilliance becomes nothing,
set against the light of the sun.

When the gentle wind blows from the south or west
under the heavens, then the blossoms of the field
quickly grow up and are allowed to be joyful.
But the storm so stark, when he comes in strength,
from the north or the east, he swiftly seizes the lovely rose—
and also the northern tempest afflicts the spacious sea,
stirring it up strongly, beating upon its own shores.

Alas, nothing on earth is of stable work
and may not ever abide in this world!


Next Lady Wisdom attended to her practice,
singing her wise words, a poem according to her message,
chanting a certain true statement further,
speaking that she had never heard that on a high hill
any man could establish a firm-roofed hall.

“No man needs also to believe in these works,
to ever mediate wisdom with pride.
Have you ever heard that any man
who could set a fixed hall on a sand dune?

“Nor could any man raise up wisdom where
covetousness overshadows the mountains.
Bare sand will swallow the rains,
and so does the bottomless greed of the rich
for boasting and trinkets,
drinking to the dregs failing prosperity,
and though the thirst of these beggars will never be cooled.

“Nor can the house of man last for long
on the mountainside, because the swift winds
will sweep it down suddenly.
Nor will sand be any better guardian
of the house to any man against a great rain,
but it will be tumbled to the ground,
the sand sinking after the downpour.

“So will be the mind of every lonely man
greatly undermined from an agitated place,
when the wind of worldly misery
under the skies strongly troubles it,
or the fierce rains moves it about—
a certain anxiety, universal superfluity.

“But he who wishes to possess true and eternal happiness,
he shall quickly fly from these worldly facades,
and build himself afterwards a house of the mind,
where he can find humble stones, a huge fortress
and a ready foundation.

“He will not need to collapse though the winds
of worldly misery should drive against it
or intense rains of anxiety, because in that valley
the lord of settled humility himself dwells,
were wisdom always abides in the mind.
Therefore wise world-men may always lead a secure life
without alteration.

“Then he would reject all this earthly good
and also become accustomed to its predictable evils,
expecting them eternally to follow after,
and then almighty good from every direction
continually and always keeps him
the one dwelling alone through the Measurer’s grace,
though the wind of worldly woe troubles him
greatly and eternal care encumber him,
then the grim wind of worldly good blows angrily
against him, although always his anxiety
of worldly fortune cruelly afflicts him.”


As soon as Lady Wisdom had these words
plainly related, she then began to afterwards
sing in sooth-words, and spoke herself thusly:

“Listen, the former age was bountiful
for all earth-dwellers throughout the world,
when all of the earth-fruits seemed sufficient
for everyone. Now it is not so!

“There were no opulent homes across the world,
nor was there a wide assortment of food and drink,
nor did they care indeed for these garments
that now lordly men esteem as dearest.

Because none of these things existed yet,
nor were they seen among the sea-dwellers.

“Listen! Nor had they heard anywhere around them.
of these rash and sinful desires, rather
they could attend to what was most apt
by kind, just as Christ himself had made them.

“They only ate one meal during the day,
at even-tide, of the blossoms of the earth,
of the groves and the herbs, not at all drinking
wine shining from the goblet. There was no man
who knew how to mediate his meat or drink,
water with honey, nor did they knit together
their raiment with silk, with cunning skill
girding fine fabrics, nor did they raise up
costly halls with cleverness, instead they always
beslept themselves the whole year
outside, under the shadow of trees,
drinking river water cool from the stream.

Never did a merchant see over the blending of waves
a foreign shore. Indeed, men did not know
about ship-reavers, just as no man had spoken
about fighting. Nor was the earth yet defiled
with the blood of man that dyed the blade red,
just as no world-dwelling man had ever seen
another wounded under the sun.

No one was more worthy in the world then,
if another found his desires to be harmful to humans—
he would be hated by everyone.

Alas! Would that it were so, that God would
now, within our days, here on earth,
throughout the wideness of the world,
make it so in every way, under the sun.