Monthly Archives: October 2014

A little talk

Hell-bound lying’s made me slipp’ry
Year by year the same old empty
Pleasures caught in furtive snatches
Oscillate with guilt, regret and
Cynicism born of habit.
Right from wrong I know too well, but
Iron-hearted judge my neighbours.
Troubled thoughts about my sins I
Exorcise in mercy’s name.
 
Come to me you tired people
Haunted by your secret shame,
Rose I not to give you life?
I am love; I ne’er stopped loving
Self-destructive you. Oh, let me
Take your broken heart and heal it.
 
Hopeless, wretched, undeserving.
You’re too good for me – too pure!
Please, I beg you, go from me, you
Overwhelm me with your light that
Clearly shows my inner darkness.
Rung by rung I climbed right down
Into things I knew were wrong and
Tired at the bottom lack the
Energy to get me back.
 
Child, the price has long been paid;
Holiness for prisoners slain;
Ransomed even you, my child.
In my arms you ever were –
Soiled clothes I’ve come to wash and
Take your soul and set it free.

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St. Edmund

Edmundbeingmartyred05

Ælfrici Vita Beati Edmundi

Ælfric’s Life of St. Edmund

THE TEXT

Ælfric’s Life of St. Edmund is a saint’s life, a popular genre in the medieval period, written in the late tenth century by an Anglo-Saxon monk and scholar named Ælfric of Eynsham. His account of the East Anglian king’s martyrdom in 869 is a translation of an earlier Latin version by a monk called Abbo into Old English prose. Ælfric wrote in alliterative prose, a style close to Old English poetry, which I have attempted to imitate in this verse translation.

ON METRE

Modern readers may not be used to the alliterative metre, which consists of four stressed syllables per line of which some must alliterate, e.g. “From Danish shores ships came harrowing”. There are further rules governing the rhythm and alliteration patters which I will not go into in this note.

ON TRANSLATION

I have followed my medieval predecessors in taking many liberties in translating, but the prose introduction and some lines and phrases are almost literal translations. The scribe’s postscript at the end is purely my invention, but Bury St. Edmunds does take its name from the St. Edmund of this story. It was the largest pilgrimage site in Britain for a time, and St. Edmund was England’s patron saint until the mid-fourteenth century. I have also left out the account of what happens after St. Edmund’s death, which takes up almost as much space in Ælfric’s account as the part leading up to it. When Ælfric sat down to translate Abbo’s Life of St. Edmund it was already a third hand account; and this is a translation of a translation, but some stories, especially the marvellous and miraculous, as with stories about fish, lose nothing in the retelling.

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