Two Poems from the Exeter Book
translated from the old english by gnaomi siemens. art by morag eaton.


morag eaton. 2020.
monoprint with hand-stitching
on japanese paper. 11" square.

Ic þis giedd wrece bi me ful geomorre, 
minre sylfre sið. Ic þæt secgan mæg, 
hwæt ic yrmþa gebad, siþþan ic up weox, 
niwes oþþe ealdes, no ma þonne nu. 
A ic wite wonn minra wræcsiþa. 
ærest min hlaford gewat heonan of leodum 
ofer yþa gelac; hæfde ic uhtceare 
hwær min leodfruma londes wære. 
ða ic me feran gewat folgað secan, 
wineleas wrecca, for minre weaþearfe. 
Ongunnon þæt þæs monnes magas hycgan 
þurh dyrne geþoht, þæt hy todælden unc, 
þæt wit gewidost in woruldrice 
lifdon laðlicost, ond mec longade. 
Het mec hlaford min herheard niman, 
ahte ic leofra lyt on þissum londstede, 
holdra freonda. Forþon is min hyge geomor, 
ða ic me ful gemæcne monnan funde, 
heardsæligne, hygegeomorne, 
mod miþendne, morþor hycgendne. 
Bliþe gebæro ful oft wit beotedan 
þæt unc ne gedælde nemne deað ana 
owiht elles; eft is þæt onhworfen, 
is nu swa hit no wære 
freondscipe uncer. Sceal ic feor ge neah 
mines felaleofan fæhðu dreogan.
Heht mec mon wunian on wuda bearwe,
under actreo in þam eorðscræfe. 
Eald is þes eorðsele, eal ic eom oflongad, 
sindon dena dimme, duna uphea, 
bitre burgtunas, brerum beweaxne, 
wic wynna leas. Ful oft mec her wraþe begeat 
fromsiþ frean. Frynd sind on eorþan, 
leofe lifgende, leger weardiað, 
þonne ic on uhtan ana gonge 
under actreo geond þas eorðscrafu. 
þær ic sittan mot sumorlangne dæg, 
þær ic wepan mæg mine wræcsiþas, 
earfoþa fela; forþon ic æfre ne mæg 
þære modceare minre gerestan, 
ne ealles þæs longaþes þe mec on þissum life begeat. 
A scyle geong mon wesan geomormod, 
heard heortan geþoht, swylce habban sceal 
bliþe gebæro, eac þon breostceare, 
sinsorgna gedreag, sy æt him sylfum gelong 
eal his worulde wyn, sy ful wide fah 
feorres folclondes, þæt min freond siteð 
under stanhliþe storme behrimed, 
wine werigmod, wætre beflowen 
on dreorsele. Dreogeð se min wine 
micle modceare; he gemon to oft 
wynlicran wic. Wa bið þam þe sceal 
of langoþe leofes abidan.


T  H  E     W  I  F  E  ’  S     L  A  M  E  N  T

I sing my song sadly, about the evils I’ve endured
ever since I can remember—but never more so than now.
Here it is—how I keep falling prey—
                                                    to the pain of my exile.

It all started with my lord leaving for the whim of the waves—
and my white nights 
                         spent wondering where in the world he was.
So I set out to seek him and his company of men.

But after all the misfortunes found on that friendless flight
my lord’s men had already begun scheming for our separation
so that we two would live miserably—
                         split wide apart in this worldly realm.

And longing came over me.

Then my lord had me hole up in this hovel—in this forest far away 
from the ones I hold dear—far away from my steadfast friends.
This is why my heart is so heavy—I thought I had found 
such a good match in that man.

But I’ve not had such luck. 

He hides what’s in his heart—makes plans to murder.
So often we had sworn, with shining faces, that only death 
                                                                             would separate us.

That has changed. Now it’s as if we had never even been friends—
I put up with my husbands hatred.

He banished me to a bleak grove—a dirty cave under an oak. 
This earth cell is old. I am full of longing.
The valleys here are dark, the hills steep. Bitter hedgerows, 
                              overgrown with briars—a home without hope.

I am often overcome with his absence.

To think, all over the world, there are lovers—alive—
            in their beds. All the while I walk back and forth 
under my acorn tree, in this dirt-clogged hollow. 

Here I have to sit out the long days of summer. Here I keep 
the tears flowing over my exile angst—too many troubles.
That’s why I can never put my soul’s deep sadness to sleep, 
nor all these longings that even in this life won’t let me go.

A young woman is forever forced to know pain. A smile 
on her face, her heart-ache, a crowd of constant sorrows, 
                                                        her only joy in this world.

May my lord himself become an outcast in a far off country—
have to huddle under cliff-hangings, freak storms covering 
him in frost crystals.  Worn-out, water will flood his dreary hall. 

My friend, you will suffer so much woe. May the memories            
of our happy home constantly haunt you.

I feel sorry for anyone left lonely for a lover.

‘. . . . a home without hope’
morag eaton. 2020.
monoprint on japanese paper. 11" square.


‘wulf and eadwacer’
morag eaton. 2021.
monoprint with hand-stitching
on japanese paper. 
11" square.

Leodum is minum wylce him mon lac gife; 
willað hy hine aþecgan, gif he on þreat cymeð. 
Ungelic is us.         
Wulf is on iege, ic on oþerre. 
Fæst is þæt eglond, fenne biworpen. 
Sindon wælreowe weras þær on ige; 
willað hy hine aþecgan, gif he on þreat cymeð. 
Ungelice is us.         
Wulfes ic mines widlastum wenum dogode; 
þonne hit wæs renig weder ond ic reotugu sæt, 
þonne mec se beaducafa bogum bilegde, 
wæs me wyn to þon, wæs me hwæþre eac lað. 
Wulf, min Wulf, wena me þine 
seoce gedydon, þine seldcymas, 
murnende mod, nales meteliste. 
Gehyrest þu, Eadwacer? Uncerne earne hwelp 
bireð wulf to wuda.
þæt mon eaþe tosliteð þætte næfre gesomnad wæs,
uncer giedd geador.


W  U  L  F     &     E  A  D  W  A  C  E  R

The people here think killing him 
would be a gift—

and would do it
if he came with a threat.

            We don’t think like that.

Wulf is on one island—I’m on another.

My island is secure—surrounded by swamps.
There are murderous men here.

They think killing him would be a gift—
and would do it—if he came with a threat.
We don’t think like that.

No, for my Wulf I had worked up 
such wild expectations. When the weather 

went rainy and I sat weeping—or when 
the big bold warrior would wrap me in his arms—

I put up with it—
I would take what pleasure I could 
                                                              with the pain.

Wulf—My Wulf— It was all my wild hopes
for you that made me this way—
how seldom you came to me.

My melancholy mind made me sick—
it wasn’t that I was going without.

Do you hear what I’m saying, Eadwacer? 

A wolf has carried our sad whelp into the forest.

See how easily he tears apart 
what was never together—
                                             the story of our lives. 

Copyright of the images is stated as belonging to the artist and they cannot be reproduced without permission.
For more information, check out Morag Eaton’s website here and her Instagram here.

Translator's Note

The Exeter Book is an anthology of Anglo-Saxon Poetry. The collection was most likely assembled sometime in the 10th century, right around the time Christianity was being brought north. This is evidenced by some of the remnants of poems stemming from an earlier oral tradition, which have religious metaphor layered over older mythic and gnomic verses. What drew me to translating poems from the Exeter Book was that it contains The Wife’s Lament and Wulf & Eadwacer, some of the few poems in Old English that are in the voices of women. I was struck by how relevant and relatable these women’s stories are even as they come to us from such a great distance in time. 

One of the challenges in translating Old English poetry is that it is alliterative. This can be problematic in modern English, as it can come off as Seussian if pushed to an extreme, doubly so if paired with rhyming lines. I decided to go ahead and work with alliteration but attempted to moderate and modernize the sound by using internal rhymes and other sonic links in the phrasing. For each poem I imagined a voice for the speaker and worked with the tone of the piece to bring out the emotional resonance that I felt emanated from the Old English. The accenting force of the alliterative verse then, highlighted the feminist power of the ancient female voice for me, and creating the tone of the speakers’ voice was an act of listening through time.

I met the artist Morag Eaton when I was working on this collection of translations, in residency in the ancient Northumbrian town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, in the most northeastern corner of England, on the coast of the North Sea. Morag and I first collaborated on Ephemeris, a collection of Old Scots horoscopes from a 16th century almanac. Something about the juxtaposition of images and a fresh vernacular take on translating the ancient female voice, brought the text alive in a way that could now be accessible to a whole new generation of readers that might not otherwise have been able to experience these ancient texts. We have such relatively limited accounts of the female experience throughout history, it is exciting to me to be able to bring more of these accounts of our predecessors into the world’s ken, and I am honored to have such a brilliant artist to collaborate with in this endeavor.

Gnaomi Siemens
Morag Eaton


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