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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Deor's Lament - Exeter Book

Weland himself, by means of worms (swords)
experienced agony,
the strong-minded noble
endured troubles:
he had for his companions
sorrow and longing,
winter-bitter wrack,
he often found misery
after Niðhad
put fetters on him,
supple sinew-bonds
on the better man.
That was overcome,
so may this be.

Beadohild was not
as sad in mind
for the death of her borhters
as for her own trouble,
she had 
clearly realized
that she was pregnant;
she could never
think resolutely
of how that would have to (turn out).
That was overcome, so may this be.

We heard that
the moans of Matilda
of the lady of Geat
were numberless
so that her sorrowful love
entirely deprived of sleep.
That was overcome,
so may this be.

Theodric ruled
for thirty winters
the city of the Mærings;
that was known to many.
That was overcome,
so may this be.

We heard
Ermanaric's
wolfish thought;
he ruled widely the people
of the kingdom of the Goths -
That was a grim king!
Many a warrior sat,
bound up by cares,
woes in mind,
wished constantly
that the kingdom
were overcome.
That was overcome,
so may this be.

He sits sorrowful and anxious,
bereft of joy,
darkening in his mind,
he think sot himself
that (it) is endless
the (his) part of troubles;
then he can consider 
that throughout this world
the wise Lord
always goes, 
to many men
he shows honour,
sure glory,
to some a share of troubles.

I, for myself,
want to say this,
that for a while I was
the scop (bard) of the Hedenings,
dear to my lord;
my name was Deor.
I had for many winters
a good position,
a loyal lord,
until Heorrenda now,
a man skillful in songs,
has taken the estate
that the protector of warriors
before game to me.
That was overcome,
so may this be.










This is an ancient Anglo-Saxon poem, commonly known as "Deor" or "Deor's Lament."  In it, our narrator, Deor, tells how he has fallen from grace in his position as a scop (a bard, storyteller) in the court of the Hedenings at the hand of Heorrenda.  A common repeating line through the poem is "That was overcome, so may this be."  That repetition is cited through the many historical and mythological (is there any difference, really?) examples Deor gives, of people or places in painful situations of suffering who overcome.  It feels like Deor's own personal tonic, himself reassuring himself that things can change, untenable situations can be overcome, and life can take on a positive aspect once more.  

Despite being likely over a thousand years old, and translated from an English so archaic as to be unreadable, who reading this can't relate to a fall of some sort?  The poem contains real truth, regardless of if any of it ever happened or not.  It doesn't matter if you don't know who Weland is to know that suffering can be overcome.  You can sympathize with the soldiers who wish for their own kingdom to be overcome because of the tyrant ruling over them.  

The translation I used can be found here.  There are many translations of Deor, but I particularly appreciated this one for its inclusion of the original text and for its many notes, which I encourage you to read only after you've read the poem a number of times.

If you are having trouble in your life, reader, just think, "That was overcome, so may this be,"

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