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Wulf & Eadwacer Translated from Old English

The poems below have been excerpted from a longer work called Wulf & Eadwacer, an experimental translation by M.L. Martin of the Anglo-Saxon poem “Wulf ond Eadwacer.” As Martin explains, “code-switching between the original Old English and Modern English, Wulf & Eadwacer embraces the proto-feminist, disjunctive voice of the original poem so that its enigmatic nature and plurality can fully be explored for the first time.”

 

WULF [UNGELIC]

Ungelīc, the two Wulfs.
Men to feed the army.

Ungelīc
with thoughts of wandering.

When it was rēnig weder
and I sat wailing

the forest
embraced me.

*
EARGNE HWELP

we bore

eargne hwelp

the vile
the wicked
the impotent
cub

the son of a tyrant’s
bark

can easily
tear to shreds

what never was

meant to survive:
the song

made
by two

malnourished
hearts.

*
& [ON RAPE]

As I sat wailing

a wolf

embraced me.

*

SEOCE [A CHARM AGAINST POISONED SEEDS]

The island is heavily guarded
& surrounded by marshes.

They reign over me.
As if one feeds

herself to the pack.
As if the body

is a bed
of dumb earth.

The wolves are hungry.
They will return.

Now a wolf
resides
within me.

A poisoned seed
should not be fed.

Do not feed
this poisoned

seed. Do not
feed. Do not.

Not. Knot.
Not done.

No knot.
The knot

of the seed
is undone.

*
& [ON REVENGE]

Kill a wolf

& you

become a wolf.

 

Photo by Per via Creative Commons.

About the author

What we know of the poet who composed the Anglo-Saxon text commonly referred to as “Wulf ond Eadwacer” is very limited. Though unnamed in the poem, we can discern from the feminine inflection on the words "rēotugu" and "sēoce" that the speaker is a woman. It is possible, though perhaps implausible, that the poet is male, but even so, because the poem describes and laments a forbidding set of circumstances foisted onto the female speaker by a patriarchal Anglo-Saxon culture, the poet—who may have been Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon and lived some time before the 10th c.—was undoubtedly a feminist, an outsider, and a radical poet, who mixed forms from both Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian, subverting the literary conventions of each language culture in sophisticated and surprising ways.

About the author

M.L. Martin is a prize-winning poet and translator whose current work aims to revise the critical interpretation and reception of the enigmatic Anglo-Saxon poem known as “Wulf and Eadwacer,” and to recover this radical female text to the feminist and experimental canons to which it belongs. Her experimental translations of Old English can be found in ANMLY (f.k.a. Drunken Boat), Arkansas International, Brooklyn Rail In Translation, The Literary Review, and Waxwing. Her poetry has appeared in Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, EVENT: poetry & prose, The Fiddlehead, The Massachusetts Review, PRISM international and many other Canadian and American literary journals. She is the recipient of the Theresa A. Wilhoit Fellowship, the Bread Loaf Translators’ Fellowship, and the Inprint Verlaine Prize in Poetry. She earned her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston and holds an MFA from Arizona State University. She currently lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is a Tulsa Artist Fellow. To read some of her work, visit M-L-Martin.com.

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