So, as you can imagine, with Josely Baptista fresh in my mind, my thoughts are focused on translation.  Add to that a class in Old English language and literature, and you’ve got yourself a dangerous combination.


I’m reading the Wife’s Lament, right, which I can without affectation retitle Lonely Wife Blues.  After all, the scholar who came up with the title “The Wife’s Lament” back in the day was simply seeking a descriptive handle by which to reference a text which its scribe left untitled.  Some people will tell you that authors weren’t concerned with titling their works until the advent of the printing press and the possibility of widespread printed publication.  I beg to differ.  I think that SCRIBES weren’t all that concerned with titles, but authors (in what small sense authorship as we know it existed in a pre-literate culture) always titled their works, and always shared that title with their audience (reader or listener).  What, you think Homer just started strumming and people lined up to listen?  Well, OK, maybe he could have, but I guarantee you that what he did was say something along the lines of “And now I give you the story of Odysseus and his remarkable journey,” or something along those lines.  It’s basic; it’s intrinsic; authors title their works.  In any case, that was a humongous old tangent.  The point is that you can give the Wife’s Lament any old title you choose as long as people understand what you’re talking about.


So I get to thinking, what modern poetic form most closely approximates the alliterative verse of Anglo Saxon culture, and I realize, we have a form today that is strikingly similar.  When I say strikingly, you’re not gonna belive how striking it is.  So what is Alliterative verse?  Basically what you’ve got is a “line” divided into to half-lines, each of which has two strongly weighted syllables, at least one of these syllables in each half-line alliterating with one in the other half line.  Of course the rules for determining a strongly weighted syllable get pretty complex, as do the iterations that can be used within that basic pattern, but nevertheless, that’s pretty much it.  In modern verse, we have something commonly referred to as the blues line.  Basically, it has two half-lines, often (though not always by any means) joined by alliteration on the stressed syllables, with the lines repeating and/or rhyming at the end.  Remove the requirement for rhyme and you’ve got the updated version of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse.


What follows is my translation (and I use the word translation advisedly; this is not a transliteration or a traduction or a paraphrase) of the first several lines of the Wife’s lament into unrhymed strongly alliterated blues lines.  I have tried to stay true as much as possible down to the word level, and always at least to the level of the half-line.  I think it works as well as any translation can.  What do you think?


Lonely Wife Blues


I’ll sing you a song    ’bout my sad sad life,
’bout my sad sad plight,    though I say it myself;
and my miserable lot    after i matured.
I’ve been there before    never badder than now.
I’ve suffered torment    been sent away,
just like my man was    away from the masses,
when he caused a commotion    and filled me with care.
I wanted to know    just where he was,
So I went on a journey    and looked for a job:
Couldn’t make no friends    in my miserable state.
My poor man’s kin    considered it great
(though they tried to hide it)   that they’d parted our hearts,
as far away    as the farthest lands.
My man’s life was lousy;    he longed for me;
he had me live like him    in the horrible trees.
I didn’t have no friends    nowhere in this nation.
didn’t have no friends    didn’t have no joy.
So when I found him    and he made me happy
didn’t know he weren’t lucky    that he’d lose his mind;
didn’t know he’s contrivin’    a homicide.
He had a happy appearance    we promised and vowed
we wouldn’t be parted    ’til death did his part.
We said we wouldn’t be parted,    but that was a lie,
cause I’m sittin here now,     and just want to die.


[To be continued]

One thought on “The Wife’s Lament

  1. i do think this meter is more natural for verse-revivalists to try than iambic pentameter. rap music has already explored many rhythmic variations in that direction.
    but we would be better off dropping rhyme.

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