The Wanderer: An Anglo-Saxon Poem in Doric (Free translation)

The Wanderer: an Anglo-Saxon poem in Doric: Preface:

The Ruthwell Cross (look it up) contains a runic inscription of a Christian poem about Christ’s Cross (“The Dream of the Rood”), using an old word for cross: cf. Holyrood. So the translation of The Wanderer into Anglo-Saxon is not an alien or unusual idea.

I am concerned about what I call the “Mel Gibson” view of history, which distorts our self- understanding with romantic fictions borrowed from images of Irish History and Hollywood. The Scots are not all Celtic. In fact, much of the country to the south and east was far more characterised by Anglo-Saxon, from which ancient tongue Lowland Scots derives. For example, the Anglo-Saxon word to cheat is swican and the Doric word to cheat is swick. Other examples, too. prove Doric’s Anglo-Saxon lineage.

Recently, one has been witnessing an uncritical alliance with Irish nationalism as if we and the Irish are Celts and the English are Saxons. Not so. The Scots were, at least culturally, mainly Saxon with an admixture of Celtic, and the current Scots identity, blending Celt and Saxon, is 19th-century, largely the creation of Sir Walter Scott.

I rejoice in that blend of Celt and Saxon in our shared culture but anyone who see the Scots as Celts only is deceived. I want to restore the Anglo-Saxon part of our heritage, not to divide Scots, but to teach the facts of Scottish History and give credit where it is due.

The Wanderer: An Anglo-Saxon Poem in Doric.

Introduction: The Anglo-Saxon male culture focused on a sort of local king and queen, called a lord and a lady. The community life was based in a community hall and the lord and lady were sources of blessings. These were practical, like sharing plunder and the lord and his lady giving gifts to reward service. These could be in precious metals.

The importance of the allegiance of the men to their lord and his lady – not only for war but survival – is hidden deep in the words themselves. The word Lord is an abbreviation of the Anglo-Saxon word hlaford, itself a contraction of a longer word, hlaf-weard (loaf-ward, or bread-protector). The word Lady is hlaf-dig (pronounced “hlaf-di“): Loaf-giver.

A man’s love for his lord was, of course, non-sexual but it was loyal and emotional to an intense degree, unusual today, except among men who have fought in battle together.

Correspondingly, an Anglo-Saxon man without a lord felt like – and was regarded as – a lost soul. This is the fate of the wanderer in the poem, who has lost his lord, his family and his community in some dreadful tragedy, portrayed finally, in Old Testament terms, as divine judgment. The final sentiment of this poem (750AD) is to trust in God alone.

The Anglo-Saxons did not use rhyme. Instead, they wrote in a lay-out of half-lines, read left to right, line by line., which you may be able to work out even from this version which, like Facebook, unites the half-lines into a single line. A further characteristic of Anglo-Saxon poetry is the heavy use of alliteration, i.e. using words that begin with the same letter, which is a lasting weapon in the English-writer’s arsenal.

Robert Burns echoes this feature of Anglo-Saxon style when he writes:

“A bletherin, blusterin, drunken blellum.” (Tam O’Shanter)

The phrase “on his lene” means on his own.” (cf lone). It is often used in another form, “by his lene.” It suggests either individuality or loneliness, depending on the context.



“A loon, on his lene, aft langs for the grace
o the Almichty’s mercy fan, moody wi care,
he rows alang rivers ti reach ice-cauld seas,
makkin teuch heidwey, hands tyauvin awa!
Fan ye’re warslin watter-weys, weird fate wields the rule!”

Sae spak ‘e waanderer worrit wi’s waes
wailin coorse slaughter an his dear kin, sair-ruin’t.

“Tho’ sweir, I wis priggit ti spick o ma pains,
ilk morn afore licht. But there’s nae nene alive
I wad deave wi ma dreams, ti hud free ma hert’s door
ti schaw aa my secrets! Shairly, it’s noble
ti hud yer hert’s kist aye close’t an hard lockit
ti mind weel yer saul’s hoard mullin ower’t on yer lene.
The warld-weary hert, tho’, canna thole jist fitivver,
nor a mind fair deminted dae muckle ava.

“Fa hung’ers for glory grieves aft in his hert
wi bleedy thochts brewin, fast bound in his breist;
sae I, in my saul, aye suffer in silence,
forivver unhappy, ma heritage takken,
ma fine kin cut aff, ma thochts clapp’t in fetters,
since ma laird, staff o life, lang years syne,
wis sheathit in sile.
As for me: I rose, quick,
file he, nae doot, warsl’t, wintry-mindit,
doon in Daith’s howes, deem’t ti tyauve, hopefu,
oor gear-giein hero, sikkin Glory’s dreid ha’s.

“I, near or far, files, micht sik kindly fowk,
in ae toon’s tavern, fa kent ma ain femily
or fa’d tak on the cheerin o iss freendless sowell,
ti ply me wi pleisures. The chiel in iss plicht
kens foo sair it is ti hae sorraw for a freend
fan he’s landit licht o luivin leal.

“Painfu’ exile pins ye, nae plaited gowd.
Yer heid’s fu o fears, nae ferlies an flooers.
Ye mind, as a fee’d man, sic muckle gear got
fae yer ain, leal laird. Fan ye laucht, as a loon,
ye were planning for plinty. But aa’s pour’t oot, perish’t.

“Gey weel, he kens, fa gangs wi’oot a gaffer’s
weel-dreel’t thochts, foo lang a day’s tholit.
Sorraw an sleep foregaither syne
wi the waefu wanderer, his wits aft unwindin,
till he sterts ti imagine his laird, michty man,
that he hugs an kisses him, on his knees peys homage
wi his hands an his heid. Jist sae, he honour’t him
at auld bountie’s throne, fan he brak breid wi joy.”

“Syne, eence mair he waukens – a hameless hero.
Aa the sicht afore him… is fallaw waves.
Foul, black-heidit gulls bathin, preinin their feathers.
Haar-frost and snaw faa – hail, tee – aa meldit.
Hurts o the hert, syne, seem aa the hivvier:
In sair grief for his laird, sorraw grows anew.

“Syne his thochts faa ti memories o faim’ly.
alive in his mind . Sae gleg wad he greet them
yon hame-born heroes; fa, like ferlies, hie awa,
skitin ow’r waves, spickin nae couthy word.
Sae care grows anew an aye gars him lowse –
ower the bindin waves – his tire’t, brakkin hert.

“In aa iss warld throw I can scarce win a thocht –
ma mind is fair bizzin, fell mistit wi fog –
fan lang I mull ower the mean life o men:
foo quickly they stotter an quit the warld-stage
thon heigh-mindit heroes, jist hiein awa.
In the same wey, yer nowt – tho nivver negleckit –
micht drap, hingit-luggit: it’s a gey dule ti drie.

“Sae nae chiel’s ca’d wise in iss tyauvin auld warld
withoot gaitherin himsel a fyow winters’ gain.
A wise chiel hauds his horses, disna flee aff the haun’le,
nor mooth aff at ithers he’s nae mind ti fecht,
disna funcy imsel, disna fleg, or mak on,
nae greedy an grippy, nor giein ti blaw
afore the crap’s bountie hes blissit his croon.

“He maun bite his tongue afore he spicks up ti boast
till he’s siccar (braw hero) he can fill his ain buits,
fooivver his funcies an ferlies micht turn!

“A wise hero gaithers foo ghaistly it gangs
fan aa the warld’s weal stands worriet an wastit
like sae mony ha’s in the North-East’s howes –
wind-blawn, wi waa’s brakkin,
the hooses, frost-clartit, their hedges, ca’d ower.

“Wine-ha’s lie ruin’t, war-chieftains laid low
thir horn’s music stoppit, the hale host slaughter’t,
the worthiest aginst the waa. Some were teen bi wars
that cairrie’t them ti glorie; ene, a gull catch’t
ow’r the low, low wave; ene, a wolf loupit on,
divvyin him oot wi daith; jist ene a dour-faced chiel
got a guid chunce ti beerie in a grave in ‘e grun.

“Sae the Creator o’s aa caa’d doon aa iss toon,
till the brave soond o citizens becam sadly still,
an the auld work o giants jist stude there – teem, idle.

He, fa that place o weal hes thocht on, wise-like,
an deeply refleckit on its destiny, dark,
maun mature ayont measure. Far awa, he’ll aye mind on
that fell flood o slaughter an spick oot sair words:
‘O far hes the horse gaed? an far the fine horseman?
prood men hans’lin merit? a winner’s place at maet?
the bricht tankard o beer? bonny lachin an banter?
the thirl’t, loons in khaki? Thegither!  Daith-lowsed!.

“Yon times driftit by like wee bairns pit ti bed,
thir sweet faces fadin. Noo stands, in the steid
o oor wee, mournit bairnies, a memorial wa’
wi Celtic worms trickit, ti fawn ow’r coorse wars
that took awa gledness, giein ashes for glory:
wapins sliverin for slaughter, weird fate swalla’t aa!

“Noo, on bluff, steney beaches, the storms beat an batter;
grim frost faa’s forivver fast fett’rin the grun.
Winter’s dire warnin wails in wi the dark;
nicht-shadaws deepen in the north wind’s stramash,
in a foul storm o hail – like strang hate aginst fowk!

“It’s aye a coorse tyauve in iss land-lockit kingdom:
Fate, breengin throw aa, birls the warld unner Hivven.

“Nae fine siller bides here, nor freends last forivver
Here, man’s life’s faa’s short, his looed kinfowk the same.
Fit iss passin warld values is a fause promise – empty!’
Sae a man o experience will murmur till himsel,
couried in a corner, ti keep his ain coonsil.

“Fa keeps his ain faith is the man that’s maist fit,
nae seen schawin bruises nor scalin his sorraws –
‘less he kens a fine cure! Na, he jist bigs his courage
ti mak strang his will! But it’s best ti sik mercy
fae The Faither in Hivven: ti hae Haly Ghaist comfort
fae the ae place, we’ve learnt, will ootlaist, ivvermair.”

Bruce Gardner.
© 2013, 2019