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Welund him be wurman [#]     wræces cunnade,
anhydig eorl     earfoþa dreag,
hæfde him to gesiþþe     sorge and longaþ,
4wintercealde wræce,     wean oft onfond
siþþan hine Niðhad on     nede legde,
swoncre seonobende     on syllan monn.
Þæs ofereode,     þisses swa mæg. [#]

8 Beadohilde ne wæs     hyre broþra deaþ
on sefan swa sar     swa hyre sylfre þing,
þæt heo gearolice     ongietan hæfde
þæt heo eacen wæs;     æfre ne meahte
12þriste geþencan     hu ymb þæt sceolde.
Þæs ofereode,     þisses swa mæg.

We þæt Mæðhilde [#]     mone gefrugnon
wurdon grundlease     Geates frige,
16þæt hi seo sorglufu     slæp ealle binom.
Þæs ofereode,     þisses swa mæg.

Ðeodric ahte [#]     þritig wintra
Mæringa burg;     þæt wæs monegum cuþ.
20Þæs ofereode,     þisses swa mæg.

We geascodan     Eormanrices [#]
wylfenne geþoht;     ahte wide folc
Gotena rices;     þæt wæs grim cyning.
24Sæt secg monig     sorgum gebunden,
wean on wenan,     wyscte geneahhe
þæt þæs cynerices     ofercumen wære.
Þæs ofereode,     þisses swa mæg.

28Siteð sorgcearig,     sælum bidæled,
on sefan sweorceð,     sylfum þinceð
þæt sy endeleas     earfoða dæl,
mæg þonne geþencan     þæt geond þas woruld
32witig Dryhten     wendeþ geneahhe,
eorle monegum     are gesceawað,
wislicne blæd,     sumum weana dæl.

Þæt ic bi me sylfum     secgan wille,
36þæt ic hwile wæs     Heodeninga scop,
dryhtne dyre;     me wæs Deor noma. [#]
Ahte ic fela wintra     folgað tilne,
holdne hlaford,     oþ þæt Heorrenda nu,
40leoðcræftig monn,     londryht geþah
þæt me eorla hleo     ær gesealde.
Þæs ofereode,     þisses swa mæg.


line 1a: Welund is better known in English folklore as Wayland the Smith. (Beowulf's armour was said to be Weland's work, and King Alfred, in a series of wonderings of where famous things have got to, wonders where are the bones of Weland the wise, the master goldsmith who was most famous in days gone by. A barrow in Oxfordshire is called Wayland's Smithy to this day.)

An Old Norse poem from the Edda, Völundarkviða, gives us a fuller account of his life. He and his two brothers came upon three swan-maidens on a lake's shore, and loved them, and lived with them happily for seven years, but then the swan-maidens flew away again. His brothers left, but Weland stayed on the spot, and turned to smithing, and made beautiful gold rings against his wife's return. King Nithuthr hears of this, steals one of the rings, takes him captive, hamstrings him to keep him prisoner, and keeps him on an offshore island and forces him to make pretty things. Weland takes his revenge by killing Nithuthr's two sons, cutting off their heads for silver bowls, cutting out their eyes for gemstones, cutting out their teeth for brooches, and presenting these to Nithuthr and his wife. Weland also gets Nithuthr's daughter Bothvild (Beadohild) with child, though it is unclear whether this is part of malicious revenge -- Bothvild is said to weep at Weland's departure, and Weland insists to Nithuthr that Bothvild is his bride and should not be killed. Finally, Weland, most cunning of smiths, fashions wings and so flies away in spite of his infirmity. Farther than that we cannot follow him. [ Back to text ]

line 7b: The obvious question one is left asking is what precisely does "Thaes ofereode, thisses swa maeg" mean? A more literal if less compact rendering might be "It was overcome in respect of that, and so it might be in respect of this". This is ambiguous: you can't tell whether the speaker hopes that things will work out the same way ("may it be so") or is simply admitting the possibility ("it may be so"). The same ambiguity exists in the original, down to the same word mæg, which may have meant either.

From the context of the author listing the various heroes and heroines of the Germanic past, who had their troubles but these troubles passed in the end, and then linking his own story into the chain, one gets the impression that the narrator is hoping that just as all these troubles passed away, so he hopes his will too.

It reminds me of Aunt Bee in Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar, standing in the churchyard after telling the rector her troubles and remembering the rival smiths with their fierce battle back in 1723, who were now sleeping peacefully in the same plot of Clare earth, and thinking that someday her problems too would just be an old song, that it was simply a matter of keeping a sense of proportion. Or indeed of John Cleese as Basil Fawlty having just dealt with some minor difficulties and then remembering that he had had to lock Sybil up in order to sort them out, and going to release her with the dread words, "So far so good; now for the tricky bit." [ Back to text ]

line 14a: Maethhild (Matilda) and Geat may have been as famous as Romeo and Juliet in their day, but only a fragment more has survived to ours, and that not from mediaeval sources but from Scandianavian ballads recorded in the nineteenth century. Magnild (Maethhild) wept, apparently, because she foretold she would drown in the river. Gauti (Geat) retorts that he will build a bridge over the river, but she notes that none can flee fate. Sure enough, she is drowned (either falls off the bridge, or the bridge collapses). Gauti calls for his harp, and, like a Germanic Orpheus, plays so well that his wife's body rises out of the waters. In one version she returns alive; in the darker version, she is dead, but Gauti buries her properly and makes new strings for his harp from her hair. [ Back to text ]

line 18a: That Theodoric ruled the city of the Maerings for thirty years may have been known to many in the poet's day, but the details are lost to ours. In this case a ninth-century runic inscription comes to our aid, which notes that nine generations ago a Theodric, lord of the Maerings, landed in Geatland (confusingly, nothing to do with Maethhild's husband Geat) and was killed there. In the early sixth century there was a Frankish king called Theoderic, and certainly the last battle of the Geatish king Hygelac, Beowulf's patron, was against the Franks: it may be that we should read a long feud here, barely hinted at. But we have no real details to go on. [For more on the runestone and the possibilities, see Kemp Malone's Deor.] A good many allusions to nearly lost Germanic myth like this are somewhat like overhearing people talking enthusiastically about a soap opera which you don't follow yourself -- who Edmund and Margaret and Megan are you have no idea, and you aren't any the wiser from animated conversation about them because the people talking know all the basic details and don't bother to explain them. [ Back to text ]

line 21b: Eormenric, on the other hand, is much better known. In history he was a great king of the Ostrogoths, who died in about 375; according to Ammianus Marcellinus, he killed himself out of fear of the invading Huns. According to other Old Norse Eddic poems, Guðrúnarhvöt and Hamðismál, Iormunrekkr (Eormenric) had his wife Svannhildr trampled by horses because he suspected her of having an affair with his son. Unfortunately, Svannhildr was also the daughter of the formidable Guthrun (wife of Sigurthr, more famously known as Siegfried the Dragon-slayer), who incited her sons, Hamthir and Sorli, to go and take revenge, which they did, by cutting off his hands and feet. And so indeed Eormenric's rule was overcome. [ Back to text ]

line 37b: Deor has left no trace, and may simply be authorial fiction. Heorrenda, on the other hand, seems to appear (as Horant) in a thirteenth century German epic Kudrun, as a follower of King Hetel. It is said that Horant sang so sweetly that birds fell silent at his song, and fish and animals in the wood fell motionless. [ Back to text ]