Friday, April 25, 2008

Bone Dreams

I'm very excited to be off to the Bone Dreams Conference in Oxford tomorrow, which will look at connections between Anglo-Saxon culture, language and literature and the 'modern imagination' - encompassing films, novels, poetry and even comic-books.

To honour this occasion, and because it saves me having to write some well thought-out blog piece for Raw Light, I'm leaving you with this little poem from my last poetry collection, Boudicca & Co (Salt, 2006). It's a version from the Anglo-Saxon poem known to us as The Wife's Lament - though 'wif' in Old English means woman as much as wife, so that title may be a little misleading.

The original poem is far longer than my version, and far more complicated in terms of narrative structure and point of view. That's why this is a version rather than a truncated translation. It's 'inspired by' the original, to be accurate, though some of these lines and images do come directly from the Anglo-Saxon text.

Note: The line at the break, 'Wherever he is', should actually be indented, with no stanza break, the capital W falling just past the end of the sentence above. But it's a bit of a faff, doing the HTML formatting, so I'll just leave it to your imagination to see the line properly.

The Wife's Lament
a version from the Anglo-Saxon

I don’t belong here, alone in the dark
under these cruel hills. Briars pull
at my clothes where I lie
under an oak all night long, and still
he does not come. Light
burns my feet, so I walk, walk,
walk under this oak, through these caves
of earth, older than grief.

Wherever he is,
on the other side of the world perhaps,
lost in ruins under the rain,
he may be calling my name too. Light
falls more sharply where he is.
My lord, my prince, here I must sit
all summer long under this oak,
deep in the earth, rocking with grief.
My sweet, I know you would come
if you could. They broke us apart;
that’s why, under this dark hood, I weep.


mishari said...

Bleak and lovely. I like it.

Jane Holland said...

You need to get out more, Mishari. ;)

But thank you! Jx.

Jane Holland said...

Btw, I hold with those who feel this is an allegory about death. Unless that's just my modern sensibility talking.

mishari said...

I got that. Isn't she, in fact, wondering through the 'shades' or the underworld? That was the feeling I got from this:

' I walk, walk,
walk under this oak, through these caves
of earth, older than grief.'

The feeling that she is dead already and bewailing the fact that her lover can't yet come because he's still alive. That was my reading, anyway.

Rachel Fox said...

It is lovely...'still/he does not come'...simple but perfect, packed tight with feeling.

Jane Holland said...

Thank you, one and all. Re Mishari's point, you have to bear in mind that, when translating it, or 'versioning it', I was taking it to be an allegory of death. So that's bound to come across strongly in my version. In all fairness, you'd need to read the original or a very literal trans. of the original before making your mind up.

Remember, this is a very much shortened version of the original text. A taster, if you like. For comparison, you can probably find a few reasonable translations online by googling: Wife's Lament translation.

Bo said...

This is my favourite of all your poems.
How was the conference? Bugger that I missed it, though I am planning a Celtic equivalent at Cambridge for the second year of my JRF.

I think I know David Clarke, actually...

Jane Holland said...

The conference was super-duper! I really loved it. (God knows what they thought of me, though; I had some sidelong glances from the medievalists-in-tweed brigade and several people scuffling to get a look at my name badge in the lunch queue!)

Beth Tovey on Anglo-Saxon texts as a gift for gay men was worth the entrance money alone. She used film and cartoon clips to punctuate her points; Ray Winston in the recent Beowulf engaged in oily nude wrestling with other men, for instance. Great stuff!

David Clarke is nice. He was one of the few blokes there who didn't seem affronted by my presence. Ditto Chris Jones, who's clearly a star.

I suspect I may have made an enemy of Michael Alexander though when I told him my Wanderer version was written in the voice of a woman. He nearly choked on his stuffed olive.

I liked MA though. Ought to make that clear. We just didn't see eye-to-eye on the merits of 'modernising' or reinventing OE poetry for our age.

You missed a good day, in other words. I got some invites to other things though, incl. something similar on May 23-24th at King's College, London. That was an invite from Josh Davies who gave a short paper on Hughes and the Remains of Elmet. (Though we'd just had a paper on Heaney that constantly referred to his poem 'Helmet', so every time Josh Davies said 'Elmet' I thought 'Helmet' instead - in an unfortunately quasi-sexual, deeply comic way and had to stop myself giggling. Yeah, okay, but constant references to some bloke's 'elmet can become funny in an Oxford conference situation.)

Apologies to any conference-goers reading this and stiffening in outrage. So to speak.

Sorry I missed your birthday, btw. Doh!


david lumsden said...

I started a comment a couple of days ago but it turned into a post in its own right and even then I've only scratched the surface.

Jane Holland said...

I forgot to follow up that comment and say thanks here for looking so closely at my work, David.

So thanks. Many thanks!