from The Exeter Book: Gnomic Verses

By Anonymous Anonymous

Translated By Michael Alexander

(lines 71-99)

Frost shall freeze
                  fire eat wood   
earth shall breed
                  ice shall bridge   
water a shield wear.
                  One shall break   
frost’s fetters
                  free the grain   
from wonder-lock
                  —One who all can.

Winter shall wane
                  fair weather come again
the sun-warmed summer!   
                  The sound unstill   
the deep dead wave
                  is darkest longest.   
Holly shall to the pyre
                  hoard be scattered   
when the body’s numb.
                  Name is best.

A king shall win
                  a queen with goods   
beakers, bracelets.
                  Both must first
be kind with gifts.
                  Courage must wax   
war-mood in the man,
                  the woman grow up   
beloved among her people,   
                  be light of mood
hold close a rune-word
                  be roomy-hearted
at hoard-share and horse-giving.
                  When the hall drinks   
she shall always and everywhere
                  before any company   
greet first
                  the father of aethelings   
with the first draught
                  —deft to his hand she   
holds the horn—
                  and when they are at home together   
know the right way
                  to run their household.

The ship must be nailed
                  the shield framed
from the light linden.
                  But how loving the welcome   
of the Frisian wife
                  when floats offshore
the keel come home again!
                  She calls him within walls,

her own husband
                  —hull’s at anchor!—
washes salt-stains
                  from his stiff shirt   
brings out clothes
                  clean and fresh
for her lord on land again.
                  Love’s need is met.

Gnomic verses from the Exeter Book, 7th-­10th century, translated by Michael Alexander, from The Earliest English Poems. Copyright © 1966, 1977, 1991 by Michael Alexander. Used by permission of Penguin Books (UK), Ltd.

Source: The Earliest English Poems (Penguin Books, 1991)

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Poet Anonymous

Subjects Living, Relationships, Love, Nature, Winter, Summer, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Alliteration

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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