Translator’s Note: “Old English Rune Poem” by Anonymous
All surviving Old English texts are, in varying ways, mysterious to contemporary readers and scholars, and the “Old English Rune Poem” comes with its fair share of mystery. In addition to there being no known author of the poem, there is no surviving medieval copy. The only known copy of the “Rune Poem” was in Cotton MS Otho B.X, folio 165. In 1731, the Cottonian Library was moved to Ashburnham House, which was devastated by fire in that same year (the name of the house itself suggesting it may not have been the best place to keep flammable items). Luckily, a handwritten copy had been made early in the eighteenth century. This copy also was lost (to a different fire), but not before it was copied by George Hickes, who published a print edition in 1705 in his Linguarum Veterum Septentrionalium Thesaurus.
Miller Oberman’s translation “Old English Rune Poem” won Poetry’s John Frederick Nims Memorial Prize for Translation in 2013. Oberman is currently pursuing doctoral studies in poetry and poetics at the University of Connecticut.