Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Mary of the Cross

Sweet Mary, distraught

distraught and keening,
keening at the death,
the death of her child,
her child once taunted
taunted now herself,
herself at the place,

the place wet with blood,
with blood which now stains,
now stains her tears red,
tears red on her breast,
her breast tight with grief,
with grief like none since,

none since, Mary sweet.

I’ve followed up my interest in the Orkneyinga Saga by splashed out on the first published volume of the critical edition of Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages - it is Volume VII, published in 2007, and covers Poetry on Christian Subjects. This poem is my first go at writing or ‘translating’ something from it.

The original of the poem is verse 5 of the fourteenth century Heilagra Meyja Drapa (Poems on Holy Maidens) and the literal English rendering in the critical edition (by Prof Kirsten Wolf) preserves something of the way in which a version of the final word of each line is repeated at the beginning of the following line:

Sweet Mary, overcome with weeping
cried at the death of the son;
the conduct of the Jews mocked the woman;
the woman looked at the red cross.

The reddening stream of tears then flowed
and streamed down the mother;
the mother’s chest, tight with grief,
bore the grief like no one since.

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