Monday, 13 May 2013

Playing with the Ormulum

‘The earliest poet writing in English in Lincolnshire’ was how I branded an introduction to the Orumulum for a poetry group one evening earlier this month (introduced in this Blog here and here and here).

Mindful of a discussion about the advantages of poetry in translation taking not just the words of the original but also its the structure (in this Blog here), I wanted to give an idea of how its rhythm might fall on a modern ear, so I created something close to a word-for-word translation of a couple of dozen lines while also seeking to follow the eight and seven beats in lines of couplets going

De-dum, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum,
De-dum, de-dum, de-dum-dum.

There are inevitable compromises. For example, the original line ‘haeþene Goddess alle’ must have been pronounced as seven separate syllables (heath-en-e God-es all-e) but the word-for-word translation ‘all heathen Gods’ is only four syllables, so I had to pad the line with ‘whatever’.

Anyway, this is what I came up with; the italics admit each departure from word-for-word translation.

& ȝiff þu cnawesst rihht tin Godd
And if you know your God aright
& herrcnesst hise spelless,
and harken to his story,
& leȝȝesst all þin herrte onn himm
while setting all your heart on him
& follȝhesst himm & buȝhesst,
to follow and to praise him,
& forr þe lufe off himm forrsest
and for the love of him forsake
haeþene Goddess alle,
all heathen Gods whatever,
& arrt te sellf aȝȝ milde & meoc
and are yourself all mild and meek
& soffte, & stille, & liþe,
and soft and still and gentle,
wiþþ lamb þu lakesst tin Drihhtin
you offer to your Lord a lamb
gastlike i þine þaewess,
in spirit by your conduct,
swa þatt itt maȝȝ wel hellpenn þe
so that it may well help you much
to winnenn Godess are.
to win from God his graces.

For lamb iss soffte & stille deor
For lambs are soft and gentle beasts
& meoc, & milde, & liþe
and meek and mild and gentle,
& it cann cnaweenn swiþe wel
and each one knows so very well
hiss moderr þaer ȝho blateþþ
its mother there who’s bleating
bitwenenn an þusennde shep,
between a thousand other sheep
þohh þatt teȝȝ blaetenn alle.
though they all bleat together.
& all swa birrþ þe cnawenn wel
And so it suits you to know well
þin Godd & all his lare,
your God and all he teaches,
& all forrwerrpenn haeþenndom
to keep away from heathendom
& oþre Goddess alle,
from other Gods whatever
swa sum þe lamb fleþ aȝȝ oþre shep
just as the lamb flees other sheep
& follȝheþþ aȝȝ hiss moderr.
to follow just its mother.

What comes across to me, apart from the plodding, is a delicate introductionof the New Testament encouragement to offer spirtual rather than literal sacrifice along with a homely if forced illustration; it could almost be material for a Sunday School  in the 1950s.

The picture is another taken at Lincoln Cathedral a week ago.

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