Friday, May 12, 2006

Ride singing forth!

When one cleans house after a semester, one can find the most fascinating things.

Take for example, this proverb of Alfred that I found while looking for a copy of the Old English Visio Pauli. It's the 14th proverb, according to what I have scrawled in the front of a notebook -- I have no idea if I transcribed it correctly (my terrible handwriting repeatedly amazes me), but it's

þus queþ Alured:

If þu hauest seorewe
ne seye hit nohht þan arewe
seye hit þine sadelbowe
and ryd þe singinde forþ…

I have the distinct feeling this is early Middle English (I'll double check it next time I'm in the EETS sections of the library), and thus I'm rather ill-equipped to translate -- if anyone out there sees mistakes let me know! But based on other translations of this proverb that I've read, I'd have to guess at it being something close to this:

If you have a sorrow,
say it not to the arrow
say it to your saddlebow
and ride singing forth.

I particularly love the last line -- in the old form it retains a meter that's just beautiful. And it's such a perfect expression of the ethos pervading so much of Old English poetry (I nearly said heroic poetry, but I don't think that's really an adequate category, somehow).

In its vaguely elegiac quality that seems eclipsed by a refusal to remain in a static mourning, it reminds me of Theoden's death in Lord of the Rings (I was heartbroken they cut it out, as it's one of my favorite lines in the book): "A grim morn, a glad day, and a golden sunset."

Something of an echo, perhaps, though it's not necessarily surface-level resemblance -- ride singing forth.


Derek the Ænglican said...

I like it... Maybe I'm being overly literal but I'm puzzled by the function of the "arrow"...

King Alfred said...

Not that I'm an expert, but it looks a lot like middle English to me; then again most of the Old English I've read is earlier. As for the arrow, I suppose it's better to cry (or sing) into your saddle than wield a weapon in depression.

anhaga said...

King Alfred -- Yeah, I'm almost certain it is Middle English. It just felt a bit odd saying "here's one of Alfred's Middle English."

Derek--Another translation I saw of this (I completely forget where) -- "If thou hast a woe, tell it not to the weakling, tell it to thy saddle bow, and ride singing forth." I've also seen it is as "tell it not to your foe."

But I'd imagine -- and this is very much off the top of my head, but no matter -- that it has to do with reticence. With the arrow being like words going forth? Seems like a stretch...but who knows. I'll keep an eye out for more info...

Tiruncula said...

Hi! Nonsubstantive post here, but I'm happy to see another Anglo-Saxonist blogger. Great blogname!

Aelfgifu Emma said...

It is ME. There was a ME collection of the "Proverbs of Alfred" although there's no OE analogue for it. Probably written in the Early ME period when Alfred was an object of great admiration. I can't find a citation for it right now, but I'll look a bit harder for it.

Anne said...

So, is it good old King Alfred that we have to blame for the English tradition of keeping a stiff upper lip
whatever the circumstances?