I Have Labored Sore Translation Poem by Michael Burch

I Have Labored Sore Translation

I Have Labored Sore
anonymous medieval lyric (circa the fifteenth century)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I have labored sore / and suffered death,
so now I rest / and catch my breath.
But I shall come / and call right soon
heaven and earth / and hell to doom.
Then all shall know / both devil and man
just who I was / and what I am.

NOTE: This poem has a pronounced caesura (pause) in the middle of each line: a hallmark of Old English poetry. While this poem is closer to Middle English, it preserves the older tradition. I have represented the caesura with a slash.

Now skruketh rose and lylie flour
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa 11th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now the rose and the lily skyward flower,
That will bear for awhile that sweet savor:
In summer, that sweet tide;
There is no queen so stark in her power
Nor any lady so bright in her bower
That dead shall not summon and guide;
But whoever forgoes lust, in heavenly bliss will abide
With his thoughts on Jesus anon, thralled at his side.

A Proverb from Winfred's Time
anonymous Old English poem, circa 757-786
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The procrastinator puts off purpose,
never initiates anything marvelous,
never succeeds, and dies alone.

The late-deed-doer delays glory-striving,
never indulges daring dreams,
never succeeds, and dies alone.

Often the deed-dodger avoids ventures,
never succeeds, and dies alone.

Winfrid or Wynfrith is better known as Saint Boniface. He lived circa 675-754. This may be the second-oldest English poem, after 'Caedmon's Hymn.'

Franks Casket Runes
anonymous Old English poems, circa 700
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The fish flooded the shore-cliffs;
the sea-king wept when he swam onto the shingle:
whale's bone.

Romulus and Remus, twin brothers weaned in Rome
by a she-wolf, far from their native land.

Led By Christ and Mary
by Saint Godric of Finchale (1065-1170)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

By Christ and Saint Mary I was so graciously led
that the earth never felt my bare foot's tread!

In the next poem, Godric puns on his name: godes riche means 'God's kingdom' and sounds like 'God is rich'...

A Cry to Mary
by Saint Godric of Finchale (1065-1170)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Saintë Marië Virginë,
Mother of Jesus Christ the Nazarenë,
Welcome, shield and help thin Godric,
Fly him off to God's kingdom rich!

Saintë Marië, Christ's bower,
Virgin among Maidens, Motherhood's flower,
Blot out my sin, fix where I'm flawed,
Elevate me to Bliss with God!

Prayer to St. Nicholas
by Saint Godric of Finchale (1065-1170)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Saint Nicholas, beloved of God,
Build us a house that's bright and fair;
Watch over us from birth to bier,
Then, Saint Nicholas, bring us safely there!

'The Leiden Riddle' is an Old English translation of Aldhelm's Latin riddle 'Lorica' or 'Corselet.'

The Leiden Riddle
anonymous Old English riddle poem, circa 700
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The dank earth birthed me from her icy womb.
I know I was not fashioned from woolen fleeces;
nor was I skillfully spun from skeins;
I have neither warp nor weft;
no thread thrums through me in the thrashing loom;
nor do whirring shuttles rattle me;
nor does the weaver's rod assail me;
nor did silkworms spin me like skillfull fates
into curious golden embroidery.
And yet heroes still call me an excellent coat.
Nor do I fear the dread arrows' flights,
however eagerly they leap from their quivers.

Solution: a coat of mail.

He sits with his harp at his thane's feet,
Earning his hire, his rewards of rings,
Sweeping the strings with his skillful nail;
Hall-thanes smile at the sweet song he sings.
—'Fortunes of Men' loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Fairest Between Lincoln and Lindsey
(anonymous Middle English poem, circa late 13th century)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

When the nightingale sings, the woods turn green;
Leaf and grass again blossom in April, I know,
Yet love pierces my heart with its spear so keen!
Night and day it drinks my blood. The painful rivulets flow.

I've loved all this year. Now I can love no more;
I've sighed many a sigh, sweetheart, and yet all seems wrong.
For love is no nearer and that leaves me poor.
Sweet lover, think of me — I've loved you so long!

A cleric courts his lady
(anonymous Middle English poem, circa late 13th century)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My death I love, my life I hate, because of a lovely lady;
She's as bright as the broad daylight, and shines on me so purely.
I fade before her like a leaf in summer when it's green.
If thinking of her does no good, to whom shall I complain?

The Rhymed Poem / The Rhyming Poem / The Riming Poem
anonymous Old English poem circa 990 AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

He who granted me life created this sun
and graciously provided its radiant engine.
I was gladdened with glees, bathed in bright hues,
deluged with joy's blossoms, sunshine-infused.

Men admired me, feted me with banquet-courses;
we rejoiced in the good life. Gaily bedecked horses
carried me swiftly across plains on joyful rides,
delighting me with their long limbs' thunderous strides.
That world was quickened by earth's fruits and their flavors!
I cantered under pleasant skies, attended by troops of advisers.
Guests came and went, amusing me with their chatter
as I listened with delight to their witty palaver.

Well-appointed ships glided by in the distance;
when I sailed myself, I was never without guidance.
I was of the highest rank; I lacked for nothing in the hall;
nor did I lack for brave companions; warriors, all,
we strode through castle halls weighed down with gold
won from our service to thanes. We were proud men, and bold.
Wise men praised me; I was omnipotent in battle;
Fate smiled on and protected me; foes fled before me like cattle.
Thus I lived with joy indwelling; faithful retainers surrounded me;
I possessed vast estates; I commanded all my eyes could see;
the earth lay subdued before me; I sat on a princely throne;
the words I sang were charmed; old friendships did not wane...

Those were years rich in gifts and the sounds of happy harp-strings,
when a lasting peace dammed shut the rivers' sorrowings.
My servants were keen, their harps resonant;
their songs pealed, the sound loud but pleasant;
the music they made melodious, a continual delight;
the castle hall trembled and towered bright.
Courage increased, wealth waxed with my talent;
I gave wise counsel to great lords and enriched the valiant.

My spirit enlarged; my heart rejoiced;
good faith flourished; glory abounded; abundance increased.
I was lavishly supplied with gold; bright gems were circulated...
Till treasure led to treachery and the bonds of friendship constricted.

I was bold in my bright array, noble in my equipage,
my joy princely, my home a happy hermitage.
I protected and led my people;
for many years my life among them was regal;
I was devoted to them and they to me.

But now my heart is troubled, fearful of the fates I see;
disaster seems unavoidable. Someone dear departs in flight by night
who once before was bold. His soul has lost its light.
A secret disease in full growth blooms within his breast,
spreads in different directions. Hostility blossoms in his chest,
in his mind. Bottomless grief assaults the mind's nature
and when penned in, erupts in rupture,
burns eagerly for calamity, runs bitterly about.

The weary man suffers, begins a journey into doubt;
his pain is ceaseless; pain increases his sorrows, destroys his bliss;
his glory ceases; he loses his happiness;
he loses his craft; he no longer burns with desires.
Thus joys here perish, lordships expire;
men lose faith and descend into vice;
infirm faith degenerates into evil's curse;
faith feebly abandons its high seat and every hour grows worse.

So now the world changes; Fate leaves men lame;
Death pursues hatred and brings men to shame.
The happy clan perishes; the spear rends the marrow;
the evildoer brawls and poisons the arrow;
sorrow devours the city; old age castrates courage;
misery flourishes; wrath desecrates the peerage;
the abyss of sin widens; the treacherous path snakes;
resentment burrows, digs in, wrinkles, engraves;
artificial beauty grows foul;
the summer heat cools;
earthly wealth fails;
enmity rages, cruel, bold;
the might of the world ages, courage grows cold.
Fate wove itself for me and my sentence was given:
that I should dig a grave and seek that grim cavern
men cannot avoid when death comes, arrow-swift,
to seize their lives in his inevitable grasp.
Now night comes at last,
and the way stand clear
for Death to dispossesses me of my my abode here.

When my corpse lies interred and the worms eat my limbs,
whom will Death delight then, with his dark feast and hymns?
Let men's bones become one,
and then finally, none,
till there's nothing left here of the evil ones.
But men of good faith will not be destroyed;
the good man will rise, far beyond the Void,
who chastened himself, more often than not,
to avoid bitter sins and that final black Blot.
The good man has hope of a far better end
and remembers the promise of Heaven,
where he'll experience the mercies of God for his saints,

freed from all sins, dark and depraved,
defended from vices, gloriously saved,
where, happy at last before their cheerful Lord,
men may rejoice in his love forevermore.

The Wife's Lament
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I draw these dark words from deep wells of wild grief,
dredged up from my heart, regretful & sad.
I recount wrenching seizures I've suffered since birth,
both ancient and recent, that drove me mad.

I have reaped, from my exile-paths, only pain
here on earth.

First, my Lord forsook his kinfolk―left,
crossed the seas' shining expanse, deserted our tribe.
Since then, I've known only loneliness:
wrenching dawn-griefs, despair in wild tides...
Where, oh where can he be?

Then I, too, left—a lonely, lordless refugee,
full of unaccountable desires!
But the man's kinsmen schemed to estrange us,
divide us, keep us apart.

Divorced from hope, unable to embrace him,
how my helpless heart
broke! ...

Then my Lord spoke:
'Take up residence here.'
I had few acquaintances in this alien land, none close.
I was penniless, friendless;
Christ, I felt lost!

I believed I'd met a well-matched man—one meant for me,
but unfortunately
was ill-starred, unkind,
with a devious mind,
full of malicious intentions,
plotting some crime!

Before God we
vowed never to part, not till kingdom come, never!
But now that's all changed, forever—
our marriage is done, severed.

Thus now I must hear,
far and near,
early and late,
contempt for my mate.

Then naysayers bade me, 'Go, seek repentance in the sacred grove,
beneath the great oak trees, in some root-entangled grotto, alone.'

Now in this ancient earth-hall I huddle, hurt and oppressed—
the dales are dark, the hills wild & immense,
and this cruel-briared enclosure—a hellish abode!

How the injustice assails me—my Lord's absence!
Elsewhere on earth lovers share the same bed
while I pass through life, half dead,
in this dark abscess where I wilt with the heat, unable to rest
or forget the tribulations of my life's hard lot.

A young woman must always be
stern, hard-of-heart, unmoved, full of belief,
enduring breast-cares, suppressing her own feelings.
She must always appear cheerful,
even in a tumult of grief.

Now, like a criminal exiled to a distant land,
groaning beneath insurmountable cliffs,
my weary-minded lover, drenched by wild storms
and caught in the clutches of anguish, moans and mourns,
reminded constantly of our former happiness.

Woe be it to them who abide in longing!

'The Husband's Message' is an Old English (Anglo-Saxon) poem from the Exeter Book, the oldest extant English poetry anthology. The poem may or may not be a reply to 'The Wife's Lament, ' another poem in the same collection. The poem is generally considered to be an Anglo-Saxon riddle (I will provide the solution) , but its primary focus is persuading a wife or fiancé to join her husband or betrothed and fulfill her promises to him. The Exeter Book has been dated to 960-990 AD, so the poem was written by then or earlier. The version below is my modern English translation of one of the oldest extant English poems.

The Husband's Message
anonymous Old English poem, circa 960-990 AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

See, I unseal myself for your eyes only!
I sprang from a seed to a sapling,
waxed great in a wood,
  was given knowledge,
was ordered across saltstreams in ships
where I stiffened my spine, standing tall,
till, entering the halls of heroes,
  I honored my manly Lord.

Now I stand here on this ship's deck,
an emissary ordered to inform you
of the love my Lord feels for you.
I have no fear forecasting his heart steadfast,
his honor bright, his word true.

He who bade me come carved this letter
and entreats you to recall, clad in your finery,
what you promised each other many years before,
mindful of his treasure-laden promises.

He reminds you how, in those distant days,
witty words were pledged by you both
in the mead-halls and homesteads:
how he would be Lord of the lands
you would inhabit together
while forging a lasting love.

Alas, a vendetta drove him far from his feuding tribe,
but now he instructs me to gladly give you notice
that when you hear the returning cuckoo's cry
cascading down warming coastal cliffs,
come over the sea! Let no man hinder your course.

He earnestly urges you: Out! To sea!
Away to the sea, when the circling gulls
hover over the ship that conveys you to him!

Board the ship that you meet there:
sail away seaward to seek your husband,
over the seagulls' range,
  over the paths of foam.
For over the water, he awaits you.

He cannot conceive, he told me,
how any keener joy could comfort his heart,
nor any greater happiness gladden his soul,
than that a generous God should grant you both
to exchange rings, then give gifts to trusty liege-men,
golden armbands inlaid with gems to faithful followers.

The lands are his, his estates among strangers,
his new abode fair and his followers true,
all hardy heroes, since hence he was driven,
shoved off in his ship from these shore in distress,
steered straightway over the saltstreams, sped over the ocean,
a wave-tossed wanderer winging away.

But now the man has overcome his woes,
outpitted his perils, lives in plenty, lacks no luxury,
has a hoard and horses and friends in the mead-halls.

All the wealth of the earth's great earls
now belongs to my Lord...
  He only lacks you.

He would have everything within an earl's having,
if only my Lady will come home to him now,
if only she will do as she swore and honor her vow.

Sumer is icumen in
anonymous Middle English poem, circa 1260 AD
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Summer is a-comin'!
Sing loud, cuckoo!
The seed grows,
The meadow blows,
The woods spring up anew.
Sing, cuckoo!

The ewe bleats for her lamb;
The cows contentedly moo;
The bullock roots,
The billy-goat poots...
Sing merrily, cuckoo!

Cuckoo, cuckoo,
You sing so well, cuckoo!
Never stop, until you're through!

Sing now cuckoo! Sing, cuckoo!
Sing, cuckoo! Sing now cuckoo!

A Lyke-Wake Dirge
anonymous medieval lyric (circa the sixteenth century)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The Lie-Awake Dirge is 'the night watch kept over a corpse.'

This one night, this one night,
every night and all;
fire and sleet and candlelight,
and Christ receive thy soul.

When from this earthly life you pass
every night and all,
to confront your past you must come at last,
and Christ receive thy soul.

If you ever donated socks and shoes,
every night and all,
sit right down and put pull yours on,
and Christ receive thy soul.

But if you never helped your brother,
every night and all,
walk barefoot through the flames of hell,
and Christ receive thy soul.

If ever you shared your food and drink,
every night and all,
the fire will never make you shrink,
and Christ receive thy soul.

But if you never helped your brother,
every night and all,
walk starving through the black abyss,
and Christ receive thy soul.

This one night, this one night,
every night and all;
fire and sleet and candlelight,
and Christ receive thy soul.

This World's Joy
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa early 14th century AD)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Winter awakens all my care
as leafless trees grow bare.
For now my sighs are fraught
whenever it enters my thought:
regarding this world's joy,
how everything comes to naught.

How Long the Night
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa early 13th century AD)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

It is pleasant, indeed, while the summer lasts
with the mild pheasants' song...
but now I feel the northern wind's blast:
its severe weather strong.
Alas! Alas! This night seems so long!
And I, because of my momentous wrong
now grieve, mourn and fast.

Adam Lay Ybounden
(anonymous Medieval English lyric, circa early 15th century AD)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Adam lay bound, bound in a bond;
Four thousand winters, he thought, were not too long.
And all was for an apple, an apple that he took,
As clerics now find written in their book.
But had the apple not been taken, or had it never been,
We'd never have had our Lady, heaven's queen and matron.
So blesséd be the time the apple was taken thus;
Therefore we sing, 'God is gracious! '

The poem has also been rendered as 'Adam lay i-bounden' and 'Adam lay i-bowndyn.'

Excerpt from 'Ubi Sunt Qui Ante Nos Fuerunt? '
anonymous Middle English poem, circa 1275
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Where are the men who came before us,
who led hounds and hawks to the hunt,
who commanded fields and woods?
Where are the elegant ladies in their boudoirs
who braided gold through their hair
and had such fair complexions?

Once eating and drinking gladdened their hearts;
they enjoyed their games;
men bowed before them;
they bore themselves loftily...
But then, in an eye's twinkling,
they were gone.

Where, now, are their laughter and their songs,
the trains of their dresses,
the arrogance of their entrances and exits,
their hawks and their hounds?
All their joy has vanished;
their 'well' has come to 'oh, well'
and to many dark days...

Westron Wynde
(anonymous Middle English lyric, found in a partbook circa 1530 AD, but perhaps written much earlier)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Western wind, when will you blow,
bringing the drizzling rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms,
and I in my bed again!

NOTE: The original poem has 'the smalle rayne down can rayne' which suggests a drizzle or mist, either of which would suggest a dismal day.

Pity Mary
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa early 13th century AD)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Now the sun passes under the wood:
I rue, Mary, thy face: fair, good.
Now the sun passes under the tree:
I rue, Mary, thy son and thee.

In the poem above, note how 'wood' and 'tree' invoke the cross while 'sun' and 'son' seem to invoke each other. Sun-day is also Son-day, to Christians. The anonymous poet who wrote the poem above may have been been punning the words 'sun' and 'son.' The poem is also known as 'Now Goeth Sun Under Wood' and 'Now Go'th Sun Under Wood.' Here's another poem from the same era:

Fowles in the Frith
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa 13th-14th century AD)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The fowls in the forest,
the fishes in the flood
and I must go mad:
such sorrow I've had
for beasts of bone and blood!

Sounds like an early animal rights activist! The use of 'and' is intriguing... is the poet saying that his walks in the wood drive him mad because he is also a 'beast of bone and blood, ' facing a similar fate?

I am of Ireland
(anonymous Medieval Irish lyric, circa 13th-14th century AD)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I am of Ireland,
and of the holy realm of Ireland.
Gentlefolk, I pray thee:
for the sake of saintly charity,
come dance with me
in Ireland!

Original Text:

Ich am of Irlaunde,
Ant of the holy londe
Of Irlande.
Gode sire, pray ich the,
For of saynte charité,
Come ant daunce wyth me
In Irlaunde.

The poem above still smacks of German, with 'Ich' for 'I.' But a metamorphosis was clearly in progress: English poetry was evolving to employ meter and rhyme, as well as Anglo-Saxon alliteration. And it's interesting to note that 'ballad, ' 'ballet' and 'ball' all have the same root: the Latin ballare (to dance) and the Italian ballo/balleto (a dance) . Think of a farm community assembling for a hoe-down, then dancing a two-step to music with lyrics. That is apparently how many early English poems originated. And the more regular meter of the evolving poems would suit music well.

Keywords/Tags: labor, labored, sore, sorrow, death, rest, breath, heaven, earth, hell, doom, devil, man, lyke, wake, dirge, Christ, soul, world, joy, ubi, sunt

Sunday, November 1, 2020
Topic(s) of this poem: christ,death,dirge,earth,heaven,labor,man,sorrow,soul,world
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