Wulf and Eadwacer is a poem, written in Old English, which was preserved in the Exeter Book, dating it to sometime before the second half of the tenth century, and that's about all that's known about it for sure.

The poem is written in a variation on standard Anglo-Saxon verse. It is one of only two such poems known to have a refrain, and it also contains some unique variations in meter. Wulf and Eadwacer is also one of only two Anglo-Saxon poems where the speaker is identified by the grammar as a woman. (The other one is The Wife's Lament.)


Here is the original Old English:

Leodum is minum    swylce him mon lác gife 
willað hy hine aþecgan    gif he on þreat cymeð 
    Ungelic is ús. 
Wulf is on iege    ic on oþerre 
fæst is þæt eglond    fenne biworpen 
sindon wælreowe    weras þær on ige 
willað hy hine aþecgan    gif he on þreat cymeð 
    Ungelice is us
Wulfes ic mines wid-lastum    wenum dogode 
þonne hit wæs renig weder    ond ic reotugu sæt. 
þonne mec se beaducafa    bogum bilegde 
wæs me wyn to þon    wæs me hwæþre eac lað. 
Wulf min Wulf    wena me þine. 
seoce gedydon    þine seldcymas 
murnende mód    nales meteliste 
Gehyrest þu Eadwacer    Uncerne earne hwelp 
    bireð Wulf to wuda 
þæt mon eaþe tosliteð    þætte næfre gesomnad wæs 
    uncer giedd geador
(pronunciation tips: þ is thorn, pronounced like the th in thorn. ð is eth, pronounced like the th in death. C is always k. You can get away with pronouncing æ like the e in bed)


For those who aren't fluent in Old English, here's my poor attempt at a vaguely poetic translation:

My people, as if the man were a sacrifice 
Wish to kill him, as if he came with threats.
Apart we are:
Wolf on an island, I on another 
A fastness is that island, fen-wrapped.
Bloody-minded men  on the island there 
Wish to kill him, as if he came with threats.
Apart we are:
Wolf wide-wandering, I waited doglike 
Then it was rainy weather, and I wailing sat.
Then the war-bold  arms enwrapped me. 
That was happiness; however that was also hateful. 
Wolf my Wolf, my wanting thee 
Made me sick, thy seldom coming 
My mourning spirit, never starvation.
Hear Wealth-watcher! Our lively whelp
Wolf bears to the woods.
That man easily breaks  what was never bound:
Our tale together.

There is no real consensus as to what this poem is about. Ideas include a charm to cure warts, a riddle, an elaborate pun on the name of the poet Cynewulf, a purposely indecipherable poet's joke, and a humourous verse about a bitch who wants her wolf mate. Most commentators, however, interpret it as a dramatic monologue by a woman who misses her lover, or maybe her son.

A conservative explication would go something like this: The woman who is speaking was the lover of a man named Wulf, who is outlawed. Despite still loving him, she somehow involved herself with a man named Eadwacer (Wealth-watcher or Bliss-watcher), and somewhere in there she bore a child to one or the other of them. Torn between them, loving and hating them both, she laments her predicament, and declares that the child also will end up in the wilderness.

Part of what makes this among my favorite poems is that it is obscure enough to allow many interpretations, yet so suggestive. Everyone who reads it reads a different story into it.


Below is my attempt at a gloss of the original poem. Old English is close enough to Modern English that anyone with a good vocabulary who is able to interpret my cryptic grammar markings ought to be able to get a good idea of what reading the original poem would be like.


Abbreviations:
nom nominative, dat dative, gen genitive, acc accusative, ind indicative
pres present, pret preterite, pct participle, ins instrumental
pl plural sg singular
Leodum        is             minum     swylce him       mon        lác             gife 
people.dat.pl be.pres.ind.sg my.dat.sg as-if  he.dat.pl man.nom.sg offering.acc.sg if
willað           hy        hine      aþecgan      gif he        on þreat         cymeð. 
wish.pres.ind.pl he.nom.pl he.acc.sg consume.ins1 if  he.nom.sg on threat.acc.sg come.pres.ind.sg
    Ungelic          is             ús. 
    different.nom.sg be.pres.ind.sg I.dat.pl
Wulf        is             on iege       ic       on oþerre
wolf.nom.sg be.pres.ind.sg on isle.da.sg I.nom.sg on another.dat.sg
fæst        is             þæt      eglond        fenne      biworpen
firm.nom.sg be.pres.ind.sg so-that  island.nom.sg fen.dat.sg surround.pret.ptc.nom.sg
sindon         wælreowe                weras      þær   on ige 
be.pres.ind.pl carnage-covering.nom.pl man.nom.pl there on isle.dat.sg
willað           hy        hine      aþecgan      gif he        on þreat         cymeð. 
wish.pres.ind.pl he.nom.pl he.acc.sg consume.ins1 if  he.nom.sg on threat.acc.sg come.pres.ind.sg
    Ungelice    is             us.
    differently be.pres.ind.sg I.dat.pl  
Wulfes      ic       mines     wid-lastum            wenum          dogode.
wolf.gen.sg I.nom.sg my.gen.sg wide-wandering.dat.pl longing.ins.pl dog.pret.ind.sg2
þonne hit       wæs        renig     weder          ond ic       reotugu         sæt. 
then  it.nom.sg be.pret.sg rainy.nom weather.nom.sg and I.nom.sg greiving.nom.sg sit.pret.ind.sg
þonne mec      se         beaducafa          bogum              bilegde 
then  i.acc.sg the.nom.sg battle-bold.nom.sg forequarter.dat.sg envelop.pret.ind.sg
wæs            me       wyn        to þon        wæs            me       hwæþre  eac  lað 
be.pret.ind.sg I.dat.sg joy.nom.sg to the.ins.sg be.pret.ind.sg I.dat.sg however also hateful.nom.sg
Wulf        min       Wulf        wena           me       þine. 
wolf.nom.sg my.nom.sg wolf.nom.sg longing.nom.pl I.dat.sg thy.nom.pl
seoce       gedydon          þine       seldcymas 
sick.acc.sg make.pret.ind.pl thy.nom.pl seldom-coming.nom.pl
murnende       mód         nales      meteliste 
mourn.pres.ptc soul.nom.sg not-at-all starvation.ins.ng
Gehyrest         þu          Eadwacer              Uncerne       earne        hwelp 
hear.pres.ind.sg thou.nom.sg wealth-watcher.nom.ng us-two.acc.sg ready.acc.sg whelp.acc.sg
    bireð            Wulf        to wuda
    bear.pres.ind.sg wolf.gen.sg to wood.dat.sg
þæt  mon        eaþe   tosliteð          þætte næfre gesomnad wæs
that man.nom.sg easily sever.pres.ind.sg which never join.pret.ptc
    uncer         giedd                     geador 
    us-two.acc.sg speech,riddle,poem.acc.sg together
1 aþecgan is very rare, but is assumed to be related to þicgan, meaning "to consume, to eat, to recieve". Many commentators argue that aþecgan meant something along the lines of "serve as food", metaphorically extended to mean "kill, destroy".
2 This is the only occurance of dogode anywhere. It is occasionally emended to hogode, "hope", but I use here the hypothesized verb deriving from a word for dog, and parelleling the modern verb "to dog".


I am especially indebted to the edition and notes by Michael Donald Livingston currently at http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/rawl/wulf/ for this write-up, although I consulted many other translations and analyses.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.