The HyperTexts

Wulf and Eadwacer: Modern English Translations, Paraphrase, History, Summary and Analysis
(an anonymous Old English/Anglo-Saxon poem noted for its ambiguity, circa 960-990 AD)

"Wulf and Eadwacer" is one of the truly great poems of English antiquity. It has been classified as an elegy, a lament, a lover's lament, an early ballad or villanelle, a riddle, a charm, and as a frauenlieder or "woman's song." An ancient Anglo-Saxon work written in the West Saxon dialect, the poem dates back to a time when the English language still resembled German (the Angles, from whom England derives its name, were a Germanic tribe, as were the Saxons and Jutes). Around 75% of the poem's words have Germanic origins. Old English poetry is also called Anglo-Saxon poetry because it has linguistic roots that go back to the Angles and Saxons. And yet, while the poem was composed in Old English, it still "feels" quite modern. How is that so? For one thing, it's a dramatic monologue―quite possibly the first dramatic monologue in the English language, centuries before the works of poets and playwrights like Geoffrey Chaucer, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning. It's also one of the first English poems with a refrain, along with "Deor's Lament." Furthermore, the speaker of "Wulf and Eadwacer" is a woman, at a time when we don't find other Englishwomen writing poetry or speaking so bitterly and defiantly (the "Wife's Lament" is the other dazzling exception to this general rule). Thus "Wulf and Eadwacer" may be the first feminist text in the English language. Is the speaker female? I think so. Henk Aertsen has argued that the feminine endings of reotugu and seoce are female. But grammar aside, it seems obvious that a woman is speaking. And technically the poem looks like free verse―nearly a thousand years before Walt Whitman and five hundred years before the King James Bible―because it "breaks the rules" of the poetry of its day. In my opinion, "Wulf and Eadwacer" is a groundbreaking poem because it has a female perspective, a feminist attitude, and a free verse approach in which traditional rules of versification are bent or broken. What matters, as with the great Romantic and Modernist poets to come many centuries later, is that the speaker gets her point across. And she does, in spades.

with four poetry translations by Michael R. Burch; a literal, word-by-word prose translation or paraphrase; translator's notes and analysis; and a discussion of the identity of the mysterious "second wolf"

Wulf and Eadwacer (I)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My clan's curs pursue him like crippled game;
they'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
It is otherwise with us.

Wulf's on one island; I'm on another.
His island's a fortress, fastened by fens.    (fastened=secured)
Here, bloodthirsty curs howl for carnage.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
It is otherwise with us.

My hopes pursued Wulf like panting hounds,
but whenever it rained—how I wept!
the boldest cur clutched me in his paws:
good feelings, to a point, but the end loathsome!

Wulf, O, my Wulf, my ache for you
has made me sick; your seldom-comings
have left me famished, deprived of real meat.

Have you heard, Eadwacer? Watchdog!
A wolf has borne our wretched whelp to the woods.
One can easily sever what never was one:
our song together.

NOTE: I do not claim that my interpretation of this famously ambiguous poem is the "correct" one. In my poem, the speaker is a defiant early feminist, the first #metoo poet of the English language. She is disgusted with her bloodthirsty tribe, who have driven her lover Wulf away. Why? Perhaps because they wanted to sacrifice him to the "gods." Perhaps because he broke some primitive law. We simply don't know. But whatever the reason, the speaker claims that it is ungelic, or "otherwise" with her. She is not like her ferocious, bloodthirsty people. They are alien to her. Rather, she dreams of her lover Wulf and follows him in her hopeful, loving thoughts. But even as she dreams of Wulf, she is being raped by another man, Eadwacer. It is not clear who Eadwacer is. He may be a priest (Heaven-Watcher), a guardian (Property-Watcher), a family member appointed to "protect" her "purity" (a Watchdog), or perhaps her husband against her will. The speaker defiantly sneers at and insults Eadwacer. He is unable to please her. He is deficient in "meat" compared to Wulf. Wulf has a bigger sex organ and knows how to use it. She mocks her would-be "lover" and "protector." Eadwacer has made her pregnant, but she abhors him. Something terrible has happened to their whelp, or child. Their "song together" will be easily severed, because they were never really one. She waits for Wulf to put an end to Eadwacer, so they can be reunited. When she speaks of Wulf, it is with real love and longing. In my interpretation this is not so much the first English poem about a love triangle, as it is the first English poem about a love/sex triangle.

But please keep in mind that I cannot claim this is the "correct" interpretation of the poem. No one can claim to know exactly what the original poet intended. But I think my interpretation makes sense. It's the story of many women who have been separated from the men they love by war, religion and/or chauvinistic men. But there are other interpretations in which the woman is not being raped, but simply prefers Wulf to the man who is embracing her. These alternate interpretations will be discussed on this page.

Also, please note that I call my translations "loose translations" and "interpretations" because they are not literal word-for-word translations. I begin with my personal interpretation of a poem and translate accordingly. To critics who object to variations from the original texts, my response is that there are often substantial disagreements among even the most accomplished translators. Variations begin with the readings because different people get different things from different poems. And a strict word-for-word translation will seldom, if ever, result in poetry. In my opinion translation is much closer to an art than a perfect science and I side with Rabindranath Tagore, who said he needed some leeway in order to produce poetry in another language when he translated his own poems into English.—MRB

Other Anglo-Saxon/Old English poems: The Ruin, Wulf and Eadwacer, The Wife's Lament, Deor's Lament, Caedmon's Hymn, Bede's Death Song, The Seafarer, The Rhyming Poem, Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings

Wulf and Eadwacer (II)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

To my people he's prey, a pariah.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
Ungelīc is ūs!     (We are unalike, otherwise, different, alien to each other)

Wulf fled to a faraway island:
his fen-fastened fortress.
Here, slaughter-cruel curs howl for blood.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
Ungelīc is ūs!

My heart hounded Wulf in his wanderings
but whenever it rained—how I wept!—
the boldest cur clutched me in his paws:
good feelings for him, but for me loathsome!

Wulf, my Wulf! These violent love-longings
left me useless; your seldom-comings
deprived me of real meat!

Have you heard, Heaven-Watcher?
A wolf has borne our wretched whelp to the woods!
One can easily sever what never was one:
our song together.

Translator's Notes and Analysis
by Michael R. Burch

"Wulf and Eadwacer" is one of the truly great "elder" poems of the English language: a bittersweet saga of love, separation, rape and betrayal. Or is it? As we shall see, opinions vary and can vary widely. This ancient poem―over 1,000 years old!―has been characterized as an elegy, a wild lament, a lover's lament, a passion play, a riddle, a charm, and as an early ballad with a refrain. However, most scholars choose to place it, along with The Wife's Lament, within the genre of the frauenlied or frauenlieder, a woman's song. It may be the first extant poem authored by a woman in the then-fledgling English language, although the poet's name and sex remain unknown. Still, it seems likely the poet was a woman because the poem is written from a female perspective and we don't usually think of ancient scops pretending to be women. "Wulf and Eadwacer" is one of the first English poems to employ a refrain, a hallmark of the ballads and villanelles to come. The poem appeared in the Exeter Book, between "Deor's Lament" and the riddles, meaning that it was written no later than around 990 AD. But the poem itself is probably older, perhaps much older. I hope readers enjoy my translations of this powerful, haunting poem that speaks to us from the dawn of time and English poetry. The remainder of these notes may be of interest to readers who would like to know more about the poem, its history, and why I made the choices I made.

Is "Wulf and Eadwacer" the first free verse poem in the English language? I think it deserves nomination and consideration for at least three reasons. First, its refrain was an innovation (although there is a dispute over whether a refrain was actually intended). Second, the refrain broke the rules of traditional Anglo-Saxon poetry by containing only five syllables, rather than the normal eight. Third, there are other irregularities of form and metrics. In the original text the poem begins with a two-line stanza followed by the refrain. Next, there is a four-line stanza followed by the refrain. Then there are four longer lines not followed by a refrain. Following are the three shorter, terser, emotion-charged lines that begin with the exclamation "Wulf, mīn Wulf!" ("Wolf, my Wolf!"). Again there is no refrain, which has been abandoned, and the first half-line has only three syllables, where Old English prosody required at least four syllables per half-line. The four closing lines either (1) alternate between longer and shorter lines as they appear in the original text, or (2) revert back to the traditional form and are thus longer than the lines that immediately precede them (in the latter case whoever hand-wrote the poem made a grouping error and there should be only three lines). Does the author of "Wulf and Eadwacer" qualify as a free verse poet? Yes, I think so because the poet―no slave to convention―"mixed things up" by innovating and either ignoring or relaxing the traditional rules.

The poetic devices used are in what John Balaban called the "pre-continental, Anglo-Saxon style." These poetic devices include accentual meter, alliteration, assonance, and what Balaban terms "ablaut, slant rhyme" on the order of ring-rang-rung. Later poets who employed slant rhyme or "para-rhyme" effectively include Henry Vaughan, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, W. B. Yeats, Wilfred Owen, Theodore Roethke and Sylvia Plath. But there would be a long time gap from the Anglo-Saxon scops to the poets just mentioned.

"Wulf and Eadwacer" may also be notable for being one of the few pieces of early English writing that contains sexual intrigue not "adulterated" later by Christian monks, if you'll pardon the pun. But how can we know whether monks engaged in hack work on this particular poem? I find it a bit suspicious that the refrain does not appear where one would expect to find it: after the third stanza, which seems to describe a rape. Did a "sanitizer" delete something more shocking, and the missing refrain along with it? It seems possible to me. In any case, I added the third refrain line, which did not appear in the original text, to one of my translations. I have seen modern copyists and editors make all sorts of mistakes, and I'm sure ancient scribes made mistakes as well, even when they weren't deliberately censoring writers. If you prefer to stick as closely as possible to the original poem, just skip over the third refrain when you encounter it below. However, that line certainly seems to apply to the rapist, if he was a rapist.

"Wulf and Eadwacer" may also be considered the first English feminist text, as the speaker seems to be challenging and mocking the man who has been embracing her and presumably having sex with her against her will. 

The poem's closing metaphor of a loveless relationship being like a song in which two voices never harmonized remains one of the strongest in the English language, or any language. The poem is also notable for its rich ambiguity, which leaves much open to the reader's interpretation. For instance, the "wolf" that has borne the whelp to the woods could be Wulf, the heartsick female speaker, Eadwacer, Eadwacer's jealous wife, some other member(s) of the clan, or even a canine wolf. We really don't know and can only make educated guesses or embrace the poem's ambiguity. We also do not know what happened to the child in the woods, but have the impression of a dark catastrophe: perhaps human sacrifice (an idea I explore in the word "bloodgift" in some of my translations).

In some translations I chose not to translate "Ungelīc is ūs" because I couldn't find a comparable line in modern English that conveyed the alienness and power I perceived (or perhaps imagined) in the original Anglo-Saxon phrase. I believe it probably means something like "we are unalike," but no one really knows, not even the most expert linguists, as far as I can tell. I have even heard it postulated that "un" is an intensifier, causing the phrase to mean something like "We are so alike!" Considering when and how the phrase is used in the poem, I believe it could mean something like "we are alien to each other," or "we are like two different species," but that is speculation on my part. However, that's the feeling I get when I read the poem: the female speaker seems to view her clan as being like a pack of snarling, bloodthirsty dogs on the trail of prey ... and the prey is her beloved Wulf. Even worse, it seems that when she thinks about Wulf and begins to weep, one the clan's warriors takes advantage of the situation and rapes or has sex with her. The most likely culprit is Eadwacer, but it could be someone else. The name Eadwacer has been interpreted as "Heaven-watcher" and "property watcher." So it's possible that Eadwacer is either a warrior, a priest, or a warrior-priest who has been appointed as a guardian (or husband or owner) of the female speaker.

In any case, what an earthy, dirty, brutally honest poem written from a female perspective about what sounds like war or a feud of some sort, a family being split apart, and perhaps rape, sex slavery and child abduction and/or infanticide. Much remains in doubt, however. In fact, not everyone agrees that the speaker is female or that the poem is about a love triangle. Some critics have expressed complete bewilderment:

"Of this, I can make no sense." — Benjamin Thorpe, 1842

“This poem is one of the absolute stumble stones of students trying to come to grips with Anglo-Saxon poetry. There is hardly a line, which does not confound readers, whether well versed in Anglo-Saxon or not. Words, composition, structure represent a near unsolvable puzzle.” — Linda Brady

Brady nonetheless goes on to propose a solution to what happened to the “whelp.” In her article “An Analogue to Wulf and Eadwacer in the Life of St Bertellin of Stafford,” Brady picks up Kemp Malone's 1962 proposition that Wulf and Eadwacer is based on a tale "familiar to the poet's audience, but unknown to us." Brady argues that the female speaker is trapped in tragic circumstances and her child is killed by wolves. Such a tale exists in Vita Bertellini, printed in 1516 by Wynkyn de Worde in the Nova Legenda Anglie, but with possibly much older origins. One “iconographic representation” of the Anglo-Saxon saint greatly predates the book, going back to c. 1100. Brady argues that the parallels between Wulf and Eadwacer and Vita Bertellini are significant enough to suggest an ancient narrative known outside the poem.

Another theory is that Wulf abducted the whelp, perhaps thinking it was was his, or if not, perhaps seeking revenge on the whelp’s father. But is it possible the mother abducted the baby: is the wolf a she-wolf? Or if there was rape, did the rapist’s wife get rid of the child? If the baby is not Wulf’s, it is not clear that Eadwacer is the father. He might have been someone watching over the woman and baby for someone else. For my translations, I have chosen the interpretation that the female speaker loves Wulf, is being raped by Eadwacer, and that he has fathered a child on her. But I have left the identity of the wolfish abductor a mystery. The abductor could be Wulf or one of his kinsmen, the mother or one her kinsmen, Eadwacer or his wife or someone else of their tribe, or some sort of animal or supernatural agent such as a werewolf.

Who is the mysterious Wulf? It has been suggested that he was a Viking marauder. Viking raiding parties were known to sail up estuaries and set up camps on islands. But at best that's just an educated guess. Whoever Wulf is, he seems to be some sort of outcast, perhaps a renegade or outlaw.

Who is the poem's "second wolf"? I believe the correct answer is that no one really knows. We can only speculate. One possibility is that the second wolf is Wulf himself. Perhaps he returned to abduct the child and/or to kill it as a form of revenge for the rape of his wife or lover. Another possibility is that Eadwacer is the second wolf. If Wulf was nominated to be a sacrifice to the gods, but escaped, perhaps Eadwacer fathered the child on purpose, to replace the lost sacrifice. Or perhaps he was married and his wife refused to raise another woman's child in their house, so he acted according to her wishes. Or perhaps Eadwacer's wife was the second wolf, and she got rid of the child herself. Or perhaps the mother became the second wolf, getting rid of a child fathered by her rapist. Or perhaps some other member of the tribe was the second wolf, perhaps believing it was the will of the gods for the child to replace its father as a sacrifice. Or perhaps the second wolf was a real wolf! If asked to offer my own opinion, I would first speculate that Eadwacer was probably not the second wolf, because the mother asks if he has heard the news. I would eliminate "the other woman" because no such woman is mentioned. Then, because it seems the intention of the act was to sever the relationship, I am inclined to suspect either Wulf or the mother. My guess―and it is only a guess and could certainly be wrong―is that the mother is the most likely second wolf because Wulf has been driven away to another island. If I'm correct, I would like to believe the mother took the baby to someone else, via a meeting in the woods, because she didn't want to raise the child herself, and because she wanted to show Eadwacer the consequences of raping her and fathering children on her. He would never see his children by her. But it's possible that a mother could have chosen to dispose of her own child. In any case, there is obviously considerable uncertainty and speculation involved. I can only say that the poem seems to possibly be about human sacrifice. I cannot be sure that my interpretation of the final stanza―that the intention of the abduction was to sever the song―is correct. But it seems to me that the mother may be saying something like―excuse my French―"Did you hear, you fucking bloodthirsty priest? A she-wolf carried off our wretched whelp to the woods, to do what you intended to do to Wulf. Do you see how easily I can sever what never was one: our 'song' together?" Did the mother sacrifice Eadwacer's child in the woods, to his savage gods?

A very different interpretation of the poem is that Wulf and the female speaker were parties to a peace-pledge, in which two tribes exchanged members as hostages. This was a common practice in England and Europe at the time. A term applied twice to women in Anglo-Saxon verse (and once to an angel) is freou-webbe (peace-weaver). Noblewomen would enter diplomatic marriages arranged to secure peace between hostile nations or tribes. In this scenario, Wulf is being held on one island to secure peace between warring tribes, while his lover has either married or is being held hostage by another man on the second island. Or perhaps the speaker could be a person of some importance to the other tribe who has been given to Eadwacer as a hostage. Perhaps as part of such a peace agreement her son would be returned to her original tribe. Perhaps Wulf or some other human wolf has taken the boy to raise him on the other island. But what will happen if the peace is broken? The hostages might be executed. So we could be seeing three people in very dangerous circumstances, ripped apart from each other and with their lives in peril. And in this case there could be two meanings for the word lāc (gift, offering): Wulf could have been given as a gift for peace, but if the peace is violated, he could become an offering to the gods.

Another interpretation of the poem, advanced by KC McGuire, is that Wulf is a werewolf! That's a very interesting hypothesis, to say the least, and it would explain why people are trying to kill Wulf, and why the whelp is in danger. However, I'm not sure if tales of werewolves go back that far in time. It has even been suggested that the speaker is a female zombie, which I find very unlikely. She sounds like a very passionate human woman to me, who is not happy about being separated from the man she loves and desires.

Here is a more literal translation of the poem, although "literal" does not mean that I know what every word in the original poem meant exactly. No modern reader does. If you'd like to see how I arrived at this version, you can see what I did with each line in the prose translations that follow.

Wulf and Eadwacer (III)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

To my people he's prey, a bloodgift.
They will offer him up, if he approaches their pack.
Ungelīc is ūs.

Wulf's on one island, I'm on another.
His island's a fortress, fastened by fens.
Here bloodthirsty men roam this island.
They will offer him up, if he approaches their pack.
Ungelīc is ūs.

My wide-ranging thoughts hounded Wulf.
Whenever it rained, while I wept,
big battle-strong arms embraced me.
For me there was pleasure, but its end was loathsome.
Wulf, my Wulf! My desire for you
has made me sick; your seldom-comings
have troubled my mind much more than missed meat.
Did you hear, Heaven-Watcher? The whelp we delivered
has been borne by a wolf to the woods.
One can easily sever what was never one:
our song together.

By "literal translation" I mean as literal as possible, not a word-for-word translation. In some cases (noted at the bottom of this page), the words of the original poem have multiple meanings, so it can require additional words to convey as much of the meaning as possible in modern English. In the version above, I take the approach that the female speaker says that she is ungelic (unlike) her people because she does not believe in sacrificing human beings to the gods. Perhaps Wulf had been designated to be a sacrifice, but escaped to another island. And perhaps the child was chosen to to be the next sacrifice. The lack of food was a common reason to offer sacrifices to the gods, so perhaps the speaker's comment about being hungry gives us an important clue. And the last two lines raise the question: did the speaker have anything to do with the way the tables were turned, perhaps because she didn't want to raise her rapist's baby?

"Wulf and Eadwacer" contains It contains several hapax legomenon, words which appear only in this poem and nowhere else, meaning we have no certain meanings for them. Such hapax legomenon include dogode (dogged?), reotugu (wailing?) and Earne (wretched?). Disputed words include lāc (gift?), bogum (arms? paws? forequarters?)

Here is the original Anglo-Saxon poem, with each line followed by a word-for-word prose translation and two Modern English transliterations by Michael R. Burch:

Lēodum         is mīnum swylce him mon  lāc   gife;
People/tribe   is mine    as-if     him one  gift   give;
[To] my people, he is like one given as a gift/bloodgift/sacrifice/offering/sacrificial gift/blood offering/game/sport/bloodsport.
To my people he's a bloodgift [owed to the gods].
To my people he's prey, a sacrificial gift.

willa h    hine āecgan        gif hē on rēat          cyme.
will     they him take as food   if  he on threat/force comes.
They will take as food/devour/consume/feast on/slaughter/destroy/rape/mate with/serve/offer him if he threatens/comes to/approaches their force/troop/clan/pack/company. (Here, āecgan may have sexual undertones.)
They will offer him up [to the gods, as a meal, in return for food for the clan to eat], if he approaches their pack.

I considered "bucks the pack" because that phrase conveys the sense of both returning to (or otherwise meeting) the pack, and also being at odds with it. Possible replacements for "bucks" include "meets", "rejoins," "approaches" and "returns to."

Ungelīc     is ūs.
Otherwise is us.
We are unalike/otherwise/different. / It is otherwise with us. / It is not like that with us.
We are so different.

Wulf is on īege,    ic on ōerre.
Wulf is on island, I  on other.
Wulf is on one island, I on another.
Wulf's on one island, I'm on another.

Fst is t ēglond, fenne          biworpen.
Fast is that island,   fen/swamp  surrounded.
That island is fast/a fortress, surrounded by fens.
His island's a secure fortress, surrounded and protected by fens.

Sindon     wlrēowe        weras aer  on īge;
They-are slaughter-cruel men   there on island;
There are slaughter-cruel/fierce/bloodthirsty men there on the island. [It is not completely clear which island is meant, but it sounds like the speaker's island.]
Fierce, bloodthirsty men roam this island.

NOTE: At this point, it is not clear which island is being discussed, but wlreowe was used almost exclusively in reference to savage, cruel, evil men. So it seems safe to assume that the speaker is among evil men, or evil men are pursing Wulf on his island. 

willa h    hine āecgan gif hē on rēat cyme.
will     they him devour    if  he  on force comes.
They will devour/slaughter/destroy/serve/offer him if he comes onto their force/troop/clan/pack/stronghold/fortress.
They will offer him up, if he approaches their pack.

Ungelīc     is ūs.                                                                   
Otherwise is us.
We are unalike/otherwise/different.
We are so different.

Wulfes ic mīnes wīdlāstum     wēnum  dogode,
Wulf    in my     wide-journey hopes   dogged.
I dogged/hounded Wulf in my wide-ranging hopes/thoughts/dreams. / My hopes/dreams/thoughts dogged Wulf in his wide-wanderings.
My hopes dogged Wulf like wide-ranging hounds. / I waited for my Wolf with dogged longings.

onne hit ws rēnig weder   ond ic rēotugu st,
when  it   was rainy weather and I  wailing  sat, / whenever it rained and I sat weeping/wailing/sobbing/lamenting
When it was rainy weather and I sat weeping/wailing/sobbing/disconsolate,
Whenever it rained while I sobbed, disconsolate,

onne mec se   beaducāfa    bōgum                          bilegde,
then    me   the battle-strong arms/forequarters/paws enclosed, / when the battle-bold arms enclosed me/wrapped me up (Here, bog seems to mean an animal's forelegs or paws, but it can also mean "boughs" or "progeny")
then the battle-strong arms/paws enclosed me,
huge, battle-strong arms/paws enclosed me;

ws mē wyn tō on,     ws mē hwre   ēac  lā.
was  me joy  to a point, was  me  however also pain. / it was my pleasure to a point, but also pain/hatred/loathing.
for me there was pleasure/joy to a point, but also pain/hatred/something loathsome.
for me there was pleasure to a point, but its end was loathsome.

Wulf, mīn Wulf! wēna mē īne
Wulf, my  Wulf! hopes me pine / my pining/longings/hopes for you
Wulf, my Wulf! My hopes/desires/longings/pinings/lust for you
Wulf, my Wulf! My desire for you

sēoce gedydon, īne seldcymas,
sick    made,      thy  seldom-comings / have sickened, your seldom-comings/absences
have made me sick, your seldom-comings
has made me sick; your seldom-comings

murnende mōd, nales metelīste.
troubled   mind, not   meals-missed. / mourning mind, not meals missed.
disturbed/troubled/occupied my mind, not the lack of food/meals/meat.
have troubled my mind, more than missed meat.

Possible replacements for "deprived of real meat" include "unable to eat," "uncaring of meat" and "but not caring about food."

Gehrest ū,   Ēadwacer? Uncerne earne       hwelp
Hearest   you, Eadwacer? Our        wretched whelp
Hear, Eadwacer? Our wretched/vile/filthy/unwanted whelp / Hear, Property-Watcher/Heaven-Watcher/Wealth-Watcher/Watchdog? The whelp we earned/delivered/produced
Did you hear, Heaven-Watcher? The whelp we delivered

bire wulf tō wuda.
bears wolf to woods.
Wulf/a wolf now bears/has borne to the woods. / Wulf bears to the woods.
a wolf now bears to the woods.

t  mon ēae   tōslīte tte naefre gesomnad ws,  
That one  easily severs   that    never  united       was,
One easily severs what was never united/secured/bound fast
One can easily sever what was never one:

uncer  giedd                         geador.
our     song/story/tale/poem/riddle together.
our song together.
our song together.

The poem is deliciously ambiguous; for instance:

lāc means not only "wild game" but "gift" and thus might suggest a sacrifice, offering or bloodgift 
ungelic means "otherwise" or "different" or "unalike"
fst means "fast" in the sense of secure or protected; the island is protected by fens and inaccessibility
āecgan means not only "to kill" but "to feed" or "devour," to "accept (a guest)" and perhaps "to mate" or "copulate"
rēat could mean "troop," "force," "threat," "crowd," "clan," "pack," "horde" or "hostile army"
dogode is a verb whose meaning is uncertain because it occurs nowhere else in the OE corpus; it may be related to "dog" or "hound" and mean something like "hounded," "dogged" or somehow acting dog-like
beaducāfa means "warrior" and is generally taken to be the same person as Eadwacer
bōgum bilegde means something like "wrapped in [his] arms" and seems suggestive of sexual intercourse, especially considering the whelp (child)
wēna mē īne means something like "my pinings for you" or "my expectations for/of you"
uncer giedd geador or "our giedd together" may or may not invoke Matthew 19:6 ("What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.")
If the poet punned on giedd (song, story, tale) and the sound-alike word "god," suggesting that what God did not join together was doomed to remain separated, that would be truly remarkable.
Eadwacer may mean "property watcher" or "heaven watcher," thus suggesting a guard or priest. Perhaps the female speaker has become a sex slave and it is Eadwacer's job to watch the "property."

It has been ventured that the poem was written by Cynwulf, but there is no evidence of his authorship.

Translators of the poem include Michael Alexander, John Balaban, S. A. J. Bradley, Michael R. Burch, Robert P. Creed, Arnold E. Davidson, A. Z. Foreman, Jonathan A. Glenn, R. K. Gordon, Stanley P. Greenfield, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Dr. Aaron K. Hostetter, W.S. Mackie, Kemp Malone, Paul Muldoon, Katie Peterson, Burton Raffel, Ben Robson and Alfred John Wyatt.

In Anglo-Saxon England, outlaws were called "wolf's heads," so the name Wulf suggests an outlaw, a desperado, or perhaps a pirate or early highwayman.

Wulf and Eadwacer (IV)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

To my clan's curs, he's god-food, a bloodgift.
They'll rip him apart if he falls to the pack.
Ungelīc is ūs.                                                  (We are unalike, otherwise, different, alien to each other?, a different species?)

Wulf fled to a faraway island:
his fen-fastened fortress.
Here, bloodlustful men bark for manbones.
They'll rip him apart if he falls to the pack.
Ungelīc is ūs.

My heart followed Wulf's wide-wanderings!
But once as I wept, wracked with grief,
big battle-strong arms enclosed me.
There was pleasure at first, but the end was loathsome.
Ungelīc is ūs.

Wulf, my Wulf! These violent love-longings
have made me sick; your seldom-comings
have left me famished, deprived of real meat!

Did you hear, Heaven-Watcher? A wolf has borne our wretched whelp to the woods!
One can easily sever what never was one: our song together.

Wulf and Eadwacer (V)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

To my people he's prey, a pariah.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
It is otherwise with us.

Wulf's on one island; I'm on another.
His island's a fortress, fastened by fens.     (fastened=secured)
Here, bloodthirsty men roam this island.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
It is otherwise with us.

My heart hounded Wulf in his wanderings.
But whenever it rained, while I wept,
the boldest cur grasped me in his paws:
good feelings for him, but for me loathsome!

Wulf, O, my Wulf, my ache for you
has made me sick; your seldom-comings
have left me famished, deprived of real meat.

Have you heard, Eadwacer? A wolf has borne
our wretched whelp to the woods!
One can easily sever what never was one:
our song together.

Other Anglo-Saxon/Old English poems: The Ruin, Wulf and Eadwacer, The Wife's Lament, The Husband's Message, Deor's Lament, Caedmon's Hymn, Bede's Death Song, The Seafarer, Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings


Please click here to see a Timeline of English Poetry with links to major poems and events.

The following are links to other translations by Michael R. Burch:

The following are links to other translations by Michael R. Burch. "Wulf and Eadwacer" may be the oldest extant poem in the English language written by a female poet. "Sweet Rose of Virtue" is a modern translation of a truly great poem by the early Scottish master William Dunbar. "How Long the Night" is one of the very best Anglo Saxon lyric poems. "Caedmon's Hymn" may be the oldest poem in the English language.

The following are links to other translations by Michael R. Burch:

The Seafarer
Wulf and Eadwacer
Adam Lay Ybounden
The Love Song of Shu-Sin: The Earth's Oldest Love Poem?
Sweet Rose of Virtue
How Long the Night
Caedmon's Hymn
The Rhyming Poem
Anglo-Saxon Poems
Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings
Bede's Death Song
The Wife's Lament
The Husband's Message
Deor's Lament
Lament for the Makaris
Tegner's Drapa
The Best Poetry Translations of Michael R. Burch
Alexander Pushkin's tender, touching poem "I Love You" has been translated into English by Michael R. Burch.
Charles Baudelaire
Whoso List to Hunt
Ancient Greek Epigrams and Epitaphs
Oriental Masters/Haiku
Mikls Radnti
Rainer Maria Rilke
Marina Tsvetaeva
Rene Vivien
Ono no Komachi
Allama Iqbal
Bertolt Brecht
Ber Horvitz
Paul Celan
Primo Levi
Ahmad Faraz
Sandor Marai
Wladyslaw Szlengel
Saul Tchernichovsky
Charles d'Orleans
Robert Burns: Original Poems and Translations
The Seventh Romantic: Robert Burns
Free Love Poems by Michael R. Burch

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