The Old English “Wanderer”.
Coming home, after only two years. Top of the Humber hill, and I’m seeing what I expect to see, except what I expect to see is no longer there. There’s a small roundabout at the bottom of the hill and the factory has gone. The latter is almsot impossible to take in.
The end of The Wanderer starts chiming in my head.
Eald enta geweorc idlu stodon
Earlier in the year I had reviewed two books of Old English translations, and though it doesn’t appear in the reviews, I went line by line through the two translations of the wanderer, comparing them with the original. Which is probably why random bits of the poem are stuck in my head.
In the poem the speaker has encountered his worst nightmare…his lord is dead, his kin are gone, and alone, he travels across a hostile landscape in search of a new Lord. For an Anglo-Saxon in the heroic age, this is as bad as it gets. There’s nothing remotely romantic about his isolation. He is lost and vulnerable. He reflects on a ruin, on the transience of life, and he laments its passing.
Both the translations are what could be described as formal equivalence. They transfer the Old English into Modern English by finding the nearest equivalent word in Modern English. And while I may be critical of the occasional choices, I have nothing but respect for anyone who can translate and keep to the original metrical patterns.
There’s another type of translation, called Dynamic Equivalence. In which the translator attempts to create in the target audience the same effect the original had on the original audience.
I don’t have a lot of time for the idea that works like The Wanderer need to be rewritten or revisioned for the modern age… that it has to be “made relevant” by importing modern paraphernalia. A) This pseudo intellectual waffle assumes the modern reader is too stupid to see the relevance in the original metaphor (as though someone had to point out to the original audience that this is a meditation on life from a Christian perspective as well as a dramatically realised incident) and b) it usually leads to a diminishing of the original text.
But if you were going to do a dynamic equivalence, then imagine a speaker with a solid fulfilling career and a good relationship with his or her boss. Imagine the boss moves on…the company “down sizes’..suddenly unemployed the speaker can’t pay off debts, the flat is repossessed. Packing personal possessions in the car, he or she sets off for new accommodation, hoping to find a new job soemwhere else, driving past the factory: it has changed names enough time in my life time…the Humber, Roots, Chrysler, Talbot, Peugeot. Gone. A locked gate that protects nothing, a broken façade facing the road, a vast muddy space behind railings speckled with fat sea gulls and silent mechanical diggers discarded as the light fails:
The Maker of men hath so marred this dwelling
That human laughter is not heard about it
And idle stand these old giant works…