This year, the Old English Translation Group is working on the text known as ‘The Rune Poem’. One of the long-standing aims of the group is to look at texts that haven’t been tackled in a while, exist only in editions that may be slightly older or are in need of reconsideration, or are known to be ‘difficult’ to translate.
We were drawn to ‘The Rune Poem’ then for a couple of reasons: the last major critical edition of the poem was published in 1982 by Maureen Halsall, and the grammar, structure, or ‘workings’ of the poem are fairly difficult to get to grips with – not least because the original manuscript was lost in the notorious Ashburnam House in October 1731. The Rune Poem has also had a recent history being associated with ‘new age’ mythologies, so we will have lots of sources to sift through for our translation ideas: from the university-sanctioned to the privately-published ideas of people who love the runes.
“Rune poem Hickes 1705” by Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726), George Hickes (1642-1715) – Scan of George Hickes, “Linguarum veterum septentrionalium thesaurus grammatico-criticus et archæologicus” (Oxford, 1705) vol.1 p.135 from http://www.arild-hauge.com/anglor.htm. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rune_poem_Hickes_1705.png#/media/File:Rune_poem_Hickes_1705.png
The poem only exists now thanks to George Hickes, who made a copy in the early eighteenth century. Some questions that arise from only having this copy, that we plan to work through, include:
- Do we translate the rune? If we do, how do we translate them? Do we look at their sound, or how can we choose between various meanings?
- Do we read the rune out loud?
- What was this poem for? Was it a memory game? A set of riddles for entertainment? Do the Christian elements in the poem suggest an effort to ‘Christianise’ the Germanic-origin runes and their meanings.
- How much cross-over should we look for, or expect to find, within the Icelandic and Norse Rune Poems to help us with our translation? (Bearing in mind that both of these poems too only exist in fifteenth century copies too!).
We will translate a few lines of the poem every month (or more regularly, should schedules allow!), and discuss some of our stumbling-blocks or strange or interesting discoveries here. Please join us!
The OETG 2015-6