An Old English Poem: The River-Barrow of Alaric

A little Old English poem that I found myself writing about the burial of King Alaric of the Goths in the Busento river. The central section is based on — and loosely paraphrases — Von Platen's famous poem, which I read as a kid, long before I read Von Platen's source in Jordanes' Getica, (where, among other things, the Goths are actually described as forcing their enslaved war-captives to dig the grave, and then murdering them all in order to preserve the secret of its location.) I have included a prose paraphrase in Modern English.

Eallerīces Ēahlǣw

  Hwæt incit wóþ inblǽwþ  wódendréames
tungan ond tunglu  tídum gewylweþ.
Hwæt eart þú, Swég,  þe mé selfne spricst?
Eart þú sé déora  þe Déor wordode
þe éaran eft  oferéodest wrǽtlíce
swá reord ródes?  Séo rúnung eart þú
þe mid Wídsíðe  gewerede géra
þá hé stód ond stág  stíðe móde
wiþ Hreþcyninges  heortan wylfedne?
Gléowe fyrndaga  fér on gemynde
Swé wuldorgim  westrodores,
werod on sáwol.  Wé gehíerdon
hornas hringende  héah on beorgum
ofer eard ylfa  and ésa gemynd.
Sweord áscínaþ  Scedelandum in.
Éos geærnaþ  Ætlan ríce
þá sumora hring  hwearfiaþ sundor.
Hwæt ic þis giedd tódæġ  of géardagum
hwíle wille  on hréðerlocan.
  Césentes néah  under nihthelme
Ymb ýðdruncne  ófer Býsentes,
béoþ déaglu léoþ  lyfte behléoðrod.
Æfter éastrēam  earfoðlíce
scríðaþ sceadwa  sceldwigena hér,
gotena gúðhwætra.  Is him géomor sefa.
Mǽnaþ Ealleríc.  Hiere eorl sélest
under úprodre  ende geférde,
dogra dægríme.  Þone dryhtguman
eall tó árlíce  ond éðle feor
sceoldon hýdan hér  on heolstorcofan.
Ymbe ófer  éoredcistum
wæs Gotmæcgum  geador ætsomne
tó gewendenne  wætres þurhrád.
Þáeorðǽdran,  éaracu níwe,
grófon on grunde.  Góde nyttes,
Innan holge  hærna ídlum,
hrúsan mid íserne  úp ádulfon.
Déorne dryhtnéo  déope sencton
ǽhtwelan on éo.  Æðelinga gestréon,
frætwe ond fǽtgold,  ymb feorhscylle,
wrǽtlíc gewǽdu,  wǽrfæst setton.
Þá mid eorðan eft  ealdor beþeahton
ond máþm-ǽhte,  þætte of moldærne
wætres wyrte  wéaxaþ útan
héah on hæleþe.  Hér gecyrred
ǽrstréam æthwearf  óðre síðe
ond ósmihtig  on ealdbedde,
flódes fámcwic, forþ stunode.
Sungon secgas  "Swef þú þengel
hæleþes mǽrþum on holmscielde.
Nǽfre wihte  Wealhes earges
godwræc gítsung  þín græf réafie!"
Swá ásungon.  Sóðgiedd lofsanges
Swéog of herge  Sweord-Gotena.
Wǽgas Býsentes!  Wíelte híe rúme
Wealcaþ híe síde  and wíde on sǽ.
  Ac æt ende  ealdspræc áwende.
Séo sunne rinþ, gesencan onginþ.
Sceadwa ealle ofer ósstealle
lange licgaþ.  Léodas arísaþ.
Hæleþ of heallum  hám onettaþ.


The River-Barrow of Alaric

 The eloquence of insanity (literally: "the voice of Woden-Joy"), blows through both of us, and rolls the tongues and stars together with time. What are you, sound, that speak my self? Are you that Dear One that worded Deor, having come again over my ears to boggle me like the dreamt rood's voice? Are you that secret talk that was Widsith's ally when he stood his ground with resolute soul against the Rethking with a wolfed heart? Cross my mind with the ancient tune, like the westering sun falling sweet on the soul. We have heard horns ringing high on the barrows, ringing onward over the home of elves and over memory of gods. The swords shine in the Shedenlands and steeds race in Attila's realm, as the cycle of summers is flung back. Listen. Let me for a time have in my heart's latch this story from days past.

 Near Consentia under the helm of night by the wavedrunk bank of the Busentus there are faint songs sounding through the air. Along the river in anguish wander the shades of the shield-fighters, the war-deft Goths. There is grief in their souls. They mourn for Alaric. Their best of men journeyed to his end under the skies, the day-count of his days. All too early and far from home, here they were forced to bury that leader of men. The Gothmen gathered on the shore in a brave-band, and dug an earth-artery, a new riverbed to divert the water's course. In that wave-cleared hollow, the honorable men delved up the turf with their iron, and sank the cherished king-corpse deep inside with riches on his steed. Loyally they lay prince-treasures, great trappings and gold ornaments all around his life-shell, a dazzling raiment. Then again they decked their leader and his proud holdings with earth, so that the river plants sprouting from his grave would grow high over a hero. Here diverted again, the ancient river turned back, so that it crashed forth with a foam-live flood, Aesir-mighty in its former bed. And the men sang: "Sleep O lord in hero honors beneath your water-shield. Never may a vile Roman's unholy greed defile your grave." Thus they sang. Praise-song's truespeech sounded forth from the Sword-Goths' ranks. Waves of Busentus, roll that song round. Roll it all over on the seas. 
 But in the end the old speech (or: old story) departs (or: translates). The sun starts sinking and is off. Over the spaces of the elder gods, the shadows all lie long now. The kings get up. The heroes hurry home from the halls. 

For the Old English versions of the toponyms used here, I assumed that the Latin words Busentus and Consentia made their way into Early West Germanic via an Early East Germanic intermediary, where short /i/ and /e/ had merged to a single phoneme realized as a high [i] in most environments. Thus Busentus -> *Būzint, Consentia ->  *Kōsint. These are then subjected to Old English i-umlaut, followed by lowering of the conditioning vowel. Thus *Būzint-> *Bȳzint -> Bȳsent, *Kōsint -> *Cœ̄sint -> Cēsent. This seemed right to do given that proper names for non-British people and places in the Old English heroic tradition have all gone through very early sound-changes suggesting that they entered the language not long after the Migration period ended.

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