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YEAR Undated.
(<1050 A.D.)

From Early English Poems Selected and Edited by Henry S. Pancoast and John Duncan Spaeth; Henry Holt and Company, New York; 1911.


An exile from his country sends to his wife overseas a message, bidding her to join him in his new home, where he has prospered. The letters are cut on a tablet of wood, and the wood itself is supposed to speak. Compare the Vision of the Cross, and the Riddles for this kind of dramatic personification.

See I bring thee a secret message!
A sapling once in the woods I grew;
I was cut for a stave and covered with writing;
Skilled men cunningly carved upon me
5 Letters fair, in a farwaway land.
Since have I crossed the salt-streams often,
Carried in ships to countries strange;
Sent by my lord, his speech to deliver
In many a towering mead-hall high.
10 Hither I‚ve sped, the swift keep brought me,
Trial to make of thy trust in my master;
Look thou shalt find him loyal and true.

He told me to come that carved this letter,
And bid thee recall, in thy costly array,
15 Ye gave to each other in days of old,
When still in the land ye lived together,
Happily mated, and held in the mead-halls
Your home and abode. A bitter feud
20 Banished him far. He bids me call thee,
Earnestly urge thee overseas.
When thou hast heard, from the brow of the hill,
The mournful cuckoo call in the wood,
Let no man living delay thy departure,
25 Hinder thy going, or hold thee at home.
Away to the sea, where the gulls are circling!
72 Board me a ship that‚s bound from the shore:
Sail away South, to seek thy own husband:
Over the water he waits for thee.

30 No keener joy could come to his heart,
No greater happiness gladden his soul,
Than if God who wieldeth the world, should grant
That ye together should yet give rings,
Treasure of gold to trusty liegemen.
35 A home he hath found in a foreign land,
Fair abode and followers true,
Hardy heroes, though hence he was driven;
Shoved his boat from the shore in distress,
Steered for the open, sped o‚er the ocean,
40 Weary wave-tossed wanderer he.

Past are his woes, he has won through his perils,
He lives in plenty, no pleasure he lacks;
Nor horses nor goods nor gold of the mead-hall;
All the wealth of earls upon earth
45 Belongs to my lord, he lacks but thee.



The somewhat enigmatic character of this poem has given rise to various conjectures. Thorpe, the first editor of the Exeter Book, recognizing the similarity between the opening of the poem and many of the riddles, interpreted the first portion (to l. 13 in the translation), as a separate riddle. Later critics perceived that the lines in question refer to the table of wood on which the husband‚s message is graven. Professor Blackburn (Journal of Germanic Philology, Vol. III) make an ingenious hypothesis connecting riddle 61 of the Exeter Book with the Husband‚s Message,and combines them in his translation under the title A Love Letter. Professor Tupper (Riddles of the Exeter Book) shows that riddle 61 s a genuine riddle, and that Professor Blackburn‚s arrangement, while „pretty and ingenious,š ignores the true solution of riddle 61 as a reed or reed-flute. In translating the Husband‚s Message, the original text of which is full of gaps, I have been aided by Professor Blackburn‚s version.

71. — 21. Earnestly urge thee overseas. Old English: lustum læran, þaet þu lagu dreíde. Professor Blackburn renders: „Earnestly to urge thee to sail the sea.š The next four lines follow Professor Blackburn‚s version closely. The Old English has:


„siþþan þu gehyrde on hliþes oran
galan geomorne geac on bearwe,
ne læt þy þec siþþan siþes getwæfan,
lade gelettan lifgendne monn.š

Literally: „When thou hast heard on the cliff‚s brow, the mournful cuckoo sing in the grove, do not thou then let living man sunder thee from the journey, hinder thee from going.š

72. — 45. In the original there follow five more lines, containing runes which are supposed to be a cipher or password known to the recipient of the letter.

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