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NaPoTraMo 2: Hell

April 2, 2010

For the second day of NaPoTraMo, I’m sticking with the Old English. Today’s fragment is taken from the famous interpolation to the Genesis poem blessed with the scholarly but uninspiring title of Genesis B. The text is sprinkled with odd, un-Anglo-Saxon-looking words, which led to the proposal that it was a mostly word-for-word translation of an Old Saxon original, a hypothesis later confirmed when a fragment of the corresponding Old Saxon poem was found in the Vatican archives.

Genesis B makes up lines 235-851 of Genesis, and deals with the Fall from Heaven and, subsequently, the Fall from Eden in fine epic style. It has been suggested that the portrayal of Satan in heroic fashion inspired his characterisation in Paradise Lost.

A note to the form here: a couple of the lines, as literally translated, fell naturally into trochaic tetrameter, most famous as the metre of Longfellow’s Hiawatha, and I decided to run with it. There’s more metrical padding in this one, but I stand by my contention that repetition-for-effect is a perfectly valid poetic technique.

Fell the demons out of heaven,
through a time three nights-and-days long,
the angels, into hell from heaven;
and God shaped them into devils.
For they would not do his bidding,
therefore a worse life he gave them,
underneath the earth he threw them;
glory-less in black hell set them;
there had they unending evening,
fire enough for every fiend there;
then at dawn an eastern wind came,
cold and fierce with frost came to them;
feasting-fires or spears they suffered,
some hard tortures they endured then;
The One wrought it to torment them,
changed their world then for the first time,
filled hell brim-full with those traitors;
the angels who had given their loyalty
to God, held the heights of heaven;
Lay the other fiends in fire,
they who once had had so many
struggles with their Lord; they suffer
hot confinement-pains they suffer;
in the midst of hell with fire-brands,
likewise bitter smoke and broad-flames;
gloom and darkness; for the thane-ship
of their Lord, our God, they gave up.

Translates ll. 307b-327a of Genesis; original text (unglossed; also without length-marks, annoyingly) can be found here.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Seamus permalink
    April 2, 2010 8:51 pm

    Fantastic! Agree with you on the repetition for effect. There’s something in those lines with the repeating endings that reminds me a little of Eliot: Prufrock or the verbs that end the first three lines of The Waste Land. There’s another Modernist or Imagist who was fond of that, but the name’s disappeared completely from my mind. I particularly like the sound of the lines “struggles with their Lord; they suffer / hot confinement-pains they suffer”.

    Here’s mine for the day:

    High and Low
    after Arnaud Daniel

    In field below and bough above,
    The fresh flowers bloom both high and low,
    And every bird unites to sing
    And welcome in the growing Spring.
    April sun
    Shows on each one
    The iridescent colours of its wing.
    Though Love weighs heavy on me,
    Yet joy shall all my song be.

    I give my thanks to God above
    Who gave me eyes to see and know
    The joy these marks of springtime bring
    To chase away my suffering.
    Troubles run
    From the sun
    Like beetles when a ray invades their den.
    Leaving the sight of men,
    I call on Love again.

    I thank thee for thy company, Love!
    Though bitter is the way we go,
    Yet salutary is the stinging
    Sharpness of the brew you bring;
    It shall run
    Down my tongue
    And wet my throat that I may better sing.
    He who laughs in contempt of me,
    May he by sores tormented be.

    ’Tis true, I am most true in love,
    And I am proud, but will not show
    My love to all those who come seeking
    Knowledge of me, lest in speaking
    Idle tongue
    Should make fun
    And so blaspheme her name and Love’s wise teaching.
    Instead, in joyful mood,
    Around the forest rude,
    I’ll hymn my fair love’s name in solitude.

  2. Seamus permalink
    April 2, 2010 8:58 pm

    EDIT: For line 19, substitute “I thank you for your company, Love”; just noticed the mixed pronoun numbers in that sentence.

  3. wickedday permalink
    April 2, 2010 10:16 pm

    I suddenly and belatedly realised that the first four lines had got lost somewhere in the cut-and-paste. They have now been edited back in.

    I take it the pronoun problem is in the French – I can’t see any mismatches in the English. Nice work, too. It reminds me a little of Blake, and considerably more of another poet who I can’t for the life of me remember. Also a little Housman-esque here and there.

  4. Seamus permalink
    April 2, 2010 10:58 pm

    No, the pronoun problem was in the English; it conflicts with the “you” three lines later, and I couldn’t have changed that, because then it would have had to have been “Sharpness of the brew thou bringest”, which wouldn’t have rhymed. Good to see those first four lines: the “For they would not” was a bit of a cold open. I like “through a time three nights-and-days long”.

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