The Old English Rune Poem (Translation by Tom Wulf)

 

      (Feoh) byş frofur         fira gehwylcum.

      Sceal ğeah manna gehwylc         miclun hyt dælan

      gif he wile for drihtne         domes hleotan.

 

      (Feoh) Wealth is a comfort to every man,

      Although each should share it freely,

      To gain the approval of the Lord.

 

 

      (Ur) byş anmod         and oferhyrned,

      felafrecne deor,         feohteş mid hornum,

      mære morstapa;         şæt is modig wuht.

 

      (Ur) Aurochs is a courageous beast, having huge horns,

      A savage beast, it fights with its horns,

      A noble stalker of the moors, it is a fierce beast!

 

 

      (Thorn) byş ğearle scearp;         ğegna gehwylcum

      anfeng ys yfyl,         ungemetun reşe

      manna gehwylcun         ğe him mid resteğ.

 

      (Thorn) Thorn is extremely sharp,

      Painful to any thane that grasps it,

      Immeasurably fierce to any man,

      That rests among them.

 

 

      (Os) byş ordfruma         ælcre spræce,

      wisdomes wraşu         and witena frofur,

      and eorla gehwam         eadnys and tohiht.

 

      (Os) Mouth is the source of every statement,

      Wisdom's support and a comfort to the wise,

      And the joy and delight of the nobleman.1

 

 

      (Rad) byş on recyde         rinca gehwylcum

      sefte, and swişhwæt         ğam ğe sitteş on ufan

      meare mægenheardum         ofer milpaşas.

 

      (Rad) Riding is to the warrior in the hall easy,

      But very strenuous for one who sits on top,

      Of a powerful horse over the long miles.2

 

 

      (Cen) byş cwicera gehwam         cuş on fyre,

      blac and beorhtlic,         byrneş oftust

      ğær hi æşelingas         inne restaş.

 

      (Cen) Torch is to the living, known by its fire,

      Shining and bright, most often it burns inside,

      Where princes sit at ease. 3

 

 

      (Gifu) gumena byş         gleng and herenys,

      wraşu and wyrşscype,         and wræcna gehwam

      ar and ætwist         ğe byş oşra leas.

 

      (Gifu) Generosity is a mark of distinction and praise for men,

      A prop to their honor and for the wretched ,

      A benefit and a means of survival, when there is no other.

 

 

      (Wen) ne bruceş         ğe can weana lyt,

      sares and sorge,         and him sylfa hæfş

      blæd and blysse         and eac byrga geniht.

 

      (Wen) He has Joy, who knows little of the woes of pain or sorrow,

      And has for himself, prosperity and happiness,

      And also the contentment of a fortified town. 4

 

 

      (Haegl) byş hwitust corna;         hwyrft hit of heofones lyfte,

      wealcaş hit windes scuras,         weorşeş hit to wætere syğğan.

 

      (Haegl) Hail is the whitest of grains,

      whirling from heaven's height,

      Gusts of wind toss it about,

      and then it becomes water.

 

 

      (Nyd) byş nearu on breostan,         weorşeş hi ğeah oft nişa bearnum

      to helpe and to hæle gehwæşre,         gif hi his hlystaş æror.

 

      (Nyd) Need oppresses the heart,

      Yet often it becomes for the sons of men,

      A source of help and salvation,

      If they heed it in time.

 

 

      (Is) byş oferceald,         ungemetum slidor,

      glisnaş glæshluttur,         gimmum gelicust,

      flor forste geworuht,         fæger ansyne.

 

      (Is) Ice is very cold, and immeasurably slippery,

      It glitters, clear as glass, very like jewels,

      A floor, wrought by frost, fair to behold.

 

 

      (ger) byş gumena hiht,         ğon god læteş,

      halig heofones cyning,         hrusan syllan

      beorhte bleda         beornum and ğearfum.

 

      (Ger) Harvest is a joy to men, when God, heaven's holy king,

      Causes the earth to produce bright fruits,

      For both the rich and the poor.

 

 

      (Eoh) byş utan         unsmeşe treow,

      heard, hrusan fæst,         hyrde fyres,

      wyrtrumun underwreşyd,         wyn on eşle.

 

      (Eoh) Yew is a tree, rough on the outside,

      Hard and firm in the earth, guardian of fires,

      Supported by roots, a joy on the estate.

 

 

      (Peorth) byş symble         plega and hlehter

      wlancum         ğar wigan sittaş

      on beorsele         blişe ætsomne.

 

      (Peorth) Lot-cup is recreation and laughter to the high spirited ...

      For the warriors gathered happily together in the mead hall.5

 

 

      (Eolhx) secg eard hæfş         oftust on fenne,

      wexeğ on wature,         wundaş grimme,

      blode breneğ         beorna gehwylcne

      ğe him ænigne         onfeng gedeğ.

 

      (Eolhx) Elk-sedge is usually found in the fens,

      Growing on the water, Grimly wounding,

      Staining with blood, any man who grasps it.

 

 

      (Sigel) semannum         symble biş on hihte,

      ğonn hi hine feriaş         ofer fisces beş,

      oş hi brimhengest         bringeş to lande.

 

      (Sigel) Sun is always hope for seamen,

      When they row the sea-stead over the fishes bath,

      Until it brings them to land.

 

 

      (Tir) biş tacna sum,         healdeğ trywa wel

      wiş æşelingas,         a biş on færylde,

      ofer nihta genipu         næfre swiceş.

 

      (Tir) Tir is one of the guiding signs,

      It keeps faith well with noblemen,

      Ever it holds on course, through cloudy night

      And never fails.

 

 

      (Beorc) byş bleda leas,         bereş efne swa ğeah

      tanas butan tudder,         biş on telgum wlitig,

      heah on helme         hrysted fægere,

      geloden leafum,         lyfte getenge.

 

      (Beorc) Birch is void of fruit,

      Nevertheless it bears shoots without seed,

      It is beautiful by its branches,

      High of crown, fairly adorned,

      Tall and leafy, touching the heights.

 

 

      (Eh) byş for eorlum         æşelinga wyn,

      hors hofum wlanc,         ğær him hæleş ymbe,

      welege on wicgum,         wrixlaş spræce,

      and biş unstyllum         æfre frofur.

 

      (Eh) Horse is a joy for princes among the noble,

      A steed proud in its hooves, when warriors

      Prosperous on horseback exchange speech concerning it,

      And it is always a comfort to the restless. 6

 

 

      (Man) byş on myrgşe         his magan leof;

      sceal şeah anra gehwylc         oğrum swican,

      for ğam dryhten wyle         dome sine

      şæt earme flæsc         eorşan betæcan.

 

      (Man) Man rejoicing in life is beloved by his kinsmen

      Yet everyone shall betray another,

      Because the Lord wills it by his judgement,

      To commit that wretched flesh to the earth.7

 

 

      (Lagu) byş leodum         langsum geşuht,

      gif hi sculun neşan         on nacan tealtum,

      and hi sæyşa         swyşe bregaş,

      and se brimhengest         bridles ne gymeğ.

 

      (Lagu) Water seems to be unending to men,

      If they are obliged to venture out on a tossing ship,

      And the sea waves terrify them exceedingly,

      And the sea-steed8 does not heed the bridle.

 

 

      (Ing) wæs ærest         mid Eastdenum

      gesewen secgun,         oş he siğğan eft

      ofer wæg gewat,         wæn æfter ran;

      ğus heardingas         ğone hæle nemdun.

 

      (Ing) Ing was first among the East Danes,

      Beheld by men, until afterwards to the east,

      He went over the waves, (his) chariot ran after,

      Then the warriors named the hero thusly. 9

 

 

      (Ethel) byş oferleof         æghwylcum men,

      gif he mot ğær rihtes         and gerysena on

      brucan on bolde         bleadum oftast.

 

      (Ethel) The ancestral estate is very dear to every man,

      If he may there in his house enjoy most often in prosperity,

      That which is right and fitting.

 

 

      (Daeg) byş drihtnes sond,         deore mannum,

      mære metodes leoht,         myrgş and tohiht

      eadgum and earmum,         eallum brice.

 

      (Daeg) Day is sent by the Lord, beloved of man,

      Glorious light of the Creator, joy and hope,

      To those who have and have not, of benefit to all.

 

 

      (Ac) byş on eorşan         elda bearnum

      flæsces fodor,         fereş gelome

      ofer ganotes bæş;         garsecg fandaş

      hwæşer ac hæbbe         æşele treowe.

 

      (Ac) Oak is the nourishment of meat on the earth ,10

      For the children of men; often it travels,

      Over the gannet's bath11 - the spear-sea tests,

      Whether the oak keeps faith nobly.

 

 

      (Aesc) biş oferheah,         eldum dyre,

      stiş on staşule,         stede rihte hylt,

      ğeah him feohtan on         firas monige.

 

      (Aesc) The ash is very tall, dear to mankind,

      Strong in its position, it holds its ground rightly,

      Though many men attack it.13

 

 

      (Yr) byş æşelinga         and eorla gehwæs

      wyn and wyrşmynd,         byş on wicge fæger,

      fæstlic on færelde,         fyrdgeatewa sum.

 

      (Yr) Yew is a joy and honor to all princes and nobles,

      And is fair on a mount, reliable on a journey,

      A type of army gear. 14

 

 

      (Iar) byş eafix,         and ğeah a bruceş

      fodres on foldan,         hafaş fægerne eard,

      wætre beworpen,         ğær he wynnum leofaş.

 

      (Iar) Eel is a river fish, and yet it takes its food on land,

      It has a beautiful dwelling place, surrounded by water,

      There it lives in delight.

 

 

      (Ear) byş egle         eorla gehwylcun,

      ğonn fæstlice         flæsc onginneş,

      hraw colian,         hrusan ceosan

      blac to gebeddan;         bleda gedreosaş,

      wynna gewitaş,         wera geswicaş.

 

      (Ear) Earth is loathsome to every nobleman.

      When irresistibly the flesh,

      The dead body, begins to grow cold,

      The livid one chooses the earth for a bedmate,

      Fruits fail, joys vanish, covenants are broken.

 

 

Notes:

1. Who speaks only noble things?

2. That is: it is easier to boast of riding (or any difficult task) than to

actually do it.

3. This is often translated as "burns in the hall" but the literal Old English

merely means "inside" and thus can refer to some sort of spiritual quality or

virtue which like a fire burns brightly within the nobleman.

4. The use of the word for a fortified town here (OE byrga) suggests that Joy

lies in the security of knowing that one's contentment will last...

5. This is thought to be a table game of some sort, but is no longer known for

certain. The lot-cup, that is a gambling or dice cup is suggested

orthographically by the Elder Futhark form of this rune.

6. Perhaps it allays restlessness because it is always a ready topic for idle

conversation...

7. This is an interesting concept: that we betray our kinsmen by dying on them!

8. A ship.

9. Fro Ing is a deity, corresponding to the Vanic Freyr. The verse may be an

aetiological one that explains the "meaning" of his name, but it is no longer

clear...

10. Acorns are primary food of wild pigs...

11. The sea. Oak is used to make ships and is tested afterwards by the sea.

12. Meaning the stormy sea.

13. Ash is often used as a synecdoche for spear and here by extension the

connection is turned around so that the spear through the Ash is likened to a

warrior who stands his ground against an onslaught of foemen.

14. Note the riddle-like usage here. This rune stands for the Yew which is the

wood used to make a bow. Thus the verse is about a bow.

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