While going through some papers in my office this week, I came across a print out of the Old English poem Deor, which we read in the Medieval Reading Group last year. The poem in Old English is beautiful with its rhythm and alliteration, which, unfortunately, a Modern English translation can only hint at.
The poem tells of several different episodes from legend and history in which individuals met disaster, and the final stanza touches on the poet’s own troubles. Each stanza closes with the refrain: ‘Þæs ofereode, | þisses swa mæg.’ That passed away, and so may this from me.
You can read the poem online (both in Old and Modern English): here. It’s a slightly different translation from the one I have printed out from the reading group.
The anxious, grieving man, deprived of joy,
Lives with a darkened mind; it seems to him
His share of sorrows will be everlasting;
But he can think that in this world wise God
Brings change continually: to many a man
He offers grace, assured prosperity.
But others he assigns a share of woe.
About my own plight now I wish to speak:
Once I was a minstrel of the Heodenings,
Dear to my patron, and my name was Deor.
I held for many years a fine position
And loyal lord, until Heorrenda now,
That skilful poet, has received my lands,
Which once my lord and master gave to me.
That passed away, and so may this from me.
Rumour has it that a number of years ago the School of English was experiencing some upheaval, and that during this time faculty were known to recite the refrain of this poem: Þæs ofereode, | þisses swa mæg. It’s not a bad motto.