Translations of Medieval Poems

Translations of Medieval Poems

A Poem by Michael R. Burch
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Translations of Medieval Poems

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Translations of Medieval Poems



How Long the Night
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa early 13th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

It is pleasant, indeed, while the summer lasts
with the mild pheasants' song...
but now I feel the northern wind's blast
its severe weather strong.
Alas! Alas! This night seems so long!
And I, because of my momentous wrong
now grieve, mourn and fast.



This World's Joy
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa early 14th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Winter awakens all my care
as leafless trees grow bare.
For now my sighs are fraught
whenever it enters my thought:
regarding this world's joy,
how soon it all comes to naught.



Pity Mary
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa early 13th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now the sun passes under the wood:
I rue, Mary, thy facefair, good.
Now the sun passes under the tree:
I rue, Mary, thy son and thee.



Fowles in the Frith
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa 13th-14th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

The fowls in the forest,
the fishes in the flood
and I must go mad:
such sorrow I've had
for beasts of bone and blood!



I am of Ireland
(anonymous Medieval Irish lyric, circa 13th-14th century AD)
loose translation by
Michael R. Burch

I am of Ireland,
and of the holy realm of Ireland.
Gentlefolk, I pray thee:
for the sake of saintly charity,
come dance with me
in Ireland!



Three Roundels by Geoffrey Chaucer

I. Merciles Beaute ("Merciless Beauty")
by Geoffrey Chaucer
translation by Michael R. Burch

Your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain,
they wound me so, through my heart keen.

Unless your words heal me hastily,
my heart's wound will remain green;
for your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain.

By all truth, I tell you faithfully
that you are my life and my death, my queen...
for at my death this truth shall be seen:
your eyes slay me suddenly;
their beauty I cannot sustain,
they wound me so, through my heart keen.

II. Rejection
by Geoffrey Chaucer
translation by Michael R. Burch

Your beauty from your heart has so erased
Pity, that it's useless to complain;
For Pride now holds your mercy by a chain.

Though guiltless, my death sentence has been cast.
I tell you truly, needless now to feign, 
Your beauty from your heart has so erased
Pity, that it's useless to complain.

Alas, that Nature in your face compassed
Such beauty, that no man may hope attain
To mercy, though he perish from the pain;
Your beauty from your heart has so erased
Pity, that it's useless to complain;
For Pride now holds your mercy by a chain.

III. Escape
by Geoffrey Chaucer
translation by Michael R. Burch

Since I'm escaped from Love and yet still fat,
I never plan to be in his prison lean;
Since I am free, I count it not a bean.

He may question me and counter this and that;
I care not: I will answer just as I mean.
Since I'm escaped from Love and yet still fat,
I never plan to be in his prison lean.

Love strikes me from his roster, short and flat,
And he is struck from my books, just as clean.
Forevermore; there is no other mean.
Since I'm escaped from Love and yet still fat,
I never plan to be in his prison lean;
Since I am free, I count it not a bean.



Whan the turuf is thy tour
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa the 13th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

When the turf is your tower
and the pit is your bower,
your pale white skin and throat
shall be sullen worms' to note.
What help to you, then,
was all your worldly hope?



Ech day me comëth tydinges thre
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa the 13th to 14th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Each day I'm plagued by three doles,
These gargantuan weights on my soul:
First, that I must somehow exit this fen.
Second, that I cannot know when.
And yet it's the third that torments me so,
Because I don't know where the hell I will go!



Ich have y-don al myn youth
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa the 13th to 14th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I have done it all my youth:
Often, often, and often!
I have loved long and yearned zealously...
And oh what grief it has brought me!



Westron Wynde
(anonymous Middle English lyric, found in a partbook circa 1530 AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Western wind, when will you blow,
bringing the drizzling rain?
Christ, that my love were in my arms,
and I in my bed again!

NOTE: The original poem has "the smalle rayne down can rayne" which suggests a drizzle or mist, either of which would suggest a dismal day.



Sweet Rose of Virtue
by William Dunbar (1460-1525)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Sweet rose of virtue and of gentleness,
delightful lily of youthful wantonness,
richest in bounty and in beauty clear
and in every virtue that is held most dear―
except only that you are merciless.

Into your garden, today, I followed you;
there I saw flowers of freshest hue,
both white and red, delightful to see,
and wholesome herbs, waving resplendently―
yet everywhere, no odor but rue.

I fear that March with his last arctic blast
has slain my fair rose of pallid and gentle cast,
whose piteous death does my heart such pain
that, if I could, I would compose her roots again―
so comforting her bowering leaves have been.



Now skruketh rose and lylie flour
(anonymous Middle English lyric, circa 11th century AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now the rose and the lily skyward flower,
That will bear for awhile that sweet savor:
In summer, that sweet tide;
There is no queen so stark in her power
Nor any lady so bright in her bower
That dead shall not summon and guide:
But whoever forgoes lust, in heavenly bliss will abide
With his thoughts on Jesus anon, thralled at his side.



Adam Lay Ybounden
(anonymous Medieval English Lyric, circa early 15th century AD)
translation by Michael R. Burch

Adam lay bound, bound in a bond;
Four thousand winters, he thought, were not too long.
And all was for an apple, an apple that he took,
As clerics now find written in their book.
But had the apple not been taken, or had it never been,
We'd never have had our Lady, heaven's queen.
So blesséd be the time the apple was taken thus;
Therefore we sing, "God is gracious! "



I Sing of a Maiden
(anonymous Medieval English Lyric, circa early 15th century AD)
translation by Michael R. Burch

I sing of a maiden
That is matchless.
The King of all Kings
For her son she chose.
He came also as still
To his mother's breast
As April dew
Falling on the grass.
He came also as still
To his mother's bower
As April dew
Falling on the flower.
He came also as still
To where his mother lay
As April dew
Falling on the spray.
Mother and maiden?
Never one, but she!
Well may such a lady
God's mother be!



Cædmon's Hymn
(Old English poem circa 658-680 AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Now let us honour heaven-kingdom's Guardian,
the might of the Architect and his mind-plans,
the work of the Glory-Father. First he, the Eternal Lord,
established the foundation of wonders.
Then he, the First Poet, created heaven as a roof
for the sons of men, Holy Creator,
Maker of mankind. Then he, the eternal Lord,
afterwards made men middle-earth: Master almighty!



Wulf and Eadwacer
(Old English poem circa 960-990 AD)
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

My people pursue him like crippled prey.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
We are so different!

Wulf's on one island; I'm on another.
His island's a fortress, fastened by fens.
Here, bloodthirsty curs roam this island.
They'll rip him apart if he approaches their pack.
We are so different!

My thoughts pursued Wulf like panting hounds.
Whenever it rained as I wept,
the bold warrior came; he took me in his arms:
good feelings for him, but the end loathsome!
Wulf, O, my Wulf, my ache for you
has made me sick; your infrequent visits
have left me famished, deprived of real meat!
Do you hear, Eadwacer? A wolf has borne
our wretched whelp to the woods.
One can easily sever what never was one:
our song together.



A Proverb from Winfred's Time
anonymous Old English poem, circa 757-786
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

1.
The procrastinator puts off purpose,
never initiates anything marvelous,
never succeeds, and dies alone.

2.
The late-deed-doer delays glory-striving,
never indulges daring dreams,
never succeeds, and dies alone.

3.
Often the deed-dodger avoids ventures,
never succeeds, and dies alone.

Winfrid or Wynfrith is better known as Saint Boniface (c. 675-754). This may be the second-oldest English poem, after "Caedmon's Hymn."




Franks Casket Runes
anonymous Old English poems, circa 700
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

1.
The fish flooded the shore-cliffs;
the sea-king wept when he swam onto the shingle:
whale's bone.

2.
Romulus and Remus, twin brothers weaned in Rome
by a she-wolf, far from their native land.



"The Leiden Riddle" is an Old English translation of Aldhelm's Latin riddle Lorica ("Corselet").

The Leiden Riddle
anonymous Old English riddle poem, circa 700
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

The dank earth birthed me from her icy womb.
I know I was not fashioned from woolen fleeces;
nor was I skillfully spun from skeins;
I have neither warp nor weft;
no thread thrums through me in the thrashing loom;
nor do whirring shuttles rattle me;
nor does the weaver's rod assail me;
nor did silkworms spin me like skillfull fates
into curious golden embroidery.
And yet heroes still call me an excellent coat.
Nor do I fear the dread arrows' flights,
however eagerly they leap from their quivers.

Solution: a coat of mail.



He sits with his harp at his thane's feet,
Earning his hire, his rewards of rings,
Sweeping the strings with his skillful nail;
Hall-thanes smile at the sweet song he sings.
"Fortunes of Men" loose translation by Michael R. Burch



Fairest Between Lincoln and Lindsey
(anonymous Middle English poem, circa late 13th century)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

When the nightingale sings, the woods turn green;
Leaf and grass again blossom in April, I know,
Yet love pierces my heart with its spear so keen!
Night and day it drinks my blood. The painful rivulets flow.

I’ve loved all this year. Now I can love no more;
I’ve sighed many a sigh, sweetheart, and yet all seems wrong.
For love is no nearer and that leaves me poor.
Sweet lover, think of me  I’ve loved you so long!



A cleric courts his lady
(anonymous Middle English poem, circa late 13th century)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

My death I love, my life I hate, because of a lovely lady;
She's as bright as the broad daylight, and shines on me so purely.
I fade before her like a leaf in summer when it's green.
If thinking of her does no good, to whom shall I complain?

© 2021 Michael R. Burch


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Added on April 8, 2021
Last Updated on April 8, 2021
Tags: Medieval Poems, Old English, Anglo-Saxon English, Middle English, Translation, Modernization