Elegy

By Tim Butler | Posted at 12:28 AM

There is something especially haunting and beautiful about the Anglo-Saxon elegiac poem. Reading too many of them in a row can be terribly depressing, but at the same time, I miss reading them if I haven't done so in a long time. For History of the English Language, I'm learning how to pronounce Old English; while looking up some material related to that, I ran into a reference to Deor, one of the most impressive of the Old English elegies (in my opinion).

I think it is memorable because it is easy to sympathize with the poet. Before getting to his own problems, he tries to think of all kinds of horrible past events that others have experienced and then remarks, “As that passed away, so may this.” I too like to try to make myself think maybe this or that problem isn't quite so bad by thinking of how others have made it through worse events. The final exclamation to each stanza is a reminder that suffering is only temporary, but it also pounds in the whole sense that life is transitory. Hence, the poem is also a sobering reminder when things are going well: that passes away too.

If you're so inclined, you might want to read Deor, if you have not already had the pleasure of doing so. A fairly literal, if not wonderfully readable translation is located here.


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