The Husband’s Message – Back Afloat

It is greatly to be regretted that the wonderful poem The Husband’s Message from the Exeter Book was damaged by fire in two places, resulting in two significant gaps in the text. Various repairs have been suggested over the years, I here present a reading with reconstructions by Pope and Blackburn. The purpose is to permit readers to enjoy the poem in a complete form. It is not possible to know how close to the original these or any other reconstructions are. Below the poem I have included a glossary.

Nu ic onsundran þe         secgan wille
[of hwylcum] treocyn[ne]         ic tudre aweox;
i[w] mec æld[e hatað     ac ic] sceal ellor londes
settan [siðas mine,   þonne mec] sealte streamas
5
[on flot fergað          frean to li]sse.
Ful oft ic on bates [bosme   burgsted þær] gesohte
þær mec mondryhten         min [onsende]
ofer heah hofu;         eom nu her cumen
on ceolþele,         ond nu cunnan scealt
10
hu þu ymb modlufan         mines frean
on hyge hycge.         Ic gehatan dear
þæt þu þær tirfæste         treowe findest.
Hwæt, þec þonne biddan het      se þisne beam agrof
þæt þu sinchroden         sylf gemunde
15
on gewitlocan         wordbeotunga,
þe git on ærdagum         oft gespræcon,
þenden git moston         on meoduburgum
eard weardigan,         an lond bugan,
freondscype fremman.         Hine fæhþo adraf
20
of sigeþeode;         heht nu sylfa þe
lustum læran,         þæt þu lagu drefde,
siþþan þu gehyrde         on hliþes oran
galan geomorne         geac on bearwe.
Ne læt þu þec siþþan         siþes getwæfan,
25
lade gelettan         lifgendne monn.
Ongin mere secan,         mæwes eþel,
onsite sænacan,         þæt þu suð heonan
ofer merelade         monnan findest,
þær se þeoden is         þin on wenum.
30
Ne mæg him worulde         willa gelimpan
mara on gemyndum,         þæs þe he me sægde,
þonne inc geunne         alwaldend god
[þæt git] ætsomne         siþþan motan
secgum ond gesiþum         s[inc agifan]
35
næglede beagas;         he genoh hafað
fædan goldes        [feos ond hringa]
[þa he mi]d elþeode         eþel healde,
fægre foldan        [fela mid him þær gehyreð]
[hear]ra hæleþa,         þeah þe her min wine[dryhten]
40
nyde gebæded,         nacan ut aþrong,
ond on yþa geong         [irnan] sceolde
faran on flotweg,         forðsiþes georn,
mengan merestreamas.         Nu se mon hafað
wean oferwunnen;         nis him wilna gad,
45
ne meara ne maðma         ne meododreama,
ænges ofer eorþan         eorlgestreona,
þeodnes dohtor,         gif he þin beneah.
Ofer eald gebeot         incer twega
gecyre ic ætsomne         SR geador
50
EAW ond D         aþe benemnan,
þæt he þa wære         ond þa winetreowe
be him lifgendum         læstan wolde,
þe git on ærdagum         oft gespræconn.

Note on Sources:

The base text is Krapp and Dobbie, who do not attempt reconstruction of the main lacunae. I have preferred Pope’s reconstruction of lines 2-6 to Blackburn’s because the latter has based his reconstruction on the theory that the speaker is a message stick, which I reject following Niles and others. At line 6 I have changed Pope’s ‘stefne’ to ‘bosme’ after Niles. For all the other gaps, Blackburn’s suggestions are excellent. A new sentence is started at line 48 and continued on to line 49, following Trautmann, Mackie and Muir, improving the sense.

J. C. Pope, ‘Paleography and Poetry: Some Solved and Unsloved Problems of the Exeter Book’, in Mediaeval Scribes, Manuscripts and Libraries: Essays Presented to N.R. Ker, ed. Parkes and Watson (London 1978)
F. A. Blackburn, ‘The Husband’s Message and the Accompanying Riddles of the Exeter Book’,  in Journal of Germanic Philology v. III (1900) no. 1 pp. 1-13
J. D. Niles, ‘The trick of the runes in The Husband’s Message’, Anglo-Saxon England, v. 32 (Dec 2003), pp 189-223

Glossary

ælde    humans
ænges    of any
agrof    carved
aþrong    pushed out
beagas    armbands
bearwe    grove
beneah    (benugan) possess (w. gen)
benemnan    aþe b. declare on oath
bosme    bosom
bugan    inhabit
burgsted    town
ceolþele    bottomboard
eard    place
ellor    foreign
elþeode    foreign people
eorlgestreona    noble treasure (gen. pl.)
eþel    homeland
feos    cattle (gen.)
fædan    (= fættan?) beaten
fæhþo    enmity
gad    lack, desire
galan    sing
geac    cuckoo
gebeot   promise
gecyre I choose(?) (c.f. cyreaþ = oath w. chosen witnesses) but might be gehyre
gehyre   hear, obey
gemunde    remember
gemyndum    thoughts (d. pl.)
geomor    mournful
getwæfan    divert
gewitlocan    mind
hearra    higher, lordly (gen. pl.)
hliþes    cliff (gen.)
hofu    houses
iw    yew (tree)
lade    path
lisse    delight
meara    mares (gen.)
mengan    stir (with an oar)
modlufan    heart’s affection
mæwes    seagull
nacan    ship
ofer eald gebeot   in addition to the old promise
onsite    occupy (i.e. ride)
onsundran    privately
oran    shore (acc.)
secgum    warriors
sinchroden    adorned with treasure
sænacan    ship (acc.)
tirfæste    glorious
treocyn    tree-kind
tudre    young creature (dat.)
weardigan    rule
winetreowe    true friendship
wordbeotunga    spoken promise (gen. pl.)
wære    fidelity
yþa    waves (gen pl.)

Runes:

SREAWD        Sigel, Rad, Ear, Wynn, Dæg (or Mon)

See my discussion of the meaning of the runes here: https://deorreader.wordpress.com/2016/02/12/a-runic-cryptic-crossword-correct-solution-after-1000-years/

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