Anglo-Saxon Word of the Week: Wadan

sea-ice-off-arctic-refuge-coastal-plain_w725_h477Happy December, all! The season of many holidays is upon us, and I’m preparing to do something that I haven’t done for nearly two years now: I’m going home. I haven’t seen my family since April of 2013, and while I do love it here, it will be nice to not have an ocean between me and all the people I left behind, just for a little while.

So! In honour of the trains-planes-and-automobiles trek I’m about to take, this month’s entries will be centred around travel, and each will feature a different poem.

To start us of this week, something else I haven’t done in a while – a strong verb! Words of the Week entries have been pretty noun-heavy for a while, as I’ve been sitting around writing away for most hours of most days,and I thought the sudden flurry of activity was a good enough reason to shake things up a bit.

This week’s word is wadan, a strong verb – which means it undergoes a stem change when conjugated. This is still easily observable in English verbs today. For example, ‘sing’ is a strong verb (I sing, I sang, I have sung, etc.), but ‘walk’ is a weak one (I walk, I walked, I have walked, etc) because it has an added ending instead of a stem change. Wadan conjugates thusly:

Present indicative:                                                                              Past indicative:

ic i wædee                                                                                         ic i wód

þu you wædeest                                                                               þu you wóde

he/hit/heo he/it/she wædeeþ                                                            he/hit/heo he/it/she wód

we/ge/hie we/ye/they wædeaþ                                                         we/ge/hie we/ye/they wódon

Present participle: (….ing) – wædeende                                        Past participle: (…ed) – gewaden

Wadan means to go, to advance, to travel, and is the verb from whence the contemporary English words invade, pervade, evade, and wade come from. Tolkien also borrowed the word to name Entwade, the guarded ford in the river Entwash joining east and west Rohan. (Entincidentally, is a word for giant in Old English, and is related to the Old Norse jǫtunn.)

There are many verbs that mean some version of go, wander, travel, or journey in Anglo-Saxon, but I chose this one specifically because it is used in one of my favourite Old English poems, The Wanderer. The poem, found in the 10th century Exeter book (though the poem itself may have been composed earlier), is the lament of a solitary exile who wander the cold seas far from the comrades in arms, loyal lord, and warm mead hall he has left behind. The narrator speaks vividly of his loneliness and yearning for days past, though he knows that his prior happiness is a place to which he can no longer return.

The poem also contains the lines that inspired Tolkien’s Lament for the Rohirrim, sung by Aragorn in The Two Towers, but adapted for the film version as a speech delivered by Théoden on the eve of battle:

You can read a side-by-side translation of the poem here, but I also encourage you to see out Greg Delanty’s and Jane Holland’s updated translations as well.

And if you’d like a little more light holiday reading, try Coleridge next – this poem never fails to put me in mind of his Ancient Mariner.

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