Bore da, darllenwyr annwyl; I write this a few hours before dawn, on a train, tapping away on my phone’s touchscreen. It’s too dark outside to see the landscape; so far, the only view out the window, aside from my own reflection, has been a brightly lit Tesco car park in Welshpool, and Shrewsbury station. My theme of travel carries onward.
This week’s offering is both a word and a name: wíd-síþ. The word is a compound noun (too early in the morning for verbs!): wíd meaning wide, and síþ, meaning travel or journey. A far journey. Wide travel.
is also the name of another poem from the Exeter book, and the fictional narrator of the poem. The poem itself is a 144-line catalogue of kings both ancient and contemporary, peoples alive and long since gone, and heroes who lived only in legend. The narrating poet recounts the rulers he has known, the tribes he has seen and sung for, and the heroes he has encountered in his time as a traveling scop. Many of the events and people mentioned are attested to historically, but are spread out across far too great a span of time for one person to have witnessed them all, and the places listed cover too great an area for even a lifetime of travel. Wid-síþ, then, is not intended as a collections of facts, but as an act of historical creation – the poet weaves a long and storied past for himself and his people, and in so doing, claims for himself the voice of poetic authority. The poem closes with Wid-síþ reminding the audience that earthly fame, when remembered in song by a talented scop, brings lasting fame.
You can read the poem in Anglo-Saxon alongside an English translation here.
Deor, a shorter poem also found in the Exeter book, draws on similar material; I suggest seeking out Seamus Heaney’s wonderful translation.