Wulf and Eadwacer, a 19-lines piece of Anglo-Saxon poetry is perhaps the most puzzling and enigmatic poem of the whole Anglo-Saxon poetic corpus. Included in the miscellaneous Exeter Codex among the Song of Deor and the first group of Riddles, it eluded each attempt by the first editor and translator of the codex, Benjamin Thorpe, who had to admit with resignation: “Of this I can make no sense, nor I am able to arrange the verses” (1842). Many of the problems in translating Wulf and Eadwacer originate from its semantic and syntactical complexity, its allusive tone, its opacity; from its very beginning the short poem confirms its ambiguous tone (Backer 1981). The different translations by scholars and translators, which depart considerably from each other, witness to these extreme difficulties. I will focus on some of the problems the text poses, giving a few but eloquent samples of the lexical and interpretive cruces in disclosing the ultimate meaning of the poem. I will also comment on some of the most interesting translations made by scholars, particularly the attempt made by A. E. Davidson (1975), who produced a composite translation in which all the possible alternative definitions of confusing and ambiguous words are featured and assembled without proposing a definite reading of the text. The difficulties in dealing with poetic texts so distant in time and culture are apparent; over thirty years ago the scholar and philologist Stanley B. Greenfield and the poet and translator Burton Raffel disputed on their different views about translating from Old English. Against both of these radical views I see the translation of Old English texts as an activity that involves an interpretation of the source text. Perhaps it sounds simplistic to say that “every translation is a kind of interpretation” (U. Eco) and that “the condition of the translator and that of the interpreter are substantially the same”, as the act of translation can be seen as a specific hermeneutic process (according to G. Gadamer). But with the hermeneutic task of disclosing meaning for his/her audience the translator has not yet wholly fulfilled his/her duty: in the case of our poem, interpreters and scholars do not even agree on the exact number of dramatis personae involved in the narration, and the translator is thus in charge of emphasizing through his/her interpretive and editorial choices how many characters are actually mentioned. The translator not only fully accomplishes in this way his/her decisional task but also virtually becomes a creator of “poetic identities”.
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