The Wife’s Complaint


I make a point of reading English or American poetry more than translation, more than anything to find how fluent my own native language can get. Nonetheless, there are a few books in translation which are among my favorites. These include the Bible above all else, and Kenneth Rexroth’s translations, and the volume this poem is drawn from, Michael Alexander’s Earliest English Poems.

Indeed Alexander’s translations here have a great eloquence, gravity through their form, and sadness in their seriousness.  He holds to a faithfulness of form. The diction is rooted in Old English Anglo-Saxon vocabulary. And in some poems, though not here, the Old English bardic metric formula is kept. That meter has four stresses per line. At least three of them are alliterative. There is also a heavy pause between the two halves of the line, during which some propose a drum or other instrument could have been struck. The impact of this meter could hardly be more heavy and emphatic on the key words, yet it retained vitality by the flexibility of the unstressed syllables, the alternation of alliterative sounds every line, and the unremitting vigor of the subject matter. Click on this link to open The Wife’s Complaint.