I was ordered to live in a nest of leaves,
in an earthen cave under an oak.
I writhe with longing in this ancient hole;
The valleys seem leaden, the hills reared aloft,
And the bitter towns all bramble patches
of empty pleasure. The memory of parting
Rips at my heart. my friends are out there,
Savoring their lives, secure in their beds,
While at dawn, alone, I crawl miserably down
Under the oak growing out of my cave.
There I must squat the summer-long day,
There I can water the earth with weeping
For exile and sorrow, for sadness that can never
Find rest from grief nor from the famished
Desires that leap at unquenched life.
This translation of an Old English Elegy is by Burton Raffel and comes from the book, Poems and Prose from the Old English, it is edited by Burton Raffel and Alexandra H Olsen.
The condition of the woman’s exile is left unexplained but it can be gleaned that she was a leaving, an unwanted wife in exile. She may have been replaced or she may have been an adulteress.The imagery is fascinating as it calls to mind both the Antigone and the Apocryphal tales of the Magdalene in her earth cave. The images of the long-haired Magdalene seemed to have left the artistic imagination , though some can be still viewed in galleries round the globe. Of course the Antigone of legend along with other Women in the Wall or women figures in fertility stories and rites are common to all cultures. The story of Antigone is treated also in Egyptian terms and that story may have provided the basis for the Greek. The condition of women has hardly improved , thus the lament and the tales of exile have new voices and songs.
I have referred over and over to the theme of the woman in waiting throughout this blog, so I shall just add in the book details and mention my favorites:
The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood / Julian of Norwich The tales from The Ebony Tower, by John Fowles.
This extract is from , Poems and Prose from the Old English, trans , Burton Raffel, Published; Yale University Press/New Haven and London 1998.