One of my favourite translators of Old English poetry is Bernard O’Donoghue, and his 2011 translation of The Wanderer which can be found in his collection Farmers Cross, a collection which deals with the process of ageing in a particularly haunting, even desolate, manner. I would argue that O’Donoghue’s translation is most striking in terms of the poet’s expression of personal perspectives in his evocation of imagery from his childhood, his portrayal of growing older, and the political opinions he expresses through translation. For O’Donoghue, Farmers Cross was about the experience of ageing – ‘travelling in preparation for the end’. One could argue that it is with this meditation on ageing that The Wanderer was chosen to be included in a collection of his own ‘original’ poems. Unlike the other translators discussed in this article, O’Donoghue has a deeply embedded knowledge of Old English poetry, which he has been teaching since 1971, stating that he ‘can translate The Wanderer and The Seafarer, as well as The Wife’s Lament and Wulf and Eadwacer without having the text before me’. This translation is particularly unique because of its particularly poetic rendering, and modernising language which combine to make it more accessible for a modern audience. O’Donoghue has been described as a poet that ‘generates an emotional and imaginative world’ that ‘conducts a quiet exploration of moral and ideological questions’, which in the case of this translation are focussed on the experience of ageing in a changing world. His translation of The Wanderer, though domesticating, evokes the spirit of the source text in a remarkably despondent manner, most noticeably perhaps in his translation of the last line of the poem which is generally considered to be an indication of some hope for the future. Lines 14b to 15b reads:
‘Wel bið þam þe him are seceð, frofre to Fæder on heofonum, þær us eal seo fæstnung stondeð’
literally translating as ‘It is better for the one who seeks mercy, comfort of the father in heaven, where for us all stability stands’, which gives the sense that strength can be found in your loneliness with the comfort of religion. O’Donoghue however, casts some doubt upon this hope, translating the same lines as ‘All you can do is to place your trust in the god in the heavens where alone is stability, if it is found anywhere’. The addition of ‘if it is found anywhere’ reintroduces the hopelessness that is expressed throughout both the source text, and O’Donoghue’s translation where the original poet was moving towards the possibility of reconciliation.
If we consider that each literature, each culture, and each era will see translations of a text produced according to both personal perspectives and the impact of cultural influence, it has been argued that translations like O’Donoghue’s can be considered to be ‘better’ because they bring something new to an older text. In O’Donoghue’s case, one can see the influence of his personal understanding of The Wanderer’s message, not only in terms of his inclusion of the translation in a collection of his own contemporary poetry regarding the journey of ageing, but also when one looks at the unique divergences he has made in his translation from the source text to convey a socio-political message.
Although O’Donoghue deviates dramatically from the source text, it still conveys a strong sense of nostalgia for the past in the context of a dystopian future wherein he juxtaposes emigration with the experience of the anhaga. Similar to Delanty, O’Donoghue uses his interpretation of The Wanderer to express a criticism of modern warfare, for example in his interpretation of lines 80-81
‘Sume wig fornom freed in forðwege’
which roughly translates as ‘some war destroyed, carried off on the way’. O’Donoghue however, chose to render this line as ‘some die in battle, but more are victims of assault from the skies’, which one could suggest is a reference to the over-head bombing of civilians, a common occurrence in modern warfare. O’Donoghue also refers to ‘endless conflicts’, and states that ‘the bombs have won out’, both of which also serve to criticise the ongoing culture of warfare in modern society, a practice which he was questioned about in an interview with Lidia Vianu to which he replied:
‘I do think we have to express political views – what Heaney calls ‘redressing’ – where we can do it without making things worse. I think one of the most horrifying moments of my life was switching on the television in 1991 and realising that the Americans really were bombing Baghdad’.
O’Donoghue uses his poetry to articulate his political views with The Wanderer focussing on his views of modern warfare. This can be seen as a divergence from the Anglo-Saxon heroic spirit which is also expressed in the source poem. The Wanderer focuses on the transience of earthly joy and O’Donoghue maintains this ruinous view of the future by presenting the reader with a dystopian future wherein ‘riches won’t last and neither will friendship. Man least of all- his relations gone. Everything on earth will shudder and die.’. This post-apocalyptic world-view can be seen as maintaining the tone of desperation as seen in the source text which describes
‘eal þis eorþan gesteal idel weorþeð’
roughly translating as ‘all this earth’s frame will be emptied’. This illustrates O’Donoghue’s affinity with the fears of the Anglo-Saxon scop, both of whom seem to have become disenchanted with heroic ideals, however his use of modernising language gives the line a stronger sense of dread
O’Donoghue’s adaptation of The Wanderer can be seen as a reconciliation between the voices of the past and the present, both of whom fear for the future of earth, and seek consolation from ‘fæder on heofonum’, or ‘god in the heavens’. O’Donoghue explores this fear of the future by placing an emphasis on the growing loneliness experienced by the ageing. This draws a sad comparison between the exile and the elderly, juxtaposing them in their isolation and, as Eugene Nida states, allows the reader to:
‘…identify himself as fully as possible with a person in the source-language context, and to understand as much as he can of the customs, manner of thought, and means of expression.’
One can apply Gadamer’s theory of horizontverschmelzung to this reconciliation between exile and ageing, as the horizon of the Anglo-Saxon scop is juxtaposed with that of O’Donoghue in their shared fear for the future, and intense feelings of isolation despite being separated by almost two millennia.
Bernard O’Donoghue. Interview by William Bedford. Agenda 47 (2013) page numbers not available at time of writing.
 Bernard O’Donoghue in Greg Delanty and Michael Matto The Word Exchange. 534
 Patricia Coughlan ‘Taking Real Things for Shadows’. The Irish Review (2009) 40. 182–185: 183.
 O’Donoghue, Farmers Cross, 29.
 Jorge L. Borges, The Translators of the Thousand and One Nights, trans. Esther Allen. (London 1999) 20.
 Bernard O’Donoghue, Farmers Cross. (London 2011) 28.
 Bernard O’Donoghue in Lidia Vianu, Desperado Essay-Interviews. (Bucharest 2009) 256-266: 261-261.
 O’Donoghue, Farmers Cross, 29.
 O’Donoghue, Farmers Cross, 29.
 Eugene Nida, ‘Principles of Correspondence’ in Lawrence Venuti, The Translation Studies Reader. (London 2000) 129.