The stress alliterative verse of Anglo-Saxon poetry is clearly the product of an oral court minstrelsy; it was intended to be recited by the scop (in Old English: "jester, one who scoffs"), a professional entertainer (poet and singer) also known as a gleeman. Many Scandinavian folktales became a part of the well organized Anglo-Saxon world and body of folklore and legend, and it was not long until "warrior-kings" had a "singer", or scop who lived attached to their courts and recited and sang a body of oral literature, particularly about the warrior-king's glorious deeds. The scop was an itinerant minstrel who frequented the halls of kings and chiefs and sometimes found continuous service with one master. The scopas were the conservers of the Old English oral tradition and they were makers of poetry as well as reciters. A number of them were members of royal households, like the skalds (Scandinavian bards or court singers). Few are known by name. One of the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon poems, Widsith ( far traveller), is the autobiographical record of such a scop, who travels from court to court reciting his lays. The Beowulf-poet gives a valuable portrait of the scop in Hrothgar's court, as we have already seen. Hrothgar's scop was able to sing Beowulf's praises the day following his defeat of Grendel. The scop's purpose was to honour his noble patron or others who performed great deeds and to give praise and blame where applicable. He was expected to remember stories from the past and be able to sing them at any time. His job was to mentally and musically recall and perform these stories because the pride of the tribe depended upon a long genealogy of heroes. Moreover, by singing about heroes and about those who acted in non-heroic ways, the scop defined the moral values of his society, and his songs endorsed models of behaviour. The scop defined his society's code of heroic behaviour: he praised those who lived according to accepted social codes and criticized those who failed to perform according to the expectations of the group they belonged to.

Read the poem below which deals with the lament of a bard.


Deor's Lament is an Old English poem from the ninth or tenth century and it is contained in the Exeter Book . It is composed of 40 lines divided into seven unequal sections and containing a refrain repeated six times: That evil ended. So also may this!. We do not know who was the poet that wrote Deor's Lament and when. Nothing is known of the bard who names himself Deor (line 35).This poet is mentioned nowhere else and nothing is known of him except for the poem's implication that he was an exile.

Deor seems to be a minstrel who has fallen out of the favour and consoles himself by considering the past misfortunes of others such as Wayland the Smith, Theodoric, and Hermanric. It is one of the group of poems in the Exeter Book referred to as "elegies", short poems whose theme is usually the transience and unreliability of the World, sometimes ending, though not in Deor's Lament with a Christian consolation.

"Weland knew fully affliction and woe"

Weland (1) knew fully(2) affliction and woe
Hero unflinching(3) enduring distress;(4)
Had for companionship heart-break and longing,(5)
Wintry exile and anguish of soul,
When Nithad bound him, the better man, 5
Constrained him with sinewy bonds.(6)

That evil ended.(7) So also may this!

Nor was brother's death to Beadohild
A sorrow as deep as her own sad plight,(8)
When she knew the weight of the child in her womb, 10
But little could know what her lot might be.

That evil ended.(9) So also may this!

Many have heard of the rape (10) of Hild,(11)
Of her father's affection and infinite love,
Whose nights were sleepless with sorrow and grief. 15

That evil ended. So also may this!

For thirty winters Theodoric (12) held,
As many have known, the Maering's stronghold.

That evil ended. So also may this!

We have heard of Eormanric's(13) wolf-like ways, 20
Widely ruling the realm of the Goths;(14)
Grim was his menace, and many a man,
Weighted with sorrow and presage of woe,
Wished that the end of his kingdom were come.

That evil ended. So also may this! 25

He who knows sorrow, despoiled of joys,
Sits heavy of mood; to his heart it seemeth (15)
His measure of misery meeteth (16) no end.
Yet well may he think how oft (17) in this world
The wise Lord varies His ways to men, 30
Granting wealth and honor (18) to many an eorl, (19)
To others awarding a burden (20) of woe.(21)

And so I can sing of my own sad plight (22)
Who long stood high as the Heodenings'(23) bard,
Deor my name, dear to my lord. 35

Mild was my service for many a winter,
Kindly my king till Heorrenda (24) came
Skillful in song and usurping the land-right (25)
Which once my gracious lord granted to me.

That evil ended. So also may this! 40

(Late 9th century. Translated by C. W. Kennedy, An Anthology of Old English Poetry, 1960)



1.Weland: (Wayland or Welund): the name means "maker" or "workman," the smith of Germanic legend, a supernatural being corresponding to the Vulcan of classical mythology. He had been captured by Nithhad, set to work, and made lame to prevent his
escape. Nevertheless he managed to escape, killed two sons of Nithhad and raped his daughter Beadohild.
2. fully: completely.
3. unflinching: constant.
4. distress: sadness,sorrow,dejection.
5 .longing: wish, nostalgia, yearning.
6. sinewy bonds: bonds imposed by cutting the sinews(sinew: ligament,tendon) .
7. That evil ended: Weland escaped ( by flying, in one form of the story).
8. plight: condition, predicament.
9. That evil ended: The poet refers this consideration to Beadohild.In fact, as a result of the rape, Beadohild bore the hero
Widia.The poet considers that to be the mother of a hero is sufficient compensation for her.
10.rape: sexual seduction,abuse.
11.Hild: Beadohild.
12.Theodoric: (probably) Theodoric the Great, 454-526, king of the Ostrogoths, lord of Italy, or Theodoric the Frank, who also
suffered exile and defeat. The poet narrates he spent thirty years in exile.
13. Eormanric: He is the historical Eormanric, or Ermanric, king of the Ostrogoths, who died about 375, having made himself ruler
from the Baltic to the Black Sea; later legend made hoim a cruel tyrant.
14. Goths: The Ostrogoths, who originated in southern Russia and held Italy during the late fifth and early sixth century.
15. seemeth: (archaic) seems.
16. meeteth: (archaic) meets.
17. oft: (archaic) often.
18. honor: honour.
19. eorl: it means either a nobleman, man of the upper class(as it does her), or a warrior.
20. burden: a heavy load.
21. woe: (archaic) affliction, bitter grief, distress.
22. plight: an unfortunate condition or state.
23. Heodenings: ruling family, descended from Heoden.
24. Heorrenda: a bard we know nothing of.
25. land-right: estate granted to Deor as a reward for his poetry.


1. This poem, almost unique in Anglo-Saxon poetry, uses a stanza division. How many stanzas is it divided into? (Quote the lines)

2. Are the stanzas of the same length?

3. Each stanza is divided by a repeated line. How many times is it repeated?

4. What is the term that define a phrase, a line or lines repeated at intervals during a poem and especially at the end of a stanza?

5. What is the genre used by the poet in this poem?

6. Look up the term elegy in your glossary and see if this poetic form matches Deor's Lament. (Substantiate your answer).

- An Elegy is:

7. Quote the phrases that describe Weland's condition.

8. Which line reveals Beadohild's brother murder?

9. How do we know that Beadohild was raped? Quote the lines and paraphrase them.

10. Looking up the word "elegy" you have seen that the mood of "Deor's Lament" is elegiac. Its genre is usually said to be that of a "consolatio", used both by ancient and pagan writers (which go back at least as far as Homer, Horace), and by Christian writers, (Boethius's De Consolatione Philosophiae, was translated into English in 890s by King Alfred the Great). Can you substantiate the above statement?

11. Consider the general mood of Deor's Lament and say if its a pagan or Christian poem. Substantiate your answer.

12. Consider the refrain and say what it function is.

13. Where does the poet draw his examples of misfortune from? Who are the characters he speaks of?