from Elene: The Prayer of Judas ben Sacheus

Manuscript: The Vercelli Book. Edition: Krapp, George Philip, ed. The Vercelli Book. ASPR 2. New York: Columbia UP, 1932. The poem appears in other separate editions and translations. Note: This translation includes lines 725–58a, 783, and 792b–95a of the Old English poem. Elene—the Anglo-Saxon version of the story of St. Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, and her “Invention” of the Cross—appropriately appears in the Vercelli Book, the same manuscript in which the unique copy of The Dream of the Rood appears.

“Lord Healer, you who wield doom,
And wrought by glory’s might
Heaven and earth and the restless sea,
Measured with your own hands
Earth’s sphere and the up-heavens—5
You sit, Victories’ God,
High over the noblest angel-kin,
Who fare aloft woven with light, [ 1 ]
Much in the power of their majesty.
You wrought them, set them your servants,10
Holy and heavenly. In joy
Six are named, six-winged they shine.
Four, unceasing in flight,
Attend you, Eternity’s Judge,
Sing ever in glory, bright-voiced.15
Most exquisite their songs, their
Voices clean, who speak these words:
‘Holy is the high-angels’ God,
Hosts’ Wielder! Full of that glory
Is everywhere and all-power, [ 2 ]20
Betokened by Tir.’ [ 3 ]
Two others, sky’s victory-kin,
Fair paradise and Life’s tree
Hold with keen flame. Hard-edge
Flickers—the snake-steel [ 4 ] quivers.25

“Do now, Angels’ Father, send me a sign:
Let now from this plain in joy
Under sky’s course smoke rise
Laughing, turning aloft.” [ 5 ]

Translation copyright © ca. 1982, Jonathan A. Glenn. All rights reserved.


[ 1 ] woven with light. lēohte bewundene ‘wound about (“bewound”) by light.’ [Return to text]

[ 2 ] everywhere and all-power. hēofun ond eorðe     ond eall hēahmægen ‘heaven and earth and all high-power.’ [Return to text]

[ 3 ] Betokened by Tir. tire getacnod. My translation is based on the fact that the noun in this half-line, tīr, is also the name of a rune (ᛏ)—Tīr (also spelled Tȳr)—the name of a constellation (see the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem), and the name of the Germanic god of war (see The Prose Edda, “Gylfaginning”). My translation is, I admit, unwarrantedly histrionic. The OE phrase appears to mean something like ‘marked by splendor’ or ‘signified by elaborate decoration.” As a noun, tīr may mean ‘fame, glory, honor, ornament.’ [Return to text]

[ 4 ] hard edge…quivers. Hardecg cwacaþ, / beofaþ brogdenmǣl ‘hard-edge (i.e., sword) quakes, / trembles (the) damascened sword.’ A damascened sword is one made from “Damascus steel,” whose chief visual characteristic is a pattern of wavy lines. I assume that the poem means to describe the play of light on a sword blade. [Return to text]

[ 5 ] Laughing, turning aloft. lyftlācende ‘sporting in the air’; lit. ‘sky-playing.’ [Return to text]