And Lo, It Was Done

So! My final semester of coursework at Rutgers is done. Within 24 hours of clicking “send” on the last email of the year, I was sorting my backpacking gear and restocking/improving my outdoor first aid kit, an ongoing task I approach with such cheer and diligence you’d think I was looking forward to a bees’ nest falling on my head. Anyway, it seemed like I should get in one good backpacking trip before beginning my one-woman summer-long performance of “THESIS: THE ARCHIVENING,” a horror-short that takes places at a library.

And hopefully someone at Rutgers will give me a degree for this. The more years I spend in school, the more I realize that the trick is to convince someone to give you a degree/degrees for what you would have been doing anyway.

I stumbled into my thesis project after working with a bunch of other people on the Virgilio Archive. Nick Virgilio was an intense and enigmatic haiku poet who died suddenly during the taping of his first national television interview over 25 years ago. He left behind tens of thousands of pages of unpublished drafts. Almost none of them were organized or dated. (Aspiring writers: please do not do this.)

It’s been emotional and rewarding work, sifting through the papers of a dead man who didn’t know he was about to die. So I want to continue; other people in the group do, also. I’m going to try to get as much of his work digitized and online as I can before I move to Oregon in September to start working on other things.

But far and away, the best, most awesome, and most consuming thing I did this semester was translate a previously-untranslated poem from Old English, a.k.a. Anglo-Saxon. The poem was “Azarias”. It took up more of my time in the past month than anything else. And everything else,  come to think of it. Though partially that’s because I wound up enchanted with my new Anglo-Saxon dictionary. (And by “new” I mean “from 1894” which is new to me.)

Eel receptacle. ... Eel. ... Receptacle.
Eel receptacle. … Eel. … Receptacle.

You can read my translation – alongside the original – here. Take the grammar with a grain of salt. For comparison, my professor’s translation is here.

At the beginning of the poem, Azarias has been cast into a pyre to be burned alive, and through the flames, he begins to sing his thanks for all the things that make earthly life beautiful and mysterious: waterfalls, lightning, the sheer number of fish and birds. Once I got to the line “…and these words he spoke…” I was dying to find out what it was that he said.

Because nothing says "are you sure you want to fuck with this person at the coffee shop" like an Anglo-Saxon dictionary.
Because nothing says “are you sure you want to fuck with this person at the coffee shop” like an Anglo-Saxon dictionary.

I got pretty good at writing æ and ð. I also experienced absolutely zero interference in public places while translating – which, to a woman who frequently reads in public, is a goddamned novelty. Literally zero people spoke to me in coffee shops while I was poring over “A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary” surrounded by pages and pages of hand-scribbled notes. Not “good morning,” or “what are you reading?” or “you wouldn’t happen to be single, would you?” I reckon the dictionary, with its prominent title in 72-point font, makes all those answers evident! …except my being in a committed relationship with Nick Virgilio (Archives of). That is less evident.

And now I’m disappearing into the woods for a while to look at all those things Azarias sang about.

By sarahskochko

I am a Unitarian Universalist minister from South Jersey / Philadelphia, currently serving in Eugene, Oregon.

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