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Meters of Boethius (Proem): Parsing and Translation

The Meters of Boethius are a series of alliterative poems written in Old English. The author is unknown, but King Alfred is suspected. The following sections provide the Old English text to the proem of the Meters of Boethius as well as a parsing and translation of the poem into Modern English.

Old English


ðus ælfred us ealdspell reahte,
cyning Westsexna, cræft meldode,
leoðwyrhta list. Him wæs lust micel
ðæt he ðiossum leodum leoð spellode,
monnum myrgen, mislice cwidas,
þy læs ælinge ut adrife
selflicne secg, þonne he swelces lyt
gymð for his gilpe. Ic sceal giet sprecan,
fon on fitte, folccuðne ræd
hæleðum secgean. Hliste se þe wille!



ðus (adverb) ælfred (noun – nominative singular) us (personal pronoun – dative first plural)
ealdspell (strong noun – accusative neuter singular) reahte (class I strong verb – third singular past indicative),
cyning (strong noun – nominative masculine singular) Westsexna (noun – genitive masculine plural),
cræft (strong noun – accusative masculine singular) meldode (class 2 weak verb – third singular past indicative),
leoðwyrhta (weak noun – nominative masculine singular) list (strong noun – nominative feminine singular).
Him (personal pronoun – dative masculine third singular) wæs (anomalous verb – third singular past indicative) lust (strong noun – nominative masculine singular) micel (strong adjective – nominative masculine singular)
ðæt (conjunction) he (personal pronoun – accusative masculine third singular) ðiossum (determiner – dative plural) leodum (strong noun – dative plural)
leoð (strong noun – accuative neuter singular) spellode (class 2 weak verb – third singular past subjunctive),
monnum (minor declension noun – dative masculine plural) myrgen (class III strong verb – plural past subjunctive),
mislice (strong adjective – nominative masculine plural) cwidas (strong noun – nominative masculine plural),
þy læs (conjunction) ælinge (strong noun – nominative feminine plural)
ut (preposition particle) adrife (class I stong verb – singular present subjunctive)
selflicne (strong adjective – accustive masculine singular) secg (strong noun – accusative masculine singular),
þonne (conjunction) he (personal pronoun – nominative masculine third singular) swelces (strong adjective – genitive singular) lyt (indeclinable noun)
gymð (class 1 weak verbs – third singular present indicative [with genitive]) for (preposition) his (personal pronoun – genitive masculine singular) gilpe (strong noun – dative masculine singular).
Ic (personal pronoun – nominative first singular) sceal (preterite-present verb – first singular present indicative) giet (adverb) sprecan (class V strong verb – infinitive),
fon (class VII strong verb – infinitive) on (preposition) fitte (strong noun – accustive feminine plural),
folccuðne (strong adjective – accusative masculine singular) ræd (strong verb – accusative masculine singular)
hæleðum (strong noun – dative masculine plural) secgean (class 3 weak verb – infinitive).
Hliste (class 1 weak verb – singular imperative) se (personal pronoun – nominative) masculine singular) þe (indeclinable relative pronoun) wille (anomalous verb – third singular present indicative)!


Thus Alfred to us old story related,
king of West Saxons, cunning revealed,
poem-wright art. For him (his) was desire great
that he to these people     poem told,
to people caused delight diverse words,
whereby less that (lest) burning desires out drive
self-satisfied man, when he of such little
heed because of his pride. I must yet to speak,
to resume in song, folk-known advice
for heroes to speak. Listen he that will!



Thus Alfred, king of the West Saxons, related an old story to us and revealed the cunning and art of the poet. His was a great desire that he could tell the poem to these people and that the diverse words might cause the people delight lest burning desires drive out the self-satisfied man when he heeds little because of his pride. I must yet speak, resume in song, and speak the well-known advice for heroes. Listen who that will!

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