Deor

Deor
(Deor’s Lament)
(ca. eighth century)
   Deor is an OLD ENGLISH poem from the 10th-century EXETER BOOK manuscript, a large compilation of Anglo-Saxon poetry. The poem is probably somewhat older than the manuscript; certainly its subject matter is much older, dating back to the fifth century and beyond to incidents from Germanic mythology.
   Deor is a 42-line poem divided into six strophes of unequal length, each followed by a common refrain. Such a structure was highly unusual in Old English poetry (only the lyric WULF AND EADWACER evinces a similar form), though it was not so uncommon in Old Norse verse—a fact that has led some to conjecture that Deor could be a translation. Like the much longer and better-known poem WIDSITH, Deor deals in large part with the life of a MINSTREL or SCOP in the courts of Anglo-Saxon nobles. Each strophe of the poem presents a different case of adversity suffered and ultimately lived through. The first strophe refers to the imprisonment ofWeland, the Old Norse goldsmith-god, by his enemy King Nithhad, who had fettered him and forced Weland to work for him. The second strophe speaks of Beaduhild, Nithhad’s daughter whom Weland raped and impregnated after killing her brothers as revenge for his imprisonment. The PROSE EDDA contains a full account of the story alluded to in these two strophes.
   The third strophe mentions Geat and Maethild, alluding to Maethild’s fateful dream of her own death that comes true when she drowns in a river. Theodoric (presumably the Ostrogoth) is mentioned in strophe 4, and the cruel reign of another Ostrogothic king, Ermanaric, is described in strophe 5. Each of these strophes ends with the refrain looes ofereode, loisses swa moeg! (“that passed over, this may also!”).
   All of this leads into a meditative section (lines 28–34) that some have considered a scribal interpolation. The lines add a Christian tone to the poem, suggesting that God gives grace to some but hardship to others, but these generalizations seem somewhat out of keeping with the rest of the poem and particularly with the refrain. In the final section of the lyric, the poet introduces himself as Deor (a name meaning “wild animal”), and describes his own misfortune: Once the court poet or scop for the Heodenings, Deor has been replaced by another singer, Heorrenda, who has also been granted lands that his lord had originally intended for Deor. The poem gives the impression of having been written, perhaps, to comfort the displaced poet as he reminds himself that great figures of the past have also suffered, and—through his refrain—that ultimately time puts an end to all troubles. But many scholars consider the poet’s own story to be fictional, and suggest that the poem was written to console a patron suffering from some unnamed misfortune.
   Bibliography
   ■ Banjeree, Jacqueline. “ ‘Deor’: The Refrain,” Explicator 42 (1984): 4–7.
   ■ Malone,Kemp, ed.Deor. Rev. ed. Exeter: University of Exeter, 1977.
   ■ Risden, E. L. “Deor and the Old English Ode and Gnomic Compassion,” In Geardagum 11 (1990): 57–70.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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