The Old English poem “Deor” is unique in that it has a repeating refrain “þæs oferēode, þisses swā mæg” (That passed away, and so may this). It also describes five disastrous events in history or mythology, which would have been familiar to the audience, and which are used to demonstrate that terrible situations can be overcome. The poet then explains his own difficulty – he has been replaced in his lord’s favour by a rival.

The five stories mentioned in the poem are:

  1. Weland was the mythical smith-god disabled by King Niðhad upon whom Weland took terrible revenge which included the rape of Beadohild, the king’s daughter and the murder of his sons, before escaping. He is depicted on the 7th century Northumbrian Franks Casket;
  2. Beadohild’s own story in which she is said to have given birth to the hero Widia;
  3. Mæthilde was rescued from drowning by the harpist Geat following her capture by the demonic River King;
  4. The reference to Þeodric is more difficult to interpret; it may be the king or his people who are suffering. The poem could refer to one of the many kings by that name. One option is that is means Þeodric the Great who ruled for 33 years at Ravenna, where he was a strong king but also a heretic in the eyes of the Roman Church. He was responsible for the death of the admired philosopher Boethius (whose work King Alfred believed was one of those “most needful for men to know”);
  5. Eormanric, King of the Goths, died in 375 CE. He appears as a cruel tyrant in a number of stories. Widia is said to have fought for him against Þeodric (the Great).

After this reference there is a more philosophical passage, quite Christian in nature, about the hardships of life.

Finally we discover that Heorrenda is the one who has replaced Deor. He was a poet who helped King Heoden to marry Hild and Deor was (until now) the poet of the same people, the Heodeningas.

You can listen to a reading of the poem and read the text and translation below.

Leofwin2010’s version (abridged) of Deor

Wēlund him be wurman wræces cunnade,      Welund of the Wurmas suffered woe,
ānhydig eorl eorfoþa drēag,                                  Proud lord, he suffered  torments long,
hæfde him tō gesiþþe sorge and longaþ,           Sorrow and longing were his company,
wintercealde wræce; wēan oft onfond               Exile cold as winter. Hardship was his lot
þæs oferēode, þisses swā mæg.                             That passed away, and so may this.

Þēodric āhte þrītig wintra                                        Theodric ruled for thirty years
Maeringa burg; þæt wæs monegum cūþ.           In the Mearings’ city. That was well-known
þæs oferēode, þisses swā mæg.                              That passed away, and so may this.

we geāscodan Eormanrīces                                    We’ve heard much ofthe wolvish nature
wylfenne geþōht; āhte wīde folc                           Of king Ermanaric who long ruled
Gotena rīces. Þæt wæs grim cyning.                    The gothic realms: that was a cruel king.
þæs oferēode, þisses swā mæg.                              That passed away, and so may this.  ic bi mē sylfum secgan wille,                                 I wish to speak about myself
þæt ic hwīle wæs heodeninga scop,                     Once I was minstrel of the Heodenings,
dryhtne dyre. mē wæs Dēor noma.                      Dear to my patron, my name was Deor.
āhte ic fela wintra folgað tilne,                               Many years I had a fine position
holdne hlāford, oþþæt heorrenda nū,                 And a loyal lord, until Heorrenda now,
lēodcræftig monn, londryht geþāh                       That skilful poet, has received my lands,
þæt mē eorla hlēo aer gesealde.                             Which once my noble lord gave to me.
þæs oferēode, þisses swā mæg.                               That passed away, and so may this