Genesis A Translated from the Old English online

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Produced by David Starner, Jason Isbell and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team.

Transcribers Note: Typographic errors in the original have been
retained. In the table of contents there are two sets of page numbers.
The first appears to be the page numbers from the original MS. The
second set in parentheses are the page numbers from this facsimile.
As the body of the text is referred to by line numbers, that section
has not been rewrapped.













The purpose of the translator in offering to the public this
version of the _Genesis_ is to aid in forwarding - be it by but one
jot or tittle - the general knowledge and appreciation of Old English
literature. Professed students in this department will always have
an incentive to master the language; but to the public at large the
strangeness of this medium will prove an insurmountable barrier, and
the general reader must therefore either remain in ignorance of our
older literary monuments or else employ translations. The present
contribution[1] to the growing body of such translations possesses,
perhaps, more than a single interest or appeal, in that it renders
accessible not only a poem of considerable intrinsic worth, a poem
associated with the earliest of the great names in English literary
history, and a forerunner and possible source of _Paradise Lost_, but
also an important example of a literary _genre_ once immensely popular,
though now quite fallen into abeyance - namely, the lengthy versified
Scriptural paraphrase. For some idea of the prominent part played by
this form, even so late as the seventeenth century, the reader is
referred to any comprehensive manual of English literature.

In this translation, prose has been employed instead of verse, for two
reasons. In the first place, no metrical form has yet been found which,
in the writer's judgment, at all adequately represents in modern English
the effect of the Old English alliterative verse, or stave-rime. And in
the second place, to the writer's thinking, no one but a poet should
attempt to write verse: and on that principle, translations would be few
and far between, unless prose were used.

But even granting the value of the _Genesis_ as a fit subject for
translation, and the necessity for the employment of prose, the reader
may still quarrel with the particular _kind_ of prose hereinbelow
essayed; so a brief explanation and, it is hoped, vindication of the
theory of translation here followed would seem desirable, inasmuch as
considerable divergence is intended from the methods adopted by the
various translators of the _Beowulf_, for example. First, Biblical
phraseology has been eschewed, partly because in a modern writer it
savors of affectation, but chiefly because his Bible was the point
of departure for the Old English author, and to return now in the
translation to our Bible would be a stultification of his purposes by a
sort of _argumentum in circulo_. Secondly, archaisms, poetic diction,
and unusual constructions (the "translation English" anathematized by
the Rhetorics) have been so far as possible avoided, contrary to the
practice of most translators from Old English poetry, because it is
felt strongly that such usages will not produce upon modern readers the
effect that this poetry produced originally upon the readers or hearers
for whom it was intended. For this poetry could not have seemed alien
or exotic to its original public: either through familiar poetic
convention, or owing to the staccato and ejaculatory character of
ordinary spoken language at the time, this spasmodic, apostrophic poetry
must have seemed natural and beautiful, in the seventh or eighth
century. But -

Why take the style of those heroic times?
For nature brings not back the mastodon,
Nor we those times.

To translate is to modernize. This rendering, therefore, is not an
artificial, pseudo-antique hybrid, but frankly endeavors to convey its
original to modern readers in idiomatic modern literary English, devoid
of any conscious mannerisms whatsoever. The writer has aimed at the
utmost literal fidelity consistent with the observance of all the usages
of current standard English; he has not attempted, however, to convert
the explosive appositions, with prevailing asyndeton and excessive
synonymy, of his original into the easy, flowing sentences more familiar
to modern eyes and ears, for the change would sacrifice altogether too
much of the distinctive character and flavor of Old English poetry.

The text upon which this work is based is that of the Grein-Wülker
_Bibliothek der Angelsächsischen Poesie,_ 1894, save for a few minor
changes in punctuation and the few departures recorded in the Notes.
Grein's translation of the poem into modern German stave-rime, 1857, has
been frequently consulted, but the writer's real indebtedness to it is
felt to be slight. He takes great pleasure, finally, in acknowledging
his deep sense of obligation, on many grounds, to the general editor of
this series, Professor Albert S. Cook; the work was undertaken at his
suggestion, and he has been most kind in giving advice and criticism.

Lawrence Mason.

_July 17, 1913._


With Specification of the Biblical Chapters and Verses
represented in each Section of the Poem





Section I[2] 1 (141)
Section II (Gen. 1.1-5) 3 (143)
Section III (Gen. 1.4-10) 4 (144)
Lines 169-234 (Gen. 1.28, 31; 2.10-14, 18, 21, 22) 5 (145)
Lines 852-871 (Gen. 3.8-10) 7 (147)
Section X (Gen. 3.11-15) 7 (147)
Section XI (Gen. 3.16, 17, 19, 21, 24; 4.1-5, 8) 9 (149)
Section XII (Gen. 4.9-19, 21) 11 (151)
Section XIII (Gen. 4.22-26; 5.3-14) 13 (153)
Section XIV (Gen. 5.15-29, 32) 15 (155)
Section XV (Gen. 6.1-8, 11-19, 22) 17 (157)
Section XVI (Gen. 7.1-7, 11, 12, 16-23) 18 (158)
Section XVII (Gen. 8.1-4, 6-12) 20 (160)
Section XVIII (Gen. 8.15-18, 20; 9.1-9, 11-19) 22 (162)
Section XIX (Gen. 9.20-28; 10.1, 2, 6, 8-10; 11.1) 24 (164)
Section XX (Gen. 10.1, 20, 21; 11.2, 4-8, 10, 26, 27) 26 (166)
Section XXI (Gen. 11.29-32; 12.1-8) 28 (168)
Section XXII (Gen. 12.8, 10-20; 13.1-4) 30 (170)
Section XXIII (Gen. 13.5-13) 32 (172)
Section XXIV (Gen. 14.1, 2, 4, 10-16) 33 (173)
Section XXV (Gen. 14.17-24; 15.1) 37 (177)
Section XXVI (Gen. 15.2-5, 7, 18; 16.1-6) 39 (179)
Section XXVII (Gen. 16.6-12, 15, 16; 17.1, 2, 10-14, 19) 41 (181)
Section XXVIII (Gen. 17.17-21, 23, 24, 27; 18.12-14) 43 (183)
Section XXIX (Gen. 18.16, 17, 20-22) 44 (184)
Section XXX (Gen. 19.1-13, 18-26) 45 (185)
Section XXXI (Gen. 19.27-30, 33, 35-38) 49 (189)
Section XXXII (Gen. 20.1-10) 50 (190)
Section XXXIII (Gen. 20.11, 13-18; 21.1-4) 51 (191)
Section XXXIV (Gen. 21.5, 8-14, 22-24, 27) 53 (193)
Section XXXV (Gen. 21.33, 34; 22.1-13) 55 (195)
NOTES 58 (198)



Ours is a great duty - to praise in word and love at
heart the heavens' Ruler, the glorious King of Hosts:
He is the substance of all power, the head of all high
things, the Lord Almighty. Origin or beginning was 5
never made for Him, nor shall an end ever come to the
eternal God: but, on the contrary, He is for ever supreme
by His high puissance over the heavenly kingdoms;
just and mighty, He rules the mansions of the sky, 10
which were established far and wide through the power
of God for the sons of glory, the keepers of souls.

These angelic hosts were wont to feel joy and rapture,
transcendent bliss, in the presence of their Creator:
their beatitude was measureless. Glorious ministers 15
magnified their Lord, spoke his praise with zeal, lauded
the Master of their being, and were excellently happy
in the majesty of God. They had no knowledge of
working evil or wickedness, but dwelt in innocence 20
forever with their Lord: from the beginning they wrought
in heaven nothing but righteousness and truth, until
a Prince of angels through pride strayed into sin: then
they would consult their own advantage no longer, but
turned away from God's lovingkindness. They had 25
vast arrogance, in that by the might of multitudes they
sought to wrest from the Lord the celestial mansions,
spacious and heaven-bright. Then there fell upon
them, grievously, the envy, presumption, and pride
of the Angel who first began to carry out the evil plot, 30
to weave it and promote it, when he boasted by word -
as he thirsted for conflict - that he wished to own the
home and high throne of the heavenly kingdom to the
north. Thereupon God became angered and hostile 35
towards the beings whom he had formerly exalted in
beauty and glory: he created for the traitors a marvelous
abode as penalty for their action, namely the pangs of
Hell, bitter afflictions; Our Lord called forth that 40
abysmal joyless house of punishment to wait for the
outcast keepers of souls.[3] When he knew that it was
ready, he enveloped it in eternal night and equipped it
with torment, filling it with fire and fearful cold, with
fume and red flame: then he commanded the terrors
of suffering to increase throughout that hapless place. 45

They had committed a dire sin against God: on that
account dire punishment befell them. They asserted,
in fierce mood, that they wished to seize the kingdom
and could easily do so: but this presumption mocked
them when their Lord, the high King of heaven, lifted 50
up his almighty hand against the throng. The mad
rebels, accursed ones, could not make head against God,
but the Highest troubled their spirits and humbled their
pride, for he was incensed; he stripped the sinners of 55
victory and might, of dominion and honor, and further
took from his foes happiness, peace, and all joys, as well
as bright glory, and finally, with his own exceeding power,
wreaked his wrath on his adversaries in mighty ruin. 60
He was stern in mood, grimly embittered, and seized
upon his foes with resistless grasp and broke them in
his grip, enraged at heart, and deprived his opponents of
their native seat,[4] their bright abodes on high. For 65
our Creator dismissed and banished from heaven the
overweening band of angels: the Lord sent away on a
long journey the faithless multitude, the hateful host,
the miserable spirits; their pride was broken, their threat 70
overthrown, their glory shattered, and their beauty
dimmed; thenceforth they abode in desolation, because
of their dark exile. They did not dare to laugh aloud,
but lived wearied by the torments of hell and became
familiar with woes, bitterness, and sorrow; covered with 75
darkness, they bore their pain, - a heavy sentence,
because they had begun to battle against God.

Then, as formerly, true peace existed in heaven, fair
amity: for the Lord was dear to all, the Sovereign to his 80
servants; and the majesty of the joyful angelic hosts
increased, through the favor of the Almighty.


So those who inhabited the sky, home of glory, were
at peace; hatred was gone, as well as sorrow and strife
among angels, ever since the rebellious hosts, bereft of the 85
light, had relinquished heaven. Behind them stood in
grandeur their seats rich in glorious workmanship, teeming
with blessings in God's kingdom, bright and perennially
bountiful, - but all devoid of occupants, ever since the 90
miserable spirits had gone to their place of punishment,
their vile prison. Then our Lord bethought him, in
meditative mood, how he might people again, and with
a better race, his high creation, the noble seats and glory- 95
crowned abodes which the haughty rebels had left
vacant, high in heaven. Therefore Holy God willed by
his plenteous power that under the circle of the firma-
ment the earth should be established, with sky above and 100
wide water, a world-creation in place of the foes whom
in their apostasy he hurled from bliss.

As yet there was nothing at all created here, except
shadows, but this broad earth stood deep and dim, idle 105
and useless, alien even to God himself; on it the King
whose purpose never falters turned his eyes and beheld
the place void of joy; he saw dark clouds, black under
the firmament, throng in the eternal night, dun and 110
waste, until this world-creation came to pass through
the word of the King of Glory. First the everlasting
Lord, protector of all things, created heaven and earth;
as the almighty King put forth the firmament and with 115
victorious might established this ample world. The
earth was as yet unadorned by vegetation: the ocean
covered it far and wide, turbid waves in the eternal
night. Then was the glorious Spirit of heaven's guardian 120
borne over the sea with sovereign virtue. For the King
of the angels commanded Light, dispenser of life, to
come forth over the broad expanse: quickly was the
Arch-King's mandate fulfilled, and Holy Light appeared 125
over the waste spaces, as the Creator had ordained it.
The Wielder of Victory next sundered light from darkness,
shadow from radiance, over the surge of the sea. Then
he formed the two names of the dispensers of life: light
was first called "Day" by the word of the Lord, a 130
beauteous creation. This period of creation greatly
pleased God, in the beginning: the first day saw the
dark shadows duskily flee away over the wide earth.


Time now went forth over the frame-work of the 135
world: after this shining splendor, the Lord our Creator
fashioned the first evening, but on its track rushed a
thronging welter of darkness which the Lord himself
called by the name of "Night." Our Saviour sundered 140
these two: ever since then they have ceaselessly wrought
and fulfilled the will of the Lord over the earth.
Then the second day advanced, light after darkness;
and the Ruler of Life straightway commanded a glad 145
sky-substance to appear in the midst of the flood: our
Master parted the waves and wrought there the found-
ations of the firmament: this the Mighty One, omnipotent
King, reared aloft from the earth through his own word. 150
The flood was divided under the high heavens by holy
power, the waters from the waters, and still they remain
so under the firmament which roofs all nations.

Then swiftly came advancing over the world the third 155
great morn. Nor were the spreading lands and ways
yet deemed needful by our Lord, but the earth stood
girt fast by water. Through his word, the Ruler of
the angels bade the waters be gathered together, which
now hold their course beneath the skies in an appointed 160
place. Then speedily the broad ocean stood all together
under heaven, as the Holy One commanded, for the
flood was sundered from the dry land. Thereupon
Life's Ruler looked upon the dry land, the Preserver of
mankind [found it] widely visible, and the King of 165
Glory called it "Earth." He established a proper
channel for the waves, the broad flood, and fettered....

* * * * *

(_Lacuna in MS._[5])

* * * * *

The Ruler of Heaven did not think it fitting that 170
Adam, the keeper of Paradise and shepherd of the new
creation, should be alone any longer: so the supreme
King, Ruler Almighty, made a companion for him -
created Woman, and gave this helpmate to his cherished 175
Man as the first and fruitful light of his life. He took his
material from Adam's body and skilfully removed a
rib from his side: the latter was deep in repose and
slumbered peacefully; he felt no pain, though a little 180
uneasiness, nor did a drop of blood come from the wound,
but the Prince of the Angels took from his body a living
bone while the man was unwounded. From this God
fashioned a noble woman, and put into her the breath
of life and an immortal soul: these two were like the 185
angels. Thus was Adam's bride[6] endowed with a
living spirit. They were both radiantly beautiful in their
youthfulness, in the world prepared by the might of
the Lord: they did not know how to undertake or 190
work evil, but on the contrary there was in the breast
of each a burning love of God. Then the benign King,
Ruler of everyone born of the race of man, blessed these
first two creatures, father and mother, woman and
man. Thereafter he spoke these words: 195

"Be fruitful now and increase; fill the verdant earth
with progeny, your race, both sons and daughters. Under
your sway shall be the salt water and all the created
world. Enjoy prosperous days, [ruling over] both 200
the fishes of the deep and the fowls of the air. Into
your power are given the sacred herd and the wild beasts
and every living thing that walks the earth; all breath-
ing creatures, whatsoever the sea brings forth over the 205
whale-paths, all things belong to you two."

Then our Maker beheld the beauty of his works and
the fullness of his abundance, his new creations. Pa-
radise stood, good and holy, filled with blessings, ever- 210
lasting bounty. That kindly soil was beauteously
watered by the rushing seas and springing fountains;
for never yet had clouds dark with wind brought down
rains over the broad earth: but none the less the ground
stood crowned with its harvest. From this new Garden 215
four noble river-streams have their outflow: these were
all partitioned out of one fair-shining water by the might
of the Lord, when he created the earth, and [were thus] 220
sent out into the world. Men dwelling on the earth,
the peoples of the nations, call one of these Fison, which
broadly girdles with its bright streams a quarter of the
earth beyond Hebeleac[7]: in that ancestral soil the sons 225
of men, nations near and far, find the best gold and
precious stones,[8] as the books tell us. Then the second
[river], whose name is Geon, girdles the land and govern-
ment of Ethiopia, an ample kingdom. The third is 230
Tigris, a foaming stream which encircles the people of
Assyria. Such likewise is the fourth, which men among
many a nation now widely call Eufrates....[9]

* * * * *

(_Genesis B intervenes here_.)

* * * * *

Then the Almighty King, the great Lord, came forth
into the garden about mid-day, by his divine will; for 855
our Saviour and merciful Father wished to find out
what his children were doing: he knew that they were
sinful to whom he had given perfection. Bereft of
their beatitude and stricken in spirit, they avoided his
presence by retreating among the shadows of the trees; 860
they hid themselves in dark recesses, when they heard
the holy word of the Lord and feared him. Straight-
way the King of Heaven began to call for the keeper
of the [newly] created world; the mighty Lord bade
his son come to him forthwith. He answered him then, 865
the wretched one himself, destitute of clothing, [and]

"Lord of my life, I am hiding myself here because
unclothed; basely sinful, I am covering my shame with
leaves: my pain is cruel, most bitter in my heart. I dare 870
not now go forth before thy presence: I am all naked!"


To him then God at once replied:

"Tell me this, my son: why do you seek the shadows,
in shame? You certainly received no disgrace at my 875
hands, but on the contrary delight in all things! How
come you to know evil and hide shame and behold sor-
row and cover your body with leaves and, saddened and
crushed by the woes of life, say that you need clothing,
unless you have tasted of an apple from the tree which 880
I forbade to you by express command?"

Adam then answered him again:

"The woman, my Lord, the fair woman gave into
my hand this fruit, which I accepted in sin against thee. 885
Now I bear this manifest sign in myself: I know so much
the more of sorrow!"

Then Almighty God asked Eve about this:

"Why did you forfeit these plenteous delights, daughter,
the new creations of paradise, abundant blessings, when 890
in your cupidity you seized on the trunk and took the
fruit from the branch of the tree and ate the accursed
thing in defiance of me, and gave of the apple to Adam,
when you both by my prohibition were so strictly for- 895
bidden to do so?"

Then the fair maiden, the woman overcome by shame,
answered him:

"The serpent tempted me and urgently prompted me
to sin; through fair words the worm goaded me into
accursed frowardness, until I basely performed the 900
deadly act, committed the crime, and robbed the tree in
the grove, as it was not lawful to do, and ate the fruit."

Then our Saviour, the Lord Almighty, ordained wide
wanderings for the serpent, the venomous worm, and 905
spoke further in these words:

"To far distant times shalt thou, an outcast, crawl
over the broad earth on thy breast, thy belly; without
feet shalt thou move about, so long as life and breath
remain in thee. Dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy 910
life, since thou hast accomplished so evil a deed here.
Thee the woman shall war against, and hate thee
[worse than anything else] under heaven, and shall tread
upon thine accursed head with her feet; thou shalt lie
in wait at her heels, in ever-new conflict: for there
shall be war between thy offspring and her offspring 915
always, as long as the earth exists under the cloudy
skies. Now dost thou understand and know, baleful
destroyer of mankind, how thou shalt live!"


Then God wrathfully spoke to Eve:

"Depart now from bliss! Thou shalt be ever under
the sway of men; with fear of men cruelly oppressed, 920
thou shalt sorrowfully endure the heinousness of thine
offence and wait for death, and with weeping and wailing
and great anguish bring into the world thy sons and

Likewise to Adam did the Eternal Lord, Source of 925
Light and Life, declare a cruel edict:

"Thou shalt seek another country, a joyless dwelling-
place, and wander in exile, naked and needy, driven 930
away from the blessings of paradise; the separation of
soul and body is now ordained for thee. Lo, thou hast
wickedly originated sin: therefore thou shalt toil, and
win thy sustenance on earth by thyself, acquire it by
the sweat of thy face, and thus eat thy bread so long 935
as thou livest here, - until ungentle disease, which thou
didst recently take to thyself with the apple, strikes
thee cruelly to the heart: then shalt thou die."

Behold, we learn thus how bitter afflictions and uni- 940
versal miseries came upon us.

Thereupon the Guardian of Glory, our Creator, girded
them with clothing; the Lord bade them cover their
nakedness with some simple garments, and bade them
set forth and depart from paradise into a harder life.

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