The whale who pretends to be an island
This passage comes from the Old English poem The Whale (lines 1-31a). You can access the full Old English text here. The Whale is one of three poems in the Exeter Book that are derived from the Physiologus, the first bestiary (originally composed in Greek, later translated into Latin). The Exeter Book is a codex (book) of Old English poetry. It is dated palaeographically (based on the style of handwriting or script) dated to the second half of the tenth century.
Translation and glossing by Hana Videen. Hover over words to see how they’re pronounced. More about this project here.
Nu with wordum, through thought and woðcræfte, I will tell a tale about fisca cynn, the miclan hwale.
Seafarers oft meet him by accident—he’s called Fastitocalon— frecne and ferðgrim, he who floats on fyrnstreama. His look is like hreofum stane, the greatest sea-bank crumbling near the water’s edge, clothed in sondbeorgum so that seafarers think they are looking at sum ealond.
Men moor their heahstefn scipu with oncyrrapum to the unlonde, the Un-land, settling their sæmearas at the water’s ende and going boldly upon þæt eglond. Biwunden by the streame, the ships remain fæste near the shore.
The werigferðe seafarers, expecting no danger, make camp on þam ealonde, lighting a flame and kindling a heahfyr. Tired but happy, they are ready for ræste.
When the deceit-cræftig one senses the travellers are fæste upon him, keeping camp, wishing for fair weather, down he plunges—all at once—on the sealtne wæg. The ocean’s gæst goes to grund with his plunder, delivering scipu with their drence to the deaðsele.