anhaga by Jon Furberg, Pulp Press, (1984)


“The Wanderer,” the Anglo-Saxon poem composed at least 1200 years ago is one of the earliest examples of a technique only developed into theory by the Formalists before the Russian Revolution. The poet, a wanderer, this anhaga, who is also an earth-stepper (eard stapa) and a wise man (snotter on mode) begins his poem by a distancing technique that Brecht lovers will be familiar with; he immediately challenges the audience’s inclination toward sympathy and forces it to think about his story rather than become uncritically immersed in it. He wants to make it clear that his story is not based on only how he feels but on how anyone should feel in his situation. He gives his audience, gives us, not naturalism but formalism, not the personal poetry of the private sufferer but a formal speech that allows a personal statement to attain generality: “I cannot think why I shouldn’t be dark of heart when I think of the life of noble men.” By distancing himself he allows the reader room to make the story personal. Jon Furberg extends this same technique with his version of “The Wanderer” that although it is distinctly his is also “made strange” enough to allow it to be our own. Furberg’s is obviously not a standard translation but it is also not a deceptive one, and this is not a small consideration given how easy it is to hide ideology within translation. Think of Pound’s translation of “The Seafarer” where he uses “earl” for eorl (man) to further his propaganda for the “great man” rather than the common person as the vehicle for history.


Furberg used the original Anglo-Saxon poem to advance his own poetry so that the anhaga becomes not only a modern wanderer, which is after all still the condition of our contemporary poetry that defines us no matter how hard we fight against alienation, but also presents the poet as something of a rounder, something of a trickster. Furberg says he found himself “embarked on a work not of translation, but of imagination and correspondence” and, in fact, he wandered for over 10 years getting his version down. And through that long involvement the poet Furberg asserts himself so that we do get some expected translation but we also get necessarily more. For “and I, despondent, traveled from away, pressed down by winter fear, over the waves...” he gives us the poetry of

 ...and so left there, wearing winter's rags

crawled beyond shore where the waves hurl

wall after wall mounting to crest,

then yield to the deep amber troughs;

But Furberg also gives us the contemporary vision, allows us to see through the eyes of the anhaga our own world, this wasteland the Anglo-Saxon poet also spoke of:

this place we built of flames,

war in the night, bad dreams

of loss, and fields too long fallow

and too late.  Each day, more bite

to the wind; a little longer night.


Furberg’s anhaga is a challenge to what we want from translation because it seems to imply that a translation is a way of restructuring not the poem at hand but the poetic act. I doubt if Furberg will find much favor for what he has done because translation has become, of necessity, something of an entrenched careerist enterprise and Furberg asks the translator by his own example to see the poem as an occasion for a new poetry, a way to experience the contemporary, this—or nothing at all.