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Blagme Bloma, por Tolkien

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Blagme Bloma, por Tolkien

Notapor Hagalaz » Jue May 19, 2011 12:15 am

Bagme Bloma

J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien´s poem in the Gothic language (from the collection Songs for the Philologists); printed in an appendix to T.A. Shippey: The Road to Middle Earth (1982), pp. 227-228. Since only a few fragments of Gothic have survived, mainly parts of the New Testament translated from Greek, Tolkien had to back-engineer a lot of the words in his poem from related early Germanic languages, such as Old English or Old Norse. Of the 54 word roots (counting the individual elements of non-attested coumpund words separately, and not counting repeats), 35 are actually recorded in Gothic; one, baza, might conceivably be recorded as a nickname in Jordanes´s Getica (a history of the Goths witten in the mid 6th century in Latin), unless Jordanes´s baza represents Gothic *batja "good, useful"; one, *baírka "birch", can be inferred from a related word in a list of Gothic letter names (column on the right) apparenly written by ear by a scribe using Old High German spelling conventions, perhaps as late as the 10th century. Occasionally words attested in Biblical Gothic are known from other sources too, e.g. slaíhts "smooth" is attested as a loanword in Provençal (esclet) and Italian (schietto), and liufs "dear" appears as an element in some Gothic personal names recorded in Latin. The remaining 17 are hypothetical, not recorded in Gothic, but reconstructed from words in other old Germanic languages according to the well-established rules by which the sounds of these languages evolved from their common origin.

Brûnáim baíriþ baírka bôgum
láubans liubans liudandei,
gilwagrôni, glitmunjandei,
bagmê blôma, blauandei,
fagrafahsa, liþulinþi,
fráujinôndei fairguni.

Sprouting [growing up, growing tall] with bright boughs the birch bears dear leaves, pale green and gleaming flower of trees, blooming, fairhaired, lithe [soft, gentle, supple] of limb, ruling the mountain.

Wôpjand windôs, wagjand lindôs,
lûtiþ limam láikandei;
slaíhta, raíhta, hveitarinda,
razda rôdeiþ reirandei,
bandwa baírhta, rûna gôda,
þiuda meina þiuþjandei.

Winds whoop [call, cry out], they shake limes [lime trees, lindens], she bows her limbs in play; smooth, straight, white-barked, a language trembling speaks, a bright token, a good mystery, blessing my people.

Andanahti milhmam neipiþ,
liuhteiþ liuhmam laúhmuni;
láubos liubái fliugand láusái,
tulgus, triggwa, standandei.
Baírka baza beidiþ bláika
fráujinôndei faírguni.

Evening grows dark with clouds, lightning flashes; dear leaves fly free; standing firm and faithful, the bare birch bides pale, ruling the mountain.

1. Tolkien´s reconstructed Gothic cognate for English "brown", is used here for "shining", as of polished metal, as the Old English and Old Norse forms of this word sometimes are. Compare "the sword that´s of the mettle brown" in the border ballad of Hughie the Graeme. There are a few examples of a noun phrase split by a verb in the Gothic corpus, and the device is also used in Old English and Old Norse poetry. I´m not sure whether the intended meaning is that "the birch, sprouting with bright boughs, bears dear leaves", or "the birch, sprouting, bears dear leaves with its bright boughs". For the dative of respect, compare L 2:52 jah Iesus þaih frodein jah wahstau jah anstai at guda jah mannam" and Jesus grew / throve in wisdom and stature and favour with God and men" (Greek versions have either a plain dative or dative after the preposition EN "in"). The instrumental dative is often used in Gothic, e.g. wandum usbluggwans was "I was beaten with rods" = Greek ERABDISQHN = Latin virgis caesus sum (2Cor 11:25). Shippey, in spite of the punctuation: "The birch bears fine leaves on shining boughs, it grows pale green and glittering..." But, semantically, all three interpretations amount to much the same.

2. The verb fraujinon "to rule" takes a dative object for the thing ruled over, so the word for "mountain" ought really to appear as fairgunja.

3. "gently" in Tom Shippey´s translation in The Road to Middle Earth. But on the basis of cognates and Tolkien´s own reconstruction liþu-linþi in the first stanza, we should expect linþjai "soft, gentle", if this is taken to be an adjective referring to windos. Old Norse lind, Old English lind(e), lit. "linden, lime [wood]" was a conventional way of saying "shield" in both poetical traditions; but given the subject matter, it may be actual lime trees that are meant here. Or possibly Tolkien wanted to take advantage of the double meaning.

4. Shippey: "trembling she speaks a language", but judging by 1Cor 14:27 jaþþe razdai hvas rodjai "if someone is going to speak in tongues" and Mk 16:17 razdom rodjand niujaim "they shall speak with new tongues" (albeit matching the Greek syntax), we might expect the dative razdai here too. Is it the language itself that speaks in Tolkien´s poem? Or would that require a middle voice reflexive form? With its feminine inflection, reirandei could apply to either the language or the birch. I´ve left it ambiguous, although Shippey's interpretation is perhaps the most natural.

5. Another possible reconstruction of this word would be *þliugan (compare Gothic þliuhan "to flee"). Gothic often has initial þl where the other Germanic languages have fl, although not always. No one root is attested with both variants. It´s been suggested that the choice of þl or fl is determined by certain following consonants; with one exception, fai-flokun "they mourned", initial fl is always followed by a vowel + a consonant cluster containing a dental (which might be explained as a dissimilative blocking of the otherwise general assimilation of f to dental l). This rule also holds good for the Austrogothic personal name recorded in Latin as Audofleda. Co-incidentally, perhaps, initial þl is always followed by a vowel + what was--in Proto-Germanic, at least--a velar consonant. Other alternatives that have been proposed are that the variation is an example of lexical diffusion, or due to borrowing from one dialect to another, or due to a difference in dialect between earlier and later scribes, or even that þl in such words came about through confusion with between similarly shaped letters (the Gothic symbol for þ used in some of the manuscripts looks like a Greek letter phi).
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Notapor Hagalaz » Jue May 19, 2011 12:18 am

Bagme Bloma: A Verse Translation
I just recently posted about Tolkien's poetic composition in Gothic, "Bagme Bloma" ["The Flower of the Trees"]. The translations that I've been able to find in English, while to some extent poetic, focus mostly on sense, so they definitely don't have the meter and alliteration and general flow of the original. Since I am very sensitive to sound and content matching or complementing each other, I set out to do my own translation in full poetic form. I'm indebted to the translation quoted in Shippey's Road to Middle Earth, Indûr's translation (about half-way down), and especially The Annotated Bagme Bloma for making sure I understood the basic sense of the poem. Also, check out this analysis (PDF; auf deutsch).

So following are the Gothic original and the first publication of the new Bitter Scroll Translation(tm). I would love to hear suggestions, critique, etc. I think it's pretty good, but I want to know what other people think, especially if I can improve it.


Brunaim bairiþ bairka bogum
laubans liubans liudandei,
gilwagroni, glitmunjandei,
bagme bloma, blauandei,
fagrafahsa, liþulinþi,
fraujinondei fairguni.

Wopjand windos, wagjand lindos,
lutiþ limam laikandei;
slaihta, raihta, hweitarinda,
razda rodeiþ reirandei,
bandwa bairhta, runa goda,
þiuda meina þiuþjandei.

Andanahti milhmam neipiþ,
liuhteiþ liuhmam lauhmuni;
laubos liubai fliugand lausai,
tulgus, triggwa, standandei.
Bairka baza beidiþ blaika
fraujinondei fairguni.


On glorious branches, glittering and
Pale green as she grows,
The birch tree bears her lovely leaves,
The flower of flowering trees,
Fair of hair and lithe of limb,
The mistress of the mountain.

The winds now call, soft winds are stirring,
She lowers her limbs in play.
Sleek and straight and white of bark,
She utters a trembling tongue.
Great mystery, bright token is she,
A blessing on my people.

The twilit sky obscured by clouds
Is bright again with lightning.
And standing strong and faithful while
Her lovely leaves take flight,
The birch will wait there, bare and white,
Still mistress of the mountain.


My goals in translating were as follows. I wanted a poem that came as close as it could to the smooth, flowing beauty of the original. So like the original, the translation has a specific meter (roughly, 3 stanzas each with 3 pairs of lines of 4 and 3 strong beats) and a certain degree of alliteration and internal and external rhyme. Tolkien's original does not quite follow the old Germanic device of one sound alliterating across a whole line (e.g., sometimes the first two beats alliterate with each other, and the second two with each other, as in Fagrafahsa, liþulinþi). So I felt justified in altering the structure slightly myself.

So much for form. As to content, I tried to craft a translation that, if on the surface less literal, is hopefully more accessible. "On the surface" because often ancient languages use one basic word where we have many quasi-synonyms with the same basic sense, but carry also connotations of emphasis or slight variation according to object. E.g., rodeiþ may be listed as "speak" in lexicons, but depending on context and even interpretation, in different circumstances may be better translated with synonyms like talk, declaim, utter, perorate, announce, speak up, speak out, declare, address, communicate, etc. Hence the use of 'great' for goda (good); 'glorious' for brunaim (shining, bright); 'the mistress of' for fraujinondei (ruling). If written in good Gothic, translate into good English. Thus my translation is necessarily a bit more interpretive than the others.

Finally, there are several words in the Gothic that do not exist in any Gothic texts or lexicons. It is very characteristic that Tolkien reconstructed these from words that exist in Old English, Old High German, or Old Norse. See, again, The Annotated Bagme Bloma. My translations differs only in that I interpret lindos as an adjective 'soft' used as a noun (as OHG lindos, 'softly') despite possible problems with form. This has windos and lindos related by both sense and rhyme (as old Germanic poetry often used alliteration to follow sense). I didn't see why Tolkien would, only in that line, talk about any other kind of tree.

For an interpretation of the poem in terms of the Literature-versus-Language (philology) struggle that went on at the U. of Leeds when Tolkien there, see Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle Earth. Literature and Language were labelled respectively Track A and Track B in the English Department, but Tolkien likened them to the corresponding rune-names: A = ác (oak), and B = beorc (birch), or in Gothic, bairka.
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