Lindsey Appell translates Cynewulf

Juliana (A mistranslation)

                                          from the Old English

Hear we           of these heroes

who love who             spread selves

on the grass     spread their

selves wide       and split

wide     their grinning

spin and             split

their duties       across my split

slit my                cross

August that hoarded               that honored   

his housegods             guardians

of my cities                   consumed by she

who was Juliana.         I who ghostbore

highest truth                kept clean

that maidenhood         married myself

off so eagerly                to Christ’s care.

O Father unwitting                 could not sense

my virginal scheming             and fathers make such promises

Firmly fixed

against the lusts of August                 this hardlocked

abundance and endless           earthen gems              

I despised all               and spoke

before father               and this son of summer:

“If I may speak            your honored selves

need not be vexed.                  But know the true

Godlove and open,       throats thrumming

hymns to permit          Him to penetrate.

May I prick                  this lock

picked or even             slicked

with jam a boyish                    prank

you may open             may soak in

this truth and trust                the conditions will be met.”

August’s ire                 sinstained before        

my virgin words        barbaric and mindblind          

fetched fleet                my father.       

Warcrying cocked                  their spears     

combined as one                     and sick with their crimes      

one fatherson  August, son                

of my lands                  you swordclinging     

boy of such brutal                   mind such

tender selfdom            my words such a rigid            

spear in rib                   and Father, oh            

how you offer me up.

“Daughter mined                     for sweetness

dearest heartsafe                     she, sweetest

anguish amid               the light of my eyes,

 you grasp at folly                     own vanity     

malevolence                 you refuse      

your interest:               he is better than you.”

Fast and firm my                       fermented desire

a friend meant                            for no man

unwilling to yield                      unreachable, even

                  with such rewards.

“I give no consent to man                   who cannot grant       

the same to our origin             shared waves

the whirling track                     of all the world’s expanse

all which encloses                      you, bound

to my rightness,                         a righteous grinding

of zealous touch                        starved teeth,

things that linger on the tongue                      speckled with fever.

Your quiver is emptied                       you cannot be reached.”

Daddy would              gift me            

with glittering            minimum

payments         of his seething:

“If I survive                 and you sustain          

this supple                   dodging of the dearly

disdained        your own

you face           a death by beast

such things as you                   would crawl into

my bed to seek                           my reassurance

 that dreams had passed         and shriveled

a trace of cortisol        left in the blood.”

“My bliss is blunted                 honesty clubbed

my fear of you,           I lack the capacity

to conceive                  of this conviction.

Your juries will find me           unfitted to

these fixtures               attempting small adjustments

new dressings for the rack                  all unconvincing

splintered symptoms               of your idolismic delusions.

I would burn                these heathen holyfields

before accepting          this bargain.”

Father marked his fury           uncontained, so common

in purplespecked memories                 of fathers        

and daughters              swinging

from his arms               swinging his

fists and finding           in frozen

breaths before contact             a calmness.

These torments allow him                   access.

Sacred cargo dragged              before this dawn tribunal,

watchers gather           wonder aloud

at what crimes could commit              one so fuckable.

August was first                       to address the accused:

“My sweetest sun                     shining schemer,

Juliana!            Ho, what a gleam

gifted with grace                     a budding blossom!

Stupidity does not suit           the pluckable,

so simple         to pretend

to swallow this            succor and sacrifice

to our needs.               Our gods ask so little

yet your refusal remains.                     What awaits

now is agony               you cannot comprehend.”

My smile stretched                 edgedragged

to corners cracked                   and chapped, dripping

 down upon my           best-loved bra

while onlookers assess            the repetition

of rackwhipped           response.

“This is our nation,                  victory taken

over such stubborn                  rejection.

Let go of your strife                 and end this unrest,

hatred brought home              with your blasphemy.”

This blame could be borne                  a weight

awaiting me all            nights and lightened

with slattedsun            patterns on pillow

cases we would            cram with our miserable

memorabilia, you may            have believed once

that I could recant.

Bind fast to me            satisfied with such

a fate as I know           I would warrant

warring with such                   horrors that waited

scraped            into my stone

Hung by my hair         from a gym

class pull up bar          one hour for each

boy left            unfucked

when only my headhair          returned shorn I rode

forth from my town                on projectile waves

of their bile                  til I came

to rest—these sandstone hills,                        ice cream

dollops eastward,                    house the horny toads

and locusts                  of my memory.

I watch the passing                 headlights from this perch

on coals prepared                    so lovingly

for my soles and cheeks,                     and down

across the plain           the island

of streetlight marks     the boundaries of mutual rejection.

A martyr sans mercy               her moral

superiority is simply                a bitter young cunt


would have crushed them all.

Translation Note

This project, a partial translation of The Exeter Book’s Juliana (itself an Old English translation of a Latin saint narrative), began as part of my MFA thesis at Boise State University. Initially, it found inspiration in H.D.’s Helen in Egypt, as one of my aims was a ghostly inhabitation and voicing of a legendary female figure—in this case, St. Juliana of Nicomedia. My translation of Cynewulf’s Juliana seeks to complicate a portrait of a Christian martyr through the excavation of the psychosexual nature of Juliana’s saintliness, her relationship with her father and her betrothed, and her intimate conflict with the devil.  One of my primary goals in translating Anglo-Saxon poetry is to preserve a sonic sense of the original language even as my translations seek to speak to contemporary conflicts, frameworks, and concepts.

Woven throughout the translated passages are the more experimental intrusions, functioning as commentary on or response to the Anglo-Saxon. The intrusions also use memories of my queer, rural childhood and adolescence to reframe the narrative. In the early drafting stage, these intrusions were marked by formal distinctions from the direct translations; they featured extremely brief, sometimes single-word, left-justified lines with none of the caesuras that mark the Anglo-Saxon lines. However, as I continued in my translation work, I found that the distinction detracted from the poem’s continuity.  Considering the violent nature of the poem, I thought it would be interesting to experiment with some formal “dismemberment” of the text; there are many lines from the original that are left out, altered, or replaced with my own intrusions. While violence is taking place at the level of content, there is also something about the deceptive nature of weaving in the replacement verses without signaling the shift that performs this dismemberment in a more subtle way.  What you see here is the first section of a three-part (mis)translation of the entire saint narrative, covering Juliana’s betrothal, via her father, to Eleusias1, her refusal unless Eleusias converts to Christianity, and her subsequent trial and torture. The overall goal of this project is twofold. I wanted to presents readers with a lesser-known Anglo-Saxon poem in such a way that it might appeal to modern poetic tastes while still encouraging the curious to seek out the source text. Secondly, as an intensely personal piece of writing, the act of creating such an experimental translation was a therapeutic exercise in reframing trauma, through which I was able to both laugh at my own exaggerated sense of martyrdom and honor the very real pain and isolation felt by my adolescent self.

1 Eleusias is rendered as “August” in this translation. This is primarily because Eleusias as a name means nothing to most contemporary readers. August is still rooted in the original Latin and more clearly evokes the grandeur of a wealthy, powerful senator. August carries more significance within the context of my thesis as a whole, where the transition from summer into autumn in the month of August, and the subsequent start of a new school year, mark a return to the adolescent social order and the traumas of homophobic bullying and compulsory heterosexuality.


Cynewulf was a 9th-century English poet. Little to nothing is known of him outside of his poems, preserved in the Vercelli and Exeter Books: The Fates of the Apostles, Elene, The Ascension, and Juliana.

Lindsey Appell (she/they) is a poet, fiction writer, and writing instructor currently living in Boise, Idaho. They hold an MA in English from the University of Utah and an MFA in Creative Writing from Boise State University. Raised Catholic in Montana, her poetry explores intersections of landscape, religion, mental illness, and rural queerness.