It’s always interesting to see which words other languages have which are missing from one’s own. Old English, being somewhat similar to modern German, has a tendency to create compound words to a greater extent than modern English does, leading to words such as tidfara – a traveller whose time to journey has come. So the author of the poem of St Guthlac tells us that, when a soul arrives in heaven, it will be greeted by an angel speaking these words:
Nu þu most feran þider þu fundadest
longe ond gelome. Ic þec lædan sceal.
Wegas þe sindon weþe, ond wuldres leoht
torht ontyned. Eart nu tidfara
to þam halgan ham.
Guthlac A, text from virginia.edu Old English poetry
Now you must travel to where you were intending, often and for a long time; I must lead you there. The ways will be gentle for you, and the light of glory bright and open. Now you are one whose time to journey has come, to the home of the saints.
If your journey is purely earthly, however, the ways may not necessarily be gentle at all, and some extra support may be necessary. As ever, the Anglo-Saxons had such help in the forms of healing herbs, charms, and prayers. The tenth-century Leechbook contains this advice:
With much travel over land, in case he should tire, use mugwort: take it in the hand or put it in his shoe, the less he will be weary, and when he wants to take it before sunrise, may he say these words first: ‘I will take you, artemisia, lest I be weary on the road’. When you pull it up, sign yourself [with the cross].
Alternatively, an eleventh-century psalter, now London, British Library Harley MS 863, has prayers for travellers and sea navigators amongst a series of prayers for various occasions.
For those making a journey. O God, you who always give mercy to those who love you, and are in no place far away from those who serve you, guide the path of your servant [Name] in your will, that with you a protector, you a guide, s/he may walk the ways of justice without accident.
One of the most intriguing texts for travellers is recorded in the margins of an Old English translation of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People by the Venerable Bede, in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 41, pp. 350-53. The manuscripts of Corpus Christi were digitised in full several years ago, but recently a new website was launched to showcase them, fully available to all internet users without a subscription. The text of the poem, with a translation by Hurley Goodall of Baldwin Wallace University, can be found here.
This is a protective charm-poem, in which the speaker begins by asking God’s protection against ‘the great peril which is hostile to everything’, calling on the great men and women of the Bible for their aid. The final part of the charm is one of my favourite pieces of Old English literature, beginning with the words ‘Forð ic gefare, frind ic gemete.’ Onwards I go: may I meet with friends. The speaker asks blessings for fair weather and a good journey, that s/he may meet with friends, be protected from all enemies, and live in God’s peace.
As alluded to in a few recent posts, I have been packing up to move cross-country and start a new job. I have now completed my journey, meeting no enemies and without great peril. I have also been writing about travel over on my other blog, Travel/Untravel: in particular, I am currently posting my diaries from a journey around Scotland which I made with a friend in 2014.
I have reached my destination; here are those final lines of the journey charm that I love so much.
Forð ic gefare, frind ic gemete,
eall engla blæd, eadiges lare.
Bidde ic nu sigeres god godes miltse,
siðfæt godne, smylte and lihte
windas on waroþum. Windas gefran,
circinde wæter simble gehælede
wið eallum feondum. Freond ic gemete wið,
þæt ic on þæs ælmihtgian frið wunian mote,
belocun wið þam laþan, se me lyfes eht,
on engla blæd gestaþelod,
and inna halre hand heofna rices,
þa hwile þe ic on þis life wunian mote.
May I go forth; May I meet friends,
all angels’ blessings, and the lore of the blessed-ones.
I now pray the God of Triumph, for God’s mercy,
a good journey, serene and light
winds from shores. I have heard of
winds churning water constantly defending
against all foes. May I meet with friends,
so that I may dwell in the peace of the Almighty,
guarded against the evil-one who pursues my life,
made steadfast in angel’s splendor
and within the holy hand of Heaven’s Ruler
as long as I in this life may dwell.