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Winchester's oldest poem gets new translation for National Poetry Day
1:40pm Thursday 3rd October 2013 in Winchester
SOME of the world’s finest poetry has been inspired by Hampshire’s beautiful scenery.
But Winchester’s supposed oldest poem was based on a bridge, according to a local literary expert.
Former Arts Council literary officer Keiren Phelan commissioned a new translation of the poem, now titled St Swithun’s Bridge, to celebrate National Poetry Day, which takes place today (Oct 3) and has a theme of water.
Mr Phelan, of Clifton Road, Fulflood, said: “The poem is based on a Latin inscription on the Eastgate stone bridge built over the River Itchen by St Swithun in 859. We need to be alert to the history on every corner of Winchester.
“The bridge was a significant piece of engineering built by then Bishop Swithun. If you go back 1,000 years that river was wide and boggy, not unlike Winnall Moors, and crossing it from London was a major undertaking so it was important it was built.”
The poem was written between St Swithun’s death in 863 and reburial in 971. The inscription no longer exists as the original bridge in Bridge Street was replaced in 1813.
He approached Latin scholar and poet Lesley Saunders to translate the poem, which comes from a manuscript by Saxon monk Wulfstan, although he did not write the poem as the author is unknown.
Mr Phelan, editor of website Literary Winchester, added: “My next posting on the website will be on Wulfstan so this seemed like a good idea. “Wulfstan is Winchester's first major poet and was known to write poems even longer than Beowulf. Lesley brings her fine skills in translation and fluency in Latin to the project.”
According to Prof Michael Lapidge, fellow of the University of Cambridge, the ten-line poem is the earliest written about Winchester.
For the full poem, see below.
St Swithun’s Bridge – author unknown, translated by Lesley Saunders (Copyright Lesley Saunders 2013)
Hanc portam presens cernis quicumque viator devotas effunde preces ad celsitonantem pro Christi famulo SWIDUN, antistite quondam.
Per cuius summam cum sollicitudine curam est huius pontis constructa operatio pulchra ad Christi laudem, Wentane urbisque decorum, sol octingentos cum rite revolveret annos, quinquaginta novem replicaret et insuper annos incarnata fuit postquam miseratio Christi; tunc erat et vertens indictio septima cursum.
Traveller, whoever you may be, as your gaze rests on this city-gate, take a moment to say a prayer, speak it with a whole and humble heart to Him who makes the heavens ring. Do this for Christ’s servant Swithun, once bishop here: he spared no effort, no expense, to have this elegant structure built, this splendid bridge, to adore our Christ and adorn our town of Winchester.
The sun had circled eight hundred times and fifty nine on its ordained yearly journey since Christ’s pity had taken fleshly form: it was in the seventh tax cycle.
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