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The poem is untitled as written, but the name Deor is cited within the poem as its author, and so this has been commonly taken as the title.
All attempts at placing this poem within a genre are difficult. When commentators try to locate the poem in general, they may call it an ubi sunt ("where are they?") poem for its meditations on transience . It is also a traditional lament and poem of consolation. In religious traditions, the consolation poem attempts to place the personal miseries in the context of history or the entire world (e.g. Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy). However, these attempts are overlays from a non-Anglo-Saxon tradition. Medievalist scholars who have placed the poem within Old English poetry have seen it as a "begging poem": A poem written by a travelling and begging poet who is without a place at a noble court. The difficulty of seeing it that way is that few other "begging poems" survive, and supposing a genre is somewhat speculative. Others have put Deor with other melancholy poems also in the Exeter Book such as The Seafarer and The Wanderer.
As poetry, the verse is extraordinary. The language is exceptionally beautiful and highly nuanced, and it is difficult for any translation into Modern English to recreate the tensions present in the highly dense and parsimonious wording. The poem runs through a list of legendary figures, asks what happened to them, and then returns to a refrain of "Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg!" ("that was overcome (with respect to it) this may also be (with respect to it)"). Among the miseries and poor fates that Deor runs through, we have Theodoric the Great, Ermanaric of the Goths, and the mythological smith Weyland. Each had an undeserved end, and, in each case, "that passed away with respect to it, and so may this be." It is only in the last stanza that we learn what the "this" is.
At the poem's conclusion, Deor says that he was once a great poet among the Heodenings (presumably some Germanic people), until he was displaced and sent wandering by Heorrenda, a more skillful poet.
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