OLD ENGLISH POETRY: SONGS IN THE DARKNESS
Dr Elizabeth Baldwin, academic
Only about 30 000 lines of Old English verse survive in written form. Much of this is fragmentary, ranging in date from the seventh century to a few decades after the Norman Conquest. Behind this remnant lies a longer oral tradition, stretching back to the Germanic ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons. Originally performed to harp accompaniment, Old English poems such as the elegies The Battle of Maldon and Beowulf celebrate and lament the hero who strives not only with human foes and monsters, but with an inexorable fate, and whose actions can save or destroy entire nations. Old English ideas of the hero and his death-fight are given a Christian interpretation in The Dream of the Rood, and shorter items such as riddles and chronicles show us something of the world of the ordinary people of pre-Conquest England.
1. Introduction and shorter poems (elegies, riddles, charms, etc.)
2. The Battle of Maldon
3. The Dream of the Rood
Alexander, M., transl. 1973. Beowulf. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics.
Hamer, R., transl. 1970. A Choice of Anglo-Saxon Verse. London and Boston: Faber & Faber.
Heaney, S., transl. 2000. Beowulf. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company.
Tolkien, J.R.R., transl. 2014. Beowulf. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Participants are welcome to use any translation they prefer.