Old English – The Dream of the Rood

So far in the course we’ve focused heavily on the depiction of the Anglo Saxon warrior culture and the comitatus – the relationship between a warrior and his lord is the focus of the poem “The Wanderer”, and a key part to understanding characters and motivations in “Beowulf”.

In our reading of the poem “The Dream of the Rood”, we will see a clearer example of how the early Anglo Saxon culture blended with the introduction of Christianity to the British Isles. Be sure to pay attention to how this text works to very different ideas – the violent, warrior culture of the Anglo-Saxon’s with the mild and forgiving culture of Christianity.

The poem comes to us from engravings on a large cross from the 8th century (700’s AD) – in fact, this version of the story is older than any of the manuscript versions that still survive. The story of “The Dream of the Rood” is engraved on the surface of the cross, and would have served the purpose of telling the story of Christ to those who could not read (because they were illiterate in general, or in Latin). The Ruthwell Cross was also created during the period of ‘The Cult of the Cross’, where the crucifixes roll as an important symbol is Christian religion was born. During this period the role and worship of the cross as a physical manifestation of Christ was common, with stories of crucifixes coming to life to protect the churches they houses in from invaders being common.

The cross was destroyed during the early 17th century (1600’s AD) during a period when Protestants rejected the praise of icon/iconography in the church. It was reassembled in the 19th century.

For more background on “The Dream of the Rood” and the Ruthwell Cross on which the oldest remaining copy of the poem exists, please watch the videos below (note: the audio on the background video about the Ruthwell Cross is very poor – apologies).

 

Click here to access a copy of the poem, if you have lost your own copy from class.

The poem of “The Dream of the Rood” also give us the chance to examine the narrative technique of ‘framing’.

The poem itself is the recounting of a dream by a monk – he opens up the poem by describing going to sleep and being awoken by a brilliant ‘tree of glory’, and from there the tree itself tells us the story of his journey to become the cross that Christ was crucified on, before the narrative returns to the monk finishing up his retelling.

The frame narrative is used often to highlight the mystical, fantastic or magical nature of the ‘inner story’. By first presenting the reader/listener with a ‘normal’ set of characters and actions, it make the interior story seemed even more removed and distant, thus heightening how fantastical the actions of the story are view.

In “The Princess Bride”, a grandfather tells his sick grandson the tale of Princess Buttercup and the Pirate Wesley. The frequent interruptions by his grandson into the story remind the viewer of the framing device, and heighten the absurdity of the story.

Forrest Gump is actually sitting on a park bench, telling each new stranger the story of his life. By cutting back to the framing device bench and finding a seemingly new person/listener each time, the also unbelievable and fantastic events of his life are broken up. This means the accepting reactions of the individuals on the bench make it easier for the viewer to accept the reality that Gump is presenting.

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In “The Dream of the Rood”, the visitation of the ‘tree of glory’ that Christ was crucified on heightens the mystical, supernatural power of God in the poem. The fact that it is a Monk, a man of God, that see the cross in a dream reinforces this idea. The supernatural elements of the tale would also appeal to the recently converted Anglo Saxons.

12th Grade Literature Fall 2018

Old English – Beowulf

Last week we dove into Old English literature and analyzed not just the rhythm and structure of Anglo Saxon poetry, but the importance of the comitatius and warrior culture to the Anglo Saxon way of life. “The Wanderer” focused on the experience and loss felt by a warrior – this week we are going to look at another example of Anglo Saxon culture from the perspective of a Lord/King, in a selection from the epic poem “Beowulf”.

We will be focusing on the final speech and death of Beowulf in class, and analyzing the text to understand what was expected of a man as a strong leader during this time period. However, understanding the context of the rest of the epic poem will be valuable to understanding this final excerpt, so please review this background video on the historical context of Beowulf:

Additionally, it will be important for you to understand the earlier actions in the poem so that the importance of Beowulf’s death can be fully analyzed. While I strongly encourage you to read the entirety of this epic poem so that you can expose yourself to even more nuanced uses of language, I am providing a summary of the plot below:

Additionally, click here to access a copy of the readings if you lost your from class.

Please click here for the annotated version of the text from class.

 

Additionally, you will find my ‘messy class notes’ over Beowulf below. Visit the post on “Senior Skills: How To Take Effective Notes”, and use these these in your rewriting to determine which note-taking style works best for you.

Click here for Mrs. Pierce’s class notes over Beowulf.

12th Grade Literature Fall 2018

Old English – The Wanderer

Our first analysis of Old English will be the poem from the Exeter Book of Elegies, “The Wanderer”. Most of the Old English poetry we have available to us today can be traced to only a handful of books or manuscripts. The largest of these is the Exeter Book, which was given to the cathedral by the Bishop Leofric around 1072, though the stories transcribed within it can be traced back further into the oral tradition.

“The Wanderer” focuses on a man, a warrior, that has lost his lord (remember the comitatus) – he goes on not just to lament this loss, but also this loss of friends, family and his entire way of life. The wanderer also reflects on philosophical ideas about what makes a life worth living, and what makes a man truly wise.

 

Remember, these poems were meant to be shared through the oral tradition originally, before they were transcribed into manuscripts. The rhythm created through the use of caesuras and various forms of repetition would have made the memorization and performance of these poems easier, but also more melodic and pleasing to the ear.

For an example, please watch the video below of a performance of part of “The Wanderer”:

Please click here to access a digital copy of “The Wanderer” if you lost your copy from class. 

Additionally, you can follow along with the Old English text and reading below – try to find as many linguistic similarities between the modern translation and the Old English version as you can.

Click here to access an annotated version of the story, with notes we discussed in class.

12th Grade Literature Fall 2018

The History of English – Anglo Saxons and Old English

As we begin this semester, working towards improving your own language use (spoken and written), it is important that we understand where our language comes from and its own history. Our first unit will focus on the history of the English language, and so we begin with ‘Old English’, and a focus on Anglo Saxon culture and texts.

In class we discussed the language of the Germanic tribes of the British Isle (Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Picts and Celts) and looked at examples that still survive today in modern English, such as ‘daughter’, ‘strong’, ‘wry’, ‘fight’ and ‘wreak’. Many of the Old English words are mono-syllabic, and have a harsh, guttural sound with a strong emphasis at the beginning of the word.

Once Christianity began to spread to the Isles, so did Latin and with it new words and a new alphabet. More poly-syllabic words like ‘omnipotent’ and ‘exuberant’ and ‘tenacious’ were introduced, softening the sound of the language slightly.

Below you can see an example from Beowulf – written in Old English script, then in the modern alphabet, then in Modern English.

In our first poem we are examining some literary devices that are common to poems from this period – alliteration, kennings, assonance, personification and hyperbole. Additionally, we will be examining the presence of the comitatus pledge, and how an understanding of this cultural custom informs our understanding of the poem and changes its tone.

As we read these early Anglo Saxon poems and texts, remember the importance of the comitatus to not just the warrior and lord, but the families and communities that grew around these arrangements.

Please click here for today’s notes on Anglo Saxon culture and the literary devices commonly observed in text from this period.

For an overview on the history of English during the Anglo Saxon period, please see the short, fun video below:

Also, if you would like to check and see what modern words you like would have sounded like in Old English, click here for an Old English Translator.

Image Source: https://www.omniglot.com/writing/oldenglish.htm

 

12th Grade Literature Fall 2018