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