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Old English Poetry.ppt - fle140


  • pg 1
									Old English Poetry
The Old English world centered around
 the chieftain, the king (cynning).
His kinsmen would be noblemen, thegns
 or thanes, also called eorls.
Ordinary people of no rank at all would
 be ceorls. There were also slaves.
• Family and kinship thus meant a lot to the
  Anglo-Saxons, and they valued loyalty
  very much.
• Because of this sense of loyalty, when
  somebody was killed, the killer had to pay
  wergild (“man-gold”, blood money) to the
  victims family, or there would be blood
• The blood money for an ordinary man, a
  ceorl, was the price of thirty oxen. For an
  eorl it was five times this.
The chieftains had to be generous,
 distributing treasure and gifts
 among their people. Thus they
 were “ring-givers”, “gold-
They would entertain their retainers
 in the mead-hall every evening,
 where a gleeman (“music man”)
 or a scop would recite poems in
 the company of a harp.
Both gleeman and scop meant “bard”.
Treasure items
from the 6th
century. What
Hrothgar gave
Beowulf would
look like these.
The Germanic people had a
difficult alphabet called the Runic
Alphabet, which they used only to
exchange short messages or for
monumental inscriptions.
Thus Old English Poetry was oral,
and it was not written down until
long after the conversion of Anglo-
Saxons to Christianity.
As a result, very little survived of
Old English Poetry.
• The Beowulf Manuscript itself survived in only
  one copy, and was not discovered until the 18th
  century, when it was damaged in a fire. Although
  the manuscript was written in the 10th century, it
  refers to events that happened in the 6th century.
• Its setting is the land of the Danes in the early
  6th century, and the title hero, Beowulf is a Geat
  (from southern Sweden). But it is written in
  Anglo-Saxon language, and in a dialect spoken in
  the Midlands.
• The Anglo-Saxons were pagans until the
  6th century. They did not believe in life
  after death, and they had difficult lives in
  a cold, wet climate, in very harsh
  conditions, surrounded by war, death and
  hardship. As a result;
• The very little that survives of their
  poetry is gloomy, melancholic and
• Their only hope of immortality was by
  leaving a good, heroic name behind.
                 Heroic Ideal
  A hero, to achive immortality through his deeds, had to
  have these qualities:
• Bravery
• Loyalty
• Generosity

We see that Beowulf also :
• Is a good orator (he talks cleverly and impressively)
• Has sense of honour, pride
• Wants to gain fame
• Loves freedom (prefers to act independently)
 The few other samples of Old English
  poetry that has survived has a lyric
• “The Wanderer”, by an anonymous
  poet, is about a persona who has lost his
  chieftain and all his friends and
  kinsmen. He is exiled from his
  homeland, he set out to the cold sea to
  find a refuge, but is lost. On the sea,
  he hallucinates about his beloved lord
  and the dead heroes who were his
  friends. He is hopeless and lonely.
All is full of trouble, all this realm of earth.
Doom of weirds is changing all the world below the skies.
Here our foe is fleeting, here the friend is fleeting.
Fleeting here is man, fleeting here is woman;
All the earth’s foundation is an idle thing become.
• In “The Wife’s Lament”, the persona is a
  woman. She has been married into a different
  tribe to end a feud, but her husband has left, and
  her husband’s kinsmen drove her away from her
  home. Friendless and very far away from her
  own kinsmen, she is forced to live in a cave by
  an oak tree in the wilderness. She is very lonely,
  she watches happy young lovers on the beach,
  and she misses her husband very much. The last
  line translates as:
  “Woe is the one who, languishing, waits for a
 Old English poetry had no end-rhyme.
    It depended on alliteration and
• Alliteration is the repetition of the
  initial consonant
eg. swift swallow flying to the south
eg. hlafordes hryre, heorth geneatas
• Assonance is the repetition of vowels
  creating a kind of internal rhyme.
eg. Dead in da middle of little Italy,
  little did we know that we riddled
  some middle men who didn't do
• Every line consisted of two “verses”
  separated by a ceasura or a pause:
  Swa begnornodon / Gaeta leode
  hlafordes hryre, / heorth geneatas
Two aspects of the style of Beowulf is
1. The anonymous poet uses a lofty,
   formal language, but is often ironic (as
   in parts where he uses ironic
2. In his descriptions, he uses a figurative
   device called kenning. These are
   compound descriptions used to describe
   ordinary things in remarkable ways.
e.g. Swan-road means “sea”
     whale-path      means “sea”
    sea-steed       means “ship”
    battle-lightning means “sword”
    war-sweat       means “blood”
    death-house means “grave”
Archeological finding of a ship like the one used in the funeral
   of Scyld Scefing (his was sent out to the sea, this one was
• Reconstruction of the burial chamber on the ship, with the
  shield, weapon and valuable possessions
• The helmets of Beowulf and his
  comrades would look like these
• Chain mail shirt worn as body armor, Beowulf’s “glitters” as he
  first goes to Heorot.
Reconstruction of a Viking mead-hall

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