The complete corpus of Old English poetry is now on line

After nearly two years (just ten days short of two years), 528 posts and many hours of recording and even more hours editing, every Old English poem is now recorded and on-line at this site. The posting of “Instructions for Christians” a few minutes ago thus marks the completion of my original plan for Anglo-Saxon Aloud.

If some of the statistics are accurate, there have been nearly a quarter of a million downloads from Anglo-Saxon Aloud (I find this hard to believe, actually). The Dream of the Rood seems to have been downloaded the most, at 1,900 or so times thus far, with the Wanderer next, at 1,600.

If you have just discovered this site, I encourage you not just to click on the first recording below (which is not a very good poem, if it even is a poem), but instead to listen to some of the best Anglo-Saxon poems, including The Wanderer, The Seafarer, The Dream of the Rood, selections from Beowulf, Cædmon’s Hymn, and The Battle of Maldon. You can find over 100 different poems through the “category” links. If you would like to listen to the poems in both Old English and Modern English, with brief introductory discussion by me, you can buy the 2-CD set of Anglo-Saxon Aloud: Greatest Hits from the link. For complicated reasons, not all of Beowulf is on this site, but you can buy the entire poem in Old English as a 3-CD set at Beowulf Aloud.
I am extremely gratified by all of the feedback I have received on this project. I have learned an immense amount about Old English poetry by doing it and have also had a great deal of fun. And at the times when I wondered why I was spending yet another Thursday morning recording a week’s worth of posts, or when I was editing out the ten millionth loud breath or too-long pause, knowing that people were listening to me in Russia and Taiwan and Japan and Chile and Australia and South Africa was a great motivator. I am particularly encouraged that so many people have emailed to say that they have used the site for their classes.

A word about my pronunciation. I was trained to speak Old English by John Miles Foley at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He in turn was trained by Robert Creed. Professor Foley also worked with Benjamin Bagby on his pronunciation, so a great deal of the recorded Old English in the world goes back to John and to Bob Creed. But although there are good reasons for thinking that the way we pronounce Old English is close to the original pronunciation, I do want to note that there are different “schools” and accents of Old English. I definitely slip into American pronunciation of vowels on occasion, and those taught by different teachers will pronounce Old English in subtly (and less subtly) different ways. Such is the nature of language: it always changes from speaker to speaker, from time to time. I do not know what Anglo-Saxon native speakers, presented with the poems on this site, would think. Perhaps they would think it barbarous, but I am hopeful that they would recognize at least a little of the beauty of their poetry.

In an early exercise in Bright’s Old English Grammar, the text from which I learned Old English, the “Learning-Maiden” says: “ðeah þe we ne mægen hieran ussera ealdfædera stefna, þeahhwæðere magon we rædan heora word, þa þe ða boceras gewriten habbað.” (Although we may not hear our ancestors’ voices, we nevertheless may read their words, those that the writers have written). We can never bring back the voices of those long gone, but, through centuries of patient scholarship, effective training and new technology, we can recapture at least an idea, an echo of what those voices might have been. I hope I have accomplished that, to a very small degree, here.
I am done with the poetry, and will be taking a short break from recording, but I am not done with Anglo-Saxon Aloud. 30,000 lines of poetry took 2 years. 300,000 lines of prose would then, theoretically, take 20, and I am not making that kind of a commitment right now (and it would in any event be longer, because prose has more words per line). My next step will either be The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle or Wulfstan’s Sermo Lupi, but I have not decided yet. I’ll also be doing some housekeeping, fixing tags, adding explanations, etc., here (so let me know if you find errors) and I hope to work with Aaron Hostetter, who has created the incredibly valuable Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry project) to link together translations with the recordings. At some point I will offer for sale (in case you don’t want to spend a year downloading) the entire corpus on a jump drive, iPod shuffle, or set of DVDs or CDs, but that is in the further future.

Again, thanks very, very much for your support over the past two years. Enjoy the poetry. Learn the language. Wes þu hal

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