Intro to Piers Plowman

“Scholar and Fabulist”, J.R.R.Tolkien (1892-1973)

(Allen continues his remarks on early English poetry, continuing fromhere)  

AG: However,  that’s the older English and I don’t know how to pronounce proper Old English…… I hear it’s very guttural … – Has anybody here studied Old English? – Yeah? – a little bit? . You know, sort of… Do you know how to read (it)?..  I’m told there’s a recording by (J.R.R.) Tolkien of “Piers Plowman”, actually –  [Editorial note – Allen appears to have been misled here, to our understanding, there is no such recording. Tolkien did  attempt to record some of his modern (sic) translation of  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as early as 1953, on very primitive technology. Perhaps that’s what Allen is alluding to, He also made several recordings from his Lord of The Rings cycle but there’s no evidence of recordings of Piers Plowman – see here for a link to Tolkien recordings – and here to Christina Scull and Wayne G Hammond’s definitive essay, [“Tolkien and the Tape Recorder”] – and we were looking around for it, but… Bruce (sic) was looking around for it. Does anybody know anything about it?
Student: A recording?
AG: Yeah, a recording by Tolkien, the great scholar and fabulist. Well, we’ll try and get ahold of it next time.  [to Student] – You’ve looked and maybe (could tell Charlie (sic) about it,),  and see what can be found.  Did you actually look anywhere?
Student: Yes. I understand I might be able to record it from Rocky Mountain (Dharma Center)
AG: From where?
Student: (Rocky Mountain (Dharma Center)  has tapes and…perhaps…)
AG: It’s not in the CU (University of Colorado)  Library? – nor  (the Boulder) Public Library? – Well, we should get it here. Someone told me… (Raymond) Federman) told me that it’s really supposed to be great and makes you weep to hear.

but – (to Student) – Do you know how to read a..(little)…? Would you know how to read “Piers Plowman”?

Student  I’ve.. I’ve been looking at it, and no..

AG: Well, we can do a little, can’t we? I can’t read it (all) but I’ll read some of it. I thought to get onto… that’s Middle English, fourteenth-century, whereas what is “The Seafarer? – I’ve forgotten what “The Seafarer” was.. let’s  see..what is “The Seafarer” date? [Allen searches in the anthology]…(page) fifty-four?).. I don’t know. It’s back in Old English with Beowulf. Does anybody have any idea when “The Seafarer” was?

Student: 1912
AG: Huh?
Student: 1912
AG: No, I meant the original – Oh yeah, I meant the Old English, the Old English “Seafarer”

Student: It says “Unknown”
to..well, before the tenth century, in any case.
Well, it’s something that should be obvious, and I’m sorry I’m not a scholar enough to know that.

There is “Piers Plowman”, however, (which is a later version of alliterative meter, which, incidentally, we might try something in alliterative – maybe get on fifteen, twenty lines of alliterative verse as an assignment also. But we’ll get more, it’ll be easier if you.. you’ll see how easy it is once we start getting into it here with…) – by William Langland“– What I’ll do I think is…It might be interesting. I’ll read an English translation first so that you get it really clear what it’s about and then I’ll try and vocalize the matter in the more original.

Well, we’ll start with a little fragment of the original…..

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-six minutes in, and concluding at approximately fifty-nine-and-a-half minutes in] 

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