Alliterative Verse – Beowulf

AG: Okay. I wanted to get on now to more alliterative, the alliterative verse that (W.H.) Auden was doing, (and if I can, a little bit of.. the Kalevala (which is also an alliterative epic) but I don’t have the right translation of that. Has anybody happen to  have a copy around their house – (Francis Peabody) Magouns translation of the Kalevala?   Well I’ll try and get a hold of that before our next meeting. So I wanted to go back to…
Student:  Can you repeat that?
AG: Kalevala (K-A-V-E-V-A-L-A) – Kavevala – Kalevala –  Do you know where we can get one of Magoun‘s translations?
Student: No I’ve never read that translation
AG: Pardon me?
Student: I’ve never read that translation.
AG: Which have you used? This one I have here but I don’t like it – Everyman’s (edition)
– Kal…
Student: Kalevala.
AG: Kalevala – Kalevala? – Two accents – Kalevala  Kalevala
Student: (Who translated the Everyman’s?)
AG:  (William Forsell) Kirby, it’s an old one. It’s not a good one.

Anyway, so what I wanted to go on, continue, with was the Auden. I had the… from “The Age of Anxiety” by Auden, which, for those who weren’t in class, we had started off on.. we had run through a little bit of (Ezra) Pound’s translation of “The Seafarer”, and then we’d done a couple of translations of some fragments of “Piers Plowman”, then I was comparing it with later attempts to play with alliterative verse.  (I found a little bit of Tennyson that he tried, incidentally). So (Alfred Lord) Tennyson tried it too

Student: Tennyson tried it too?

AG: Yeah – well it was.. Everybody tried it. It was a very powerful thing, the old…the old..
[to Student] Can you read Anglo-Saxon at all? – Well, okay, let’s see if.. there’s one thing that I would like to hear read aloud…Could you read this? …Can you come up? – There is the… This is from “Beowulf

Student: From Beowulf?

AG: Yeah. Just a little fragment, four lines, five lines

Student: [reads] –  Hie dygel lond/ warigeao wulfhleobu, windige naessas,/ frecne fengelad, set fyrgenstréam/ under naessa genipu  niber gewiteo,/ flod under foldan

AG: Once more

Student:   Hie dygel lond/ warigeao wulfhleobu, windige naessas,/ frecne fengelad, set fyrgenstréam/ under naessa genipu  niber gewiteo,/ flod under foldan

AG: Okay, So what was happening here is… [Editorial note – Hrothgar‘s description of the haunt of the monsters – [lines 1357-6]  Okay, I think there’s another sample somewhere in here….there’s probably another sample around. Is there a sample in our book? Has anybody see that? A sample of some early Anglo-Saxon..

Student: I can come up with some lines…
AG: Okay. I have some more here..  [Allen searches through his papers] I had that somewhere in here…
Student: (Richard) Wilbur’s (poem) – he’s got a few lines of it from there

AG: Who?

Student: Richard Wilbur

AG: Okay. I’ve seen that. I’d rather..  Okay,  the lines (that) are in front of it.  Yes.  Let’s try. Can you read the lines in front of it.? Ah yes, alright.

Student: The beginning of Beowulf, the first lines.

Yes. Can you read that?

Student: [readsHwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,/

AG:  (Hold it) Make the caesura clear and make the ends of the lines clear – Okay? – the rests, make the rests clear

Student: [readswæt! We Gardena in geardagum,þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon/hu ða æþelingas     ellen fremedon./Oft Scyld Scefing   sceaþena þreatum,/ monegum mægþum,     meodosetla ofteah,/egsode eorlas.  Syððan ærest wearð feasceaft funden,    he þæs frofre gebad,/weox under wolcnum,   weorðmyndum þah,/oðþæt him æghwylc    þara ymbsittendra/ ofer hronrade   hyran scolde,/ gomban gyldan.  þæt wæs god cyning!

AG: Okay –gomban gyldan.   þæt wæs god cyning!.   So..  The original, the early Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse was very tight, apparently. There were the two alliterations at the beginning of the line and usually on (at the end) . (The) (re) generation of it, so people forgot, like, the spareness of it and got more and more pretty about it, less stark, so that, by the time of  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight later on, and “Piers Plowman”, it is much more baroque, sort of, so you get..

Thay bowen by bonkes  there boghes are bare/Thay clomben by clyffes  there clenges the colds,/  The heven was uphalt  bot ugly thereunder.Mist muged on the mor,  malt on the mountes,/ Uch hille had a hatte,  a mist-hakel huge,/ 

In other words, there’s a lot extra alliteration in it. There’s four alliterated consonants in a line instead of two and one, or three, so it gets more and more profuse, less and less muscular.

Audio for the above can be heard – here, beginning at approximately forty-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in

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