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Old English Poetry
The principles of Old English poetry are derived from the traditions of Germanic oral poetry.
There is no rhyme and no regular number of syllables in the lines.
Each line is divided into two halves separated by a caesura (цезура) and is represented by a gap on the page.
Caesura [si’zjuərə] - pause in a line of verse. Setton him to heafdon hilde-randas
- Each line has three stressed syllables beginning with the same consonant sound. (alliteration)
Alliteration – repetition of consonant sounds.
[b] Bore it bitterly he who bided in darkness [t] Twelve-winters’ time torture suffered [s] Soul crushing sorrow. Not seldom in private
- The need to find words beginning with the same sounds often made the poet call a common thing by an uncommon name (a kenning) which he himself invented.
A kenning – a compound expression, often hyphenated, representing a single noun. a sea-rider (a sailor)
Old English literature was naturally oral. The authors were unknown, and their compositions were written down only at the end of the Middle Ages when the standard literary language emerged.
The oldest poem in the English language is “Beowulf” – an epic poem with characteristics of elegy.
An epic poem – a long poem about heroic characters who perform outstanding deeds. Elegy [‘elidgi] – a poem of lament.
“Beowulf” may have been written between circa 700 AD and 1000 AD (the date of the manuscript).
The name of the poet is unknown. The poem consists of more than 3000 lines and follows Beowulf (a brave warrior from Southern Sweden) from his heroic youth to an old age. It is a great adventure story and a deeply philosophical one.
Beowulf [‘beiəwulf] Hrothgar [‘hroθga:] Heorot [‘hεərət] Geat [‘geiət] Grendel [‘grendl]
Hrothgar, King of Danes, had built a beautiful palace called Heorot where he and his subjects feasted and rejoiced every day.
This joy was hateful to a monster called Grendel who lived in a lake. Night after night Grendel came to kill and eat Hrothgar’s men.
One day a young Viking, tall and strong as a young oak tree, came over the sea to fight with the monster.
This was Beowulf. He was welcomed and feasted, and at night he and his fourteen companions were left to sleep in the hall.
At night Grendel came to the palace. Beowulf seized him and tore off one of Grendel’s arms. Grendel fled to the lake to die.
Beowulf killing Grendel
The next day there was feasting and joy in Heorot, but when the warriors lay down to sleep, Grendel’s mother, the sea-wolf, came to revenge her son.
Beowulf followed her to the bottom of the lake where he killed her with the magic sword which hung in the cave.
Beowulf fighting with the sea monster
In later days Beowulf, now King of his people, had to defend his country against a fire breathing dragon.
He killed the animal, but was badly wounded in the fight and died. The poem ends with a sorrowful description of Beowulf’s funeral fire.
Beowulf and the dragon
Give the English equivalents: Могучий воин, приходить на помощь, отвратительное чудовище, рукопись, в определенном смысле, подходить к концу, погребальный костер, щит, шлем, кольчуга, оплакивать, печальный плач, скорбная песнь, жестокая резня, курган, прах, спрятанный клад, воздавать хвалу, храбрые подвиги.
What characters do we meet in this passage? Where do we meet them? What are they doing? What do we learn about Beowulf? Why do they construct such a stronghold? What is inside the mound? What attitude to material riches does the poet express? What kind of future does the queen foresee for the Geat people?
Does the translator of the poem use the same literary techniques (alliteration, half-lines, kennings) as the ancient poet did? If yes, find any examples.
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