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AS-Prase-Poem-art - 3/26/09

 

"An Anglo-Saxon Praise Poem" by Mistress Siobhán ní hEodhusa.

 

NOTE: See also the files: medvl-poetry-lnks, poems-msg, poetry-msg, Rondeau-art, On-Vocal-Perf-art, Icelndic-poet-art, Iambic-Pent-art, Goliard-Poets-bib.

 

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    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org

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Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: leighann at sybase.com (Leigh Ann Hussey)

Subject: Anglo-Saxon Praise Poem

Organization: Sybase, Inc.

Date: Tue, 24 Aug 1993 08:01:53 GMT

 

Greetings to the Rialto from Siobhan!

 

Yet another in the sequence of "Articles I want to send to TI".  Comments are welcome, especially corrections of my Anglo-Saxon grammar.  I'm reasonably sure of the vocabulary, some of the tenses/cases might be off kilter.  Expansions welcome ditto -- did I leave something out you'd like to see?  Howbout you, Tadhg?  I liked your expansion of the rosary thinking, how would you expand this?

 

Email, post, whatever suits.

 

Slainte!

        - Siobhan

 

AN ANGLO-SAXON PRAISE POEM

 

Context

-------

 

The context of the Anglo-Saxon praise poem is one of oral tradition; news, lore, law, and ethics all were passed on by word of mouth. This passing was usually in poetry rather than prose, for the simple reason that poetry is easier to remember.  The values of the Saxon's tribal society were transmitted through verse, sometimes explicitly, sometimes more subtly -- when Beowulf, telling "the folks back home" of his adventures, says

 

        Next day, when we sat down to banquet, the king of the Danes

        rewarded me generously for this encounter [with Grendel], with

        treasures and beaten gold. Songs and junketing followed, and

        the patriarch Hrothgar, who had a great fund of stories, told

        anecdotes about bygone times, and every now and then played a

        pleasant melody on the harp.  Now and then some true and

        unhappy ballad was sung; occasionally the king would recount a

        curious legend in its correct form...  (2064-2151)

 

he is implying a whole complex of values: it is good to support your thanes with treasure and reward valorous acts with material goods; it is good for there to be songs at feasting; and even, by a little stretch, it is good for a king to be able to play the harp and do a bit of poetry of his own.

 

   Mitchell and Robinson (Guide) explain the ethical structure to which praise poems contributed as follows:

 

        ...life was a struggle against insuperable odds, against the

        inevitable doom decreed by a meaningless fate -- WYRD, which

        originally meant what happens. ... a different kind of

        immortality ... is stressed in their literature.  This was LOF,

        which was won by bravery in battle and consisted of glory among

        men, the praise of those still living.  (p. 135)

 

As long as the poets continued to sing your deeds, though your flesh was dust in the ground, your name lived on.  Beowulf itself is an example of the very thing referred to here within it:

 

        Songs were sung in Hrothgar's presence to the accompaniment of

        music.  The harp was struck, and many ballads recited.  Then,

        by way of entertainment, Hrothgar's poet sang in the hall [a

        long and vivid song of death and vengeance which I won't

        include here]. (1063-1104)

 

The poet tells of a hero's death, naming him and the members of his family who avenged him --  prompting the memorization of their names and delivering yet another message ubiquitous in old Germanic societies from the mainland to Iceland: it is good to exact revenge on those who kill your relatives.  The little quote above also gives some indication of the context in which such poems were delivered: in a mead-hall, in the midst of a feast  a very practical time, assuring the largest possible audience.

 

 

Structure

---------

 

Anglo-Saxon poetry is structured around stresses and alliteration rather than the syllable-counting that characterized Latin poetry of the same time.  The number of syllables in any given line is less important than the number of stresses; each line consists of two half-lines separated by a caesura (pause), and each half-line contains at least two stresses.  One of the two stressed syllables in the first half-line must alliterate with the first stressed syllable in the second half-line.  It is common, though not compulsory, that the two stressed syllables in the first half-line also alliterate with each other, however, only the first stressed syllable in the second half-line may alliterate with the first half-line.  Each half line must have at least four syllables.

 

Analysts agree, for the most part, on five types in the half-lines, a system first proposed by Eduard Sievers in the latter parts of the last century: [/ is a stressed alliterated syllable, \ is a stressed unalliterated syllable, - is an unstressed syllable. Unstressed syllables in parentheses are possible additional syllables.  Stressed syllables in the Anglo-Saxon examples below are underlined, to aid those unfamiliar with the language.] [note for the ASCII version: dh is edh, th is thorn, ae is aesc.]

 

Type A:  / - (- - - -) / -      called "falling-falling"

A-S Examples:

        1st half-line: ricra is rice

                       --       --

        2nd half-line: aedhele and craeftig

                       ----        -----

Mod-E Example: richer the realm is

 

Type B:  (- - - -) - / - /      called "rising-rising"

A-S Examples:

        1st half-line: he dal ut death

                          ---    -----

        2nd half-line: se dracan thegn

                          ----   -----

Mod-E Example: the dragon's thane

(Note: though in this case both these half-lines are on the same line in the poem and have the same stress type, this is by no means required.)

 

Type C:  (- - - - -) - / / -    called "clashing"

A-S Examples:

        (no example for the first half-line in this poem; from The Battle of

        Maldon(l. 62): Het a bord beran)

                             ---- ---

        2nd half-line: and se blaec waelaesc

                              ----- ----

Mod-E Example: in keen conflict

 

Type D:  / (- - -) / \ -        called "falling by stages" or "broken fall"

    or   / (-) / - (-) \

A-S Examples:

        1st half-line: riht raed hafadh (or) god is se raed gold

                       ---- ---- ---         ---       ---- ----

        2nd half-line: cuppan nimath in handa

                       ---    ---       ----

Mod-E Example: good is the red gold

 

Type E:  / \ - (-) /            called "fall and rise"

 

A-S Examples:

        1st half-line: Middrices man

                       -------   ---

        2nd half-line: stedefaest his gethanc

                       ---- ----      -------

Mod-E Example: Look ye, how he lives

 

One or two unaccented syllables may appear before a Type A or Type D line, and are not counted in the scansion of the line  they are rather like a musical pick-up and are referred to as "anacrucis".

 

One further note on the ubiquitous HWAET!  This word, while having a normal meaning and usage (what), also appears as a general exclamation, much as it continues to appear in upper-crust British English ("Jolly good show, what!")

 

From these guidelines, and using the glossaries listed in the bibliography, I composed the following for a recent knighting in the West Kingdom.  I did the Modern English first (since it's my first language), being careful to use as few words of Latin derivation as possible -- both because it sounds better in the form, and because I was lazy and had only Anglo-Saxon-to-English glossaries and wanted to make my task easier.  Aspiring bards, scops and skalds may find it useful to hunt down the roots of their language, and tune their vocabulary accordingly.  Romance-language words work well in recreated trouvere metres; the purely Saxon-rooted words ring more true in poems like this:

 

 

The Poem

--------

 

Hwaet!  Hierath o ic herge,  heordhwerod Westerne,

AElfred awelere,  aedhele and craeftig

Middrices man,  macode hlisan,

begen handa baeron   bana to fahne,

he dal ut death,  se dracan thegn.

Bealdum Beowulfe gelic   gebletsode wyrdes,

hwa folgian feohtetir   to fame teah,

westweardes wendend   to gewinnan maerdh

on fene under forstmiste   ferde thaet AElfred,

secgrof and sangglaed,  striuende cunnian

in cene gecampe   his craeft and heortan.

Ellendaedas geearnodon   aetheles wordhmynde

THeah sum him forsgon,  stod he swa bysene,

heahicgende haeleth,  gehealde his grund.

Lociath hu he lifath   to landes welan:

ricra is rice   for dhaem hringum he gifdh,

scopas songcraeft haniath   secende his freogan

god is se raed gold   the gegongath fram his handa.

Seo bares byrst   and se blaec waelaesc

and wisdarodh wealde   the se wundath hyda.

Strang is his sawol,  stedefaest his gethanc,

riht raed hafath,  radhe he gifdh hit.

Hierath him nu hatte,  haerlicost ordsecg,

AElfred ealugyfa,  ecgwer and craeftega,

treowig tacnsteorra   and triewe hererinc.

Cythth and ceorlas,  cuppan nimath in handa

Saeliath him stidhlice,  min spell is gedon.

 

 

Hear as I hail him,  hosts of the West,

Alfred awl-wielder,  artful and princely --

man of the Midrealm,  made him reknown,

both hands bearing   bane to his foes,

he dealt out death,  the dragon's thane.

Like bold Beowulf,  blessed of fortune,

who to follow fame   to the foam took him,

westward wending   to win a name

on fen under fog   fared that Alfred --

sword-edged and song-glad,  striving to prove

in keen conflict   his craft and heart.

Able acts earned him   honor as a prince --

though some scorned him,  he stood as example;

high-minded hero,  he held his ground.

Look ye, how he lives   to the lands welfare:

richer the realm is   for the rings he gives,

scops hone their skills,  seeking his favor --

good is the red gold   they get from his hand.

The boar's bristle   and the black war-ash

and the wise dart he wields,  that wounds the hide.

Strong is his spirit,  steadfast his purpose,

right rede he has,  ready to give it.

Hear him now hight,  hero most noble,

Alfred alegiver,  armsman and craftman,

trusty token-star   and true knight.

Kinsfolk and carls,  take cups in hand

skoal him now stoutly,  for my speech is done.

 

May, 1993

 

Bibliography

------------

 

Barney, Stephen A., et al.  Word-Hoard: An Introduction to Old English

    Vocabulary.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.

Cable, Thomas.  The Meter and Melody of Beowulf.  Urbana: University of

    Illinois Press, 1974.

Hulbert, James, ed.  Bright's Anglo Saxon Reader.  NY: Holt, Rinehart &

    Winston, 1966 (Orig. author James W. Bright, first published 1917)

Mitchell, Bruce, and Fred C. Robinson.  A Guide to Old English, 5th

    ed.  Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1992 [1964].

Wright, David, trans.  Beowulf.  Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1973 [1957].

 

<the end>



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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org