The Complete Old English Poems by Craig Williamson - review by michael alexander

michael alexander


The Complete Old English Poems


Pennsylvania University Press 1,181pp £50

This single volume represents all the surviving 31,000 lines of Old English poetry in translation. It’s a big book, but this is a virtue, and it will be very handy for scholars and students. Although an academic book, it will also be a useful addition to the library of anyone curious about English literature in the four centuries before the Norman Conquest. Poetry, which was originally oral, was more central to social life in the Anglo-Saxon world than it is today. The verse that survives combines an ardent Christianity with the ethics of a society with an eye to war. The Germanic and Scandinavian conquerors of England were tough rulers, but the society that their descendants inherited gradually became more settled. Bede the Venerable is a better guide to their culture than Conan the Destroyer or other violent films set in a fantasy Dark Age.

Old English verse has been translated into modern English hundreds of times. Most often translated are The Wanderer, The Seafarer, Beowulf (which has also been translated into Japanese nine times) and The Dream of the Rood. Only in the last of these, in which the Cross of the Crucifixion speaks

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