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Heald þ? n?, hr?se, //n? hæleð ne m?ston,
eorla æhte. //Hwæt! hit ær on þ?
g?de bege?ton;//g?ð-d?að fornam,
feorh-bealo fr?cne//fyra gehwylcne,
l?oda m?nra, þ?ra þe þis l?f ofgeaf,
ges?won sele-dr?am.//N?h hw? sweord wege
oððe fetige//fæted wæge,
drync-fæt d?ore://duguð ellor sc?c.
Sceal se hearda helm//hyrsted golde
fætum befeallen://feormiend swefað,
þ? þe beado-gr?man//bywan sceoldon,
g? swylce s?o here-p?d,//s?o æt hilde geb?d
ofer borda gebræc//bite ?rena,
brosnað æfter beorne.//Ne mæg byrnan hring
æfter w?g-fruman//w?de f?ran
hæleðum be healfe;//næs hearpan wyn,
gomen gl?o-b?ames,//n? g?d hafoc
geond sæl swingeð,//n? se swifta mearh
burh-stede b?ateð.//Bealo-cwealm hafað
fela feorh-cynna//feorr onsended!
Now do thou, O Earth, hold fast what heroes might not,—the possessions of nobles. Lo! Brave men won it at first from thee; death in war, horrid carnage, took away every one of my tribe who yielded up this life; they saw [the last of] festive joy. I have no one to bear the sword, or to burnish the plated flagon, the precious drinking-cup; the noble warriors have departed to another place. Now will the hard helmet, bedight with gold, be deprived of its adornments; they sleep who should burnish the battle-masks. The armour too, which stood the stroke of swords in battle, mid the crash of shields, perishes as does the fighter; nor may the ringed mail fare far and wide with the warrior, side by side with mighty men. There is no joy of harp, no pastime with the gladdening lute; no good hawk sweeps through the hall, nor does the swift steed paw the courtyard. Baleful death has banished hence many of the human race.
–Beowulf, Lay of the Last Survivor, passage starting at l. 2248 (7th cen. CE)(J.R. Clark Hall & C.L. Wrenn transls. 1950)
This is the first literary text in what evolved into the English language. It is less alien when you make the substitution for the Old English letters no longer in use: thorn, þ, and eth, ð–the two different versions of what became the distinctively Anglo-Saxon consonant “th.” In the practice of the time, lines are broken by a caesura, which is reflected here by “//”.
Listen to the quoted passage being read in Old English here.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Chances that an American knows the position of his or her senators on health-care reform:
Climate experts proposed creating a fleet of cloud-seeding yachts that will pump water vapor into the atmosphere to thicken global cloud cover, thereby reflecting more sunlight, in order to counteract the effects of global warming.
In San Antonio, a 150-pound pet tortoise knocked over a lamp, igniting a mattress fire that spread to a neighbor’s home.
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"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."