Translations of almost 79% of all extant Old English poetry can be found here (that’s 23,662 lines out of about 30,000 extant lines).
There’s more to early English poetry than Beowulf—
and it is just as engaging, vital, and important to the classroom and scholar.
In 2007, dissatisfied with commonly-available volumes of translation (mostly in prose), I set out to bring more of this staggeringly original archive to the attention of teachers of Old English texts, starting with the hagiographic romance of Andreas. The goal was to make high-quality, imaginatively rendered, readable verse translations available for no cost to the general public, all of them designed for instructors looking to extend the texts they can present to their students, in order to flesh out the picture of Old English culture taught in contemporary schools, at whatever level needed.
Since 2015, OENPP has moved beyond strictly narrative poetry, venturing into other genres of early English verse, including a complete translation of the Exeter Book riddles, the poems of contemplation (often called the “Elegies”), and wisdom poetry (like the enigmatic Solomon & Saturn and The Order of the World). I enjoy translating the poetry so much that I don’t anticipate stopping until I have rendered the entire corpus, including the Metres of Boethius (which is now complete), among other rarely translated poems.
In 2017, new work has slowed down, mostly because so much of what remains has already been done at least in first draft. What I’m doing these days will be mostly recorded as blog posts, found by following “News” in the menu under the title bar. Previously these have been just notices of updates. But lately I’ve been writing a lot — gearing up for some articles I need to do — but these bigger, more substantial posts record my thoughts that occur to me as I work through the revisions. They will probably be most involved with translation issues as well as justifying decisions I have made in the translations. There’s a surprising amount of argument involved with those kinds of things. One big job that I’d like to do is analyze and review extant translations of the poetry. There’s a lot out there, and it is of highly uneven quality, regardless of the credentials of the scholar doing the translating.
In 2020, I finally was able to make some admin-level changes (things over my access level) to begin removing the term “Anglo-Saxon” from the site. The racist and imperialist codes implied in the term have been convincingly argued by contemporary scholars, and I see no need that the field needs to be nostalgic or sentimental about retaining the term. Early English historians of all sorts (including me as a literary historian) are in the process of understanding and acknowledging how the idea of the “Anglo-Saxon” race has weaponized these texts and archives, and been used to justify openly white supremacist ideologies at the core of Anglo-American society. It will take more than a simple name change to cleanse of stains of our complicity in oppressive systems, but it’s a start. And that just the name change triggers reactionaries so badly only proves that these negative and destructive lineages are key to the maintenance of white supremacist institutions.
Right now, my priorities are to start revising what’s here — it’s been my experience of writing poetry that that’s where all the exciting stuff happens. There are probably also numerous mistakes and misreadings throughout the site, which need to get combed out. This doesn’t mean abandon the site — rather it means to lend me your eyes and critical acumen. If you see something questionable, let me know in an email or comment, and we can discuss what needs to be done about it. Open-access scholarship is a two-way street — not only do you get free and easy-to-obtain work, but you also get to contribute to how the final product appears in the near future. That’s collaborative scholarship, and exactly why I am uninterested in trying to publish these translations in standard book format (Craig Williamson’s new Complete Old English Poems just released by U Penn Press makes it unlikely that would happen anyways…).
I am not too worried about credibility, though I know there is a veneer of respectability that is imparted to anything published between two covers (mostly due to the peer-review process, but also because of our liability to marketing–if it’s being sold it must be good). However, if you are a scholar of early England and would like to help out the future of this page, please contact me if you’d be interested in crowd-sourcing peer review. If you took on just one poem you were particularly interested in or knowledgable about, and wrote up a few pages’ response that I could use to shape the website that would be amazing. I shouldn’t have to tell you that an open-access website repository of translation has many advantages over traditionally published work, in that it can be altered and shaped by both usage and response, and when new, game-changing readings of these poems come along, the website can accommodate them.
Two new big projects stretch out before me. One is to begin a homily translation site and work my way through the massive archive of these much-desired texts wherever they might be collected (that site is now underway, go here to access. The second is even crazier, and that is to embed coding in the poems to give access to philology, variants, and criticism. The Blickling Homilies are already underway. The second part will take huge amounts of time and energy, requiring training in the markup languages, a new host for the pages (I’m not sure WordPress can handle what I want to do), and probably grant funding and research assistants to get all the pieces put together.
Full texts of these poems are located here. Follow the links to the individual poems on the navigation bar above.