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.


Pentecost

The Pentecost (Rouen, Bibliothèque Municipale Ms Y.7, fol. 29v), ca. 980

Comments

  • Sorry, but at the time of most writings in your translations did “England” exist anywhere but in the “Dreams of Alfred? Britons were probably extant when the Romans came, and archeologists are finding more evidence that the Norse Peoples did not live in isolation. Methinks you are applying the 21st-century hate-mongering
    tendencies to people who lived at least 1200 years ago and older. Everything you quote from their time is only a snapshot of what they were thinking when they put pen to paper and you are making the rest of the assumptions. People traveled, fought wars, loved, and yes hated all on their own. You can try to learn of them but you will never “Know” them. The word “know” implies you have experienced these people face to face. I doubt very much that you have.

    • Yes, absolutely — there is no “England” in Alfred’s day, & only barely an England in Edward the Confessor’s day. Yet, English jingoists try to claim this literature as precious & inviolable national resources, ignoring the fact that early England was multicultural, Celts were all over, people from as far away as Africa & Asia Minor were traveling & working on the island, & the Danish were far sexier & more interesting. That’s my argument, reflected by the evidence as we understand it.

      And never never NEVER have I claimed to “know” any early English person. Neither does any other scholar: so I ask questions, play in the possibilities, & explore the cracks & glitches.

      The “21st-century hate-mongering tendencies” you cite here are those of white nationalists who fetishize the early English as ethnically pure & culturally undiluted. These English kingdoms did ther thing, were violent, were oppressive — but that’s part of history to notice & be aware of. The point is to encourage people now to give over their hatemongering & xenophobia. That’s it.

  • Excellent work! I don’t agree that Anglo-Saxon is some kind of white supremacist label. It is a national label, like Russian, Kurdish or Korean. It is no more racist than any of these national labels. I think it is problematic to label the term as white supremacist or racist since doing so is a direct attack on the moral integrity of others who use the term (as I do.) It causes strife among people in a very small community of enthusiasts that need not be there. You have insulted a lot of people by saying that you think people holding onto the term are white supremacists. I’d not publish some kind of accusatory comment like this on a website meant to appeal to people interested in the Anglo-Saxon age. It is one’s personal choice to call the literature and period Anglo-Saxon or Old English. If you wish to call it Old English, that is fine, but I find that too many people confuse this with Archaic Modern English when I tell them I’m learning “Old English” and I have to then add that it’s “Anglo-Saxon” I’m studying, or “Ancient English” to make it clear. In any case, I would be cautious about who I am labeling as a white supremacist or a racist.

    • Thank you for the compliment about my translation work — I am very happy to able to reach enthusiasts & students of the literature & its cultures. Thank you also for your opinion about “A-S”.

      Unfortunately, there are several misprisions & misunderstandings that appear in your defense of the term, and I’d be happy to run them down.

      1) “Ganglo-Saxon” is NOT a nationalist term. “English” is a nationalist term. That is a nation. “A-S” is a trans-nationalist term identifying a larger group of English-descending cultures that were spread through colonialism & mark the whiteness of those colonists. It is a racialized term whose historical uses were explicitly racist, invented as a tool of domination in the 18th century to justify an imperialism based in white supremacy. For sure it was used that way in the USA, but the British Empire did it as well. It’s the functional & ethical equivalent of “Aryan,” but for English doods.

      [Also “Kurdish”is not nationalist in the same way that Korean might be: they are an oppressed & marginalized community without their own nation.] [Also, not for nothing, nationalism sucks too.]

      2) Like “Aryan,” the term is historically meaningless. “A-S” appears in extremely few contemporary documents, almost always in Latin, & mostly from continental sources. It’s anachronistic & applied retroactively when 18th & 19th century scholars were inventing the field of medieval studies. The idea of trans-national spirit that “A-S” describes is also utterly anachronistic. When Bede or Alfred invoke an “Angelcynn,” they are speaking hopefully, nominally, & contrafactually. They were nationalists without a nation, writing from a time when nations had not yet been invented. And they DEFINITELY had a political agenda.

      3) “White supremacy” covers a spectrum of beliefs & practices, and relies on the cover provided by jackbooted thugs to distract from its role in most white people’s worldview. It has been defined as a “an unarticulated investment in whiteness” — the presumption that whiteness is neutral, objective, normal, and fair – and those assumptions shoot through these societies. As a white person raised & educated in a white supremacist country & academy, it falls on me to identify & challenge the structures of whiteness that conscribe my consent to race-based oppression, & to amplify & promote the work of other scholars making similar arguments. Introspection is the key to moving past these structures & beliefs. Here’s an example, your reply (which I might add is not at all uncommon or exceptional) lingers on the idea that to even question the presence of WS ideologies in my field & in society at large is somehow an attack on you, on society, on whatever. An insult. It is not: it is giving a name to an ideological force that many are complacent about because it does not directly affect them.

      4) You said I question the “moral integrity” of those who use or identify with the term, when actually I am not. I could GAF about whatever are your morals. I am worried about ethics — and it is deeply unethically to insist upon structures of supremacy & oppression that kill & destroy people of color, immigrants, post-colonial nations, queer people, women, etc. And to insist upon those structures remaining because you personally could not be arsed to make yourself clear with new terminology? Yeah, unethical too. With a big U.

      In conclusion, sir (I assume), I really do appreciate your unsolicited advice and concern-policing about how I should run my website, the product of my scholarship & my research & pedagogical goals. You’ve had your say, and I’ve given you a fair answer. I would prefer we think of this as a moment to learn. To make society equitable, white people have to reorganize their worldview & question master narratives. They were not designed for your actual, real, material benefit. And so you would lose nothing by giving them up.

      If you want to know more about the uses of “A-S,” I would recommend this set of Medium articles, complete with citations & suggested reading:

      https://mrambaranolm.medium.com/history-bites-resources-on-the-problematic-term-anglo-saxon-part-1-9320b6a09eb7

      Thanks again for stopping by & I hope you have a wonderful day!

      • I’ll look at the video, but right in the title this person is engaging in alarmist terms & false dichotomies. So not a great start. I appreciate that you would like to talk further, but I’m going to decline a point-by-point refutation though there are many things to be said. I have things to do, frankly, and this second comment is just so swirling & convoluted, responding to nothing I actually argued, placing words in my mouth, and engaging in pretty typical RW scare labels (much like this guy’s video), that I find it hard to credit any of it written in good faith. Not saying you’re a bad person, just that I reject the terms you frame this argument in. The situation is nuanced and based not in erasure (you even said “revenge” [lol wut?]) but instead insisting upon complexity as a way to re-negotiate not historical inequities but today’s inequities as they derive from the past. Complexity offends many, especially when it come to history & their role in developing nasty narratives. That so many get so worked up to be asked to rethink their worldview based on new understandings of history, speaks to a different issue. That’s all the time I can give you on this issue tonight, sir. Take care & have a happy holidays.

      • As a ‘queer woman’ I doubt if I’d have survived long in any of the ‘supremacist’ (?) cultures that existed prior to and including our supremely enlightened age, so virtuously defended by social justice warriors on whom it falls to rewrite history according to their daft ideologies.
        Anglo-Saxon refers to tribal invasions into an island abandoned by the Romans, largely deserted by the peoples they defeated. Their literature is the earliest, by and large, that describes the origins of what did become ‘England.’ How this is white supremacist defeats me, but we do not live in rational times.

        • Hi, thanks for stopping in, sib. Happy Pride (at least here in the US)!

          This comment is odd & I’m really not sure where to start here, but I’ll do my best to parse out what I think you’re asking. Let’s just leave the reactionary scare words aside as they are not even content containers — they’re just hashtags to note where all this comes from. There are quite a few errors in history in your comment & a few misprisons about what this entire critical conversation is about. And these can be addressed.

          First, the island of Albion was not empty of people at all. The Romans had abandoned it militarily (according to Bede) — but to claim then those British people were absent is ignoring the evidence of their continued existence & erasing the violence of this early form of settler-colonialism that the Germanic invaders brought. The point is not to scold those invaders at all — they did what they did. The point of progressive scholarship is to challenge old-school narratives that interpret this history as triumphal start to the British Empire & all the things that entity brought.

          Second, one of those important nodes of progressive challenge is to bring light to the long enduring presence of people we’d call LGBTQPIA+ in some way. Both white supremacists & Christian moral scolds would like us all to believe that either queer people did not exist (which documents show is untrue) and that any form of queer desire or practice was absolutely proscripted, which is more complicated, but also not true, especially in early Europe.

          When I, or any other progressive scholar, speak about “white supremacy” in this context, we’re referring to dominant patterns of historical interpretation, how the history of early England has been cultivated & organized to support imperialism & colonialism. The white supremacy lies in the ease & glee with which white supremacists weaponize the Middle Ages to justify fascist narratives & beliefs. But this because traditional scholarship has often been marshalled in support of those agendas since the birth of medievalism in the late 18th century.

          That’s what we’re talking about — it’s not a hard thing to understand. The tricky part of reading against the grain & challenging narratives is that it requires critical thinking & attention to nuance. It’s far easier to just follow whatever we learned in school or see spouted on Murdoch media outlets. I don’t blame people for wanting to go the less difficult route, but don’t be surprised when folks challenge or correct. I do so not to dismiss you or anybody else, but to offer other alternatives & clarity. Lots of people in these comments fail to realize that a reply from me about this is an attempt to educate, in the spirit of generosity. But they’re free to take as they like.

  • Thanks so much for this resource, which is evidently the product of considerable dedication and effort. I know a few people with an academic interest in AS literature, so I will be sure to recommend it to them, as well as anyone else who cares to listen!

    all best, Patrick

  • Thank you Dr Hostetter. I am using your translations to introduce English A level pupils to the wonders of Anglo Saxon verse and culture. This is an excellent and accessible resource and, I hope, may inspire some potential future Old English specialists .

  • Dr. Hostetter:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful resource! I saw that you were interested in translating the homilies. I could help you as a peer reviewer for that project, if you need. When I was in graduate school at the U of ND, I translated a few of the Vercelli Book Homilies (1991), edited by Lewis Nicholson, my dissertation adviser. Though I am more of a writer/poet rather than a scholar these days, I still return to the Anglo-Saxon poetry and read Classical Latin too. I have the Clark desk dictionary as well as Bosworth-Toller.

    Cheers!
    Jean Anne

  • This is an amazing resource! I never imagined that I would need a near-comprehensive archive of Anglo-Saxon poetry, especially as a grad school drop out turned private tutor, but now that I have it! I look forward to the hours of enjoyment and learning to come from this website! Thank you for the time and effort put into this wonderful resource.

    All the best,

    Mara

  • Years ago in a class I read a poem about how when the Vikings invaded England, a soldier turned his back on “the cross” (which taught peace) to fight the Vikings and yet kept the cross in his heart. I am looking for that poem right now and wondered if you could help me.

  • Great work, it’s been very helpful in my struggle with the Old English texts. One possible emendation I spotted in Metrical Charms 1. The line “Lay Christ’s flour upon the bottom of each pit” puzzled me and I looked up ‘m?l’ in Bosworth-Toller. One of the definitions is given as a compound: ‘Cristes m?l’ and it means a crucifix. The link is http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/022137
    That seems a bit more natural to me so offered for your consideration.

    Again, thanks for all of this; the translations are graceful but still a guide to the literal meaning of the lines of poetry. I’ve gotten much further with it than with my previous methods.

    • Hi Barbara,

      As soon as I can wok it out, the original texts are in line to be added. Something parallel text or some such.

  • Dr. Hostletter–

    Thanks for so freely sharing your personal treasure-trove. Your narrative translations are thoughtful and compelling. This is a wonderful library!

    Regards,

    Bret Randall

    • I neglected to ask what OE dictionaries/lexicons you might recommend for an independent student like me? I’m looking to make a purchase so cost and availability are considerations.

      • Hi Bret,

        For a low-cost dictionary, I’d recommend the one by J.R. Clark Hall. Also, the old warhorse Bosworth-Toller is available on an excellent website (http://www.bosworthtoller.com). Lexicon, hmm? I used the Guide to Old English by Bruce Mitchell and Fred Robinson. There’s another good one by Bob Hasenfratz, and another by Peter Baker that are highly-regarded and very modern.

      • You would love Joseph Bosworth’s ‘An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary’ from 1838. A treasure trove! I found mine through a used book store. its much more than just a dictionary… its a rich history of the formation of Old English with references to where to find instances of each word’s use in the poems and other literature.

  • I agree that many of the Anglo-Saxon poetry translations, when rendered in prose are inadequate, but I wondered what you think of Klaeber’s Beowulf (which I learned on) and Chickering’s, which I am going to use to teach Beowulf next semester?

    • Hello,

      Klaeber’s BW is an edition, and is authoritative and fairly conservative, gives the tradition of emendation very well, even if it chooses differently. A good text to work from, though you will find places where that text diverges from the one used in Chickering. Chickering is a decent attempt at literality, reads pretty well, makes his changes as he sees fit. I prefer Liuzza, and there is a dual-language version available from Broadview. Liuzza just reads better, more imaginatively, more powerfully. But you can do worse than Chickering for sure. Haven’t looked at my copy in a long time (it was what I learned with), so no real specifics. Maybe that can be a future blog post?

  • Dr. Hostetter,

    Thank you for this work. It’s incredibly handy to have your translations open while I work my way through the OE versions of some of these poems – particularly the less-commonly-translated ones. As an independent student of the language, it’s great: a dictionary of OE in one hand, the OE version in another, and your translation open on the laptop to help me get the drift of some of the tougher passages.

    Beyond that, of course, the translations have something interesting to offer in themselves, and I appreciate your goals as laid out in the “translation principles” section. I look forward to your translations of the homilies, and wish you the best as you continue this ambitious and generous project!

    Paul

  • Prof. Hostetter,
    Thank you for making these translations available to the public. I’m just a working-class stiff who fell in love with Middle English poetry (but need glosses even there) via a Chaucer course 45 years ago and more recently footnotes to Rosemary Woolf. Of course I’ve followed references further back in time and am grateful for inexpensive (even free!) translations of the OE corpus, too.
    Thanks again (in case you’re keeping tallies of your site usage)
    Steve

  • Dear Dr. Hostetter,

    It is encouraging to have come across your project. While my field of research is not Anglo-Saxon poetry but Patristics, I have loved Old English since I was a child. I took the time to learn the language, and have recently translated soem poems into modern English, notably “The Wanderer” (which I have re-titled “Thus Spoke the Earth-Strider”), “Deor,” “Waldere,” and “Wulf and Eadwacer.” These are available on my web site. If you’d care to have a look, your comments would be appreciated. Also, if there are any events dealing with Anglo-Saxon, I’d love to attend or participate. Please keep me informed. I live in Sayreville, NJ. Best regards, Edward

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