“Old English Translation”
“You must remember we knew nothing of [Old English]; each word was a kind of talisman we unearthed…And with those words we became almost drunk.” –Jorge Luis Borges, “Blindness”
Old English provides an uncanny sensation: so different from present-day English that it must be studied as a foreign language, it is an ancestor whose patterns reveal themselves quickly to the learner. Old English literature is strange, intimate, and violent: an exile paddles in the ice with his bare hands, listening to birdsong; a feud erupts at a wedding; a tree, torn from the wilderness to become an unwilling instrument of torture, clings to Christ in what Borges calls a lovers’ embrace. This literature is usually read in translation, but in this class you will begin to read it in the original. You will learn the fundamentals of Old English grammar, syntax, and vocabulary; specialized poetic vocabulary and the basic rules of poetic composition; and unusual features that have been lost in the journey from Old to present-day English—like a set of pronouns that describes only pairs and couples.