Gold in Ground: The Old English Riddles and their Relatives
with Professor Michael Alexander
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 2nd July 2016.


A day with the distinguished poet, scholar, and translator, Professor Michael Alexander, exploring the early English heroic, elegiac, and wisdom poetry, approaching them via the Riddles, those playful, lovely, or naughty poems which offer a key to unlock Old English poetry.

Many students find the shorter Old English poems – the Elegies and The Dream of the Rood – a way into the minds of the Anglo-Saxons, shorter and more direct than Beowulf.  Recently the Riddles have been recognized as an appealing key to the Old English poetic style, and as evidence, with the love poems, that not all the old poetry is about heroic death. The text for the day is Michael Alexander’s The First Poems in English (Penguin Classics 2008).

Provisional Programme:

  • 09.50 – 10.15:          Coffee on arrival
  • 10.15 – 11.15:          Buried treasure in Beowulf and elsewhere
  • 11.15 – 11.40:          Coffee break
  • 11.40 – 12.40:          Buried meaning in the Old English Riddles
  • 12.40 – 13.50:          Lunch break
  • 13.50 – 15.00:           The Resurrected Rood: the True Cross speaks
  • 15.00 – 15.20:          Tea break
  • 15.20 – 16.10:          Verse Texts and Tumuli – a stroll across the golden burial-ground of Sutton Hoo (please wear sensible shoes!)
  • c.16.10:                   Thanks and Close

About Professor Michael Alexander:

Professor Michael Alexander held the Chair of English at the University of St Andrews for 18 years, and is now Professor Emeritus.  He is a poet with wide interests in medieval and modern English verse, in translation and literary history.  His verse Beowulf (1973, rev. 2001) was said by Magnus Magnusson to be “an admirable version that has caught, better than any other I know, the poetic power and eloquence of the original”.  The THES review of his History of English Literature (2007) began: ”If I had my way, every student of English would be supplied with a copy of this book.”

His other verse translations appear in The Earliest English Poems (1966), in Old English Riddles from the Exeter Book (2007), and in anthologies by W.H.Auden and Seamus Heaney.  Latterly he has published Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England (2007), The First Poems in English (2008), a complete revision of his first book, The Earliest English Poems; Geoffrey Chaucer (2012), an illustrated life, and Reading Shakespeare (2012), an introduction.


When asked what was ‘best about the day’ at a previous Study Day by Professor Alexander attendees said:

  • Superb presenter
  • Informal atmosphere and opportunities for discussion/questions
  • Meeting the author of books I’ve enjoyed.  Revisiting Anglo-Saxon poetry and Sutton Hoo.  An interesting and satisfying day
  • The discussions and thought that the discussions provoked, well beyond the sessions
  • Gems in extemporised comments and by-play between Michael and Sam
  • Excellent background information/context.  Introduction to the Anglo-Saxon poems
  • Very knowledgeable presenter
  • An enthusiastic and captivating speaker, and a wonderful location.  A very enjoyable day, thank you
  • A good mixture of humour and knowledge
  • Debate between Sam & Michael – fascinating interactions of contrasting approaches.
  • Wuffing Ed has grown into almost a mini university – excellent resource
  • My first Wuffing Day but I look forward to more in future

Other Works by Professor Alexander:
Alexander, M., Beowulf: A Verse Translation with introduction and notes. (Penguin Classics 1973; rev. edition 2001)
Alexander, M., The Poetic Achievement of Ezra Pound (Faber 1979; rev. paperback edition, Edinburgh 1998)
Alexander, M., Old English Riddles from the Exeter Book. Verse translations. (Anvil Press, London 1980, 1982, 1984, 2007)
Alexander, M., A History of Old English Literature (Macmillan, London 1983, 1986; 3rd, rev. edition, Broadview, Canada, 2001)
Alexander, M., Beowulf: A Glossed Text (Penguin English Poets, 1995; rev. edition 2000)
Alexander, M., The Canterbury Tales: The First Fragment. A glossed text. (Penguin 1996)
Alexander, M., A History of English Literature (Palgrave Macmillan 2000; 2nd edition, 2007; 3rd edition, 2013)
Alexander, M., Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England (Yale University Press 2007)
Alexander, M. Geoffrey Chaucer (Scala, 2012)
Alexander, M., Reading Shakespeare (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)