Hwæt!  Reading Old English Poetry
with Dr Richard Dance
(University of Cambridge)

at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 15th March 2014.


This study day will be dedicated to Old English poetry, one of the most significant and enduring products of Anglo-Saxon culture.  While its form is quite unlike most later English verse, and some of its settings and characters may seem ancient and exotic to us, nonetheless in the vivid ways it paints its scenes and in the immediacy of its human drama it remains both accessible and powerful to a modern audience.  During the day we shall investigate various aspects of the style and imagery of this poetry, comparing the original language with modern English translations, and read together some of the most compelling shorter verse of the period.  (No previous knowledge of the Old English language will be required.)

The morning will begin with a brief introduction to Old English, including how to pronounce it.  We shall examine the sounds and rhythms of Old English verse, taking short excerpts from poems like Beowulf in order to explore how poets manipulated language and created colourful and potent imagery.

The afternoon sessions will be devoted to reading and discussing some particular Old English poems, getting to know their characters and investigating their key themes and effects.  Our main examples will be the tense, atmospheric narrative of The Fight at Finnsburh (about an heroic encounter in a dark-age hall) and the richly elegiac first-person address called The Wanderer (in which an outcast warrior ponders the meaning of life, fate and the English weather).

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:                Wes hál! How to talk like an Anglo-Saxon

11.15 – 11.45:                Coffee break

11.45 – 12.45:                Opening the word-hoard: language and style in Old English poetry

12.45 – 14.00:                Lunch break

14.00 – 15.00:                 The wolf, the raven and the sword: The Fight at Finnsburh

15.00 – 15.20:                Tea break

15.20 – 16.20:                Rainin’ in my heart: The Wanderer

c.16.20:                            Thanks and Close

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

P. S. Baker, Introduction to Old English (Blackwell, 2003)  (http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/resources/IOE/index.html)

S. A. J. Bradley, trans., Anglo-Saxon Poetry (Everyman, 1995)

R. Hamer, ed. and trans., A Choice of Anglo-Saxon Verse (London, 1970)

M. Godden and M. Lapidge, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature (Cambridge, 1991)

H. Magennis, The Cambridge Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Literature (Cambridge, 2011)

R. Marsden, The Cambridge Old English Reader (Cambridge, 2004)

B. Mitchell and F. C. Robinson, A Guide to Old English, 8th ed. (Blackwell, 2011)

B. Mitchell, An Invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford, 1995)

R. North and J. Allard, Beowulf and Other Stories: A New Introduction to Old English, Old Icelandic and Anglo-Norman Literatures (Longman, 2007)

P. Pulsiano and E. Treharne, eds., A Companion to Anglo-Saxon Literature (Oxford, 2001)

C. Saunders, ed., A Companion to Medieval Poetry (Oxford, 2010)

About Dr Richard Dance

Richard Dance is Senior Lecturer in Old English in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University of Cambridge.  He is the author of a number of books and articles about the language and literature of the Old and early Middle English periods, and is especially interested in vocabulary, etymology and the language of Old English poetry.  He has lectured widely on these subjects, has read Old English verse on radio programmes such as Poetry Please, and appeared on the recent BBC2 series The Vikings with Neil Oliver.


Please phone or email to check the availability of places. Study Days are £36 per person, which includes a full day of lectures, access to the NT site, parking, coffee and tea throughout the day, and access to the NT exhibition. Once you have reserved your place please send payment to confirm the booking. For your first booking please complete the application form to ensure that we have recorded your contact details correctly.

Wuffing Education,
4 Hilly Fields,
Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 4DX
tel : 01394 386498

Email cliff AT wuffingeducation.co.uk
(replace ‘AT’ by ‘@’ in order to send email – we used ‘AT‘ to avoid spam robots automatically sending us emails)

Return to list of current Study Days