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ENGLISH 3L03 Old Eng Lit in Translation

Academic Year: Fall 2015

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Anne Savage

Email: savage@mcmaster.ca

Office: Chester New Hall 326

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23729

Office Hours: TBA

Course Objectives:

The goal of this course is to familiarize you with the poetry in translation of the Anglo-Saxon period, roughly the seventh to the eleventh centuries, along with its cultural context, which is unique in the history of Western literature. This body of poetry is mysterious and unusual, bridging a pre-Christian indigenous oral poetry and concepts of literature and Christianity from originally altogether foreign sources.  What kind of culture produced this literature, and what do our processes of excavating by translation produce? What can we establish about its original and current contexts? We will discuss in what ways the originals can and cannot be translated - that somewhere along a continuum a poem becomes ‘a version’ or is ‘based on’ the original rather than ‘a translation’.


The written forms of Old English comprise the earliest written vernacular poetry and prose in Europe. The language is so different from that of the twelfth century and onward that it cannot be read without a course in the language itself, which is different in its lexicon, grammar, and even kind of language. Many translations of the poetry have been done, often very different from one another; and while relatively few people can read Old English, the high cultural status of the poetry as the origins of English literature has constructed a powerful mythos.

Bearing in mind that some translations are for the purpose of assisting students of Old English to read an original, that some are couched in the styles of their different poetic periods (which date them, sometimes rendering them ‘out’dated), we will try to give each translator their due in terms of our consideration. None of them set out to make the poem unappealing; but what are our own reasons for respecting, liking, or disliking them? What imaginative processes do we apply, and how are these particularly from our own culture, different from the one we are trying to approach?

In class, close readings of the poems will demand deeply engaged student discussion. Sometimes in-class group work may be done to facilitate your participation. Because the poetry was primarily oral, be prepared to read aloud in class. Everyone must be prepared to do so, since an understanding of recitation and performance is integral to the course. Those with official accommodations can as always discuss these with me.


Textbooks, Materials & Fees:


            Selected Riddles

            The Wifes Lament

            The Battle of Maldon

            The Wanderer

            The Seafarer

            The Dream of the Rood

            Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney

            Selections from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, translated by Anne Savage

            Selections from Desire for Origins. Allen Franzen

            Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” J.R.R. Tolkien

            Strange Likeness: the Use of Old English in Twentieth-century Poetry,                 

     “Introduction,” by Chris Jones


Internet sources


Beowulf in Hypertext, http://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/~beowulf/

                     “The Wanderer”

The Wanderer Project 



shslboyd.pbworks.com/f/The+Wanderer+text.pdf (Kennedy translation)

            “The Seafarer”


            “The Wife’s Lament”

www.thehypertexts.com/The%20Wife's%20Lament%20Translation%20by%20Michael%20R%20Burch.htm [+rhyme, unfounded assumptions as fact]



Strange Likeness: the Use of Old English in Twentieth-century Poetry,               

  “Introduction,” by Chris Jones. Available online from Mills, in Oxford                                         

Scholarship Online


  Ezra Pound’s “The Seafarer”







Method of Assessment:


Short paper 1 (1200 words)           15%

Short paper 2 (1200 words)           15%

Final paper (3000 words)              30%

Final examination                         40%


Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:


Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.