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ENGLISH 3L03 Old Eng Lit in Translation

Academic Year: Fall 2017

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Anne Savage


Office: Chester New Hall 326

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23729

Office Hours: Wednesdays 10:30-11:20 am

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 sources originally altogether foreign to Britain.  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 - and where do these preferences come from? 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; I have many strategies for thwarting and bypassing anxiety. We’ll be in one of the smart classrooms in the Wilson Building, and so you’ll be working onscreen and with each other in small groups as well as taking notes on and asking questions/ participating discussions in lectures.


You’ll have a frame of reference for this little-known very first period of English poetry (600-1000 CE) in terms of history and culture; an understanding of poetry composed without recourse to literacy; how its translation is both political and personal. You’ll see why and how this poetry has been politically co-opted by different English-speaking nations which have claimed it as their own while rejecting its ‘cultural appropriation’ by ‘non-native’ English speakers, a question with broader, even global, relevance; what positions Old English poetry has held in the university; how it is understood as belonging to the canon of English literature and also as not belonging.

Apart from the content, you’ll be learning new writing skills as well as those belonging to oral presentation, so that you can speak to a group with confidence and competence.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

MATERIALS (from Courseware and Avenue)

Sign up for NowComment, our annotating program for coursework, at

  •           Selected Riddles
  •           The Wife’s Lament
  •           The Battle of Maldon
  •           The Wanderer
  •           The Seafarer
  •           The Dream of the Rood

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

“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


Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney

Internet sources:


Beowulf in Hypertext,

“The Wanderer”

The Wanderer Project (Kennedy translation)

The Seafarer”

“The Wife’s Lament”'s%20Lament%20Translation%20by%20Michael%20R%20Burch.htm [+rhyme, unfounded assumptions as fact]'s%20Lament.pdf

Strange Likeness: The Use of Old English in Twentieth-century Poetry, “Introduction,” by Chris Jones. Available online from Mills, in Oxford Scholarship Online          



Method of Assessment:



Short paper 1 (100 words)                                      10%

Short paper 2 (100 words)                                      10%

Final paper (3000 words)                                        25%

In-class reading aloud and writing assignments     30%

Final examination                                                   25%




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

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)

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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 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.

Topics and Readings:


In-class assignment dates TBA


6 Introduction to the course, materials, classroom activities and assignments; introduction to the electronic classroom.  Read Courseware pages 1-5 (“Maxims II) for next class?

             Classroom activity: ‘What’s information?’ ‘What’s an intellectual framework?” Myth-busting session!

8 WORDS: introducing semantics

Recognizing some common features in Old English next to a translation: a discussion of vocabulary choices in translations. OE & current English: two different ways in which word-meaning functions. Power point presentation of some OE riddles - Posted on Avenue.

             Classroom activity: using the Complete Oxford English Dictionary.

13 A quality of voice: “The Wife’s Lament” / Courseware pages 7-12 / Online translations “The Wife’s Lament”'s%20Lament%20Translation%20by%20Michael%20R%20Burch.htm's%20Lament.pdf

          Classroom activity: comparison of different translations in your groups.

15, “The Wife’s Lament” continued.

          Classroom activity: in-class assignment to be submitted on Avenue (observations of the different translations)

20  Dying well: “The Battle of Maldon” / Courseware pages 43-58


22  Syntax; how grammatical units come at us,“The Battle of Maldon"

27  Semiotics: things and meaning; walking through the world apart: “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer”

29 “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer” SHORT PAPER 2 DUE

          Classroom activity: in-class assignment to be submitted on Avenue


4 Workshop on oral poetry and performance: “Beowulf at Kalamazoo,” Benjamin Bagby (see and the study of oral poetry in the 20th to the present. Over the midterm break, read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. Also acquaint yourself with my website,

While you’ll be reading and we’ll be discussing the whole poem, it helps our discussion for us all to focus on different translations of three sections of text:

Lines 1-52, the rise of Scyld and his funeral

          702-835, the fight with Grendel

          3110-82, Beowulf’s burning

The tone of each is very different, and so we can consider how each translator deals with this.

Reading week

6 Beowulf: the Monsters, the Critics and the Students (

          Classroom activity: n-class assignment to be submitted on Avenue

18 Courseware passages: pages 59-66. Discussing modes of attack on translating the poem.

20 The shape of the poem: a century of perspectives and opinions - and yours.

25 Workshop on Beowulf: questions about the poem, performance, translation, and reading.

          Classroom activity: in-class assignment to be submitted on Avenue

27 Anglo-Saxon England preChristian and Christian


1 The origins of Christian poetry on OE: Bede’s account of Caedmon (translation posted on Avenue).

3 PreChristian and Christian artifacts: a visual tour. Class activity: observing  reading images from an ancient culture.

8 “The Dream of the Rood”

10 “The Dream of the Rood” continued

Classroom activity: in-class assignment to be submitted on Avenue

15 Workshop on final papers.

 Classroom activity: bring outlines, ideas, rough drafts; questions, problems, to discuss with your classmates. These can be about writing on the poem, but also about writing in general.

17 “Whose Poetry is Old English Anyway?” (Courseware pages 67-76)

22 The uses of the past: reforming and reshaping history; inventing origins; loss and universality.

24 Over to you: assessing Old English poetry in translation (This class will be directed by your questions and comments, based on a collection of questions and comments of my own posted on Avenue.) Poetry readings/ performances by class members, discussion.

29 Poetry readings and performances by class members, discussion.


1  Classroom activity: in-class assignment to be submitted on Avenue

Discussing performance-based research; exam workshop.


6 Beowulf’s film versions: different from translation? Implications of differences? Where is the poem for you now?