March 04, 2004


It occurs to me that I haven’t writting anything about teaching my Old English class yet. This week we finished up the poem The Wanderer and are now in the middle of Deor. Reading these poems again, I was again struck by how fascinating they are (though for very different reasons). I’m enjoying teaching these poems immensely.

For a poem ostensibly about a wanderer or eardstapa (literally ‘earth-stepper’), it’s striking how solipsistic The Wanderer is. Certainly the poem contains much description of the physical realities of the wanderer’s situation, but so much of the poem is about his internal psychological state. Indeed the poem is quite a sophisticated examination of the psychology of despair and consolation, it seems to me.

Deor, also a poem that examines despair and consolation, is fun to teach because it gives me the opportunity to talk about Germanic heroic legends (as well as Classical mythological analogues). And while some scholars back away from the suggestion that there is Boethian influence on the poem, I find the parallels quite striking, particularly when taking into account King Alfred’s translations. Aside from the passage that parallels the refrain in Deor, most of the legends referred to in the poem are also referred to in Alfred’s version or are paralleled by a Classical analogue.

But the main reason why I’m enjoying teaching this stuff so much is how keen my class is about it. They seem to be as fascinated by it as I am. It’s very encouraging to get that kind of response.

Posted by Mark at March 4, 2004 11:04 PM