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Old English Online

Lesson 2

Jonathan Slocum and Winfred P. Lehmann

Bede, 671-735, often referred to as The Venerable Bede, is highly regarded for his wide learning and writing. He was a monk in the monastery at Jarrow, Northumbria, which is considered the equal of those on the continent. In addition to his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, which provides a history of England from the date of Julius Caesar's invasion in 55 B.C. to 731 A.D., he wrote numerous other works in Latin on astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and philosophy.

Reading and Textual Analysis

In his History, Bede included accounts like that in this lesson on the poet Caedmon, for whom we have the dates 657-680 on the basis of the period when Hild was abbess at Streneshaelc, which he entered after his vision; otherwise, we know no more about him than what is stated in the few pages that include the Hymn. These inform us that Caedmon wrote many poems based on Biblical texts, on the Old Testament Genesis and also on the New Testament gospels. Earlier it was often assumed that he was the author of the Old English Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, Christ and others, but now it is generally agreed that his only surviving work is the short poem included in this lesson. In Bede's History, translated into the Anglo-Saxon [Old English] vernacular under the auspices of Alfred in the latter 9th century, the account of Caedmon concludes with a celebrated description of the poet's death.

Caedmon's Hymn, lines 41-49 in this transcription, is assumed to be the first Old English poetry composed in Germanic alliterative verse. As comparison with the strictly composed Beowulf shows, it observes the principles by which the principal alliteration is a nominal in the second half-line (except for the emphasized adverb in line 48). The Hymn is recorded in seventeen manuscripts; these vary in spelling, as the first line in a Cambridge University manuscript may illustrate: Nu scylun hergan hefaenricaes Uard. That manuscript identifies the author after the last line with the words: Primo cantauit Caedmon istud Carmen.

Our selection includes lines 20-49, found on pp. 42-43 in: Charles T. Onions, ed. (1959), Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Reader in Prose and Verse, 14th edition, Oxford: Clarendon. Caedmon's hymn alone, in its Northumbrian recension, appears on p. 166 (Onions, op cit).

Ws h se mon in weoruldhde geseted o tde e h ws gelfedre yldo, and h nfre nig lo geleornade:

  • ws -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • se -- definite article; nominative singular masculine of <se, so, t> the -- a
  • mon -- strong noun, masculine; nominative singular of <monn> man, person -- man # appositive = 'he'
  • in -- preposition <in> in, into -- to
  • weoruldhde -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <weorold hd> secular life -- secular life
  • geseted -- weak verb, class I; past participle of <gesettan, gesette, geseted> set (out), appoint, establish -- appointed
  • o -- adverbial conjunction <o> until -- up to
  • -- definite article; accusative singular feminine of <se, so, t> the -- the
  • tde -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <td> time -- time
  • e -- relative particle <e> that, which, who -- that
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • ws -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • gelfedre -- adjective; genitive singular feminine of <gelyfed> advanced -- of advanced
  • yldo -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <yldu> (old) age -- age
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • nfre -- contraction; adverb <ne> not + adverb <fre> ever, always -- never
  • nig -- adjective; accusative singular neuter of <nig> any -- any
  • lo -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <lo> song, poem -- poetry
  • geleornade -- weak verb, class II; 3rd person singular preterite of <geleornian, geleornode, geleornod> learn, study -- learned

and h for on oft in geborscipe, onne r ws blisse intinga gedmed -- t he ealle sceolden urh endebyrdnesse be hearpan singan --

  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- ...
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- ...
  • for on -- conjunction <for on> because, therefore -- for that reason
  • oft -- adverb <oft> often, frequently -- often
  • in -- preposition <in> in, into -- at
  • geborscipe -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <geborscipe> feast, beer party -- the feast
  • onne -- adverb <onne> then, when -- when
  • r -- adverb <r> there, where -- there
  • ws -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • blisse -- strong noun, feminine; genitive singular of <bliss> bliss, joy, happiness -- for merriment
  • intinga -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <intinga> cause, reason -- cause
  • gedmed -- weak verb, class I; past participle of <dman, dmde, dmed> deem, judge; praise -- deemed (to be)
  • t -- subordinating conjunction <t> that -- (so) that
  • he -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative plural of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- they
  • ealle -- adjective; nominative plural masculine of <eall> all -- all
  • sceolden -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class IV; 3rd person plural preterite subjunctive of <sculan, sceal, sculon, scolde> shall, ought to -- should
  • urh -- preposition <urh> through, by (means of) -- in
  • endebyrdnesse -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <endebyrdnes> order, sequence -- succession
  • be -- preposition <be> at, by, near -- to # accompanied by
  • hearpan -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <hearpe> harp -- the harp
  • singan -- strong verb, class III; infinitive of <singan, sang, sungon, sungen> sing, compose -- sing

onne h geseah hearpan him nalcan, onne rs h for scome from m symble, and hm ode t his hse.

  • onne -- adverb <onne> then, when -- when
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • geseah -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person singular preterite of <geson, geseah, gesgon, gesegen> see, observe -- saw
  • -- definite article; accusative singular feminine of <se, so, t> the -- the
  • hearpan -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <hearpe> harp -- harp
  • him -- 3rd person pronoun; dative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- to him
  • nalcan -- weak verb, class I; infinitive of <nalcan, nalcte, nalced> approach, draw near -- draw near
  • onne -- adverb <onne> then, when -- ...
  • rs -- strong verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <rsan, rs, rison, risen> arise -- arose
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • for -- preposition <for> for, because of -- out of
  • scome -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <scomu> shame -- shame
  • from -- preposition <fram> from -- from
  • m -- definite article; dative singular neuter of <se, so, t> the -- the
  • symble -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <symbel> feast -- feast
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • hm -- adverb <hm> home, homewards -- home
  • ode -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <gn> go, walk, move -- went
  • t -- preposition <t> (in)to -- to
  • his -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- his
  • hse -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <hs> house -- abode

h t sumre tde dyde, t h forlt t hs s geborscipes, and t ws gongende t nata scypene, ra heord him ws re nihte beboden,

  • -- adverb <> then, when -- then
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • t -- demonstrative pronoun; accusative singular neuter of <s, so, t> that -- this
  • -- adverb <> then, when -- ...
  • sumre -- adjective; dative singular feminine of <sum> some, a certain -- one
  • tde -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <td> time -- time
  • dyde -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <dn> do, make -- did
  • t -- conjunction <t> so/in order that -- so that
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • forlt -- strong verb, class VII; 3rd person singular preterite of <forltan, forlt, forlton, forlten> leave, abandon -- left
  • t -- definite article; accusative singular neuter of <se, so, t> the -- the
  • hs -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <hs> house -- house
  • s -- definite article; genitive singular masculine of <se, so, t> the -- of the
  • geborscipes -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <geborscipe> feast, beer party -- feast
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • t -- adverb <t> out -- out
  • ws -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • gongende -- strong verb, class VII; present participle of <gongan, gong, gongon, gongen> go, walk -- going
  • t -- preposition <t> (in)to -- to
  • nata -- noun, neuter; genitive plural of <nat> ox, cow -- the cattle
  • scypene -- noun, neuter; dative singular of <scypen> shed -- shed
  • ra -- definite article; genitive plural of <se, so, t> the -- their
  • heord -- noun, feminine; nominative singular of <heord> care, custody -- care
  • him -- 3rd person pronoun; dative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- to him
  • ws -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • re -- definite article; dative singular feminine of <se, so, t> the -- for the
  • nihte -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <niht> night -- night
  • beboden -- strong verb, class II; past participle of <bebodan, bebad, bebudon, beboden> command, instruct -- entrusted

h r in gelimplicre tde his limo on reste gesette and onslpte, std him sum mon t urh swefn, and hine hlette and grtte, and hine be his naman nemde:

  • -- adverb <> then, when -- when
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • -- adverb <> then, when -- ...
  • r -- adverb <r> there, where -- there
  • in -- preposition <in> in, into -- at
  • gelimplicre -- adjective; dative singular feminine of <gelimplic> suitable -- (a) suitable
  • tde -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <td> time -- time
  • his -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive singular neuter of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- his
  • limo -- noun, neuter; accusative plural of <lim> limb -- arms and legs
  • on -- preposition <on> on(to), upon -- on
  • reste -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <rest> rest, resting place -- (a) resting place
  • gesette -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <gesettan, gesette, geseted> set (out), appoint, establish -- arranged
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • onslpte -- strong verb, class VII; 3rd person singular preterite of <onslpan, onslp, onslpon, onslpen> fall asleep -- fell asleep
  • -- adverb <> then, when -- ...
  • std -- strong verb, class VI; 3rd person singular preterite of <standan, std, stdon, standen> stand -- stood
  • him -- 3rd person pronoun; dative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- him
  • sum -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <sum> some, a certain -- a
  • mon -- strong noun, masculine; nominative singular of <monn> man, person -- man
  • t -- preposition <t> at, against -- by
  • urh -- preposition <urh> through, by (means of) -- in
  • swefn -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <swefn> dream -- a dream
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • hine -- 3rd person pronoun; accusative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- him
  • hlette -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <hlettan, hlette, hleted> hail, salute -- hailed
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • grtte -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <grtan, grtte, grted> greet, approach -- greeted
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • hine -- 3rd person pronoun; accusative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- him
  • be -- preposition <be> at, by, near -- by
  • his -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- ...
  • naman -- weak noun, masculine; dative singular of <nama> name -- name
  • nemde -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <nemnan, nemde, nemed> name, call -- called

'Cdmon, sing m hwthwegu.'

  • Cdmon -- proper noun, masculine; nominative singular of <Cdmon> Ca|edmon -- Caedmon
  • sing -- strong verb, class III; 2nd person singular imperative of <singan, sang, sungon, sungen> sing, compose -- sing
  • m -- 1st person pronoun; dative singular of <ic> I -- for me
  • hwthwegu -- indefinite pronoun; accusative singular of <hwt-hwegu> something -- something

andswarode h and cw: 'Ne con ic nht singan, and ic for on of yssum geborscipe t ode, and hider gewt, for on ic nht ce.'

  • -- adverb <> then, when -- then
  • andswarode -- weak verb, class II; 3rd person singular preterite of <andswarian, andswarode, andswarod> answer, respond -- answered
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • cw -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person singular preterite of <cwean, cw, cwdon, cweden> say, speak -- said
  • ne -- adverb <ne> not -- not
  • con -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class III; 1st person singular present indicative of <cunnan, cann, cunnon, ce> can, know how to -- can
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • nht -- adjective <n> no, not + noun, neuter; accusative <wiht> whit, thing -- ... # double negative, for emphasis
  • singan -- strong verb, class III; infinitive of <singan, sang, sungon, sungen> sing, compose -- sing
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • for on -- conjunction <for on> because, therefore -- because
  • of -- preposition <of> from, of -- of
  • yssum -- demonstrative pronoun; dative singular neuter of <s, os, is> this -- this
  • geborscipe -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <geborscipe> feast, beer party -- from the feast
  • t -- adverb <t> out -- out
  • ode -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <gn> go, walk, move -- went
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • hider -- adverb <hider> here, hither -- here
  • gewt -- strong verb, class I; 1st person singular preterite of <gewtan, gewt, gewiton, gewiten> depart, go -- went
  • for on -- conjunction <for on> because, therefore -- because
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • nht -- adjective <n> no, not + noun, neuter; accusative <wiht> whit, thing -- naught # "not a whit"
  • ce -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class III; 1st person singular preterite indicative of <cunnan, cann, cunnon, ce> can, know how to -- could (sing)

Eft h cw s e mid him sprecende ws: 'Hwere meaht m singan.'

  • eft -- adverb <eft> afterwards, thereupon -- again
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • cw -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person singular preterite of <cwean, cw, cwdon, cweden> say, speak -- said
  • s -- demonstrative used as 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <s, so, t> he, she, it -- he
  • e -- relative particle <e> that, which, who -- who
  • mid -- preposition <mid> with -- with
  • him -- 3rd person pronoun; dative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- him
  • sprecende -- strong verb, class V; present participle of <sprecan, sprc, sprcon, sprecen> speak, say -- speaking
  • ws -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular preterite indicative of <wesan> be, happen -- was
  • hwere -- conjunction <hwere> but, yet, however -- but
  • -- 2nd person pronoun; nominative singular of <> you -- you
  • meaht -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class V; 2nd person singular present indicative of <magan, mg, magon, meahte> may, be able to -- can
  • m -- 1st person pronoun; dative singular of <ic> I -- to me
  • singan -- strong verb, class III; infinitive of <singan, sang, sungon, sungen> sing, compose -- sing

Cw h: 'Hwt sceal ic singan?'

  • cw -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person singular preterite of <cwean, cw, cwdon, cweden> say, speak -- said
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • hwt -- interrogative pronoun; accusative singular neuter of <hw, hw, hwt> who, what -- what
  • sceal -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class IV; 1st person singular present indicative of <sculan, sceal, sculon, scolde> shall, ought to -- shall
  • ic -- 1st person pronoun; nominative singular of <ic> I -- I
  • singan -- strong verb, class III; infinitive of <singan, sang, sungon, sungen> sing, compose -- sing

Cw h: 'Sing m frumsceaft.'

  • cw -- strong verb, class V; 3rd person singular preterite of <cwean, cw, cwdon, cweden> say, speak -- said
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • sing -- strong verb, class III; 2nd person singular imperative of <singan, sang, sungon, sungen> sing, compose -- sing
  • m -- 1st person pronoun; dative singular of <ic> I -- to me
  • frumsceaft -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <frumsceaft> creation -- (about) the creation # genesis

h s andsware onfng, ongan h sna singan, in herenesse Godes Scyppendes, fers and word e h nfre ne gehrde, ra endebyrdnes is is:

  • -- adverb <> then, when -- when
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • -- adverb <> then, when -- ...
  • s -- demonstrative article; accusative singular feminine of <es, os, is> this -- this
  • andsware -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <andswaru> answer, response -- answer
  • onfng -- strong verb, class VII; 3rd person singular preterite of <onfn, onfng, onfngon, onfangen> accept, receive -- received # onfangen or onfongen
  • -- adverb <> then, when -- then
  • ongan -- strong verb, class III; 3rd person singular preterite of <onginnan, ongonn, ongunnon, ongunnen> begin, attempt -- began
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • sna -- adverb <sna> immediately -- immediately
  • singan -- strong verb, class III; infinitive of <singan, sang, sungon, sungen> sing, compose -- to sing
  • in -- preposition <in> in, into -- in
  • herenesse -- noun, feminine; dative singular of <herenes> praise -- praise
  • Godes -- proper noun, masculine; genitive singular of <God> God, Deity -- of God
  • scyppendes -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <scieppend> shaper, creator -- the Creator
  • -- demonstrative article; accusative plural of <se, so, t> that -- those
  • fers -- noun, neuter; accusative plural of <fers> sentence, verse -- verses
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • -- demonstrative article; accusative plural of <se, so, t> that -- those
  • word -- noun, neuter; accusative plural of <word> word, speech -- words
  • e -- relative particle <e> that, which, who -- which
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • nfre -- contraction; adverb <ne> not + adverb <fre> ever, always -- never
  • ne -- adverb <ne> not -- ever # double negative
  • gehrde -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <geheran, geherede, gehered> hear (of) -- (had) heard
  • ra -- demonstrative pronoun; genitive plural of <s, so, t> that -- of them
  • endebyrdnes -- noun, feminine; nominative singular of <endebyrdnes> order, sequence -- the arrangement
  • is -- demonstrative pronoun; nominative singular neuter of <s, os, is> this -- this
  • is -- anomalous verb; 3rd person singular present indicative of <bon> be, become, exist -- is

N w sculan herian         heofonrces Weard,
        Metodes mihte         and his mdgeonc,
        weorc Wuldorfder;         sw h wundra gehws,
        ce Dryhten,         ord onstealde.

  • n -- adverb <n> now -- now
  • w -- 1st person pronoun; nominative plural of <ic> I -- we
  • sculan -- modal (preterit-present) verb, class IV; 3rd person plural present indicative of <sculan, sceal, sculon, scolde> shall, ought to -- must
  • herian -- weak verb, class I; infinitive of <herian, herede, hered> praise, extol -- praise
  • heofonrces -- noun, neuter; genitive singular of <heofon-rce> kingdom of heaven -- of the kingdom of Heaven
  • weard -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <weard> ward, guard, keeper -- the Lord
  • metodes -- noun, masculine; genitive singular of <metod> creator -- God's
  • mihte -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <miht> might, power -- power
  • and -- conjunction <and> and -- and
  • his -- 3rd person pronoun; genitive singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- his
  • mdgeonc -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <mdgeonc> conception, purpose -- purpose
  • weorc -- noun, neuter; accusative singular of <weorc> work, deed -- the work
  • wuldorfder -- noun, neuter <wuldor> glory, praise + noun, masculine; genitive singular <fder> father -- of the Father of Glory
  • sw -- adverbial conjunction <sw> so, thus -- thus
  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • wundra -- noun, neuter; genitive plural of <wundor> miracle, wonder -- wonder # singular in meaning
  • gehws -- pronoun; genitive singular of <gehw> each, everyone -- of every
  • ce -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <ce> eternal, everlasting -- eternal
  • dryhten -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <drihten> lord, prince, ruler -- Lord
  • ord -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <ord> source, beginning -- the beginning
  • onstealde -- weak verb, class I; 3rd person singular preterite of <onstellan, onstealde, onsteled> establish, institute -- established

H rest gescep         eoran bearnum
        heofon t hrfe,         hlig Scyppend;
        middangeard,         moncynnes Weard,
        ce Dryhten,         fter tode
        frum foldan,         Fra lmihtig.

  • h -- 3rd person pronoun; nominative singular masculine of <h, ho, hit> he, she, it -- he
  • rest -- adverb; superlative of <r> ere, before, formerly -- first
  • gescep -- strong verb, class VI; 3rd person singular preterite of <gescieppan, gescp, gescpon, gesceapen> shape, create -- created
  • eoran -- noun, feminine; genitive singular of <eor> earth -- of earth
  • bearnum -- noun, neuter; dative plural of <bearn> child -- for the children
  • heofon -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <heofon> heaven, sky -- heaven
  • t -- preposition <t> (in)to -- for
  • hrfe -- noun, masculine; dative singular of <hrf> roof -- (a) roof
  • hlig -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <hlig> holy -- the holy
  • scyppend -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <scieppend> shaper, creator -- Creator
  • -- adverb <> then, when -- then
  • middangeard -- noun, masculine; accusative singular of <middan-eard> middle-earth, world -- the earth
  • moncynnes -- noun, neuter; genitive singular of <monn-cynn> mankind -- mankind's
  • weard -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <weard> ward, guard, keeper -- Guardian
  • ce -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <ce> eternal, everlasting -- the eternal
  • dryhten -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <drihten> lord, prince, ruler -- Lord
  • fter -- adverb <fter> after(wards), then -- afterwards
  • tode -- weak verb, class II; 3rd person singular preterite of <ton, tode, todod> adorn, settle -- settled
  • frum -- noun, masculine plural; dative of <firas> men, people -- with men
  • foldan -- noun, feminine; accusative singular of <folde> earth, ground -- the earth
  • fra -- noun, masculine; nominative singular of <fra> lord, master -- the Lord
  • lmihtig -- adjective; nominative singular masculine of <lmihtig> almighty -- Almighty

Lesson Text

Ws h se mon in weoruldhde geseted o tde e h ws gelfedre yldo, and h nfre nig lo geleornade: and h for on oft in geborscipe, onne r ws blisse intinga gedmed -- t he ealle sceolden urh endebyrdnesse be hearpan singan -- onne h geseah hearpan him nalcan, onne rs h for scome from m symble, and hm ode t his hse. h t sumre tde dyde, t h forlt t hs s geborscipes, and t ws gongende t nata scypene, ra heord him ws re nihte beboden, h r in gelimplicre tde his limo on reste gesette and onslpte, std him sum mon t urh swefn, and hine hlette and grtte, and hine be his naman nemde:

'Cdmon, sing m hwthwegu.'

andswarode h and cw: 'Ne con ic nht singan, and ic for on of yssum geborscipe t ode, and hider gewt, for on ic nht ce.'

Eft h cw s e mid him sprecende ws: 'Hwere meaht m singan.'

Cw h: 'Hwt sceal ic singan?'

Cw h: 'Sing m frumsceaft.'

h s andsware onfng, ongan h sna singan, in herenesse Godes Scyppendes, fers and word e h nfre ne gehrde, ra endebyrdnes is is:

        N w sculan herian         heofonrces Weard,
        Metodes mihte         and his mdgeonc,
        weorc Wuldorfder;         sw h wundra gehws,
        ce Dryhten,         ord onstealde.

        H rest gescep         eoran bearnum
        heofon t hrfe,         hlig Scyppend;
        middangeard,         moncynnes Weard,
        ce Dryhten,         fter tode
        frum foldan,         Fra lmihtig.

Translation

He was a man appointed to secular life, up to the time that he was of advanced age, and he never learned any poetry. For that reason, often at the feast, when there was deemed to be cause for merriment -- so that they all in succession should sing to the harp -- when he saw the harp draw near to him, he arose from the feast out of shame and went home to his abode. Then one time he did this, so that he left the house of the feast and was going out to the cattle shed (their care was entrusted to him for the night). When at a suitable time he arranged his arms and legs on a resting place there, and fell asleep, a man stood by him in a dream and hailed and greeted him and called him by name:
"Caedmon, sing something for me."
Then answered he and said, "I can not sing, and because of this I went out from the feast and went here because I could (sing) naught."
Again he said (he who was speaking with him): "But you can sing to me."
Said he, "What shall I sing?"
He said, "Sing to me about the creation."
When he received this answer, he then began immediately to sing, in praise of God the Creator, those verses and those words which he had never ever heard; the arrangement of them is this:
    "Now we must praise the Lord         of the kingdom of Heaven,
    God's power         and his purpose,
    the work of the Father of Glory;         thus he, of every wonder
    the eternal Lord,         established the beginning.
    He first created,         for the children of earth,
    heaven for a roof,         the holy Creator;
    then the earth,         mankind's Guardian,
    the eternal Lord;         afterwards settled
    with men the earth,         the Lord Almighty.

Grammar

6. Personal Pronouns

Old English (OE) personal pronouns, like those of modern English (e.g., 'I', 'me', 'you', 'we'), are essentially suppletive: one must memorize all the forms. There are three persons (1st, 2nd, 3rd), three numbers (singular, dual [two], plural), and four cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative).

1st Person   Singular   Dual   Plural
Nom.   ic 'I'   wit 'we two'   w 'we'
Gen.   mn 'my, mine'   uncer 'our two'   ser, re 'our'
Dat.   m 'me'   unc 'us two'   s 'us'
Acc.   mec, m   uncit, unc   sic, s

As can be seen from the tables above and below, the OE accusative case was merging with the dative as the early, specifically accusative forms (listed first, above and below) were lost. The result was our modern objective case.

2nd Person   Singular   Dual   Plural
Nom.   'thou, you'   git 'you two'   g 'ye, you'
Gen.   n 'thine, your'   incer 'your two'   ower, owre 'your'
Dat.   'thee, you'   inc 'you two'   ow 'you'
Acc.   ec,   incit, inc   owic, ow

Third person pronouns did not have dual forms, and in the Middle English period the dual was lost in 1st and 2nd person as well. The singular 3rd person forms come in masculine, feminine, and neuter gender; of course grammatical gender does not necessarily translate into sex, as modern English usage and our translations below might seem to imply.

3rd Person   Masc. Sg.   Fem. Sg.   Neut. Sg.   Plural
Nom.   h 'he'   ho, he 'she'   hit, hyt 'it'   ho, he, h, h 'they'
Gen.   his 'his'   hire 'her'   his 'its'   hira, heora, hiera 'their'
Dat.   him 'him'   hire 'her'   him 'it'   him, heom 'them'
Acc.   hine 'him'   ho, he 'her'   hit, hyt 'it'   ho, he, h, h 'them'

The tables all show that alternative spellings of personal pronouns appeared in the literature: there are relatively few single, unambiguous forms.

When used as possessive adjectives, genitives of 1st- and 2nd-person personal pronouns were declined like [category 2, ja- and jo-stem] strong adjectives, inflected for case and gender to agree with the substantive they modify. The 1st person forms mn, uncer and re, and 2nd person forms n, incer and ower might be so treated. In addition, a special 3rd person singular form sn 'his, her, its' might be so declined.

7. Contractions with ne 'not'

Modern English exhibits contractions with 'not' as a suffix, e.g. wouldn't, where the vowel 'o' is lost. Old English forms contractions with the adverbial particle ne 'not' as a prefix. Our text contains two instances of ne contracted with the adverb fre 'ever, always', resulting in nfre 'never'. (In forming a contraction with a word beginning with a vowel sound, the vowel in ne is lost.) Our text in lesson 3 adds the contraction ne + nig 'any' > nnig 'none, not one'.

The particle ne can also be contracted with anomalous verbs. But when such a verb begins with a 'w' (vowel-like) sound, it too is lost along with the vowel sound from ne and, reflected in spelling, 'n' simply replaces 'w'. Hence we will see, in lesson 3:

  • nre = ne + wre (preterite singular of wesan, lesson 1 §4)
  • nolde = ne + wolde (preterite singular of willan, see lesson 3 §11)
  • noldon = ne + woldon (preterite plural of willan)

Yet more contractions using ne 'not' are encountered in later lesson texts.

8. Prepositions

Prepositions may govern either the dative case or the accusative, or both. Those governing the dative are be 'by', beforan 'before', betweox 'between', for 'before', from, fram 'from', mid 'with, among', of 'from', t 'to'. Those governing the accusative are geond 'throughout', o 'up to', urh 'through'. Those governing both cases take the dative when the following noun is at rest, the accusative when it is in motion, e.g. in 'in, into', ofer 'over, across', on 'on, onto', under 'under'.

9. Weak Verbs in Class II

Our text in this lesson uses the verb geleornian 'learn, study', formed from the prefix ge- (discussed in a later lesson) plus the verb leornian 'learn'; the Beowulf text in lesson 10 uses the verb frogan 'love' (also spelled frogean). We conjugate these two to illustrate the weak verbs in Class II, which exhibit variations (columns 1 and 2) due to the optional final stem vowels -i- and, respectively, -e-, with other ancient pronunciation change effects.

Weak II   1   2
Infinitive   leornian 'learn'   frog(e)an 'love'
Inflected Infin.   t leornianne   t frog(e)anne
Imperative Sg.   leorna   froge
Imperative Pl.   leornia   frog(e)a
Pres. Participle   leorniende   frogende
Past Participle   leornod   frod
Gerund   leornienne   frogenne
         
Present Indicative   1   2
1 Sg.   leornie   froge
2 Sg.   leornast   frost
3 Sg.   leorna   fro
Plural   leornia   frog(e)a
         
Present Subjunctive   1   2
Singular   leornie   froge
Plural   leornien   frogen
         
Preterite Indicative   1   2
1 Sg.   leornode   frode
2 Sg.   leornodest   frodest
3 Sg.   leornode   frode
Plural   leornodon   frodon
         
Preterite Subjunctive   1   2
Singular   leornode   frode
Plural   leornoden   froden

A sampling of modern English verbs descended from other OE Weak II verbs found in our lesson texts includes answer, follow, harry, look, sail, and wound.

10. Strong Verbs in Class I

Modern English includes a few hundred strong verbs, many of them used with high frequency, wherein tense/aspect are indicated by a change in the internal stem vowel, for example rise, rose, risen or sing, sang, sung. These forms are of course inherited, albeit with changes, from Old English. The patterns of vowel change, called ablaut, are reflected in the different classes of strong verbs, of which there are seven in OE. Strong Class I verbs exhibit the four-vowel ablaut pattern --, --, -i-, -i-. (The reason for there being "four" vowels, when the 3rd and 4th are here the same, will become clear in the discussion of Strong Class II in lesson 3 §13.)

Four vowels result in there being four principal parts of every strong verb; these are always its infinitive, its 3rd person preterite singular, its preterite plural, and its past participle, which four use the respective vowels. From these four forms, plus a wee bit of phonology, one may construct the complete conjugation.

We illustrate Strong Class I using a "regular" verb (column 1) having an obvious modern descendant, a second verb (column 2) with minor pronunciation change effects, and a third verb (column 3) that shows greater irregularity. (Again, we defer discussion of the ancient sound changes that led to this situation.)

The text in this lesson contains the verb rsan 'arise', which is formed from the prefix - plus the verb rsan 'rise' illustrated in column 1; the verb snan 'cut' in column 2 is chosen for convenience; the verb on 'thrive' in column 3 appears in our lesson 1 Beowulf text.

Strong I   1   2   3
Infinitive   rsan 'rise'   snan 'cut'   on, eon 'thrive'
Inflected Infin.   t rsanne   t snanne   t onne
Imperative Sg.   rs   sn   oh
Imperative Pl.   rsa   sna   a
Pres. Participle   rsende   snende   onde
Past Participle   risen   sniden   igen, ungen
Gerund   rsenne   snenne   enne
             
Present Indicative   1   2   3
1 Sg.   rse   sne   e
2 Sg.   rsest   snest   est
3 Sg.   rse   sne   e
Plural   rsa   sna   a
             
Present Subjunctive   1   2   3
Singular   rse   sne   e
Plural   rsen   snen   en
             
Preterite Indicative   1   2   3
1 Sg.   rs   sn   h, ah
2 Sg.   rise   snide   ige
3 Sg.   rs   sn   h, ah
Plural   rison   snidon   igon
             
Preterite Subjunctive   1   2   3
Singular   rise   snide   ige
Plural   risen   sniden   igen

A sampling of modern English verbs descended from other OE Strong I verbs found in our lesson texts includes bide, grip (which became weak), and ride.

N.B. To repeat: while conjugation tables like the above often attempt to list "the possible" forms of a verb, it is seldom the case that all such forms are attested in the few surviving OE texts! Rather, the forms are reconstructed using rules that have been deduced by other linguists. Often there are known exceptions to the rules, and/or the rules may be incomplete. There may even be holes or question marks in these tables when the evidence is tentative or the rules seem poorly explained.