Monday, October 19, 2009

The Homilies of Wulfstan on Angl0-Saxon Aloud

For the first time in 1000 years, the Homilies of Wulfstan are recorded and available on the internet. Take a listen and enjoy all the ranty goodness of Wulfstan.

I've recorded and posted all of the Old English homilies in Dorothy Bethurum's edition. All told there are about 60 podcasts, each of about 3 to 5 minutes, adding up to a whopping four hours of Wulfstan's sermons.

I started recording these homilies at the end of June, so I've been living with Wulfstan just about every weekday since then. It takes probably about 45 minutes total for each podcast. First I read over the homily and make a few marginal notes (for example, if a cluster of small words extends across a line break, I make sure I'll keep the intonation right. If there's a really long question coming up, I'll put a question mark at the beginning of the sentence, etc.). Then I record the homily in 100-line chunks. Although this only takes about 4 minutes or so to listen to, it takes longer to record, since I make mistakes. Then there's editing, which takes a while, and the actual posting, which is relatively quick.

I've learned a lot from recording these homilies. First, prose is harder than poetry. Much harder. In recording the poems, I found I didn't have to work very hard to get the intonation right: the natural rhythm of the lines took care of that (and having sentences end at the half-line was also helpful). In prose, intonation is very tricky and requires you mentally to read ahead and parse the sentence a bit before your speech gets there. We do this all the time when we read aloud, but it's very challenging in Old English, where my speech of comprehension is just not quite as quick as it is for Modern English.

Second, Wulfstan was a big man. At least I'm pretty sure he had to be. There are just too many sentences in which it would be very easy to run out of breath, especially if preaching without amplification. If Wulfstan delivered these sermons, he had to be a powerful speaker to get out some of the huge sentences in which the payoff is only at the end.

Third, Wulfstan used a lot of aural effects. He is very different from Ælfric in that his word pairs, rhythm, alliteration, paranomasia, etc., all seem (this is unscientific, of course) to be focused on what things sound like rather than what they look like on paper. Again, totally based on gut instinct, I think Wulfstan wrote these homilies with a very good sense of how they were going to sound to an audience.

I've learned a lot by doing this, and my oral comprehension of Anglo-Saxon prose has improved immensely as a result. I still don't think I could go back to Anglo-Saxon England and carry on a real conversation, but I think I might be able to serve as a translator from OE to ModE if the problem ever came up. I really can now translate out loud on the fly in real time and without pausing, which is something I can't do for any modern language.

I am going to take a break from Anglo-Saxon Aloud until Nov. 1. I haven't decided what to do next. Ælfric is pretty daunting, and, although I will do the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle at some point, I don't think I have the time right now to convert all the Roman numerals into Old English words (and, as I learned, this is something I can't quite do on the fly).

Any suggestions? What would you like to hear next on Anglo-Saxon Aloud? What would be most useful for your teaching or your learning?

P.S.: I'm not planning on creating a professionally produced CD-set of Wulfstan the way I did for Beowulf Aloud or Anglo-Saxon Aloud: Greatest Hits. I don't think there's enough demand, and it costs a lot of money to make the first fifty copies (not as much after that). But please contact me directly if for some reason you want to buy a 4-CD-set of Wulfstan and we'll figure something out.


Jason Leary said...

"For the first time in 1000 years, the Homilies of Wulfstan are recorded and available on the internet." I am guessing that 1,000 years ago these homilies were not available on the internet! Regardless, I want to let you know how much I enjoy this site.

Paul said...

Thanks for all the hard work! I'm glad you moved on to record the prose as well. As I suggested to you in the summer, the Consolation of Philosophy would make a great next project. There's the exciting new edition to work with, too.

Anonymous said...

i'm sorry, but i'm not really commenting on this but i can't re-find the page where you answer questions. at the end of the last lecture of your history of the english language, there's an ambiguous statement in the audio that isn't related in the pdf. did english have a differentiation between the two uses of "to be" like spanish has for instance? one's called the copulate form and i don't know the other. thank you so much for all your work. an autodidact needs all the help one can get. william,

Len Neidorf said...

Hi Michael, long-time reader and first-time commenter here. Just want to tell you that, as a Wulfstan enthusiast, I greatly appreciate your efforts. I have always believed that Wulfstan's works would be very well suited for recording and performance. Imagine someone like Benjamin Bagby dramatically uttering "Leofan men" or yelling "uton don swa us thearf is." It'd be great.