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Old English Shorter Poems, Volume I: Religious and Didactic

Old English Shorter Poems, Volume I: Religious and Didactic

Edited and translated by Christopher A. Jones

ISBN 9780674057890

Publication date: 05/14/2012

Alongside famous long works such as Beowulf, Old English poetry offers a large number of shorter compositions, many of them on explicitly Christian themes. This volume of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library presents twenty-nine of these shorter religious poems composed in Old and early Middle English between the seventh and twelfth centuries. Among the texts, which demonstrate the remarkable versatility of early English verse, are colorful allegories of the natural world, poems dedicated to Christian prayer and morality, and powerful meditations on death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

Previously edited in many different places and in some instances lacking accessible translations, many of these poems have remained little known outside scholarly circles. The present volume aims to offer this important body of texts to a wider audience by bringing them together in one collection and providing all of them with up-to-date translations and explanatory notes. An introduction sets the poems in their literary-historical contexts, which are further illustrated by two appendices, including the first complete modern English translation of the so-called Old English Benedictine Office.


  • This handsome volume presents 29 Old English religious poems, each in the original language and facing modern English translation. Jones is wise in categorizing these non-narrative, anonymous poems under four loose headings (‘Poetic Allegories of Nature,’ ‘Poems of Worship and Prayer,’ ‘Poems on Christian Living,’ and ‘Poems on the Last Things’) but emphasizing that the poems nonetheless share inextricable themes of morality and future judgment. Texts are based on established editions, and newly prepared prose translations balance faithfulness to the original with the standards of clear, idiomatic, modern English. The introduction provides context that will heighten appreciation of the poems. Notes on the particular poems offer general textual and bibliographic information. The introduction, notes, and bibliography do not aim to be comprehensive, a laudable choice because it allows inexperienced readers to encounter these beautiful poems, many rarely read today, directly and independent of layers of textual and critical commentary.

    —M. B. Busbee, Choice


  • Christopher A. Jones is Professor of English at The Ohio State University.

Book Details

  • 496 pages
  • 5-1/4 x 8 inches
  • Harvard University Press