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28 January 2021


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English Outsider

That resonant style of declaiming is entirely different from the conversational, almost apologetic style of modern poetry reading.

So one can understand why the experience of hearing it at that Oregon reading remained in memory. No one thought to tape it at the time?

The declamatory style must have been more the norm in England once -


And was certainly the style of the nineteenth century actors - not for them the quick gabble of modern actors in Shakespeare. The closest I have heard of the style in modern times is, oddly enough, in Kemp Malone's Beowulf recording. No internet searches bring that up and my copy is on an old 45 rpm I can no longer play, but from memory he too employed the style.

The poem itself - I have no Russian so am dependent on the translation - is bleak and obdurate. I don't think Blinken will find much yielding to his forward policy, as the recent deployment of Bastion in the Crimea shows. One hopes there's no hammering of these into the unforgetting sky.


Steven Willett

English Outsider can find a recording of the complete Beowulf here


English Outsider

That.Is.Brilliant. Very many thanks.

I came to OE lateish - it was something I'd always promised myself I'd do - and am glad I did. Escaped the narrow though necessary attention of the scholars, mining the text from this or that perspective and often missing the sheer perfection and craftsmanship of the thing, and got the impact full blast from that Kemp Malone reading. I might have heard it read more accurately later - don't know - but never as effectively, never with that feel for the balance of the lines.

Pitcher back to the well. In the early days of the internet it was possible to get a superb facsimile of the MS. It had been put up by one of the American universties. Not there any more and hasn't been for some time. Any chance of a source for that?

Steven Willett

Dear English Outsider,

You can get a full reproduction of the Beowulf manuscript at the following British Library site:


At the site move to Cotton MS Vitellius AXV ff.94r~209v.
Open the manuscript and move on the far right margin to the page list at f.94r. Slide down to the start of Beowulf at f.132r, which runs to 209v. Full MS again is f.132r~209v. When I opened it at f.132r, the sudden Hyaet really hit me! Good luck with it.


"I am Goya"- Amazing. An epic of predatory devastation and victory, in seventeen lines, "stars hammered into the unforgetting sky - like nails."


Thanks, Steven Willet.
Great poem, short and concise. Goya, sometimes the painter speaks to the poet beyond the realms of time, the rest should be silence.

English Outsider

Very grateful indeed for that. I'd never been able to find it - had been looking the wrong side of the Atlantic!

The new suggested reading of the very first word makes a lot more sense, I find. This is not some epic chant from some ancient mead hall, one feels, though it's from there it derives its origins. This is finished work, high culture, and the tone of that suggested reading fits better. One can only speculate on the literary tradition from which it came and the audience it found at the time. Wider than some monastery cell, one guesses, and the world of that audience broken into fragments not long after.

Bloody Normans. Not a good idea, being conquered. To be met with the most bitter resistance, as that raw verse above says explicitly. But the slow sapping of a culture from within that we are living through at present? What would Voznesensky say to that?

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