Venerable Bede: Deathsong (From Old English)

Death Song
Attributed to the Venerable Bede
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Before departing  on the compelled journey
Through death's narrows,   none is so clever
That he knows his own end and needn't think
On what judgment he'll get for good or evil,
Consider the soul's sentencing hereafter.

Audio of me reciting the text in Very Late West Saxon


Audio of me reciting the text in Old Northumbrian


I plan to write something up with further explanation of what you hear in these recordings, as part of my Voices of Earlier English series. Two points right now.
Point the first: yes, we do have evidence for that uvular R in Old Northumbrian. (In fact, the uvular R survived in Northumbrian English into the 20th century and is still not quite dead yet.)
Point the second: my reading of the West Saxon text aims at the sound of the language in the early 11th century, which is why you hear all that vowel reduction. One way of putting it would be that I tried to imagine how a pupil of Ælfric of Eynsham would have read this text. Another would be to cut the bullshit and admit that I chose this date in order to weasel out of having to commit myself to one or another position about the"short" digraphs ĕa ĕo in this dialect. The traditional explanation is typologically implausible, but has endured in the literature because all the alternative accounts raise problems of their own. The question, like the mystery of what name Achilles took when he hid among the women, has given a great many nerds something to do. I think I know what the answer is, but I'll save that for my VOEE post. Anyway, an 11th century date allows me to just take ĕa as having already merged with /æ/ in this dialect, and ĕo as having the late value of /œ/. Both of which are uncontroversial and don't cause problems.

The Original:

(West Sахon)

For þām nīedfere  nǣniġ wyrþeþ
þances snotora,  þonne him þearf sȳ
tō ġehycgenne  ǣr his heonangange
hwæt his gāste  gōdes oþþe yfeles
æfter dēaþe heonon  dēmed weorþe.

(Northumbrian)

Fore þēm nēdfæræ  nǣnig wiorðit
þoncsnotora  þan him þarf sīe
tō ymbhycggannæ  ǣr his hionongǣ,
hwæt his gāstæ  gōdæs æþþa yflæs
æfter dēoþdæge dœ̄mid wiorðæ




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