That’s what I had yesterday at Central Algoma Secondary School (CASS), talking to Christina Foster’s grade eleven English class. Christina had asked me if I would come and read some Old English to the class, because they were studying Beowulf – in translation, of course. I did it once in Old English and it took a year because we had to translate everything before we could discuss it. In retrospect I don’t understand how my professor ended that year with all his hair!
I prepared a bit, because it had been many years since I’d read Old English aloud. I decided that in addition to part of the prologue to Beowulf, I’d read Caedmon’s Hymn, one of my favourite pieces of Anglo-Saxon poetry. I dug out my copy of “Seven Old English Poems” and my dictionary of Anglo-Saxon English and went at it for a few hours, and then felt confident I wouldn’t come off like a total goof.
And I didn’t, or at least, if I did, nobody told me. I had the most delightful time, being able to talk about the poetry, the manuscript itself (Cotton Vitellius A XV) and how close we came to losing one of the great hero stories in our literature. I got to tell stories around the periphery of Beowulf – why Beowulf, for example, inherited the throne from his uncle Hygelac, instead of one of his cousins getting it. I got to talk about language and how many words in Old English still exist in our modern tongue, very little changed.
Maybe these opportunities come too rarely for all of us, the chances to think and talk about a passion that has been shelved due to circumstances of our lives. As we drove home to sleep (because this class was at 9 a.m., after my night’s work), I burbled and fizzed at David about what an amazing time I’d had. I talked almost nonstop. And David, bless his heart, listened to me.
So I get to go back sometime soon for something similar when Christina and her class do Chaucer. Am I looking forward to it? Not hardly! Excuse me, I have to go find my copy of the Canterbury Tales!