Farewell, Old English. Hello, Middle English!

My English Lit students are turning in their papers on Anglo-Saxon literature on Monday, God willing. That's their last requirement for our "unit" on Old English lit until the mid-term. They're pretty familiar with the story of Caedmon, with a few big chunks of Beowulf, and with the elegy The Wanderer. They can't read Old English (neither can I), but they can look at it and point out the alliteration and the caesurae in the lines. They're familiar with the main themes of Anglo-Saxon literature, and a few could probably even tell you what ubi sunt and comitatus mean in Latin, and what wyrd and wergild mean in Old English.

Most of them know more about the Bible than I do, and a number of them are comparing biblical themes to the themes they've encountered in English Lit. Those papers should make for good reading.

Pretty cool, huh?

Well, on Monday, the gears shift and the era changes. We'll say good-bye to Old English and greet Middle English as it takes over our classroom for the next couple of weeks.

We're going to read a few snatches of The Canterbury Tales, a bit of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and some of Morte d'Arthur. Oh, and we're going to spend some time on English and Scottish ballads of the Middle Ages. On Thursday, a real, live balladeer of Scottish decent, who sings and plays music and is very involved in folk festivals across the south, is going to perform for the class. She's also going to share how our western North Carolina folk music style is descended from the styles of these old ballads.

How cool is that?

We're just studying the typical literature that English Lit students study when in high school. Nothing special. But it's all so profoundly special, isn't it?

I'll try to post cool stuff relating to Middle English literature over the next couple of weeks. I can't make any promises, of course. But I'll start you off with a reading of familiar Prologue from The Canterbury Tales.


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