And no, not that Beowulf, though I confess the release of the movie got me off my duff to start this project. And not even the Seamus Heaney translation. No, I’m talking about the real thing—the original Old English poem, as it was meant to be experienced—read aloud, in this case, by the great Old English scholar Kemp Malone.
I found a four-record set of Malone reading the whole bloody poem about seven years ago, in a now-vanished record shop in Central Square in Cambridge. The recording, on the once great Caedmon label (now an audiobook label for Harper Collins, with no sign of its back catalog reappearing anytime soon), was made in 1967 and, if the first side is anything to go by, probably drove every undergrad who listened to it completely nuts. Malone’s delivery is even-keeled, and he doesn’t attempt to sell the text, so little moments like the description of Scyld Scefing as a “good king” for his giving of gifts don’t get the reinforcement that the rhythm of the text would seem to indicate. But it’s still a great window onto the roots of the language.
I have a little bonus for this post: a clip from the recording, constituting the Prologue of Beowulf as read by Malone. I digitized the clip from my copy of the record; to date, I’ve only digitized one side of one LP, owing to the time required to do it properly (unlike CDs, vinyl has to be ripped in real time!) Hopefully it’s interesting to at least one person out there.