Prologue to Beowulf

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.

Prologue to Beowulf, read by Kemp Malone (Caedmon) – Download 2.6MB MP3

Signage wars

An article in yesterday’s Globe triggered one of my fortunately rare moments of anger at the greater Boston metropolitan area where I live. The anger came toward the end of an article about poor, confusing, and absent road signs throughout the area:

Since 2001, state Senator Patricia D. Jehlen has been sponsoring legislation that would force communities to post signs at intersections, but the bill has gone nowhere. The Massachusetts Municipal Association opposes it as a costly burden that takes the decision away from communities.

Um. Excuse me? What decision are you taking away from communities? Is it the decision to do their jobs? Because really, if you build the roads but don’t put up the signs, why did you bother?

Clue for you, folks. Massachusetts has a high per capita income ($44,289) and a high rate of taxation (5.3%), while Washington State is lower on both fronts ($35,409 and no state income tax). But Washington State manages to actually post signs on all its streets! So does Virginia ($38,390/2% to 5.75%); so does North Carolina ($30,553/6%-8%). What is the state doing with the money it takes in income tax that it can’t afford to put up the damned signs itself, or grant money to the local communities?

Actually, this puts another question to my mind. If a local community can’t afford to put up street signs, and can’t keep residential streets paved or maintain storm sewers, then the system is broken. Either the towns need to build up their tax bases or small towns need to combine and consolidate services so they aren’t trying to each maintain their own systems. Or the state could get off its ass and make sure the municipalities have what they need to serve their people.

Beverage news: Ardbeg, Dixie Beer

Two unrelated beverage news items in my browser this morning. I was just thinking the other day about how you never see Dixie Blackened Voodoo anymore, when I saw this article about the devastation at the original Dixie plant as a result of Katrina. The brand is being brewed in Wisconsin on a contract basis, but I hope they can bring the original brewery back around. Blackened Voodoo and the original Dixie are too good with Cajun food to continue to be brewed that far north.

And Ardbeg, which I enjoy as a fallback when I am drinking Scotch away from home if Laphroaig is unavailable, has been crowned the World Whiskey of the Year and the best Scotch Single Malt. I like Ardbeg for combining the peatiness of Laphroaig and other Islay malts with the smoothness of a blend.