Sunday, August 26, 2007


I think this is one of those works that needs to be read under a very specific set of circumstances--in some sort of scholarly seclusion, surrounded by books and other tokens of learning, preferably on a dark or rainy afternoon or evening in a building with antique lighting, the leisure to try to make out some bit of the meaning in the original language, education enough to reasonably make such an effort--for the ordinary 21st century reader to get much of a charge out of the experience, and as none of these circumstances happen currently to be accessible to me, I consequently got nothing out of it. In truth there is not really much to it--it appears to be, if not a fragment, related to some series of other like histories that are not extant--the curious can take a look at it here, though this is one of the last things I would recommend to read off of a computer.For a time, from about the 30s up to around the early 70s, literary education in the most serious schools in Great Britain put an emphasis on the study of the Anglo-Saxon/Old English language and writings that seemed disproportionate to what the casual or even semi-interested observer would likely consider their stature and importance in the later literary tradition in the English language (in America any extensive study of Old English never penetrated beyond the specialists into the ranks of the merely generally literate). Like most academic study on subjects that admit of the possession and mastery of definable knowledge, in such corners where it was well done and undertaken by masters and students with some sensibility for it, I think it was undoubtedly beneficial, if not necessary or crucial, to such minds, and even small communities of minds, as imbibed it. My points in bringing this up are rather vague, but it is something along the lines of how intellectual communities form mindsets, sometimes in rather narrow channels, that go on to have a cultural or historical influence that seems rather fantastic when its origins are looked at closely. A decent number of English poets, academicians, historians, fiction writers, etc, in the 1945-65 era were fairly well imbued in this program of Old English study (as other circles of thinkers were imbued in Communist politics and intrigues on one side of the aisle or another), many of whom remain influential today even if their studies in Anglo-Saxon are not evidently apparent on the surface. Tolkien is the most obvious example, along with a few of the poets; I would need to do more research to verify my suspicions on others of these writers, and perhaps the influence is simply more Christian than Anglo-Saxon, but their affinity with the ancient language and spirit of their country, which they often evoked with comparatively unstudied naturalness, seems less superficial than some of the more authoritative assertions, or dismissals, as it were, of them which we see today.

The only surviving text of Widsith is at Exeter Cathedral in Devonshire, one of England's most highly esteemed churches by the experts, but for the most part spared the ravages of mass tourism by its comparatively out of the way location. For most people, especially any who lead in any way degraded lives, it would definitely be worth a visit.

"I have heard of many men who ruled over nations.
Every leader should live uprightly,
Rule his estates according to custom,
If he wants to succeed to a kingly throne."

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