Buku Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, Volume III by Douglas A. Anderson & Michael D. C. Drout & Verlyn Flieger

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Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, Volume III by Douglas A. Anderson & Michael D. C. Drout & Verlyn Flieger

Author:Douglas A. Anderson & Michael D. C. Drout & Verlyn Flieger

Language: eng

Format: azw3

Publisher: West Virginia University Press

Published: 2006-03-31T16:00:00+00:00

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Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, Volume III by Douglas A. Anderson & Michael D. C. Drout & Verlyn Flieger

Notes and Documents

A Spliced Old English Quotation in “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”

Michael D. C. Drout

 

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Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, Volume III by Douglas A. Anderson & Michael D. C. Drout & Verlyn Flieger

Author:Douglas A. Anderson & Michael D. C. Drout & Verlyn Flieger , Date: June 6, 2019

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Author:Douglas A. Anderson & Michael D. C. Drout & Verlyn Flieger

Language: eng

Format: azw3

Publisher: West Virginia University Press

Published: 2006-03-31T16:00:00+00:00
Notes and Documents

A Spliced Old English Quotation in “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”

Michael D. C. Drout

lif is læne: eal scæceffi leoht and lif somod (MC 19).

[Life is fleeting, all departs, light and life together.]1

This Old English quotation, which J. R. R. Tolkien uses in “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” to describe the theme of Beowulf, does not appear anywhere in the corpus of Anglo-Saxon. It is an invention by Tolkien, created by splicing together a partial quotation from Widsith and an Anglo-Saxon poetic commonplace most famously found in the poems The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and Beowulf.2

The passage in Widsith is “oþþæt eal scæceffi / leoht and lif somod” (141b-142a; until all departs, light and life together).3 It occurs at the very end of the poem, when the poet says that singers will exalt the reputations of those who are generous to them and will continue to maintain the fame of the heroic “until all departs, light and life together.”

The “lif is læne” part of the quotation does not appear in exactly that form anywhere in the corpus of Old English texts, but the idea, usually phrased as an adjective-noun combination such as “þis læne lif” (“this fleeting life”) appears to be a commonplace.4 The most famous instances of the idea can be found in the Exeter Book elegies The Wanderer and The Seafarer, and in Beowulf.

In The Wanderer, the following lines occur after the famous ubi sunt passage that laments the passing of the glories of the world, a passage that was in adapted by Tolkien in “The King of the Golden Hall” into the poem “Where now the horse and the rider?” (TT, III, vi, 112). 5 The narrator of The Wanderer says:

Her biffi feoh læne, her biffi freond læne,

her biffi mon læne, her biffi mæg læne,

eal þis eorþan gesteal idel weorþeffi. (108-110).

[Here wealth is fleeing, here a friend is fleeting, here a man is fleeting, here a kinsman is fleeting; all this earthen foundation will become empty].

In The Seafarer, lines 64b-66a read “Forþon me hatran sind / dryhtnes dreamas, þonne þis dead lif,/ læne on londe” (Because to me the joys of the Lord are warmer than this dead life, fleeting on the land).6 The context of this quotation is the seafarer’s reverie when his mind roams over the empty sea. After the quotation the seafarer adds that every man will be destroyed by ill-health, old age or the sword’s edge.

“Lif is læne” sentiments occur several times in Beowulf. For example, Grendel’s mother is said to have left behind the days of her life and “this fleeting creation” (1622b).7 Later, in Hrothgar’s “sermon,” in which the old king advises young Beowulf, Hrothgar says “hit on endestæf eft gelimpeffi / þæt se lichoma læne gedreoseffi / fæge gefealleffi” (1753-1755a; In the last days it happens that the fleeting body decays and, fated, falls).

The poet calls Beowulf’s days on earth “transitory” (or “borrowed”) just before the old king is about to fight the dragon:

Sceolde lændaga

æþeling ærgod ende gebidan,

worulde lifes, ond se wyrm somod (2341b-2343).

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