Episode 37: Seafarers, Poets and Traveling Minstrels

Old English poets were ‘word weavers’ who often created new words to comply with the strict requirements of Germanic poetry. In this episode, we explore the role of the traveling minstrel in Anglo-Saxon culture.  We also explore the etymology of many Modern English words related to travel.

5 thoughts on “Episode 37: Seafarers, Poets and Traveling Minstrels

  1. You say that Anglo-Saxon poets used swanrad (swanroad) and seglrad (sailroad) because they wanted a word for sea that began with “s”. What was wrong with sæ?

    • I suppose they could have used “sae” and in some cases, they did. Part of the skill of Anglo-Saxon poets was their ability to play with words to express certain ideas. So I guess it was considered more skillful and poetic to say ‘whale-road’ rather than ‘sea.’ That’s my assumption.

  2. The first stressed word in “went up the hill” is “up,” not “went.” That is, unless you imagine the reciters say “JACK and JILL // WENT up the HILL,” which nobody does. They say “JACK and JILL // went UP the HILL.” That is, in fact, what you say when you first read it at 31:28. If you want to preserve the original stress pattern, and assuming that it’s correct that the alliterative sound must come on the first stress of the second hemistich, then the line would have to be something like “JACK and JILL // did JOG the HILL.”

    Also, not to get too officious, but you won’t find many poets who endorse the notion that poetry is merely or mainly for “conveying emotion or sentiment.”

    • Hi Joshua,

      I think you have effectively deconstructed my “Jack and Jill” example. Your comments are duly noted.

      With respect to second comment about the sentiment of poetry, here is my full quote from the episode:

      “A poem was a type of word play, and when used as originally designed, it was a mnemonic device. It was a tool of the poet – just as much as the lyre itself. So once upon a time, poems had a much more practical use beyond simply conveying emotion and sentiment.”

      My point was not that ‘poets’ think of poetry as conveying emotion or sentiment, but that many ‘non-poets’ think of poetry that way. I was trying to express the idea that poetry had a much broader use and application. I think a lot of people tend to think of poetry as “Roses are red, and violets are blue…,” but it was obviously much broader and more substantial than that. So I think your comments are actually consistent with the point I was trying to make.

  3. I recently discovered this wonderful podcast and have been voraciously devouring your back-catalogue of episodes!

    Where can I find the original Old English of the poignant marginal note you quoted in modern translation at the end of this episode? (In it, the scribe was lamenting the loss of the old oral poetic tradition— and Anglo-Saxon culture in general— after the Norman conquest.)

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