Short #7

ENGL 4301 Winter 2009-10

Early Middle English: A Thick Description

Back to the Syllabus

The following passage is from La3amon's Brut, written about 1205. It is a chronicle tale of early Britain; in the passage given below, King Cymbeline (later to be the title character of a Shakespeare play) sends for the great wizard Taliesen to ask him about some rumors from abroad.

I have included a small glossary.

Your assignment is this: write an essay that is a "thick description" of things that are different in this passage from the way we would say the same thing in Modern English. (You may want to make an idiomatic modern version of the passage to help you describe these differences.) Do not comment on spelling or punctuation (which are in any case highly variable). Do comment on things like vocabulary, word order, syntax, idiom, and semantic change. Keep in mind that the passage is verse, not prose, and the verse form itself may entail some differences from modern prose usage. Your essay should be at least 3 pages long. It's due Tuesday 5 January.


Kinbelin, Bruttene king, wes god mon þurh alle þing;

And he livede here twa and twenti 3ere.

An his dæie her livede a mon in þisse leoden

Feorliche þing fuleden him – he wes ihaten Teliesen;

Heo heolden hine for witie þurh his witfulne cræfte,

And al heo hit ilæfden þat Teliesen heom seide.

He seide heom seolkuð inoh, and al heo hit funden soð;

Þe king him sende æfter wise twalf cnihtes,

Bad hine comen him to – þat he nan oðer scolde don;

And heo hine brohten sone biforen þen folkekinge.

Anan swa þe king hine imette, fæire he hine igrette:

"Swa me helpen min hefde and mi chin, wulcume ært þu, Teliesen,

And leovere me is þine isunden þenne a þusend punden."

Þa andswerde Teliesen, and þus seide to Kinbelin:

"Swa ich mote gode iþeon, al þu hit sælt wel biteon."

Þa wes glad Kinbelin, and þus seide to Teliesen:

"Her beoð to þisse londe icumen seolcuðe leodronen,

And fromward þeon londe of Jerusalem; iwurden heo beoð in Beðleem.

Þer is iboren an luttel child inne þere leoden.

Muchele is and stor þe ei3e tacnen þer beoð on sterren,

An monen, and on seonnen; eie is on moncunnen.

Þis is widen icuð and þa writen me beoð to icume,

And Ic wolde iwiten æt þe – þu ært mi wine deore –

To whan þis tocne wule ten, to wulche þinge temen,

For herfore is alches londes folc lædliche afered."

Top of this Page