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In addition to being a fantasy author, Tolkien worked professionally as a linguist. His background in Old English found its way into many different aspects of the main books in the Lord of the Rings, such as the names. However, I also heard he had a number of smaller (fantasy) works that were written in Old English.

What were they? And do all of them have translations into Modern English?

I'm looking for works with significant parts (not just individual words) that are in Old English (or I suppose Middle English).

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    "Tolkien wrote in Old English several texts of his legendarium, which he (fictionally) attributed to Ælfwine such as the Earliest Annals of Valinor; they were published more recently in The Shaping of Middle-earth and are commented on and edited by Christopher Tolkien. These texts have been criticized because Christopher Tolkien did not provide a translation and they remain understandable only by Anglo-Saxon students." - tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Old_English
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 21:50
  • 2
    @Valorum Gehwa sculon ealdon Englisc leornian.
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 23:17
  • @Spencer - Some of us had to make do with Latin
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 23:35
  • Does Old English works Tolkien wrote mean 'in' or 'about' Old English, please? Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 23:14
  • @RobbieGoodwin "works that were written in Old English"
    – Laurel
    Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 23:56

1 Answer 1

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This list is limited to text composed by Tolkien in Old English which are at least several lines long, ignoring smaller things like single lines of dialogue, names, and Old English titles Tolkien gives to his non Old English works

Many of these texts do not have titles given by Tolkien, and so I refer to them by the opening words instead.

All together, there is a little over 1,000 published lines of Tolkien's Old English compositions, the vast majority of which (around 70%) are not accompanied by any Modern English translations.

There are likely more that remain unpublished.

Legendarium related

Ælfwine's translations In parallel with 1930s Silmarillion texts, Tolkien also tried writing some of them as prose in Old English. These have been published in The Shaping of Middle-earth, all without translation. (Some excerpts with translation and analysis can be found in "Writing for an Anglo-Saxon Audience in the Twentieth Century: J.R.R. Tolkien's Old English Chronicles" by Maria Artamonova)

  • Pennas - (translation by Ælfwine of the first four paragraphs of Quenta Noldorinwa) - Shaping, 56 lines
  • 'Þéos gesegen wearþ ǽrest...' (translation by Ælfwine of the opening of the Annals of Valinor, until just after the destruction of the two trees) - Exists in two versions, of 55 lines and 158 lines. Christopher says that the second is very close to the Modern English version given in the book. Two other very short texts (27 lines and 10 lines) are also given, further developing the opening lines of the second version.
  • Beleriandes Géargesægen (translation by Ælfwine of the opening of the Annals of Beleriand, until just after the Dagor Aglareb) - 88 lines

The Lost Road / The Notion Club Papers Both incarnations of Tolkien's unfinished time travel story featured a number of pieces in Old English, most accompanied by translations. They can be found in The Lost Road and Other Writings and Sauron Defeated.

  • 'Thus cwæth Ælfwine Wídlást...' (Ælfwine's words before departing on his last voyage, included in his preamble to the Silmarillion, and heard in dream by Alboin Errol in The Lost Road and by Edwin Lowdham in The Notion Club Papers) - Lost Road (3 versions) and Sauron Defeated (1 version), one line of prose and five lines of verse, all four versions include a translation.
  • 'Hwæt! Éadweard cyning Ælfredes sunu...' (verse prepared by Ælfwine to sing to King Edward) - Sauron Defeated, four lines of verse, with translation. This episode is also prefaced by four lines of Old English dialogue with translation between Ælfwine and the King.
  • 'Monað modes lust mid mereflode...' (verse actually sung by Ælfwine for King Edward, similar to The Seafarer. Also heard in dream by Lowdham.) - Lost Road (1 version) and Sauron Defeated (two versions), seven lines of verse, two of the versions include a translation.
  • 'Hi alle sǽ on weorulde oferliodon...' (Lowdham's manuscript of the Fall of Numenor) - Sauron Defeated, 36 lines of prose, with translation. Also an earlier 43 line version, with translation, and two related fragments of 15 and 7 lines, only the first of which has a translation.
  • 'Hwæt! Wé on geárdagum of Gársecge...' (verse about King Sheave sung by Tréowine)- Sauron Defeated, six lines of verse, not translated

Rohan The language of Rohan is rendered in the books as Old English. Most of this is limited to names and the occasional isolated line of dialogue, but there is one longer segment in an earlier draft published in The Treason of Isengard.

  • 'Abídað cuman uncúðe!...' (challenge that the Rohirrim guards give to Aragorn and Legolas when they arrive at Edoras, similar to a passage of Beowulf) - six lines of dialogue with translation

Non legendarium related

Almost all of these are poems, many of which have only been published in very obscure places.

For some analyses on the poetry, see "Poems by Tolkien in Other Languages", by Tom Shippey, in J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment.

Tribute poems

  • 'Úþwitа sсеаl eаldgesægеnum...' - thirteen lines of verse in obituary for Henry Bradley, published in Bulletin of the Modern Humanities Research Association (1923), not translated. Currently in the public domain in the US.

    úþwitа sсеаl eаldgesægеnum
    fród fуrngewritum féоlan gеorne,
    hár оnd hygegléaw hord sсéawian
    wordа оnd rеorda, widе geоnd eоrþan
    snyttrо séсan, sméaþоncol mоn;
    wísdóme þéon, wunian on áre,
    rúnа rǽdаn, rinсas lærаn,
    оþþæt sсír mеtod to gеsceаp-hwílе
    hinе ellоr aсiegþ eаrd geséсan.
    Þа felаléof férеþ on fréаn wǽrе,
    wеrum bewópеn wоruldfréоndum,
    léоdwitа líþоst ond lárgeornоst,
    démena gеdéfеst оnd déорhýdgоst.

  • For W.H.A. - twenty-seven lines of verse written about Wystan Hugh Auden, modeled after the Old English poem, "The Gifts of Men", published with translation in Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review (Winter 1967 issue)

  • 'Hwaet! we Inclinga...' - four line verse fragment about the Inklings, published with translation in The Inklings (1979), reprinted a few other places.

Songs for the Philologists Tolkien contributed six Old English poems to the 1936 collection Songs for the Philologists, all without translation, but usually with an indicator of the tune. Three of these have been reprinted with translation by Tom Shippey in the The Road to Middle-earth.

  • Syx Mynet - twenty-eight lines of verse translating the nursery rhyme "I Love Sixpence"
  • Ruddoc Hana - forty-eight lines of verse translating the nursery rhyme "Who Killed Cock Robin?"
  • Ides Ælfscýne - thirty-seven lines of verse about a lover being abandoned by his elf-mistress, to the tune of "Daddy Neptune", reprinted with translation ("Elf-fair Lady") in The Road to Middle-earth.
  • Éadig Béo Þu! - twenty-four lines of verse about the language vs literature rivalry, to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", reprinted with translation ("Good Luck to You") in The Road to Middle-earth.
  • Ofer Wídne Gársecg - twenty-six lines of verse similar to and to the tune of "The Mermaid", reprinted with translation ("Across the Broad Ocean") in The Road to Middle-earth.
  • La, Huru - fifteen lines of drinking song verse to the tune of "O'Reilly".

Others

  • Enigmata Saxonica Nuper Inventa Duo - sixteen lines of verse containing two riddles (Spoiler: "egg" and "candle"), published in A Northern Venture (1923), not translated. Reprinted with a translation for the second riddle in The Annotated Hobbit (2002). Currently in the public domain in the US.

    I.
    MEOLCHWITUM sind marmanstane
    wagas mine wundrum frætwede:
    is hrægl ahongen hnesce on-innan,
    seolce gelicost; siththan on-middan
    is wylla geworht, waeter glaes-hluttor;
    Thær glisnath gold-hladen on gytestreamum
    æppla scienost. Infær nænig
    nah min burg-fæsten: berstath hwæthre
    thriste theofas on thrythærn min,
    ond thæt sinc reafiath – saga hwæt ic hatte!

    II.
    Hæfth Hild Hunecan hwite tunecan,
    ond swa read rose hæfth rudige nose;
    the leng heo bideth, the læss heo wrideth;
    hire tearas hate on tan blate
    biernende dreosath ond bearhtme freosath;
    hwæt heo sie saga, searothancla maga.

  • 'Ætla Guðhere ar onsende...' - forty lines of verse corresponding to the first eight stanzas of the Old Norse "Atlakviða", published with translation in The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (2009)

  • 'Þa hlog Hagena þe man heortan scear...' - twenty-eight lines of verse corresponding to the stanzas 24-32 of the Old Norse "Atlakviða", published with translation in The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (2009)

  • 'On ǽrdagum wæs wuniende...' - 212 lines of prose translating Tolkien's "Sellic Spell", published in Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary (2014), not translated

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  • Are you using the accents for long vowels?
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 16:42
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    Not really. The Anglo-Saxons didn't use accents like that, but modern scholars add diacritical marks to help with reading and pronunciation. All your accents are over vowels so I guessed they're used to mark long vowels. I think macrons are more common for that, if harder to type on a computer.
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 17:31
  • I'm a rank beginner and just wanted clarification about what the accents meant.
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 20:07
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    Which áccents should be mācrons instead?
    – shoover
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 23:51
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    @Spencer - Unless I made any transcription errors, accents in my answer mean that Tolkien was using an accent in the text of his I am quoting from. I cannot answer why Tolkien used them.
    – ibid
    Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 3:32

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