Friday, December 20, 2013

Old English O Antiphons: O Key of David

 A Clerk of Oxford posts this fascinating background to the O Antiphons, including the Old English versions from the Exeter Book:

We are now in the last days of Advent, the season of the O Antiphons. These ancient antiphons, sung at Vespers in the week before Christmas, retain a remarkable hold on the imagination today - just as they did twelve hundred years ago for one Anglo-Saxon poet, who turned them into a series of short poems in English. For the next few days I want to post the Old English poetic versions of the O Antiphons, which are much more than translations of the Latin texts: they are exquisite poetic meditations on the rich imagery of the antiphons, responding to them in subtle and creative ways. In translating them to post here I've been astonished anew by their beauty and interest, and I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I do.

They survive in a manuscript known as the
Exeter Book, an anthology of English poetry on all kinds of themes and in all kinds of forms: elegies, saints' lives, riddles, wisdom poetry, philosophical reflections, heroic laments, and many poems which resist classification. The O Antiphons are the first poems in the collection, and they were probably composed some time earlier than the date of the tenth-century manuscript, perhaps around the year 800. They are anonymous, though once attributed by scholars to Cynewulf, and they long suffered from being lumped together with the poems which follow them in the manuscript (which also concern Christ, so you will sometimes find them being called 'Christ I' or 'Christ A'). However, they deserve to be treated, and appreciated, separately and on their own terms, as a collection of individual poems linked by their common source in the O Antiphons.

Read the rest here.

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