Murray's Old English Poetry Project

In January 2005, it occurred to me that it might be useful if the complete corpus of Old English poetry were available to students and scholars on the Web in a form that provided clickable glosses and annotations.

I decided that providing a version of the corpus of that kind was something that I could manage over some considerable time if I spent 20 minutes a day (excluding weekends), thus making productive use of moments I would otherwise spend sleeping, scratching, or deleting e-mail from my in-box.

I began work on the project on 25 January 2005. Parts of the project were first made available on the Web in an "in construction" state on 1 April 2005. By 23 January 2006, the first 1000 lines of Genesis had been glossed and provided with some simple textual annotations. By 25 January 2007, 2550 lines of Genesis were complete in draft form and made available (textual editing and glossing of that poem were completed later in the year in draft); a further 1060 lines of Beowulf had been glossed but not provided with textual annotations and thus were not yet available online. In May 2007, the project was christened the Online Corpus of Old English Poetry and a domain name, oepoetry.ca, was purchased; a rudimentary Web site was constructed at that point. By 25 January 2008, lines 1–1062 of Beowulf had been published in draft form (still without textual notes) and a further 29 short poems had been added as "editions in progress." In the course of 2008 and 2009, work towards my Broadview Press Old English Reader was to some extent made to coincide with this project, and a number of familiar shorter poems were added in completed editions. By 25 January 2010, work had resumed on Beowulf and glossing had been completed to line 1611. Click here to go to the draft text of Genesis and here for Beowulf. Other poems in various states of development are available through the main OCOEP site.

The textual basis of the glossed and annotated corpus presented here (still under construction, of course) is the six-volume Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records: A Collective Edition, ed. George Philip Krapp and Elliott van Kirk Dobbie (New York: Columbia UP, 1931 - 1953). The Old English text contained in those volumes was keyboarded in the mid-1960s to make a machine-readable file by two employees of IBM Research, Geraldine Barrett and Marcella Duggan, as part of the work towards the Bessinger and Smith Concordance to the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1978—see Preface).

A machine-readable version of the poetic corpus was in use at the Dictionary of Old English project at the University of Toronto at some point well prior to the publication of the microfiche DOE Concordance in 1980. That version was apparently based on the Barrett/Duggan (i.e. Bessinger/Smith) file though this is not documented positively in materials I have so far seen (my speculation here is based on the similarity of treatment of runes, the runic poems, and emendations, as well as on statements made at the founding conference of the DOE project, documented in Computers and Old English Concordances, ed. Angus Cameron, Roberta Frank, and John Leyerle [Toronto: U Toronto P/Centre for Medieval Studies, 1970]). The then DOE version of the poetic corpus was recollated against the ASPR volumes by Greg Hidley of the University of California (San Diego) as part of humanities computing work that resulted in his 1981 Modern Language Association paper "A Computer-Assisted Analysis of the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records" and his 1984 UCSD doctoral dissertation, The structure of Beowulf: a computer assisted analysis, and Hidley then deposited it in the Oxford Text Archive.

Duncan Macrae-Gibson and Patricia Bethel revised the OTA text in the early 1990s by comparison against a more recent DOE file contained in the version of the DOE Corpus then on deposit at OTA, as well as further machine comparison against ASPR, which Bethel arranged to have scanned by a local Ottawa company using a Kurzweil scanner and which she then compared with the previous electronic file using the comparison feature of Nota Bene 3. They completed the electronic ASPR text where there were lacunae (e.g. the Exeter Book had concluded with Riddle 38 in the OTA text of the ASPR, though presumably not in the DOE Corpus text) and Macrae-Gibson apparently also updated it in places to accord with more recent views than ASPR of correct textual readings. The resultant text is now Oxford Text Archive U-1936-C. (The COCOA tags were apparently added by Hidley; DOE tags remained in the file when Macrae-Gibson revised the OTA file.)

Tony Jebson, working with Macrae-Gibson, converted the file into several HTML files, making the resultant files available first through the Finnish ftp-server of the computer company he works for (this server and copy apparently no longer extant), then later on the Labyrinth Library site: http://www.georgetown.edu/labyrinth/library/oe/oe.html. The Labyrinth version seems to date from 1994. It fell victim temporarily to server changes at Georgetown University in June 2007, and the links on this site to Labyrinth Library texts were reconfigured at that time to point to locally-archived copies of the Labyrinth files, creating a mirror. Versions of the Jebson-Macrae-Gibson text have also been made available through the Online Book Initiative, a site that ceased responding before April 2005 but contained what seemed to be an early version of Jebson's HTML markup, and at http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/ascp/ and (mirrored from sacred-texts.com) http://www.northvegr.org/lore/anglosaxon_corp/index.php, a site mounted by practitioners of Germanic religion. I have not compared these versions in detail and simply chose the Labyrinth text as likely the most authoritative on the basis of information that the site provides about the provenance of the text, not given in as much detail at the other two sites. (Two documents that substantiate parts of the account given above are Macrae-Gibson's "readme" file from the OTA version [linked to here] and Jebson's "readme" file from Labyrinth [linked to here].)

As I proceed in my work, I am also consulting the manuscripts (or images of them, such as the full detailed photographic record of Bodleian Library MS Junius 11 made available on the Web through the generosity of the Bodleian and the University of Oxford) and other editions of the various poems, such as A.N. Doane's edition of Genesis A. I am also very occasionally applying my own mind to the text. The result is that after I have finished with a section of text (fully glossed it and annotated it) it may no longer be identical with that found in the Krapp and Dobbie volumes, though all significant variations from those volumes will be mentioned in the notes as will all variations from the manuscript text itself.

I would be grateful if scholars and students who spot errors in my work would send me mail telling me where I have gone wrong, so I can fix things. My e-mail is mmcgilli@ucalgary.ca.

If you should at some time feel that my work has been of some use to you, I would also be grateful to hear about that by e-mail.

Murray McGillivray

(This page last updated 25/1/10.)