Gnomic Verse, Treebeard and Classical Education

Wyrd byð swīðost. Winter byð cealdost,
Lencten hrīmigost, hē byð longest ceald,
Sumor sunwlitegost, swegel byð hātost,
Hærfest hrēðēadegost…

I was puttering around recently in my Sweets Anglo-Saxon Reader in my limping attempt to teach myself Anglo-Saxon, and I ran across a section of Gnomic Verse. Gnomic verse is a very early form of poetry of which we have very little. It has been passed down from very ancient times and consists of mnemonic poems on various subjects. Important information would be transmitted to the next generation via these lists. A rough (totally 100% amateur) translation of paragraph above runs something like this:

Fate is strongest. Winter is coldest.
Spring frostiest, it is longest cold.
Summer sunniest, sun is hottest.
Harvest most glorious…

And as I was reading something clicked in my mind! The ancient list that Treebeard recites in The Two Towers in order to remember the lore of living things is Gnomic verse composed by Tolkien!

Dwarf the delver, dark are his houses;
Ent the earthborn, old as mountains;
Man the mortal, master of horses;
Beaver the builder, buck the leaper,
Bear bee-hutner, boar the fighter;
Hound is hungry, hare is fearful…

The more I learn the more I appreciate Lord of the Rings. It seems there is no end to the depth of Tolkien’s vision for Middle Earth.

The other interesting thing that struck me is that this is how children were taught the knowledge they would need to function in society from an early age. These lists were catchy and easy to remember, and the ancients seemed to know how to make these things stick. It is very much like the method employed in many classical Christian schools today of teaching grammar students information via chants… Wow… Who knew that Beowulf had a classical education?


Erica said…
That's so cool!
Xindaeltal said…
So, I can't get anything to publish. I gotta go get paint off my hands.