Benjamin Bagby brings us the chilling, magical power wielded
by the untitled Anglo-Saxon epic poem known as Beowulf. The story
has its roots in the art of the scop (“creator”), the bardic story-teller of
early medieval England who would re-tell the story of Beowulf in song and speech, accompanying himself on a six-string
harp for an audience captivated by the finest details of sound and meaning.
Bagby’s impetus to re-vocalise this medieval text as living
art has come from many directions: from the power of those bardic traditions,
mostly non-European, which still survive intact; from the work of
instrument-makers who have made thoughtful renderings of seventh-century
Germanic harps; and from those scholars who have shown an active interest in
the problems of turning written words back into an oral poetry meant to be
absorbed through the ear/spirit, rather than eye/brain. But the principal
impetus comes from the language of the poem itself, which has a chilling,
magical power that no modern translation can approximate.