When Rudolph Meets Beowulf

Here is what the modern Christmas ditty looks like in heroic Anglo-Saxon metre.

Joseph Pearce | December 20, 2016 | 850

Here is what the modern Christmas ditty looks like in heroic Anglo-Saxon metre.
When Rudolph Meets Beowulf

One doesn’t need to be a Christian to enjoy Christmas. Or, to put it another way, even non-Christians can enjoy Christmas, if they embrace it in the broad Dickensian spirit of the Thing.

Yes indeed. Everyone can enjoy Christmas. Or nearly everyone. There are, of course, always the Scrooges. Take, for instance, the Scrooges at the school in Pennsylvania who cancelled the school’s annual production of A Christmas Carol on grounds of its “insensitivity”, as reported here at Intellectual Takeout. Or take the terrorist Scrooges who are so incensed at the “insensitivity” of Christmas that they express their “sensitivity” by crashing trucks into busy streets of Christmas shoppers.

Yes, there are always the Scrooges, anti-nativity Nazis of various kinds who seek to spoil the party. But let’s leave them out in the cold and the dark, knowing that the door is open and the hearth is warm should they come to their senses and seek to join the rest of us in the spirit of the Thing.

Meanwhile, warming ourselves at the hearth, let’s get into the spirit of the Season. Let’s take the Spirit of Christmas Past and place it in the presence of the Spirit of Christmas Present, imagining Christmas carols sung round the fire by the Anglo-Saxons in seventh century England. Let’s imagine the Bard taking a break from reciting the epic struggles of Beowulf to sing an Old English version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This is exactly what Philip Craig Chapman-Bell did, translating the modern Christmas ditty into heroic Anglo-Saxon metre, in the manner of the Saxon scop of old:

Incipit gestis Rudolphi rangifer tarandus

Hwæt, Hrodulf readnosa hrandeor –
Næfde þæt nieten unsciende næsðyrlas!
Glitenode and gladode godlice nosgrisele.
Ða hofberendas mid huscwordum hine gehefigodon;
Nolden þa geneatas Hrodulf næftig
To gomene hraniscum geador ætsomne.
Þa in Cristesmæsseæfne stormigum clommum,
Halga Claus þæt gemunde to him maðelode:
“Neahfreond nihteage nosubeorhtende!
Min hroden hrædwæn gelæd ðu, Hrodulf!”
Ða gelufodon hira laddeor þa lyftflogan –
Wæs glædnes and gliwdream; hornede sum gegieddode
“Hwæt, Hrodulf readnosa hrandeor,
Brad springð þin blæd: breme eart þu!

If, like me, you are challenged by the prospect of translating Old English into its Modern form, here’s a translation:

Here begins the deeds of Rudolph, Tundra-Wanderer

Lo, Hrodulf the red-nosed reindeer –
That beast didn’t have unshiny nostrils!
The goodly nose-cartilage glittered and glowed.
The hoof-bearers taunted him with proud words;
The comrades wouldn’t allow wretched Hrodulf
To join the reindeer games.
Then, on Christmas Eve bound in storms
Santa Claus remembered that, spoke formally to him:
“Dear night-sighted friend, nose-bright one!
You, Hrodulf, shall lead my adorned rapid-wagon!”
Then the sky-flyers praised their lead-deer –
There was gladness and music; one of the horned ones sang
“Lo, Hrodulf the red-nosed reindeer,
Your fame spreads broadly, you are renowned!”

Three wholehearted Christmas cheers to Philip Craig Chapman-Bell! This is what’s needed to lighten the load of life in this season of good will to all men. May the spirit of Tiny Tim conquer the hearts of all the Scrooges, and may Hrodulf the red-nosed reindeer, lead-deer of the sky-flyers and greatest of all hoof-bearers, Santa’s night-sighted friend, the nose-bright one, guide the sleigh safely into the hearts of all men this Christmas. In so doing, may the sleigh-guider, like the dragon-slayer, vanquish the spirit of Scrooge, as Beowulf slew Grendel and Grendel’s mother, those ancient Grinches who sought to spoil the festive cheer of the mead hall.