OEPF Editions About Works Completed Editors Other Digital OE Editions Support Digital Mappa

Old English Poetry in Facsimile (OEPF)

Old English Poetry, (re)Edited to Digital Facsimile, with a Methodology of Restorative Retention

-- directed by Martin Foys, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“We should feel happiest as editors when we have demonstrated that a manuscript reading, spurned and excised by previous editors, deserves to stand in the text.” — E.G. Stanley (1984, 273)

Note: If you are looking for a guide to using OEPF, consult the Instructions page in the project itself. Currently a few earlier works in the “Object Verse” folder are still being updated to our new editorial standards. These editions are marked as “(unrevised)”.

For regular updates of newly published OEPF editions, you can follow the project on Mastodon: https://mastodon.world/@MartinFoysOEPF


• Summary
• 5 Minute Video
• Editorial Approach
• Pedagogical & Professional Mission
• Notes on Source material
• How to Cite


• A collaborative, open-access resource of digital facsimile editions, linking together moments of digital manuscript images, transcriptions, editorial annotations and translations of Old English poetry, to better allow people to study and explore these works.

• Over 250 works and 19,000 lines of every genre of Old English verse, over 63% of the poetic corpus, have been re-edited in the project so far (with Kevin Kiernan’s Electronic Beowulf and Dan O'Donnell's "Cædmon's Hymn", that's almost 23,000 lines, or 74% of the corpus, already re-edited to digital facsimile). Planned completion of project: 2028-2030.

• Combines older editorial traditions with “bigger data” resources and research for more comprehensive lexical, dialectal and orthographic editorial readings.

• Editions practice "restorative retention" - privileging the text as written over emendation wherever possible, with an emphasis on description rather than prescription - in an effort to better preserve and understand linguistic and poetic heterogeneity in early medieval England.

• Directed by Martin Foys, and housed at the Digital Mappa instance at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

• DOI: 10.21231/t6a2-jt11

• The premise of the Old English Poetry in Facsimile project is simple: produce a comprehensive collection of open-access digital facsimile editions that present digital manuscript images, transcriptions and translations of Old English poetry all in one place, to better allow people to study and explore these works. To do so, the project takes advantage of the new Digital Mappa 2.0 platform, which allows editors to make links and annotations across individual moments on related images and texts, and users to open and view multiple items side by side.

So far, over 250 editions of Old English verse have been published, including examples of every genre: psalms, riddles, inscribed objects, charms, heroic verse, prayers, Boethian meters, wisdom poetry, marginal micro-texts, chronicle poems, homiletic verse, dialogues, and others. Though this project will take several more years to bring to completion (there are an estimated 31,000 lines total in the poetic corpus), new works will be added regularly, and currently, in conjunction with Kevin Kiernan’s Electronic Beowulf, 4th Edition and Dan O'Donnell's "Cædmon's Hymn", the OEPF now accounts for 74% of the corpus edited to digital facsimile. To see what’s currently available, check out the Works Completed page, or consult the index inside the project page.

• As a digital project, these editions are also "living," and will be ongoing, updated and revised over time. If you notice any errors or infelicities, or have other scholarship to note or suggest, please feel free to contact the directing editor, Martin Foys: foys@wisc.edu.

5 Minute Video (2021):

• Here's a quick five-minute video introduction to OEPF (2021); go here for full screen: https://youtu.be/MOtE4fekrDM

Editorial Approach:

The editions included in this resource are different than traditional editions in that they provide digital access to the manuscript witnesses of the Old English poems, and are designed to meet the manuscript text in its moment.

• Accordingly, the editing program here focuses on centering the form of the manuscript text (i.e how & why the text appears as it does on the page), and the scribal, codicological, paleographical, metrical, dialectal and grammatical considerations which may inform that appearance.

• Editorial notes address explanations for why a moment of the witness texts has or has not been emended (usually addressing scribal practice, error or grammatical inconsistencies), and provide background information about particularly distinctive or unusual features or forms. Problems of semantics, meaning or interpretation of a word or words in a poem are noted when they help explain the decision to or not to emend the witness text, but are not the primary focus of these editions.

• The editorial approach of the project is one of extreme conservatism, embracing an approach of what we term “restorative retention”. The “restorative” of this approach considers that the history of Old English verse editing is one that has not worked to conserve the texts studied as much as it might. The methodology of previous editors, within the canonical Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (ASPR) and elsewhere, often privileges the standardization of phonology, grammar and orthography over the linguistic heterogeneity that Old English texts often represent. The effect of such homogenization or standardization is to diminish the diversity of these texts, and through emendation in effect delete it from the scholarly record. Emended text often does not appear in databases such as the Dictionary of Old English Web Corpus and others, while standardized texts from the ASPR and other editions often are reproduced in scholarship without any of the editorial apparatus indicating that the text has been altered. In contrast, work within the OEPF privileges linguistic heterogeneity and description over standardization and prescription; through this approach, numerous modern, now canonical emendations, at times significant, have been found to be unnecessary alterations to the surviving text — in any given work edited in OEPF, approximately 30%-60% of emendations found in previous editions have been determined to be unnecessary, when reviewed with accommodation for phonological, orthographical, metrical or grammatical diversity within the Old English language, or simply considered more carefully within the larger semantic or thematic context of the poem in question. For such moments of “un-emendation”, detailed notes catalogue previous editorial choices (with a primary focus on editorial scholarship from the ASPR forward), as well as present the rationale for retaining the text as originally written.

• To this end, emendations in other recent editions of the poetry are reviewed, and if a reasonable case can be made for not emending, the original text is retained. A witness text is emended only when a reasonable meaning cannot be construed from the text as it survives. Due consideration should be given to the notion that a witness text would have been encountered and interpreted by early medieval English readers on the basis of the surviving text, regardless of what text was originally intended or imagined to have been intended. In cases where scribal errors are possible or probable, but a reasonable case for understanding the meaning of the erroneous text as it reads may also be made, the text will likely be retained with an editorial note explaining alternative interpretations or emendations presented by past editors.

Note on punctuation, accents, and abbreviations in OEPF transcription and facsimile editions:

In general, basic punctuation (pointing, punctus versus, punctus elevatus, etc.) and word accents will not be annotated on either transcription or manuscript facsimile editions, though headnotes to the transcription edition will often include summary information about their general function, system and/or purpose. For the overwhelming majority of Old English verse texts, manuscript pointing indicates half-line or whole-line metrical divisions, but not systemically or comprehensively. Accents in Old English manuscripts are not comprehensive or consistent, but typically mark long vowels, sometimes to make a distinction between homographs (e.g. the long gód (“good”) and the short god (“God”)), though on occasion accents can mark short vowels, perhaps for emphasis.

In general, common abbreviations that occur on a manuscript page are silently expanded in the transcription edition for a poem, unless they are of particular editorial significance. Common abbreviations include the Tironian et ("7")abbreviation for the Old English and/ond("and"), the "crossed thorn" ("ꝥ") abbreviation for þæt ("that"), "n̅" for "-ne" at the end of a word, and "u̅" for "-um" at the end of a word.

On manuscript folio facsimile editions, the first example of a distinctive abbreviation (i.e. Tironian et and crossed thorns) on any given page is highlighted and defined, but successive examples on that page are not. Significant punctuation (e.g. a punctus versus marking the end of a textual section) is also highlighted and defined on the facsimile edition, but typically not on the transcription edition for a text, unless it is particularly noteworthy or distinctive.

Note on Old English meter in OEPF editions:

The scholarly study of Old English alliterative meter is framed by a series of related and at times competing systems of metrical analysis of considerable complexity. To make discussions of metrical considerations in OEPF editorial notes accessible to the largest number of users, this project generally uses a simplified presentation of the five metrical types similar to that employed by Terasawa (2011). In general, only the basic A-E categories of Sievers’ system are used here, while departures or radical variations from these categories may be in reference to this system described variously as atypical, irregular, weak or short, depending on the context - though such terms are not intended to dispute the potential validity of such variant forms. At times other technical terms may be employed whose meanings can be easily discoverable online. For helpful and more detailed online guides to the basics of Old English meter, see Goring (2018), Hall (2016) and O’Donnell (2006). Lines are generally scanned on the presumption of two half-lines, each consisting of two feet, with each foot consisting of a lift (a stressed syllable, represented by a “/”) and a drop (one or more unstressed syllables, represented by “x”). Half-lifts, or semi-stresses, are represented by a “\”. When useful, alliterative sounds may be color-coded for ease of recognition.

While the various "five type" Sieversian derived systems are useful for analyzing what is traditionally termed “classical” Old English meter, they are less able to accommodate other types of alliterative text that may also be considered forms of Old English verse, especially in later Old English texts (e.g. Bredehoft (2005), Yakovlev (2008) and Weiskott (2016) - see especially the latter two, along with Cornelius (2015), for arguments for simplifying the metrical taxonomy of the half-line to one of four positions, rather than two feet and/or five classes). A failure to conform to older models of Old English meter is not necessarily grounds for dismissing such text as poetry, and the OEPF project errs on the side of inclusion, not exclusion, and casts a wide net for such potentially poetic forms. In many past editions of Old English poetry, text would sometimes be emended on the basis of perceived metrical “deficiency” alone. In the OEPF approach, texts are generally not emended on the basis of metrical issues alone, but metrical analysis is detailed if it helps make the case for emending or retaining text as written.

Representative Example: In the following line of Old English verse (from Juliana, l. 401), despite posing no serious issues of sense or grammar, wiðsteall (“resistance”) has often been the object of emendation. But the half-line as written might also scan (somewhat irregularly, by classical rules) in two different ways: If wið- is here stressed, the line scans as a typical type E verse with double alliteration. Otherwise, it could scan as a weak type B verse with alliterative stress on the second foot:

       hu gefæsnad sy      ferð innanweard,
E:     /       \       x     /
B:    x      /        x     /
      wiðsteall geworht.      Ic þæs wealles geat [ontyne]

    “how secured the inner mind may be, how resistance (may be) constituted. I [open] the gate of that wall”

Accordingly, similar to the existence of single half-lines within Old English poetry (see Bliss (1971)), such lines should be taken not as deficient, anomalous, or erroneous, but instead simply as variant, on the understanding that Old English verse remains fluid in nature, often displaying moments of fluctuating form due to both design and accident that remain within range of what materially and textually constitutes Old English poetry.

Pedagogical and Professional Mission:

• Many of the texts in this project have been annotated by contributing editors through credit-bearing graduate and undergraduate seminars offered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the expenses of which fully covered by participants’ graduate funding for tuition, or by graduate or undergraduate fellowship awards and assistantships.

• All of these seminars, fellowships and assistantships are designed to: teach participants/recipients both traditional and digital principles and methods of editing medieval texts; provide a deeper instructional engagement with the linguistic, material and paleographic aspects of early medieval texts; empower students to make their own critical decisions about the texts they work on and provide ownership for the work accomplished; further participants’ own research agendas by working on texts of their choosing; and develop digital humanities literacy and fully credited, citational work that can be included in their own professional portfolios and CVs and utilized in future work.

• In this work, participants have intellectual and collaborative input for the critical and editorial work they help produce, and are fully credited as individual contributing editors. During this work, in order to provide the fullest academic training and learning experiences possible, mentorship and feedback is continuously provided to participants on every aspect of their ongoing work, with each participant individually receiving several hours of review and feedback for the critical editions they develop. The process of editing is an intensively educational one, with editors learning about different genres, manuscripts, scribal practices and verse forms, while reviewing the diverse editorial history of each work.

Notes on Source Material Included:

Images: the digital images publicly available for reproduction necessarily vary in quality from very high quality digital scans to lower grade versions. For some poems, the original manuscript source no longer survives; in these cases, the earliest available transcription or printing is included. If multiple witnesses for the same text are available, they are included where possible. Not all Old English poems currently have digital facsimiles available; as such sources become available, they will be added to the project.

• Transcription Texts: The majority of the transcriptions included in this resource are adapted from edited texts from the freely available Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (ASPR) that were originally digitized for the Dictionary of Old English project, archived at the Oxford Text Archive, and subsequently formatted and corrected by Duncan Macrae-Gibson. Using these transcriptions and later scholarly editions as a foundation, editors then add additional explanatory annotations and observations to the manuscript images and transcriptions, adapting the latter where warranted. Where possible, if multiple witnesses of a text are available, the text of the transcription is linked to variations in the witnesses.

For texts not included in the ASPR, edited texts are provided from other published sources, or created by the editors.

• Source Details and Links: the "Edited Text" page for each poetic text provides bibliographic information for each manuscript (or printed facsimile) witness included, a direct link to the freely available online source, and, where available, Creative Commons licensing or its equivalent for the image. Additionally, the citation for the original location of the edited transcription text (i.e. the relevant ASPR volume or otherwise) is provided there.

• Translations: The majority of modern English translations come from Ophelia Hostetter’s Old English Poetry Project to whom this project is deeply grateful for permission to include their work. When translations are adapted from other sources, the publication citation is given. Some translations have been provided by the contributing editors. All of these translations may differ from those translations provided as part of editorial discussions found in specific editorial notes.

How to cite OEPF:

To aid in citing this resource, the below examples are suggested formats that contain all the relevant information:

• To cite this edition: Foys, Martin, et al., eds. Old English Poetry in Facsimile (Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2019-): https://oepoetryfacsimile.org. DOI: 10.21231/t6a2-jt11

• To cite a page from this website: "The Paris Psalter, Psalm 61 Edited Text & Source Details”, ed. Sarah Friedman, in Old English Poetry in Facsimile (Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2019-): https://oepoetryfacsimile.org/>. DOI: 10.21231/t6a2-jt11.

• To cite an annotation from this website: Ernst, Olivia, “Note on norþ heonene for nort h eoene ("Against a Wen" charm). Old English Poetry in Facsimile (Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2019-): https://oepoetryfacsimile.org/>. DOI: 10.21231/t6a2-jt11. Navigate to the listed work's transcription, facsimiles and editorial commentary via the project's Contents sidebar or "Index" page.