English 211--Quiz #0 (SAMPLE--DON'T FAINT!)

English 211, Quiz #0: Bede, Ecclesiastical History of England (excerpt re: Caedmon's hymn)

1)  Who was Caedmon, who was Bede, and why would Bede think it was unusual that Caedmon composed a hymn?

        Bede was a Latin-literate monk whose life was spent in prayer and scholarship.  Caedmon was a cowherd, illiterate in both Latin and his native speech, Anglo-Saxon.  The two ordinarily would never meet, and Bede would have no idea what Caedmon's cultural life was like other than what the cowherd told him.  Especially, the monk would be highly unlikely to know how Caedmon's fellow herdsmen learned to sing their pagan songs in Anglo-Saxon metrical verse, even though Bede knew perfectly well how literate Latin poets composed their poems.  Neither man could have reasonably been expected to communicate his composition process to the other.

2)  The language and structure of Caedmon's poem will seem unusual to readers familiar with Modern English poems.  What is the most notable visual difference in the way the lines are arranged on the page (i.e., its mise-en-page)?

        The lines are divided in the middle of their four-stress meter by a gap or "caesura" which some performers treat as a pause.  The caesura's true function in oral-formulaic composition was to help the illiterate singer count legal "hemi-stichs" or two-stress half-lines with variations (e.g., DUM-da-da Dum-da, or da-da-Dum Dum-da, or Dum-da Dum da-Dum da-Dum, but NEVER Dum-da-Dum-da-Dum or Dum-Dum-Dum, etc.).

3)  When Bede paraphrases Caedmon's hymn in Latin, he comments that "it is impossible to make a literal translation, no matter how well-written, of poetry in another language" (25)?  What must be lost in the translation of poetry and why does that matter to the study of English literature?

        The "music," or the phonological texture of L1, must necessarily differ from the phonological texture of L2.  The difference would be like reading the lyrics of "River Deep, Mountain High" as ordinary language, without the "wall of sound" and Ike and Tina Turner wailing in the background.  That "music" carries meaning as important as the meaning of the At best, translation from an older form of the same language into its "daughter" tongue can use archaic words and speech rhythms to attempt to synthesize the older language's "music" in the modern day.

Extra Credit: Tell me something specific about Caedmon's social community which affected the songs he composed.

        Everyone sang at dinner.  This suggests they preserved a wide and deep oral/aural "library" of Anglo-Saxon songs on pagan subjects, much to Caedmon's disgust.  Where are those songs now?  Some exist in the margins of sacred manuscripts, perhaps written down by bilingual monks who remembered hearing them in their youth.  The rest are lost except for great fragments like Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon and The Wanderer, all of which have been Christianized in places to help save them from destruction by monkish censors.

Extra Extra Credit: Extend the point in question 3 above by considering paraphrase and summary of prose in the same language as the original (e.g., "Cliff's Notes" or "Spark Notes")--what is lost and why does that matter?

        The paraphrase or summary loses the specific assembly of connotative meaning that surrounds the denotative meaning that is most easily translatable.  This connotative "halo" often produces the thematic motifs that New Critics find most significant in shaping the poem's aesthetic beauty.

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Still feeling unsure about whether you know what to expect from an English 211 quiz?  Click here for other samples, some of which will be recycled as real quizzes, in part or entirely, during the semester.