NOTES and DOCUMENTS A Spliced Old English Quotation in "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" MICHAEL D. C. DROUT lif is læne: eal scæce# leoht and lif somod (MC 19). [Life is fleeting, all departs, light and life together.]1 his Old English quotation, which J. R. R. Tolkien uses in "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" to describe the theme of Beowulf, does not appear anywhere in the corpus of Anglo-Saxon. It is an invention by Tolkien, created by splicing together a partial quotation from Widsith and an Anglo-Saxon poetic commonplace most famously found in the poems The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and Beowulf.2 The passage in Widsith is "oþþæt eal scæce# / leoht and lif somod" (141b-142a; until all departs, light and life together).3 It occurs at the very end of the poem, when the poet says that singers will exalt the reputations of those who are generous to them and will continue to maintain the fame of the heroic "until all departs, light and life together." The "lif is læne" part of the quotation does not appear in exactly that form anywhere in the corpus of Old English texts, but the idea, usually phrased as an adjective-noun
Tolkien Studies – West Virginia University Press
Published: May 9, 2006
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