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Early English 101
Early English 101

Early English 101

DonFletcherDonald R. Fletcher
1 Review

Early English 101

“So, you decided to enroll at the University as a simple undergraduate majoring in English Language and Literature?”

“Right! My contact in the English Department said that they will recognize the courses and hours of credit that I have accumulated elsewhere over these years; but that as a departmental major here, I will need to take the required foundational course, Early English 101.”

Jess was explaining to me what she had decided to study at the University—doing it part-time, as she would need to keep on working. That Early English 101 could be a game-changer, as I knew well—using the entire first semester for an introduction to Anglo-Saxon language, taught by my colleague Alfred Noel.

“Good luck to you on the Early English, Jess,” I said.

“I’ve been warned about that,” she answered, “but who knows? Maybe I’ll enjoy it.”

Seemingly, Jess did enjoy it—at least, as a challenge. Alfred poured it on, all the way to the end of the term.

That came on a frosty day in mid-January. When Jess picked up her examination booklet, as she told me, she glanced through it as she was leaving the lecture hall. There were two, quite extensive Anglo-Saxon passages to be transcribed in modern English, one written in poetic form and one in prose. The examination was administered strictly on the honor code, according to the University’s tradition. Jess had ninety minutes to write it, taking it with her anywhere she chose. The winter sunlight, seeming uncordially thin and cold, would accompany her home.

She chose that route, and then she had an idea. The previous evening I had given her a key.

"Here,” I had said, “you’ll have freedom while taking the exam, and, as you know, I live nearby. I won’t be home, of course; so feel free to go in and use my study, or the kitchen, or anything you find useful.”

She told me how, when she had the exam booklet and the ninety minutes, she decided that’s where she would go. She let herself in, and Caedmon, my cat, gave her a prolonged meow, after a quick sniff told him it was no intruder, but was she. He accompanied her into the study, rubbing against her leg as she sat at my desk.

Now, Anglo-Saxon is certainly Early English; but it looks and sounds like a foreign language. Jess had followed as intently as she could, during the term, while Alfred Noel led his class into the intricacies of ancient Anglo-Saxon poetry, with the rhythmic repetition of its beat. His enthusiasm for the language and culture was infectious. Jess enjoyed the sound of Alfred’s voice, as he intoned the foreign cadence of the lines. With his large, thrusting nose and boney forehead, above his keen, blue eyes, he even seemed to look the part of an Anglo-Saxon chieftain.

The printed sheet accompanying the examination booklet included two passages of Anglo-Saxon verse, one of which was to be selected and rendered—Jess thought they might have said ‘translated’—in modern English. She looked along the shelf above my desk.

There it was—a shabby, worn-looking copy of the very text they had used in the Anglo-Saxon course! Would I have made notes in it, marginal readings of the meaning of words, and the like? Quite naturally she reached up for the book, and then she stopped. That would, of course, be the same as asking me to help her with the exam.

For a long moment her hand was in the air, stretched out toward the bookshelf. Just then, it seemed, something startled Caedmon, who was perched comfortably on the arm of a stuffed chair close by.

With a sharp cry, sounding very loud in the stillness of the room, and of the whole house, he leaped from the chair—a long leap, and then a scrambling yowl, as he vanished through the open doorway.

Jess admitted to me, describing all of this, that my cat left her shaken. It was, she said, as if he knew everything that was in her mind. Caedmon made the decision for her. She quickly got her coat, put the exam booklet in her handbag, and returned to the University, to the library, to find a table, sit, and write out what she could of a transcription in modern English of the Anglo-Saxon passage she selected, plus what else was asked for in the exam.

The bell on Centennial Tower was ringing and a chill, gusty wind was whirling some dry, dead leaves around her ankles as she left the library and headed for the English Department’s lecture hall with her finished examination booklet. On its final page, as the University required, she had written,

“I pledge my personal honor that, in writing this examination, I have neither received nor given assistance;”

and she had signed her name.

Author Notes: After publishing 5 books, at age 102 Don Fletcher continues to write short stories and poetry.

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About The Author
DonFletcher
Donald R. Fletcher
About This Story
Audience
All
Posted
27 Jun, 2021
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811
Read Time
4 mins
Rating
5.0 (1 review)
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