Sock It To Me, Beowulf: A Guest Post

by Alma Alexander

Walking on Beowulf. Here’s proof.

Story so far: a little while back I happened upon somebody’s link to a pattern for theknitting up of “Beowulf socks” – socks with the text from Beowulf knit into the sock itself. I have to tell you, this tickled my geeky side so instantly and so utterly that I immediately reposted the thing with a plaintive “WANT!!!” attached to it.

Oh yes, I wanted, I wanted really badly. This is the ULTIMATE wordnerd sock.

The problem was that, looking over my arguably multifarious talents, sock-knitting was not one of their number. I might want all I want but I was incapable of fulfilling the desire because I would have had no idea where to begin.

Enter the generous and talented Brenda Clough who emailed me and said, well, she could do these for me if I wanted.

I fell over myself saying yes please.

We messaged back and forth a little concerning yarns and what have you, and then she began the project, blogging about its beginnings and its unique problems along the way – because these are NOT mated socks, they are not identical, and while one of them starts out with the hallowed Anglo Saxon “HWAET!” (did you know Tolkien used to open his lectures at Oxford with a bellowed “Hwaet!” – and that the students, being untutored as yet in the niceties of Old Saxon, misheard him as yelling “QUIET!!!”) the text carries on down that calf and that foot, ends at the toe, and then gets picked up where it left off at the top edge of sock #2.

She posted pictures of socks-in-progress – and when they were finally done, they arrived in my post box the morning I was leaving for Norwescon – hubby was tearing open the packaging even as we set out for the convention. So I had the socks for Norwescon, and on the second day of the con I wore them proudly in public. People ASKED about them and I would thrust out a proud foot (hah. More Tollkien. I was a Proudfoot…) and showed off the Saxon screed on my gams.

Oh, it was all I wanted it to be, and more.

I brought them home and am wearing them as I type this. They are warm and pleasant and OH so damned special.

I am walking on Beowulf. Hwaet. There can’t be many who can have said THAT in their lifetime.

Brenda, you are a scholar and a craftsperson and a gentlewoman – and you have my undying gratitude for bringing this project to life. Words in my mind and immortal ancient words at my heels – what else does a true writer need to be happy?…



About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Sock It To Me, Beowulf: A Guest Post — 8 Comments

  1. WANT!!!

    But I have to wait until I finish a dozen other things first. I’m tired of the UFOs (unfinished objects) in my knitting basket.

    Maybe next year when I’ll appreciate the warm and cozy socks more than today when summer has finally arrived.

  2. Oh, wow! This boggles my brain. What a wonderful word-geek and artisan who came up with this idea in the first place! How in the world … ?


  3. The sock was designed by Gryphon Perkins, and is available from the Sanguine Gryphon, She (sock designers tend to be female!) is obviously a master of fair isle and a nut about socks.

  4. You know, I just was at a talk yesterday, where a linguist/philologist was explaining that Hwaet really isn’t an interjection particle. It’s actually an intensifier on the same pattern as Modern English ‘how.’ “How could you?” “How awesome is that?” “How much we now know about the spear-danes…”

    The nerds are in the house.

  5. “Hwaet” is the direct ancestor of the modern word “what”, and probably had the whole range of meaning that that word has today, plus more. Seamus Heaney very wisely (I think) translates it “So.” From his introduction:

    Conventional renderings of “hwaet”, the first word of the poem, tend toward the archaic literary, with “lo” and “hark” and “behold” and “attend” and — more colloquially — “listen” being some of the solutions offered previously. But in Hiberno-English Scullionspeak, the particle “so” came naturally to the rescue, because in that idiom “so” operates as an expression which obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention. So, “so” it was:

    So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
    and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
    We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

    The last quotation in the OED for this meaning of “what” is from the very end of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, where the Knight is saying (modern punctuation added):

    He seyde, “Syne I shall bigynne the game,
    What! Welcome be the cut, in Goddes name!”

    The “cut” is the shortest straw, by means of which the pilgrims decided who would tell their story first.

  6. The OED says that this particular word cut meaning ‘lot’ is older that the noun cut derived from the verb cut, and probably not related to it. Cutting cards is just dividing them into two parts, like cutting meat or bread or whatever.