#OEWater Sound Hoard at Midsummer Water Day 21 June 2014

This Saturday saw the climax of King’s Cultural Institute’s collaboration with the Museum of Water in Somerset House: The Midsummer Water Day.

As part of the day-long programme of events – which included singing workshops, poetry readings, science experiments, and contributions from King’s’ Geography and English departments – the Anglo-Saxonist PhD students brought the @OEWordHord to life in the form of the Old Water Hoard.

(Before I go on, I must link you to PhD candidate Hana’s write up on the OEwordhord website which features plenty of photos from the day.)

The Old Water Hoard occupied a foyer, a hall way, a passing place amongst the other Midsummer activities.

The OEwater Old English word hoard Midsummer Water Day

Visitors could participate in and contribute to the Water Hoard in many ways. They were invited to explore Old English watery words – hitherto collected from Anglo-Saxonists and enthusiasts via twitter – to give them a read, try out the sounds, and, if they wanted to, look up their meaning on the Bosworth Toller site. We also collected word donations from visitors, whether they were words that they knew in Old English, words looked up via the Modern English – Old English translator,  or words from languages that they wanted to contribute, from Bengali, through to Dutch and Irish!

midsummer water old english irish languages of india

The most fun activity we put together was the Old English magnet poetry. It combined inviting people to have a go at sounding out the words with encouraging them to look up words of their own, and create poems either based on meanings or sounds.

Exploring the Modern-Old English translation website whilst showing visitors the magnet poetry brought up some of the more exciting moments of the day. One guest was keen to find the word for ‘silt’, and, ‘silt’ not bringing up any immediate results, we explored words from sand/ceosel through to grit/gréot, and mire/sol, before finally settling on the aurally and aesthetically pleasing ‘sæceosel’, and it’s equally lovely definition ‘sea-sand shingle sand or gravel on the sea-shore’.

sea sand grit silt old english language

We also had a visit from Tom Chivers, of Penned In the Margins, who chose some left-field additional words to go with the Old English. Not only did he employ some Old English knowledge to experiment with that medieval love of alliteration and assonance (with some lovely sensations for the ear created as a result), but he played with the words, their ‘real’ meanings as well as their sound, how they feel in the mouth when said aloud, and made a poem at once funny, flippant, yet oddly gnomic as it reached back to the ubiquitous waters of yesterday (waeters, brim and sae of all kinds) to link them with that commercialised H2O of today (the coca cola company’s Vitamin Water).

Tom Chivers old english midsummer water penned in the margins magnet poetry

Guests were also invited to listen to Old English watery words, spoken by members of the Word Hoard team. Grown ups, and some children, slipped on the sound-cancelling headphones to dive into the OEWater playlist, which is linked at the top of this post.

I curated together excerpts from watery poems, and joined these with water sounds (from For-The-Floods. For credits see below!); an original poem from Hel Gurney; a Seafarer piece by Sally Beamish and a full For-The Floods track. I wanted to make available a journey through Old English/Water sounds, bringing together the sounds that remind me of Old English poetry. Short tracks of single words or phrases split up the longer excerpts and artists’ work. I’ve also been getting really into googling Derek Jarman, and love his work for ‘The Angelic Conversation’ – – I was inspired by the echoes, the sparsity, the solemn playfulness of the recordings. I hope I succeeded in channeling him, even a little bit.

I want to do a longer write up of the ‘curation’ process for the Sound Hoard. Bear with for now…

In any case, originally, I had wanted to take visitors on a walk around the foyer of the Museum of Water, however either we fell foul of the packed schedule for the day and people just wanted a ‘quick listen’, or visitors clutched their headphones and closed their eyes, or wished to retreat a little from the busy thoroughfare to listen. I was happy to see so many people try to lose themselves in listening carefully to these strange sounds, peppered with the odd familiar word.

Reactions to listening to Old English varied…

‘It sounds Dutch!’ – followed by a fun exchange of more Dutch-Anglo vocab

‘It’s beautiful, so relaxing’

‘It doesn’t sound as sexy as Welsh’ – a low point.

‘It reminds me of Gaellic, it’s serene’

‘I feel like I’ve just listened to Gandalf’

‘I wanted to listen all the way through. What did this mean? What did that mean…?’

… and people wanted to talk, to ask about the facts – when it might’ve been spoken, which poems they had heard – or to offer their own related stories of Welsh, Scots, Irish or Dutch friends and family. We had fun teasing out meanings which have crossed time and space, and those other ‘false friends’, words that sound the same but whose meanings have slipped somewhat!

A couple of listeners also took the opportunity to ‘draw along’ whilst they listened, with a very cute ‘listening jellyfish’ being donated to the Word Hoard wall by a young girl.

midsummer water day old english jellyfish

At the end of 5 hour collection, we’d amassed quite a collection of magnet poems, and word and image donations. Although the chance for more in dept ‘water walks and talks’ were missed by me, I still found the conversations I had with our visitors provocative – I continue to find that when Old English is forced into new contexts beyond the trusty Marsden Reader, I am also forced to confront new ways that the language creates meaning for those beyond the university seminar. Poets, children, people, all drawing on their individual ideas of language and time in a space free from policing of traditional academic boundaries can create conversations that give medieval poetry a new relevance to our lived experience.

I’m keen to continue to explore this further, as right now the Midsummer Water Day has left me with more half formed thoughts and questions rather than conclusions as to how Old English enacts upon and is used by creative individuals or groups… so here’s to Old English getting out and about a bit more in the meantime.

people listening to old english word hoard

Image above: listeners to the Old English Water hoard take in some medieval poetry whilst images from Jila Peacock’s Seafarer series, and new images on our Word Hoard provide a beautiful and thought provoking setting. Special thanks go to Jila Peacock for donating her images to the hoard, you can find them here. Thanks too to Sally Beamish for donating the animated ‘Seafarer’ piano trio, which visitors could watch through an additional ‘listening booth’.


Thank you to the wonderful people at KCL’s Cultural Institute, the English Department, and of course Amy Sharrocks and her Museum of Water for such an eye opening day. I’m hoping to write up some thoughts on the rest of the events from the MidSummer Water day here soon. You can visit the Museum of Water until the 29 June – – be quick!


#OEWater – Sound Hoard [tracks and credits]

1.      Water Words I (moving water i)

2.      Lines 91 – 102 of the poem known as The Seafarer

3.      Water Words II (rocks await the strife of the sea)

4.      Lines 529 – 581 of the poem known as Beowulf

5.      Water Words III (spear man)

6.      The Old English Exodus ft. The Rumbling of the Wavesq

7.      Water Words IV (sea going boat)

8.      Water Became Bone, by Hel Gurney

9.      Water Words V (that water is wet and cold)

10.      The Rumbling of the Waves, by For~The~Floods

11.      Water Words VI (on an island the rain came down)

12.      The Seafarer – Andante Irrequieto, by Sally Beamish

13.      Water Words VII (moving water ii)

1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13. Read by Victoria Walker, PhD Candidate at King’s College, London. Water donated by For⁓The⁓Floods: ‘Cutty Sark Corner’, ‘Reaching the Thames End Of Deptford Creek’, ‘Brookmill Park’ and ‘Ravensbourne River’. Donations also used on tracks 2 & 4.

2. Read by Dr James A Paz, Leeds University, (PhD King’s College, London).

4. Read by Hana Videen, PhD Candidate at King’s College, London.

6. Read by Kathryn Maude, PhD Candidate at King’s College, London. Music, see track 10.

8. By Hel Gurney (BA King’s College, London, MA University of Sussex).
Hel Gurney is a writer of poetry, prose, and the occasional academic paper. “Water Became Bone” is the second in a series of audio pieces that combine spoken Old English with modern English translations, reinterpretations, and original poetry. Hel can be found online at helgurney.wordpress.com.

10. By For~The~Floods.
For~The~Floods (aka Luke Walker) is a Musician/Sound Artist interested in the city, the river and water. soundcloud.com/for-the-floods.

12. Composed by Sally Beamish, performed by Tabea Zimmermann and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. http://www.sallybeamish.com.

‘The Seafarer Piano Trio’ and monoprints animation by Dumbstruck Studios. ‘The Seafarer Piano Trio’ is by Sally Beamish, and is to be performed on the 2nd July at the Royal College of Music, http://www.rcm.ac.uk/womeninmusic. Monoprints by Jila Peacock, painter and printmaker. www.jilapeacock.co.uk.

Curated by @francheskyia

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