“Old English is Mine!”: Diversity and Old English

A postdoctoral research fellow at Penn, Nahir studies medieval literature and culture.

A postdoctoral research fellow at Penn, Nahir, who has her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, studies medieval literature and culture.

Old English belongs to us all, no matter what our background or where we come from. This proclamation rings out in a beautiful poem I’m delighted to share with you by Nahir I. Otaño Gracia, currently Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Comparative Literature and Classics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Why poetry?

“I write poetry to express both the pleasure and frustration that comes from being a medievalist. ‘Old English Is Mine’ is a response to the many ways that medieval English literature and culture are used to undermine diversity. For example, the idea that we can have dragons, orks, and elves in games and stories set in the Middle Ages, but we can’t have people of color because they were not present at that time. One of the most pervasive lies!”

So true! Please read Nahir’s poem and share it with students, colleagues, and lovers of written and spoken word everywhere.

Photos in the fog and mist at her husband's house in Puerto Rico. "Every time I visit, I wake up to the mist and I think it's magical."

Photos in the fog and mist at her husband’s house in Puerto Rico. “Every time I visit, I wake up to the mist and I think it’s magical.”

Old English is mine!

It belongs to me.

And when it’s mine it’s literary,

Because my blood pumps poetry,

Because I cry with the Wife.

And I, like an emigrant,

Am like the Wanderer,

Mourn the loss of the Hall.

I mourn the crumbling walls of my Island.

Old English is mine!

I own it, I call it mine,

because I have as much right to it.

Nahir's photo of La Playuela in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Her father is walking ahead of her and you can see him in the distance.

Nahir’s photo of La Playuela in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Her father is walking ahead of her and you can see him in the distance.

No matter I’m Puerto Rican,

No matter I speak Spanglish,

No importa que yo entiendo el anglosajón

A través de ojos hispanos y caribeños.

¡Si es tuyo, es mío!

Old English is mine!

It’s multiracial, it’s multiethnic.

And from its first words

Yo, he entendido el grito callado de sus palabras.

And I weep the words y siento la passion

Y entiendo el contexto.

Old English is mine!

Because only a good Old English poem

Could understand la Brega

as good as a Puerto Rican.

Porque yo cargo cada palabra

Como un sueño.

Old English is mine,

And you can’t have it.

And I will hold it in my fist,

And I will say to every person

that Old English is not White,

that the middle earth is not White,

that Europe is not White,

that medievalism is not White.

They were lied to

As surely as they always lie to me.

Old English is mine.

And I have taken it.

¡Y, que se joda lo demás!

Photos in the fog and mist at her husband's house in Puerto Rico. "Every time I visit, I wake up to the mist and I think it's magical."

Another magical photo in the fog and mist at the house of her husband in Puerto Rico. “Every time I visit, I wake up to the mist and I think it’s magical.”

Thank you for letting me share this poem, Nahir!

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