What Old English sounded like is unknowable, but we can make educated guesses based on how it was written and how it evolved over time into Modern English. For years, I have dreamt of recording myself reading Beowulf in my personal interpretation of how Old English may have sounded. What a better time for that than during COVID quarantine?
Chickering, Howell D. 2006. Beowulf: a dual language edition. New York: Anchor Books.
Slade, Benjamin (ed.). 2006. BEOWULF. Retrieved September 06, 2020.
Wyatt, AJ. 1894. BEOWULF via Wikisource. Retried September 06, 2020.
Listen! We, of the Spear-Danes, have heard, in the days of yore,
of the glory of those clan-kings,
how those nobles performed courageous deeds!
Often Scyld Scefing, from enemy hosts,
from many peoples, seized mead-benches;
and terrorised the fearsome Heruli, even though first he was
found a waif, helpless. For that came a remedy,
he waxed under the clouds, throve in honours,
until, to him, each of the bordering tribes
beyond the whale-road had to submit,
and yield tribute. He was a good king!
Ðǣm eafera wæs æfter cenned
geong in geardum, þone God sende
folce tō frōfre; fyren-ðearfe ongeat,
þæt hīe ǣr drugon aldor-[lē]ase
lange hwīle. Him þæs Līf-frēa,
wuldres Wealdend, worold-āre forgeaf;
[Beow] wæs brēme, blǣd wīde sprang,
Scyldes eafera Scede-landum in.
Swā sceal [geong g]uma gōde gewyrcean,
fromum feoh-giftum on fæder [bea]rme,
þæt hine on ylde eft gewunigen
wil-gesīþas, þonne wīg cume,
lēode gelǣsten; lof-dǣdum sceal
in mǣgþa gehwǣre man geþēon.
To him an heir was born then
young in the yards, whom God had sent
to comfort the people; He had seen the dire distress
that they suffered before, leaderless
a long while; therefore the Life-Lord,
Ruler of Glory, granted earthly honor:
[Beow] was famed, his renown spread wide,
Scyld's heir, through all the Northern lands.
So ought a young man, while in his father's keeping,
treasure up the future, by his goods and goodness,
by splendid bestowals, so that later in life,
his chosen men stand by him in turn,
his people serve him, when war comes.
By such generosity, any man prospers.
Him ða Scyld gewāt tō gescæp-hwīle
fela-hrōr fēran on Frēan wǣre;
hī hyne þā ætbǣron tō brimes faroðe,
swǣse gesīþas, swā hē selfa bæd,
þenden wordum wēold wine Scyldinga,
lēof land-fruma lange āhte.
Þær æt hȳðe stōd hringed-stefna
īsig ond ūt-fūs, æþelinges fær;
ālēdon þā lēofne þēoden,
bēaga bryttan on bearm scipes,
mǣrne be mæste. Þǣr wæs mādma fela,
of feor-wegum, frætwa, gelǣded.
Ne hȳrde ic cȳmlīcor cēol gegyrwan
hilde-wǣpnum ond heaðo-wǣdum,
billum ond byrnum; him on bearme læg
mādma mænigo, þā him mid scoldon
on flōdes ǣht, feor gewītan.
Scyld then departed when the time came,
still very strong, into Frea's keeping,
his dear comrades, carried his body
to the sea's current, as he himeslf had ordered,
great Sylding lord, when he still gave commands;
the nation's dear leader, had ruled for a long time.
There at the harbour stood with a ringed-prow,
icy and sea-ready, a hero's vessel.
They then laid down the beloved king,
the tall ring-giver, in the bosom of the boat,
the mighty by the mast. Many riches were there,
from far-off lands, bright gold and silver.
I have not heard of a ship so decked
with weapons of battle and war-dress,
bill-blades and byrnies; there lay on his breast
heaps of jewels, which with him must,
by the power of the flood, drift far away.
Nalæs hī hine lǣssan lācum tēodan,
þēod-gestrēonum, þon þā dydon,
þe hine æt frum-sceafte forð onsendon
ǣnne ofer ȳðe umbor-wesende.
Þa gyt hī him āsetton segen g[el]denne
hēah ofer hēafod, lēton holm beran,
gēafon on gār-secg; him wæs gēomor sefa,
murnende mōd. Men ne cunnon
secgan tō sōðe, sele-rǣdende,
hæleð under heofenum, hwā þǣm hlæste onfēng.
No lesser gifts did they provide him,
the wealth of a nation, than those at his start
who set him adrift, being but a child,
friendless and cold, alone on the waves.
Yet then they set up his standard of gold,
high over head; then let the waves lap,
gave him to the sea, with grieving hearts,
mourning minds; men cannot
say for sure, not court-counsellors
nor heroes under heaven, who received that cargo.
Ðā wæs on burgum, [Bēow] Scyldinga,
lēof lēod-cyning, longe þrāge
folcum gefrǣge, fæder ellor hwearf,
aldor of earde, oþþæt him eft onwōc
hēah Healfdene; hēold þenden lifde,
gamol ond gūð-rēouw, glæde Scyldingas.
Ðǣm feower bearn forð-gerīmed
in worold wōcun, weoroda rǣswa[n]
Heorogār, ond Hrōðgār ond Hālga til;
hȳrde ic, þæt [Ȳrse wæs On]elan cwēn,
Then, in the strongholds was [Beow] the Scylding,
beloved king of the people, famed among the folk
a long time, his noble father,
having passed away, until unto him was born
Healfdene the Great, who, while he lived
aged and battle-fierce, ruled the glad Scyldings;
to him four sons in all,
woke in the world, from the leader of the legions,
Heorogar and Hrothgar and Halga the Good;
I hear that Yrse was Onela's queen,
the War-Scylfing's bed-companion.
Þā wæs Hrōðgāre here-spēd gyfen,
wīges weorð-mynd, þæt him his wine-māgas
georne hȳrdon, oððþæt sēo geogoð gewēox,
mago-driht micel. Him on mōd bearn,
þæt heal-reced hātan wolde,
medo-ærn micel men gewyrcean,
þone yldo bearn ǣfre gefrūnon,
ond þǣr on innan eall gedǣlan
geongum ond ealdum, swylc him God sealde,
būton folc-scare ond feorum gumena.
Then was to Hrothgar was success in warcraft given,
such honor in war that the men of his house
eagerly served him, while young kinsmen
grew into strength. It came into his mind
that a hall-house, he wished to command,
a gabled mead-hall, built by craftsmen
which the sons of men should hear of forever,
and there within he would share all
with the young and old, that God had given him,
except the common land and the lives of men.
Ðā ic wīde gefrægn weorc gebannan
manigre mǣgþe geond þisne middan-geard,
folc-stede frætwan. Him on fyrste gelomp
ǣdre mid yldum, þæt hit wearð eal gearo,
heal-ærna mǣst; scōp him Heort naman,
sē þe his wordes geweald wīde hæfde.
Hē bēot ne ālēh, bēagas dǣlde,
sinc æt symle. Sele hlīfade
hēah ond horn-gēap; heaðo-wylma bād
lāðan līges. Ne wæs hit lenge þā, gēn,
þæt se ecg-hete āþum-swerian
æfter wæl-nīðe wæcnan scolde.
Then, I heard, the work was announced
to many peoples throughout this middle-earth,
to furnish this hall of the folk. For him in time it came to pass,
early, through the men, that it was fully finished,
greatest of hall-buildings, named Heorot,
by he whose words had weight everywhere;
he broke no promises, dealt out rings,
treasures at his table. The hall towered,
high and horn-gabled, awaited the war-fires,
of hateful flames; nor was it time yet
for the sharp-edged hate of his sworn son-in-law,
to rise against him in murderous rage.
Ðā se ellen-gǣst earfoðlīce
þrāge geþolode, sē þe in þȳstrum bād,
þæt hē dōgora gehwām drēam gehȳrde
hlūdne in healle; þǣr wæs hearpan swēg,
swutol sang scopes. Sægde sē þe cūþe
frumsceaft fīra feorran reccan,
cwæð þæt se Ælmihtiga eorðan worh[te],
wlite-beorhtne wang, swā wæter bebūgeð;
gesette sige-hrēþig sunnan and mōnan
lēoman tō lēohte land-būendum,
ond gefrætwade foldan scēatas
leomum and lēafum; līf ēac gesceōp
cynna gehwylcum, þāra ðe cwice hwyrfaþ.
Then the fierce spirit, the tormented
suffered great pain, he who dwelt in darkness,
for each new day, he heard happy laughter,
loud in the hall; there were harps thrumming,
the sweet songs of poets; spoke he who knew of
the origins of men, our ancient origins;
told how the Almighty wrought the earth,
that bright shining field, bounded by water;
He, triumphant, set the sun and moon,
as lamps for the land-dwellers,
and adorned the corners of the earth
with limbs and leaves; life, too, He formed
for each of the beings which live and move.