Obituary: Robert P. Creed, Professor Emeritus of English

Robert Creed performing Beowulf.
Robert P. Creed, right, performs "Beowulf" with string accompaniment in 1995.

Robert Payson Creed, 90, of Shutesbury, professor emeritus of English and noted “Beowulf” scholar, died Nov. 21.

Born in 1925 in Philadelphia, he served in the Naval Reserve, where from 1943 to 1946 he studied and then taught air navigation.

After the war, he earned a bachelor’s degree at Swarthmore and a master’s and doctorate at Harvard. He taught at Smith College, Brown University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook before joining the faculty at UMass Amherst in 1969, where in addition to teaching he took on departmental administrative roles including director of graduate studies in English and department chair in comparative literature. He retired in 1995.

His primary research interest was Old English poetry, especially “Beowulf.” His book “Reconstructing the Rhythm of Beowulf” was published in 1990. His groundbreaking article “The Making of an Anglo-Saxon Poet” has been reprinted many times.

He became well-known for his recreation of the performance of the Old English epic poem “Beowulf” and performed it in many venues, academic and popular, in the U.S. and abroad. His recording of Old English poetry on Folkways records can be heard online on Spotify. He wrote and performed two one-hour dramatizations of “Beowulf” that won awards for best local drama and best radio drama from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1979.

“What I’d like is to give people a sense of our link to that language that ceased to be spoken in any way that would make it understood in about 1200,” he told an interviewer. “I want them to develop a sense that the language we are speaking today has very deep roots and that we can actually hear what those roots are.”

He was the recipient of a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at Edinburgh University. He was one of four Distinguished Faculty Lecturers at UMass Amherst in 1993-94. 

He served on the boards of Arcadia Players Baroque Orchestra, Hampshire Shakespeare Company, the Western Mass. Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, and the Friends of Quabbin, and on the corporation of the Boston Early Music Festival.

He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Catherine Hilton of Shutesbury; his daughter Lisa Creed and her partner Karen Stark of Durham, N.C.; his son Robert P. Creed, Jr., and daughter-in-law Katie Greene of Todd, N.C., and his former wife Louise (Milam) Creed.

 A memorial gathering is planned for spring 2016.