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Old English Poetics

Old English Poetics

Elizabeth M. Tyler
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Old English Poetics
    Book Description:

    Traditions are created and maintained by groups of people living in specific times and places: they do not have a life of their own. In this radical new approach to Old English poetics, the author argues that the apparent timelessness and stability of Old English poetic convention is a striking historical phenomenon that must be accounted for, not assumed, and that the perceived conservatism of Old English poetic conventions is the result of choice. Successive generations of poets deliberately maintained the traditionality of Old English poetry, putting it into dialogue with contemporary conditions to express critique and dissent as well as nostalgia. The author makes particular use of the rich language of treasure to be found in Anglo-Saxon verse to historicise her argument, but her argument has wide implications for how we approach the role of tradition in the poetry of earlier societies. Dr ELIZABETH TYLER teaches in the Department of English and the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-496-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Elizabeth M. Tyler
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xv)
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-8)

    The object of this study is the stability of the stylistic conventions of Old English poetry. As is indicated by the continuities between continental Germanic and Anglo-Saxon vernacular verse, the form and style of Old English poetry took shape before the movement of Germanic speaking peoples to Britain. It continued to be used up to and beyond the death of Edward the Confessor: that is, it lasted for well over six hundred years. We tend to overlook the significance of this stability when we think ahistorically of a single Anglo-Saxon period extending from the fifth to the eleventh century. The...

  8. CHAPTER ONE Treasure and Old English Verse
    (pp. 9-37)

    Treasure appears widely in Old English verse, with very few poems not mentioning treasure in one form or another. In verse with a secular theme, from Beowulf to The Battle of Maldon, and even at the very end of the poetic tradition, in the Chronicle poem commemorating the death of Edward the Confessor, treasure is especially found in the context of gift-giving. In secular and religious verse alike, treasure, as a symbol for wealth, occurs in connection with transience. The toposof ‘the Just’ storing up more permanent treasure for themselves in Heaven (itself frequently described in terms of treasure)...

  9. CHAPTER TWO The Collocation of Words for Treasure in Old English Verse
    (pp. 38-100)

    This chapter presents a detailed analysis of word collocations associated with maðm, hord, gestreon, sinc, and frætwe. Collocation, defined simply as the tendency of words to appear together, encompasses stylistic features, such as the formula, which have been seen as constraints on the control the Old English poet could exert over word choice and other kinds of verbal repetition which have more often been seen as indications of inventiveness. Defined in this way, collocation is an heuristic tool which allows a range of stylistic aspects of Old English poetry to be studied in relation, rather than in opposition to, or...

  10. CHAPTER THREE Formulas and the Aesthetics of the Familiar
    (pp. 101-122)

    The notion of the formula is foundational to our understanding of Old English poetics and to the way we read Old English poetry. Both its definition and its implications for the aesthetic concerns of Old English poets have been long debated.¹ My aim in this chapter lies not with the conventionality or originality of Old English poetry – which is often at issue in discussions of the formula; rather I intend to problematize the notion that we can define the formula, and then, from this perspective, to consider Old English poetic aesthetics. Collocation allows the formula to be looked at from...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR Verbal Repetition and the Aesthetics of the Familiar
    (pp. 123-156)

    The notion of the formula focuses attention on shared language which repeats across the corpus of Old English verse. As half-line units, formulas have a strong metrical component. The aspect of Old English poetic style which is referred to as verbal repetition, in contrast, focuses attention on the repetition of words within individual poems – both within discrete passages and across entire poems. Such repetitions of words and phrases do not necessarily entail the repetition of a rhythmic pattern. Verbal repetition and formulas do, however, overlap. On the simplest level, this overlap can be as a result of a word, which...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE Poetics and the Past: Traditional Style at the Turn of the First Millennium
    (pp. 157-172)

    The stability of Old English poetic convention over a long period of time is evident in different aspects of the style of the poetry which have been considered in the previous chapters: the ubiquitous presence of archaic treasure, the carefully maintained semantic distinctions which differentiate the lexis of treasure, the complexity of the formulaic nature of the verse, and the place of verbal repetition within poems. Each one of these features contributes to an aesthetics marked by its preference – drive even – for the familiar and by a capacity to make the new quickly familiar. The interaction of these features, however,...

    (pp. 173-184)
    (pp. 185-186)
    (pp. 187-188)
    (pp. 188-190)
    (pp. 190-194)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-197)