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August 19 , 2010

The Poetics of Old English


Combining literary analysis and theoretical linguistics, Tiffany Beechy's timely and engaging study provides a critical reassessment of Old English texts that challenges the distinction between Anglo-Saxon prose and verse, ultimately recognizing an inherent poetic nature present in all Old English texts. While the poetic nature of Beowulf, due to the regular meter and heroic story, is recognized, this study demonstrates that poetry is a more widespread phenomenon than previously thought; poetic patterning can be found across the Old English corpus, both in verse and in so-called prose. Informed by Jakobsonian linguistics and oral theory, Beechy's analysis focuses on the text itself to identify unique poetic strategies. This demonstration includes a comparison between King Alfred's Old English version of Boethius' Consolatio Philosophiae and the Latin original; the poetic quality of prose homilies; poetic epistemology in law codes, riddles, and charms; and unconventional poetics even in traditional verse texts, such as the short lyric 'Deor' and the long poem Christ I. The Poetics of Old English brings interrelated developments in linguistics and literary theory to the study of Anglo-Saxon language and culture, showing that Old English texts, when considered at the level of language, are surprisingly sophisticated.

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