Old English Poetry Essays On Style
Lack of precise information concerning the date and place of composition of almost all Old English poems remains a problem for literary histories of the period that runs roughly from Augustine of Canterbury’s mission in 597 to the Norman Conquest in 1066; see Fulk and Cain 2003 (especially pp. 36–37), which does not develop Fulk’s earlier chronology based on meter. Instead the authors have, after a discussion of the Alfredian period, structured their overview around different kinds of writings, such as “Homilies” and “Saints’ Legends,” combining prose and poetry when relevant as well as works in Latin. Earlier, Greenfield and Calder 1986 began with a chapter on the Anglo-Latin background (written by Michael Lapidge) and then separated the prose from the poetry. Garde 1990 focuses on vernacular poems that the author arranges to follow Christian chronology from Creation to the Last Judgment; a limitation of this study is its insistence that all Old English religious poetry is similarly historical and doctrinal, concerned with teaching only basic Christian beliefs and resistant to more sophisticated exegetical or allegorical interpretation. For a demonstration of the different kinds of Christian traditions behind poems with similar names (“Christ I,” “II,” and “III”), see Hill 1986 (cited under Poems about Christ), which proposes writing literary history around the study of sources. A very different and potentially illuminating approach to understanding religious poetry is suggested in Conner 1993, which focuses on the compilation of one manuscript, the Exeter Book, linking what Conner believes are distinct booklets to three moments (before, during, and after the 10th-century Benedictine Reform) in the history of the monastery at Exeter. Some of Conner’s basic arguments, however, have been challenged; see, in particular, Gameson 1996. Theories explaining the compilations of other vernacular poetic manuscripts, which tie them to a variety of religious contexts, have been advanced and may be represented in Hall 2002 (and the reprinted version of Hall’s earlier essay, which appears in the same collection), a discussion of the unity of the Junius Manuscript; see also Orchard 1995 (cited under Beowulf). The only named poet from the period who has left behind a substantial body of poetry (“Christ II,” “Elene,” “Fates of the Apostles,” and “Juliana”) is Cynewulf, whose work is examined in Bjork 1996. Finally, for a discussion whose tone is set early by the assertion that “the days of Robertsonian patristic exegesis presenting, in the main, a programme of Christian apologetic are past” (p. 252), see Conner 2001.
Bjork, Robert E., ed. Cynewulf: Basic Readings. New York: Garland, 1996.
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This book includes eighteen essays, including the four Cynewulf poems, and chapters on “Poet, Canon, Date” and “Signature, Style.” Bjork calls attention at the beginning of his introduction to two previous books on Cynewulf by Daniel G. Calder (Cynewulf, Boston: Twayne, 1981) and Earl R. Anderson (Cynewulf: Structure, Style and Theme in His Poetry, Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1983) not represented in his collection but which he identifies as essential reading for all interested in this poet.
Conner, Patrick W. Anglo-Saxon Exeter: A Tenth-Century Cultural History. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 1993.
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Relying primarily on manuscript evidence, Conner argues that Exeter had a thriving monastery in the 10th century and that the Exeter Book was written there, reflecting Sidemann’s influence. He combines codicological and literary analysis to claim that the manuscript is divided into booklets written before, during, and after the reform. The evidence is impressionistic, requiring further study before it can be accepted.
Conner, Patrick W. “Religious Poetry.” In A Companion to Anglo-Saxon Literature. Edited by Phillip Pulsiano and Elaine M. Treharne, 251–267. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631209041.2001.00015.xE-mail Citation »
In an effort to prevent the analysis of these poems from becoming “a religious exercise” (p. 266), Conner builds his essay around the anthropological definition of religion offered by Geertz. The result is a series of statements about individual poems that remain very general. See, however, other essays in this collection, in particular, Thomas Hall, “Biblical and Patristic Learning,” and Charles D. Wright, “The Irish Tradition.”
Fulk, R. D., and Christopher M. Cain. A History of Old English Literature. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.
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This book begins with a discussion of the chronology and varieties of Old English literature, followed by a discussion of the Alfredian material. Other topics include Saints’ legends (a chapter by Rachel S. Anderson); biblical literature; liturgical and devotional texts; legal, scientific, and scholastic works; wisdom literature and lyric poetry; and, finally, Germanic legend and heroic lay, which mentions Christian influence in Beowulf and “The Battle of Maldon.”
Gameson, Richard. “The Origin of the Exeter Book of Old English Poetry.” Anglo-Saxon England 25 (1996): 135–186.
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A detailed study of the inventory by Leofric, the bishop of Exeter, the 10th-century manuscripts most closely linked to the Exeter Book, and the wider corpus of 10th- and early-11th-century English manuscripts that argues strongly against Conner’s central claim, an Exeter origin for this manuscript, placing it instead in Canterbury. Available online for purchase or by subscription.
Garde, Judith N. Old English Poetry in Medieval Christian Perspective: A Doctrinal Approach. Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1990.
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Garde asserts that this poetry might be understood better not as “abstract theology,” but “as an extra-liturgical, vernacular celebration of a singular redemptive fact: that Almighty God chose to descend, incarnate in Christ, to deliver mankind from the bondage of Satan” (p. 6). She considers the Junius Manuscript, “Christ I,” “The Dream of the Rood,” the “Descent into Hell,” “Christ II,” “Elene,” “Christ III,” and the “Phoenix.”
Greenfield, Stanley B., and Daniel G. Calder. A New Critical History of Old English Literature. With a Survey of the Anglo-Latin Background by Michael Lapidge. New York: New York University Press, 1986.
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Originally published in 1966. The final chapters of this standard survey are concerned all or in part with religious poems: “The Christian Saint as Hero,” “Christ as Poetic Hero,” “Old Testament Narrative Poetry,” “Miscellaneous Religious and Secular Poetry,” “Lore and Wisdom,” and “Elegiac Poetry.”
Hall, J. R. “‘The Old English Epic of Redemption’: Twenty-Five-Year Retrospective.” In The Poems of MS Junius 11: Basic Readings. Edited by R. M. Liuzza, 53–68. New York: Routledge, 2002.
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Hall affirms his claim that the poems in the Junius Manuscript are organized around the tradition of salvation history found in Augustine’s De catechizandis rudibus and Wulfstan’s Sermo 6 by answering criticism that the Easter liturgy provides a more likely principle of organization and that “Christ and Satan” was not originally intended as part of the volume.
Meter and Modernity in English Verse, 1350-1650. In preparation. An exploration of fourteenth-, fifteenth-, sixteenth-, and seventeenth-century English metrical histories in the context of the medieval/modern periodization. Special emphasis on English political prophecy and on the relationship between poetry and sociopolitical formations.
Editor, with Shannon Beddingfield, A. S. G. Edwards, Shu-han Luo, Barbara A. Shailor, Rebecca Springer, Joseph Stadolnik, and Emily Ulrich, The Book of Brome: A Collaborative Edition. In preparation. A diplomatic edition of and commentary on New Haven, Beinecke Library, MS 365, a late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century East Anglian miscellany.
Editor, with Stephanie L. Batkie, “Chaucer’s Langland.” Yearbook of Langland Studies (under review). A special issue on literary and historical connections between two late fourteenth-century London poets.
Editor, with Irina Dumitrescu, The Shapes of Early English Poetry: Style, Form, History. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute (under contract). A collection of essays in honor of Roberta Frank showcasing new work in the overlapping fields of poetics, medieval studies, and English literary history.
English Alliterative Verse: Poetic Tradition and Literary History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. A cultural history of the English alliterative meter, c. 650-1550 CE. Challenges and renegotiates the division of medieval English literary history into ‘Old’ and ‘Middle’ subperiods by retracing 900 years of metrical history. Chapters on Beowulf; prologues to Old English poetry; Lawman’s Brut, an alliterative verse chronicle of the twelfth century; prologues to Middle English poetry; St. Erkenwald, an alliterative romance of the fourteenth or fifteenth century; and the alliterative tradition in the sixteenth century.
Articles and Essays
with Stephanie L. Batkie, “Chaucer’s Langland: Introduction.” Yearbook of Langland Studies (under review). An introduction to a special issue on literary and historical connections between two late fourteenth-century London poets.
“English Political Prophecy and the Problem of Modernity.” In “Prophetic Futures,” ed. Joseph Bowling and Katherine Walker, postmedieval (under review). A précis of the first chapter of my current book project, introducing a problematic literary genre in the context of the conventional division of the past into ‘medieval’ and ‘modern.’
“The Idea of Bede in English Political Prophecy.” In Anglo-Saxon Predecessors and Precedents, ed. Jay Paul Gates and Brian O’Camb (under review). An overview of the uses of Bede in late medieval English political prophecy, with a first critical edition of an early fifteenth-century rhyming prophecy (New Index of Middle English Verse 4154.3).
“Alliterative Verse.” In Oxford Bibliographies in British and Irish Literature, ed. Andrew Hadfield (commissioned; under review). An annotated bibliography of scholarship on Old and Middle English alliterative poetry.
with Irina Dumitrescu, “Introduction,” in The Shapes of Early English Poetry: Style, Form, History, ed. Dumitrescu and Eric Weiskott (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, under contract). An introduction presenting the interrelations of style, form, and history in study of early English poetics.
“The Paris Psalter and English Literary History.” In The Shapes of Early English Poetry: Style, Form, History, ed. Irina Dumitrescu and Eric Weiskott (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, under contract). An essay on the style of the Paris Psalter in comparison with earlier and later alliterative poems.
“Puns and Poetic Style in Old English.” In Etymology and Wordplay in Medieval Literatures, ed. Mikael Males (Turnhout: Brepols, forthcoming). An essay on wordplay in the Old English Exodus and the formalism/historicism interface in literary study.
“Multispectral Imaging and Medieval Manuscripts.” In The Routledge Research Companion to Digital Medieval Literature, ed. Jennifer E. Boyle and Helen J. Burgess (London: Routledge, 2018), pp. 186-96. An essay introducing a new digital approach to medieval manuscripts by summarizing a Mellon-funded digital project at Yale University. [academia.edu]
“Alliterative Meter and English Literary History, 1700-2000.” ELH 84 (2017): 259-85. An essay in disciplinary history, exploring how eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century scholars of alliterative verse wove together metrical and literary history. [academia.edu]
“Early English Meter as a Way of Thinking.” Studia Metrica et Poetica 4 (2017): 41-65. An essay framing metrical variety and literary experimentation in late fourteenth-century England as an opportunity for intellectual history. [academia.edu]
“The Ireland Prophecy: Text and Metrical Context.” Studies in Philology 114 (2017): 245-77. An article providing a first critical edition and verse-historical contextualization of a late fifteenth-century alliterative verse prophecy (New Index of Middle English Verse366.5/2834.3/3557.55). [academia.edu] [companion website]
“William Langland’s Piers Plowman.” In Major Authors and Movements in British Literature, ed. Kirilka Stavreva, for the electronic resource Gale Researcher (2017) (commissioned). An article aimed at undergraduates, surveying the major features and problems of Piers Plowman and of its textual, literary, and intellectual traditions.
“A New Text of the Marvels of Merlin.” Journal of the Early Book Society 19 (2016): 227-39. An article introducing a previously unrecognized text of a fifteenth-century political prophecy and setting the text in codicological and textual-historical context. [academia.edu]
“Alliterative Meter after 1450: The Vision of William Banastre.” In Early English Poetic Culture and Metre: The Influence of G. R. Russom, ed. Lindy Brady and M. J. Toswell (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2016), pp. 149-79. An essay providing a first critical edition and verse-historical contextualization of a late fifteenth-century alliterative verse prophecy (New Index of Middle English Verse 1967.8). [academia.edu] [companion website]
“Before Prosody: Early English Poetics in Practice and Theory.” Modern Language Quarterly 77 (2016): 473-98. An article using the case of English alliterative verse to bring a longer historical perspective to recent critical debates about the contextualization of English poetics. [academia.edu]
“Grass-Bed: A Poetic Compound in the Alliterative Tradition.” Anglia 134 (2016): 587-603. An article connecting metrical history with lexical history through a case study of one especially long-lived and metrically marked poetic word. [academia.edu]
“Piers Plowman and the Durable Alliterative Tradition.” Yearbook of Langland Studies 30 (2016): 123-73. An article drawing on new research in alliterative metrics in order to locate Langland’s verse techniquesin metrical history and cultural history. [academia.edu]
“Prophetic Piers Plowman: New Sixteenth-Century Excerpts.” Review of English Studies 67(2016): 21-41. An article introducing two previously unrecognized excerpts from Piers Plowman and reassessing the extent of the influence of political prophecy on Langland’s poetic practice. [academia.edu]
“Systematicity, a Missing Term in Historical Metrics.” Language and Literature 25 (2016): 328-42. An article identifying two persistent problems in the historical study of meter—nonconformant metrical patterns and metrical change—and offering a new term as a conceptual tool for understanding their interdependence. [academia.edu]
“Alliterative Metre and the Textual Criticism of the Gawain Group.” Yearbook of Langland Studies 29(2015): 151-75. An article surveying the prospects for research at the intersection of metrics and textual criticism, with special reference to ten verses in the Cotton Nero poems. [academia.edu]
“The Meter of Widsith and the Distant Past.” Neophilologus 99(2015): 143-50. A short essay mobilizing metrical and linguistic evidence in order to dispute the possibility that any portion of the Old English Widsith was composed before the migration of the Angles and Saxons to Britain. [academia.edu]
“Old English Poetry, Verse by Verse.” Anglo-Saxon England 44 (2015): 95-130. An essay in the history of style, proposing a new syntactical interpretation of many syntactically problematic passages that opens onto a new way of parsing and punctuating Old English poetry. [academia.edu]
“Chaucer the Forester: The Friar’s Tale, Forest History, and Officialdom.” Chaucer Review 47 (2013): 323-36. An article identifying the Anglo-Norman forest bureaucracy as a point of contact between Chaucer’s life and the social satire of the Friar’s Tale. [academia.edu]
“Lawman, the Last Old English Poet and the First Middle English Poet.” In Laʒamon’s “Brut” and Other Medieval Chronicles: 14 essays, ed. Marie-Françoise Alamichel (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2013), pp. 11-57. An essay extending recent scholarship on the meter of Lawman’s Brut to other Early Middle English alliterative poetry and reconsidering Lawman’s position in literary history.
“Phantom Syllables in the English Alliterative Tradition.” Modern Philology 110 (2013): 441-58. An article comparing and connecting phenomena of metrical phonology (metrically encoded linguistic form) in Old English meter and Middle English alliterative meter. [academia.edu]
“Making Beowulf Scream: Exclamation and the Punctuation of Old English Poetry.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 111 (2012): 25-41. An article arguing that editorial exclamation points in modern editions of Beowulf reveal the changing priorities of Old English studies, 1833-2008. [academia.edu]
“Adam Scriveyn and Chaucer’s Metrical Practice.” Medium Ævum 86 (2017): 147-51. A note arguing on metrical grounds that Geoffrey Chaucer did not compose the short poem Chaucers Wordes unto Adam, His Owne Scriveyn. [academia.edu]
“More Prophetic Piers Plowman.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews 30 (2017): 133-36. A note presenting five previously unrecognized sixteenth-century prophetic excerpts from Piers Plowman.
“Saint Kenelm in an Imaginative Illustration.” Notes & Queries 64 (2017): 217-20. A note offering a new interpretation of the earliest extant portrayal of Saint Kenelm.
“A Postdating of Throw ‘Time’ in Twelfth Night.” Notes & Queries 63 (2016): 421-22. A note identifying the latest known instance of throw in the sense ‘time,’ in Shakespeare’s early seventeenth-century play.
“An Overlooked Excerpt from Thomas of Erceldoune.” Notes & Queries 63 (2016): 18-19. A note describing a new text of a Middle English prophetic quatrain and identifying this quatrain as an excerpt from a longer verse prophecy attributed to Thomas of Erceldoune. [academia.edu]
“An Oxymoron in Beowulf.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews 29 (2016): 51-2. A note identifying an oxymoron in a problematic passage in Beowulf. [academia.edu]
“A Plea for Pronunciation.” In “Old English across the Curriculum: Contexts and Pedagogies,” ed. Haruko Momma and Heide Estes, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching 22 (2015): 41-2. A note on the value of consistent pronunciation in Old English language pedagogy.
“Beowulf2910a ‘leofes ond laðes’.” Notes & Queries 62 (2015): 188-90. A note proposing a new syntactical interpretation of one verse in a problematic passage in Beowulf. [academia.edu]
“Another New Fragment of Speculum Vitae.” Journal of the Early Book Society 17 (2014): 352-55. A note announcing my discovery of a new fragment of a Middle English poem in the binding material of a sixteenth-century printed book. [academia.edu]
“Bawdyng, a Middle English Hapax Legomenon.” Notes & Queries 60 (2013): 24. A note identifying a culinary hapax legomenon of unknown meaning and unknown originin a fifteenth-century manuscript. [academia.edu]
“OE lændagas in Beowulf 2341b.” Notes & Queries 60 (2013): 485-87. A note supporting the traditional emendation here,in preference to the new emendation offered in Klaeber’s Beowulf (2008). [academia.edu]
“Three-Position Verses in Beowulf.” Notes & Queries 60 (2013): 483-85. A note proposing that some metrical patterns with three metrical positions are rare but authentic in Old English verse. [academia.edu]
“A Semantic Replacement for Kaluza’s Law in Beowulf.” English Studies 93 (2012): 891-96. A note proposing that the metrical phenomenon known as ‘Kaluza’s law’ is best understood as a mixture of overlapping phonological, morphological, and semantic oppositions, with no intrinsic significance for the dating of Beowulf. [academia.edu]
“OE Panther 74b ‘Þæt is æþele stenc’.” Notes & Queries 59 (2012): 5-6. A note identifying a biblical source for the final verse of the Old English Panther. [academia.edu]
“Three Beowulf Cruces: healgamen, fremu, Sigemunde.” Notes & Queries 58 (2011): 3-7. A note reevaluating three passages in which the editors of Klaeber’s Beowulf (2008)have emended or invented proper names. [academia.edu]
Michael Calabrese, An Introduction to “Piers Plowman” (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016). Journal of English and Germanic Philology (forthcoming).
Cristina Maria Cervone and D. Vance Smith, eds., Readings in Medieval Textuality: Essays in Honour of A. C. Spearing (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2016). The Medieval Review 18 October 2017. [academia.edu]
Andrew Cole and Andrew Galloway, eds., The Cambridge Companion to “Piers Plowman” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). Speculum 91 (2016): 189-91. [academia.edu]
Leonard Neidorf, ed., The Dating of “Beowulf”: A Reassessment (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2014). Review of English Studies 67 (2016): 788-90. [academia.edu]
Fiona Somerset and Nicholas Watson, eds., Truth and Tales: Cultural Mobility and Medieval Media (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2015). Arthuriana 26 (2016): 152-55. [academia.edu]
Michael D. C. Drout, Tradition and Influence in Anglo-Saxon Literature: An Evolutionary, Cognitivist Approach (New York: Palgrave, 2013). Speculum 90 (2015): 1108-10. [academia.edu]
Stephen Yeager, From Lawmen to Plowmen: Anglo-Saxon Legal Tradition and the School of Langland (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014). Studies in the Age of Chaucer 37 (2015): 338-41. [academia.edu]
MLA CORE Deposits
“Punctuating Old English Poetry: Challenges and Strategies.” MLA Annual Convention, New York, 2018.
“English Political Prophecy in the Welsh Marches, 1450-1650.” MLA Annual Convention, New York, 2018.
“Quantity in the Alliterative Tradition.” MLA Annual Convention, Austin, 2016.
“Real Formalism, Real Historicism“. MLA Annual Convention, Vancouver, 2015.