Friday, July 6, 2007

Old English Poetry

When I started this post, I intended to post it alongside the rest of week 6's reading. That hasn't happened, so I've kept the questions, but am only going to post the Old English Poetry study guide.

  • I'm particularly struck by the theme of exile in The Wanderer and Goldsmith's The Traveller. Exploring this should lead us to be able to consider how the two characterize human communities, their potential and their failings.
  • I began reading Genesis B right after Beloved. A major theme in the novel considers how slavery restricts the individual -- even under "benevolent" masters. Paul D. struggles to determine whether he is a man because his only evidence for it is he was told he was by Mr. Garner. Slavery erases a person's past (no family, no heritage), but also leads to difficulty in establishing a consistent portrait of the individual. The freemen and women in the story all have to struggle with how to recapture their lives -- and for Sethe, her desire to be considered a human instead of an animal (along with her children) leads her to attempt to kill her family and herself. Anywhere we can go with this observation?

    Genesis B does not consider slavery, but the relationship between God and Satan reveals an analogous tension between labor, individuality and debts. Herbert's emphasis on the nothingness of man compared to the all of God also mirrors this concern with the nature of being. With Genesis B we also have the description of God as a warrior king who distributes gifts to his troop in exchange for fealty, which Satan refuses to pay; Herbert continues this theme by bewailing his duty ("The Collar") while recognizing that he is sinful. Satan, however, regards (especially in Milton's Paradise Lost) this service to God as servitude and desires a complete individuality -- the ability to wake up and choose what he wants to do that Baby Suggs cherishes.

  • The Dream of the Rood opens up some exciting possibilities to talk about the use of dreams/visions and symbols. The space that is opened up in the dream, a sacred space separated from the secular world (whoohoo -- alliteration!), allows the symbol (which is normally silent and referential) to voice its nature and describe its history. What are some of the implications of this?! Particularly as the dreamer is still required to be an intermediary between the cross, which will become silent and the dream world, which will pass and the waking world where words dominate symbols. I guess, too, these thoughts surfaced because segments of this poem are actually inscribed on Anglo-Saxon crosses (the Ruthwell cross is one of them), which blurs the lines between symbol and explicit representation of an idea. You could go even further and consider the ultimate metaphor of Christ's body, which is called into being from the inanimate symbol and made flesh by the words of the priest...(but I digress)

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