Old English Poetry Essays On Style

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The poetic conventions used by this poet include two half-lines in each verse, separated by a caesura or pause.

Some of the best work on narrators has focused on Beowulf; for two particularly important studies, see The insistence on originality grew slowly as literacy became more and fully internalized. Renoir has taken a related line on the problem of interpretative context, arguing that a poem should be interpreted in the light of the context which the poem itself seems to assume in its aesthetic structure.

Thus even Shakespeare felt no compunction about lifting whole plots and paraphrasing passages from other sources. In ‘Oral-Formulaic Rhetoric and the Interpretation of Written Texts’, ibid. Renoir shows how certain written poems, such as , are at certain points best interpreted in the context of an oral rhetoric, whereas other poems remain opaque when viewed from this perspective.

The concept of literary ‘suspense’ needs to be reconsidered in view of the fact the Old English audiences probably already knew the outcome of many of the stories they were listening to. Klaeber in his edition of formulas, he says, ‘unmistakably point to the “preliterary” stage of poetry, when the poems lived on the lips of singers, and oral transmission was the only possible source of information. Ostensibly he is rationalizing his inability to answer Elene's question; perhaps thereby he means to criticize in covert fashion Elene's enquiry into that which his tradition does not record.

Greenfield similarly recongnizes in these formulas the reference to ‘the body of things told’, ‘the storehouse of memory’ (‘The Authenticating Voice’, p. Emphasizing, as they do, the importance of a fact - known by common report - or the truth of a story, they are naturally employed to introduce poems or sections of poems…to point out some sort of progress in the narrative…to call attention to the greatness of a person, object, or action…They add an element of variety to the plain statement of facts, and are so eminently useful and convenient that the poets may draw on this stock for almost any occasion’ ‘I have also learned through enquiry that the monster…’ Here, and throughout, my citations follow The Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (hereafter abbreviated to ASPR), ed. In any case, the passage clearly implies the inferiority of his traditional knowledge to the novel truth of Christian revelation and thus represents an attack on this oral habit of mind. Though Opland does, in fact, give consideration to descriptions of poetic performances within poems, these descriptions are at best mimetic (and perhaps not even that) of the compositional practices which produced those poems in which the descriptions occur.


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