You are here

Abstracts 97.1

Stephen C. E. Hopkins, “Snared by the Beasts of Battle: Fear as Hermeneutic Guide in the Old English Exodus

The Old English Exodus is known for its typological density and poetic fervor. Recently, it has been analyzed as an intellectual challenge, exercising modes of fourfold exegesis. Yet its emotional work has been largely overlooked. This article focuses on the varied ways in which Exodus taps into Anglo-Saxon networks of fear as an emotional component to its hermeneutic challenge, with mixed registers speaking to lay and ecclesiastical audiences together. The article traces the increasingly fearful atmosphere of the poem as it builds up to the Beasts of Battle moment (lines 161–69). The Beasts here are more polyvalent than previously thought, luring readers into expecting not only the destruction of Israel, but, on extra-literal levels, suggesting the destruction of Anglo-Saxon society by threats ecclesiastical, legal, and national. The poem’s use of sound also dilates this fear, encouraging audiences, lay and clerical alike, to doubt God’s deliverance before ultimately showing them a more deserving object of fear: divine punishment of the Egyptians. The poem thus conjures up fear and misdirects its audience in order to dramatize the struggle of humbly maintaining faith in the face of trial.

Kara L. McShane, “Deciphering Identity in The Book of John Mandeville’s Alphabets”

This article examines the fictionalized alphabets in a unique manuscript of The Book of John Mandeville, British Library MS Egerton 1982. While critics have long debated the extent to which The Book is cosmopolitan or colonizing in its outlook, I argue that close study of the work’s alphabets emphasizes the extent to which The Book is wholly neither. Rather, the narrator is both, in turn, depending on the culture being described and its relationship to his own English culture. I examine pseudo-Greek, pseudo-Hebrew, and Egyptian/Saracen alphabets to demonstrate that, rather than asserting an English identity, The Book uses language to reinforce cultural difference at moments of contact and exchange.

Jonathan Kerr, “‘Immense Worlds’: Blake’s Infinite Human Form”

This article explores Blake’s writing on infinity in relation to the scientific worldviews that emerged over the long eighteenth century. Over this period, the infinite universe hypothesis established itself in the scientific consensus; however, it also presented major challenges to the premise that the natural world adhered to uniform laws or lent itself to definitive empirical understanding. I explore Blake’s navigation of these problems by addressing how his writing reworks the infinite into a concept for envisaging his “human form.” In “Milton,” “There is No Natural Religion [b],” and “Visions of the Daughters of Albion,” the encounter with the infinite assumes form in the cross-cultural contact with other human forms, “worlds” whose laws appear wholly differentiated. However, these encounters also illustrate transformative possibilities for the self, as Blake reworks anxieties about our isolation in an infinite universe into a vision that affirms the fulfilling roles of other lives in our experience. Blake’s infinite thus provides a language for reconsidering problems in human experience by embracing new uncertainties about the constitution of the natural world.

Jessica Fay, “Rhythm and Repetition at Dove Cottage”

It is well known that William and Dorothy Wordsworth habitually hummed and murmured lines of poetry to themselves and to each other both indoors and while they paced backwards and forwards outside. While this was a lifelong habit for the poet, there are two specific periods at Dove Cottage—the spring and early summer of 1802 and the months following John Wordsworth’s death in 1805—during which the repetition of verses alongside various types of iterative physical activity may be interpreted as an “extra-liturgical” practice performed to induce and support meditation and consolation. In shaping their own “familiar rhythm[s],” the Wordsworths are aligned with Jeremy Taylor, whose mid-seventeenth-century writings promoted the cultivation of private, individual repetition and ritual. Although William and Dorothy act independently of corporate worship in 1802 and 1805, their habits—in sympathy with Taylor’s teaching—reveal a craving for the kinds of structures William later celebrated in Ecclesiastical Sonnets. Consequently, the apparent disparity between the high-Romantic poet of Dove Cottage and the high-Anglican Tractarian sympathizer of Rydal Mount is shown to be less severe than is often assumed.

Florian Gargaillo, “Seamus Heaney and the Clichés of Public Talk”

It has long been said that poets who do not succumb to clichés will try to “revitalize” them. This article considers a poet, Seamus Heaney, whose work differs strikingly from these accounts. Heaney openly criticized the clichés that saturated public discourse during the Troubles; at the same time, he was conscious of how difficult it is for a politician, a citizen, or (indeed) a poet to speak of the Troubles without resorting to clichés. Faced with this problem, Heaney deployed two techniques. First, he echoed political phrases in his poetry so as to then take them apart and study their implications. Second, he invented a range of near-clichés: viz., phrases that evoke existing platitudes while also complicating them. His aim with both of these techniques was to draw our attention to the stock phrases of public discourse and make us more critical of them, without denying his own (and our own) susceptibility to cliché.