College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Marijane Osborne, “Floudu in the Franks Casket’s Whale Poem: A Fluvial Meaning with Regional Implications”
The poem on the front of the eighth-century Franks Casket describes the stranding of the whale whose bone became the casket. The final -u of flodu in this poem puzzles philologists because the Old English masculine noun flod (“flood, sea”) has no declension ending in -u. But if flodu is the weak feminine noun referring to water flowing through a channel, the whale may have been beached by an inflowing river wave similar to a tidal bore. Boats still ride the spring tide upriver to York where the Romans built a seaport fifty miles inland, and Bede likely took this route to visit Bishop Ecgbert in 733. These grammatical and geographical considerations combine to support Ian Wood’s 1990 suggestion that the casket may be a product local to this York-Ripon area of Northumbria.
Melissa Schoenberger, “Milton’s Unpeaceful Ode”
John Milton composed his Nativity Ode during a period in which the Stuart monarchy was becoming increasingly interested in communicating political peace and power through dazzling works of visual art. I read Milton’s highly wrought early poem as a rebuke to the notion that art, however stylistically or technically perfect, can represent lasting peace. Laying some of the intellectual foundation for Milton’s later challenges to monarchy, the Nativity Ode counters the period’s tendency to conceive of peace as attractive and tranquil.
Mariam Wassif, “Wordsworth’s ‘Poisoned Vestments’: Rhetoric and Material Culture in the Poetry and Prose”
Though influenced by the classics, Wordsworth sometimes violently rejected the rhetorical tradition. This essay illuminates that contradiction by examining how Wordsworth revises the conventional comparison of rhetoric to the “dress” of thought, declaring this dress a “poisoned” vestment. As customary garb ceded to changeable fashion, clothing came to emblematize a commercial modernity from which Wordsworth sought to extricate poetic language. He identified rhetoric with the changing “dress” of civilization, rejecting it as a socially determined art whose intertwining with historical flux taints the quest after truth. Nevertheless, Wordsworth’s efforts to redefine poetic language draw upon the figures and intellectual habits of the rhetorical tradition, revising rather than abandoning the classics. Through readings of key passages from the 1802 “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads, the 1805 Prelude, and the “Essays Upon Epitaphs,” this essay argues that, in rescripting the classical “garment” as a “poisoned” vestment, Wordsworth adapts an ancient figure to the pressing concerns of modernity.
Ryan Dobran, “‘The Review of Struggle to Fix the Sense’: Speculations on Commentary and J. H. Prynne”
The commentaries of the Cambridge poet-scholar, J. H. Prynne, represent a renovation of commentary as critical practice in English studies. Neither their interdisciplinarity nor their density is unique; critics as different as Erich Auerbach, Giorgio Agamben, Helen Vendler, and Jacques Derrida have shown what can be done with and through commentary. But Prynne’s commentary is of an extreme kind: a radicalized version of close reading that frames the poem as a locus of convergent and contradictory tendencies whose sedimentation supersedes both author and reader. Never has the aesthetic autonomy of the single poem been so challenged than by so intensely focusing on a single poem.