I’m Not Dead Yet: OE Elegies

In live blogging this conference, I am following the conventions for conference blogging.

I’m Not Dead Yet: OE Elegies

“Thrilling Fears and Painful Beauty: Gothic Roots in OE Elegies” (original title)
now “Sublime Transitions in OE Elegies”
Kathleen M. Reinbold, California Institute of Arts

anachronistic to compare to 18th C?
notion of sublime bridges gap between OE and Gothic
OE had a connection to eternal and human emotion
Gothic used supernatural and effects of nature on soul.
Gothic acts inwards, sees outwards, raises mind upwards.
This links Gothic lit to Exeter Book elegies.

Focus on The Wanderer. Can be applied to all OE elegies.

comprehensive treatise on sublime:
Edmund Burke Philosophical Inquiry into Sublime and Beauty

3 causes:

emotional effects of sublime: fear, grief, curiosity, wonder, joy
pain is the most powerful human emotion (said Burke)
anything that works with terror or pain is sublime.
Pain raises us beyond human kind.

“sublime raises the soul above the height of the vulgar commonplace” Kant

majority of scholars acknowledge transition that speaker undergoes
undergoes transition and recognizes earthly treasure ephemeral and says treasure should be in heaven

AJ Bradley compares to Piers Plowman and Pearl
saved from despair by consciousness of God’s responsibility

Believe the journey to the transition is as important as the change.
Inwards, outwards, upwards.
Sublimity of poem’s setting.
Meditative atmosphere that compels human mind:

sublime elements:
sea itself (things of great dimensions) Burke and Kant both identify sea
time of year (winter) and nature of sea, vastness and infinity
–tendency to fill mind with horror
–eye not being to see bounds, becomes emotionally infinite
time of day and solitude – solitary, travels path of exile, deprived of native land
–Burke classifies solitude and silence as depravations to humanity (absolute, not temporary)
–entire life of solitude is terror-developing

line 111 indicates internal monologue
perpetual silence broken by seabird calls

Burke explains that such sounds are capable of conveying great ideas.

Depth of speaker’s despair in line 8.
morning = before dawn, combined with wonder and despair
waking dreams?

wretched and sad, winter sad: waking vision of former companions
realizing it’s a vision, struck with a deeper sense of loss

1-57 personal experience
58-115 transient power of earthly treasures

defines himself as a solitary earth-walker

begins as a self-pitying, self-focused character

Burke says loss focuses mind.
exterior forces breaks the wanderer away (gulls and their cries)
authenticity of his melancholy—almost with surprise notes

realizes nothing in this world will end despair

defines traits that make a wise man
defines a good warrior
defines someone who can look ahead

Burke says meditating on fall of great people and cultures, can create a delight blended with uneasiness.
transience is “delightful melancholy

human death is part of the creator’s plan.
This is another turning point.
Emphasized by speaker’s pause.
Passionately laments the loss of his companions, because he finally realizes his grief kept him from consolation.
All things on earth end, even suffering.

Final transition from whiny who waits for God’s mercy
to wise man who is spurred to actively seek mercy

opens this to the audience experience of the sublime
to discussion of tragic experiences

“The Failure of Worldly Wealth in The Wanderer and The Seafarer”
Holly Hamby

a portion of her dissertation (on almsgiving)
bypassing scholarship

scope of criticism is extensive, yet one aspect shared by these two is not explored. Worldly wealth as given by lords (gift-giving) and the need to turn attention to heavenly treasure.

Purpose of highlighting theme of transitory earthly wealth:
negative exempla of secular gift-giving

importance of kings to give material goods as alms… moving to give gifts and alms… not just for secular purposes (such as pursuit of fame) but also for sacred

negative exemplum against secular exchange of gifts
alms and giving to church is not mentioned at all
absence of almsgiving is central to the poem (REALLY? something not there is the main point?)

Exeter Book argues about generosity.
How does The Wanderer match that?

Kept by lord for own personal reasons.
Nothing spoken of in terms of almsgiving (Guthlac, the Phoenix).
lord gift’s to retainers is transitory

genre classification is difficult

penitential? No mention of repentance anywhere.
But it is ascetic and reminiscent of the desert fathers of the early church.

quotes about sorrowful life and traveling from place to place
loss of lord who is a dispenser of treasure
severity of loss “all joy has died” is based on not getting any gifts
seems an exaggeration of his emotions, when he says he has lost everything
excess emotion, overemphasis on overdependence on earthly gifts

l. 34 dreaming, waking dreaming
gift-seat l. 44b
speaker awakens from dream: rude reality from kingly generosity
earthly lord must be generous

l. 88a presumably the voice of the wanderer
Questions. l. 92
Where have the horse and the youth (young warrior) gone? Third is the giver of treasure.

The Seafarer
speaker often characterized as a monk
more explicit in lord’s gift-giving, does not help one reach eternal life

on gaining fame on earth and in heaven for giving the church gifts
l. 12b-16

l. 35bff “tossing of the salt-seas I seek for myself” through 47
earthly success may cause a man to forget his purpose, man at sea is in no such danger

quote 7 is all about how trust in worldly things does not work. Not an aspect of someone on a journey to God.

10 lines, generosity is discussed 4 times.

“days are departing, / all pomps of earth’s kingdom”
there are not now kings nor caesars
nor gold-givers such as there once were”

focuses on end of most powerful men on earth

implicit example on how not to give

l. 85 begins with behavior that are not appropriate

45 lines of listing ways that the old ways do not work
Christian propaganda
focus on practices which are not appropriate for one seeking eternal fame

97-102 burial, grave goods = not aiding souls full of sins

l. 123 God is thanked for honoring humans with future faith.

mss context
The Wanderer not “marred” with Christian work. Stresses that nobles should give appropriately in order to reach heaven.

Richard Gancy
“It Has its Ghostliness: A Heroic Challenge in Wulf and Eadwacer Translation”

1. plot and theme
2. who? character
3. interpretation

Poem does not answer those three questions.
Poem becomes a labor of individual championship.
Body of criticism allows students to come up with new uses of poems.
updated interpretations

critical history, challenge by the female speaker which expresses her place

Adams as eadwacer as property guardian
Bishop —
Peter S. Baker
Mary Jane = writes on one word only

Adams: unknown author, unknown intentions

George K. Anderson = woman as captive in a foreign land

sexual tension in the poem
domestic triangle
more than mere suggestion of physical passion
drama makes three: woman, Wulf (lover), and Eadwacer (husband)
love triangle view is the prevailing view, most functional view
But what the characters are doing is confusing?

women’s love lyrics = sexual desire (Lois Bragg)
explains her earnest expressions

l. 16 is she addressing her husband?

A-S tradition of avoiding sex.
So it is subversive.

she is beset with anguish, grieving for a missing man.

l. 9-15 anguish with which woman speaks is “unparalleled” in OE works

feminine discourse—don’t leave the poem to be adopted by traditional works

so subversive

The Wife’s Lament and/v. Wulf and Eadwacer in class?

poem about pain.

Walter Nash– it has its ghostliness. It figures like a wraith out of another time.

first look at anguish = fear for safety of Wulf This seems to be related to sublime that first speaker spoke of.

Wulf is on an island. I am on another.
refers to death of lover
has a refrain (only other one is in Deor, immediately before Wulf and Eadwacer)

most critics agree that the lady is in anxiety over the separation from someone she cares about

flashback section of the poem
details the waiting of the lady for visits from Wulf during his far wanderings

second look at anguish is expectation
looking at past experiences
when his return was impeded, rain shows up (sky weeps while lady wails), she is sorrowful

woman has sexual experience with the one brave in battle
Peter S. Baker says it was joy and loathsome
physical pleasure and concurrent misery of absence of Wulf

anguish of lament
sets the woman within A-S experience

She is isolated on an island opposite Wulf. Addresses the property guardian.

Question: Is it possible that Wulf was her husband and her adulterous affair with the brave battle guy is why she is on the island? Can she be talking to the “property guardian” who watches her?

Jane Chance, if a woman does not make peace, she must make war
pejorative cast to this behavior
women are considered unchaste, with devil, described as a ruler
Grendel’s mother, inversion of peace weaver
The lady fits such an inversion perfectly.
Wulf = outlaw? (Name?)

Do lines 11 and 12 really describe Wulf? the outlaw…
loathsome part?

first half of line is the companionship
second half is position

One of the sources discusses the property watcher as a prison guard.

Riddle? Is this poem a riddle?

reading of something as her anger, how frequently that one shows up
in the Battle of Maldon also shows up
the challenge in line 16 (Do you hear me?)

Have you looked at this word elsewhere?

various levels that the sublime works in the poem
driven by the narrator or nature?

One speaker.
Sublime works on two levels: one on the narrator and one in the poem itself. What type of sublime was happening between the scop and the audience itself? There was supposed to be an emotional reaction.

(pathos in A-S works)

poetry combined with music or chant, was supposed to raise audience to the sublime

recurring theme of transience of earthly treasure

Christ starts as alms-giver and alms

Guthlac A repeats alms all the time

Most people view the Exeter Book as a miscellany.
Maybe it’s about Christian, pastoral book. Working book.

How do you know the audience at the time would read it as teaching?

homilies, lots of homilies
whole section on what defines alms
Exeter Book was referred to as discussing alms.

Always in the hands of monks.
Monks used it as a teaching tool.

Bishop Cinnamon could have educated kings.
educating nobles

Didacted nobles.

Who is the audience?

educated nobles

Guthlac A = sections where he specifically says, it’s important to listen to the people educating you.
whole section with œmonks gone wild, monks behaving badly. The devils are trying to tempt Guthlac. They are young. They will grow wise and will learn how to treat alms correctly.
Seems to speak to nobles and to monks both.

What about sexual riddles?

Maybe a way to draw people in.

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