literature of early medieval europe – fragments

“In every instance, poetry comes before prose. It seems that man sings before he speaks. But there are other very important reasons for this.” A verse follows a pattern and becomes a formula. Prose is shapeless and messy, much more complicated, in a way. (p4)

In Germanic verse, lines run together without breaks or punctuation. The key to finding structure is alliteration in each line. (see Bellairs. The Face in the Frost.)

“But a revolution takes place in the 9th century. We don’t know if those who made it were even aware of it. We don’t know if the pieces that have been preserved were even the first. But something very important takes place, perhaps the most important thing that can take place in poetry: the discovery of a new inflection. Often, when journalists talk about a new poet, they say ‘a new voice.’ Here the phrase would have that meaning exactly: there is a new voice, a new inflection, a new use of the language. And this must have been rather difficult, for the Anglo-Saxon language – Old English – was by its very harshness destined for epic poetry, in other words, to celebrate courage and loyalty…In the ninth century, there appear what have come to be called the ‘Anglo-Saxon elegies.’ This poetry is not the poetry of the battlefield. These are personal poems. Moreover, solitary poems, poems by men expressing their solitude and their melancholy. And this is something totally new in the ninth century, when poetry was generic, when the poet sang of the triumph and defeats of his clan, of his king. Here, on the contrary, the poet speaks personally, anticipating the romantic movement.” (p48)

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