Between Languages: The Uncooperative Text in Early Welsh and Old English Nature Poetry


"Early Welsh and Old English poetry are rarely spoken of together, but when they are, they have been described as like or different from one another. Sarah Higley breaks this cycle of mutual marginalization by examining what it means to read otherness or sameness into a text, concluding that too much of our reading is "anglo-centric" in its expectations and dictated by invisible ideological agendas. Examinations of the Llywarch Hen Corpus, for instance, have sought comparisons among the Old English elegies, but mainly for the purpose of demonstrating how the Welsh are of a color with them: derived from the same penitential genre merely less explicit in their penitential thrust. Scholars have been reluctant to acknowledge the secular nature of these Welsh laments, which are discomfitingly silent about divine solace and which, like the Old English poems, do not cooperate with our efforts to categorize them. The author reexamines notions of genre, category, and poetic "explicitness" and how they snare us. Higley sees the English and Welsh traditions as foils to one another rather than as template and variation, and she starts with the connection of natural image and emotion, employed differently in these two contiguous but separate traditions. She shows how the English poems, long thought to be disjointed and cryptic, are invested in explanation and disclosure to a degree that the Welsh are not. The Welsh "omissions" might be better understood as dynamic juxtapositions wherein other poetic aspects (metrics, imagery, context) serve to link ideas, perhaps even to disrupt them. She sees difficulty, ambiguity, and dialogism as loci of power - neither accidents of our reading distance nor defects in other classical standards of wholeness. Reading the English and the Welsh together with a respect for the mutual differences helps us to get beyond some of the cliche's about what is English and "familiar" and what is Celtic and "other."" "Her argument revolves around the plight of the lone human as he or she is depicted in these texts in a precarious state of connection with the rest of the world: caught between society and wilderness, inside and outside, sacred and secular, meaning and nonmeaning. This focus on connection informs the title as well: "between languages" expresses our position as readers reading two different cultures together, reading ancient literature mediated through modern poetic theory, and the position of medieval scholarship in its struggle between traditional and postmodern approaches. Between Languages brings obscure and moving poems into a wider academic orbit, offering new editions and translations of Old English and Early Welsh elegies, wisdom poems, and enigmata, including one of the few complete English translations in this century of a vatic text from The Book of Taliesin." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


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