The High Medieval Dream Vision: Poetry, Philosophy, and Literary Form

The High Medieval Dream Vision: Poetry, Philosophy, and Literary Form

The High Medieval Dream Vision: Poetry, Philosophy, and Literary Form

The High Medieval Dream Vision: Poetry, Philosophy, and Literary Form

Excerpt

Like the novel for the modern era, the vision narrative for the Middle Ages was an enormously popular and enduring literary form. Along with romance, it was perhaps the genre of the age; or, one might equally say, the period from the twelfth century through the fourteenth was the Age of the Dream Vision. During this time, a great many authors, both English and continental, tried their hand at vision poems; the genre includes such influential works as the Roman de la rose, most of Chaucer's early poetry, the major works of Guillaume de Machaut, the Middle English Pearl, Piers Plowman, and, as I will argue, even Dante Commedia. Though the greatness of these poems is irrefutable, the reasons for that greatness remain somewhat puzzling, hinting at some specialized intent these poets shared that we no longer quite grasp. In response, this book will isolate that intent and account in part for the appeal of one group of these poems.

Why should so many poets--and so many great ones--have chosen to work in the vision form? This question, one on which I will focus, does not allow an immediate or straightforward answer. According to a recent conservative count, over 225 visions were written from the sixth century through the fifteenth, if one does not distinguish between literary and nonliterary visions. The concentration is even higher for the years after 1100, when about 70 percent of all visions and 90 percent of the literary ones were probably composed.

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