Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Strange Likeness: The Use of Old English in Twentieth-Century Poetry

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Strange Likeness: The Use of Old English in Twentieth-Century Poetry

Article excerpt

Chris Jones, Strange Likeness: The Use of Old English in Twentieth-Century Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). viii + 266 pp. ISBN 0-19-927832-6. £50.00.

Chris Jones's Strange Likeness is a study of the debts to Old English language and literature visible in the work of four twentieth-century poets - Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden, Edwin Morgan, and Seamus Heaney. These four are selected because Jones wishes to show that Old English is of abiding, perhaps central, importance for a number of contemporary poets. This emphasis on the broad scope of each poet's work means that the book is densely packed: Heaney's Beowulf translation, for instance, is considered in relation to his entire poetic output, and in fact the Beowulf translation gets less space here (pp. 228-37) man Heaney's engagement with Old English material in his 1975 volume North (pp. 204-21) (readers interested in reading these works in tandem may also wish to consult Joseph McGowan, 'Heaney, Casdmon, Beowulf, New Hibernia Review/Iris Eireannach Nua, 6/2 (Summer/Samhraidh 2002), 25-42, not cited here). Jones pays close attention to the pedagogical contexts in which the poets discussed acquired their knowledge of Old English - standing behind Pound, Auden, Morgan, and Heaney here are the figures of Joseph Ibbotson, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ritchie Girvan, and John Braidwood - and the discussion draws on textbooks, examination papers, and lecture notes, including unpublished archive material. The discussions of textual influence which form the heart of the book are both scrupulously attentive and vigorously assertive, and there are some beautifully considered close readings here, with extensive attention given to language and metre. …

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