Academic journal article Medium Aevum

'Cleanness': Structure and Meaning

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

'Cleanness': Structure and Meaning

Article excerpt

Jane K. Lecklider, 'Cleanness': Structure and Meaning (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1997). xi + z8o pp. ISBN o-85991-5 Ig-o. 45-oo

This impressively researched book is the first thorough study of the theological background of Cleanness. It proposes that the liturgical cycle is the key to the poem's structure, its exempla running parallel with the readings for Advent: `The theme of the poem ... is ... Advent' (p. 6). If one is willing to stick with this premiss, difficulties are surmountable: the Parable of the Wedding Feast may be a lectio for Pentecost, but the final readings for Pentecost already anticipate Christ's coming; the histories of Zedekiah and Belshazzar may not be prescribed Advent reading, but verses from Isaiah xiii-xiv, which allude to them, certainly are. Lecklider's spoilsports will be those readers who are happy enough with the key offered persistently by the poem: that its theme is cleanness. God insists on cleanness (Wedding Feast); normally controls his temper (Fall of Lucifer and Adam), but turns massdestructive when faced with uncleanness (Flood; Sodom and Gomorrah; Jerusalem and Babylon). While the hypothesis that the poem is organized around the liturgical cycle is workable, Cleanness makes good sense without it.

However, because the book is largely devoted to comparisons of Cleanness with homilies and biblical commentaries, its value does not depend solely on the overarching argument. Indeed, Lecklider's study is extremely useful as a collection of sources and analogues for Cleanness, especially since it contains some important new findings. For example, God's resolution not to be caught napping again after the Flood (lines z9o1) is conclusively shown to derive from a phrase (praecavens in futurum) originating in the Septuagint, and also found in medieval glosses. …

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