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Weaving Words and Binding Bodies

Weaving Words and Binding Bodies: The Poetics of Human Experience in Old English Literature

Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Weaving Words and Binding Bodies
    Book Description:

    Weaving Words and Binding Bodiespresents the first comprehensive study of weaving and binding imagery through intertextual analysis and close readings ofBeowulf, riddles, the poetry of Cynewulf, and other key texts.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2489-4
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations (pp. ix-x)
  5. Editions (pp. xi-2)
  6. Construction and Constriction: Introducing Human Experience in Old English Poetry (pp. 3-14)

    The aim of this study is to provide a comprehensive survey of material and metaphorical weaving and binding in Old English poetry. There are several hundred instances of such imagery invoked in relation to objects, humans, elemental forces and complex abstract concepts in the poetic corpus. Despite its frequency of appearance and despite its use in a wide range of overlapping and contradictory (nevertheless intriguing) metaphors and thematic clusters, such connective language has received a great deal of passing or partial comment, but no thorough and exhaustive critical treatment. It is perhaps because of the scholarly reduction of the metaphorical...

  7. Part I Webs and Rings:: Experiencing Objects
    • 1 The Material Context of Weaving (pp. 17-46)

      Material objects retain a place of great importance in Old English, not just because they are tools for human use, but also because they represent the human skill that went into their construction. Thus, the frequently cited passage from Fred C. Robinson’s“Beowulf” and the Appositive Stylealigns objects with the cultural world, which he sees in binary opposition to the natural world:

      Where nature is malevolent and chaotic, artifice is reassuring, and this, I believe, explains the remarkable accumulation of appositions and compounds for man-made, as opposed to natural, things inBeowulf. The man-made wall, the road, the ship,...

    • 2 The Woven Mail-Coat (pp. 47-67)

      A similar craftsmanship to that of weaving and binding textiles is invoked in a great number of Old English poems that deal with a very different product: the coat of mail. Descriptions of mail-coats abound, particularly in heroic texts, and in them we see another type of high status construction. The prestige associated with armour and weaponry, which are frequently passed on as gifts, is something that Michael Cherniss explores in relation to heroic quality. For him, treasures are “material manifestations or representations of the proven or inherent worthiness of whoever possesses them. We may define the function of treasure...

    • 3 The Material Context of Structural Binding (pp. 68-92)

      While the creation of mail-coats involves fitting together metal links to create an interlocked garment, iron rings are also depicted alongside wood and other materials used for constructing objects. Old English poetry frequently refers to objects in terms of the pieces of iron that bind the wood together and hold the structure firm. Earl R. Anderson emphasizes these rings in his discussion of technological descriptions in Old English poetry, applying H. W. Burris, Jr’s anthropological theory of the “carpentered world”¹ to Anglo-Saxon contexts:

      To borrow a term from cultural anthropology, the world of Old English poetry is ‘uncarpentered’, a world...

  8. Part II Fetters and Chains:: Experiencing Bondage
    • 4 Binding in Nature (pp. 95-119)

      Anglo-Saxon conceptions of the natural world were to a great extent characterized by all that was alien to humanity, and, because of this, depictions of nature commonly demonstrate fear and defensiveness.¹ From literary references to the natural world, Jennifer Neville concludes that “the Anglo-Saxons viewed their society both as a necessary defence for individuals and as a fragile structure always under attack, one that required a God-like founder and defender to maintain it.”² This defensiveness feeds into the Anglo-Saxon tendency to value things only in relation to what they can do for humanity (as seen in Part I’s discussion of...

    • 5 Imprisonment and Hell (pp. 120-156)

      Imprisonment, like the examples of bound nature, relates to the restraining of another’s power. This bound condition is not only metaphorical, as in the case of the personified slaves discussed in the following chapter. There are also concrete instances of imprisonment as binding. It is necessary to note, however, contrary to what Old English depictions of slavery might lead us to believe, slaves in Anglo-Saxon England likely worked and lived unfettered and were constrained only for the purposes of punishment or detention.¹ Fettering was not for everyday use, but was a method employed to control movements in certain circumstances.


    • 6 Slavery and Servitude (pp. 157-192)

      Slavery appears as a common motif in Old English riddles. The concept was well known in the Anglo-Saxon world, as the large body of vocabulary associated with the practice demonstrates.¹ David Pelteret maintains that early Christian writers, influenced by the prevalence of slaves in both the Old and New Testaments, helped to perpetuate slavery by applying its terminology to descriptions of human relations with both God and the devil.² With over forty words pointing to slavery and freedom appearing in translations of religious works, this vocabulary became entrenched in Old English, which made it, Pelteret argues, “virtually impossible for an...

  9. Part III Patterns and Nets:: Experiencing the Internal and he Abstract
    • 7 The Body and Mind (pp. 195-230)

      Given the anthropocentric view of the world that the preceding analyses of object-construction and physical constriction have made evident, it is unsurprising that such imagery is also applied to the internal ties governing human life. Like objects whose structural bonds hold them together, the body itself is imagined as an interwoven entity in Old English. Never simply a lump of flesh, bodies are depicted as systems of connected muscles, joints, and bones, prompting Raymond P. Tripp, Jr to coin the term “knot-body.”¹ Tripp addresses the multiple ways in which bonds and binding are applied withinBeowulf, evoking the work of...

    • 8 Language and Knowledge (pp. 231-250)

      While today we may imagine language as emanating from the mouth, the Anglo-Saxon understanding of the mind strongly associated speech with the chest.¹ As Eric Jager has observed: “[v]erbal prowess is collocated in the chest along with the vital powers and moral virtue, making the chest a “center of action,” and a symbolic repository of heroic values.”² This association of chest and language underlies the common poetic depiction of the mind as awordhord, an image that Jager argues aligns speech with the treasure-hoards that are central to the functioning of heroic society.³ Britt Mize has further revised previous discussions...

    • 9 Creation, Magic, and Fate (pp. 251-279)

      As the previous chapter’s discussion of language has demonstrated, there is a precedent in Old English poetry for the depiction of highly valued abstract concepts in terms of concrete crafted objects. It thus comes as no surprise that the creation of the world is similarly imagined in terms of skilled construction. A great deal of groundwork on such creation metaphors has already been undertaken by Ruth Wehlau, who discusses in particular the representation of God as an architect.¹ She perceives the emphasis in Old English literature to be on the order and control that a creator exerts, substantiating this with...

    • 10 Peace (pp. 280-295)

      The power and control associated with the abstract concepts discussed in the preceding chapters are also integral to one final use of weaving and binding imagery in Old English poetry: that of peace. Given the centrality of warfare in Anglo-Saxon society, it makes sense that representations of peace should also employ this conventional yet intrinsically flexible set of diction and imagery. Indeed, physical binding has a natural place in the context of warfare,² and the bond of peace is an established metaphor in prose religious contexts.³ Furthermore, even the typically positive act of weaving may be bound up with violence...

  10. Weaving and Binding: Conclusions on Human Experience and World View (pp. 296-302)

    This survey’s analysis of the formulaic diction and imagery of weaving and binding has focused on an Anglo-Saxon context, and on a poetic context in particular. Such a focus emphasizes that through the examining of related diction and imagery, scholars can begin to understand more about poetic constructions of reality, while avoiding the anachronistic application of modern metaphors to earlier texts. Of course, these constructive and constrictive representations also have lives outside of this particular corpus, as has been noted throughout this study. Although texts from any culture that weaves and binds are bound to contain loose analogues, given this...

  11. Bibliography (pp. 303-332)
  12. Index (pp. 333-344)
  13. Back Matter (pp. 345-346)