Where the wild things are in Old English poetry

Book chapter


Bintley, M. 2015. Where the wild things are in Old English poetry. in: Representing Beasts in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia Boydell Press.
AuthorsBintley, M.
Abstract

This chapter focuses on the apparent opposition in Old English poetry between those places which are occupied by humans, and those which are the domain of wild beasts. The aim is to demonstrate that there is in fact no simple binary opposition between the two that can be simply defined, for example, by the rural and the urban, or civilisation and the ‘natural’ world. The approach to landscape in these terms is ultimately Augustinian, in so far as no place is presented as being irredeemably evil; certain places are made so through the transgressions of those with rational capacity, but the potential of these landscapes (and their inhabitants) for redemption is often eminently achievable. Bede, drawing on Isaiah in his Historia Ecclesiastica, exhorted missionaries to seek out isolated, inhospitable, and rural places in which to establish hermitages and other ecclesiastical outposts. In these places, where the ‘dragons’ of pagan ignorance once lay, the green shoots of Christian recovery might then spring forth. These efforts are most obviously reflected in the Guthlac poems, in which the warrior-saint expels a horde of demons from his fenland hermitage, but are equally visible in such less obviously didactic Old English poetry as Beowulf. It was not only rural places that required redemption. Places that had been built to house human communities could be inhabited by people who were as wild and bestial as Guthlac’s demons and Grendel – those who had rejected God. The city of Mermedonia in Andreas, whose description evokes a ruinous Roman city, is presented as a realm of satanic cannibalism until its conversion to Christianity, when a church is constructed at its heart. Likewise, the glory of Babylon leads Nebuchadnezzar into seven years of bestial madness when he vainly interprets it as proof of God’s blessing. Elsewhere, this moral interplay between ‘natural’ and consciously manipulated landscapes finds a comfortable point of balance. In the Exeter Book Phoenix, the eponymous avian builds a nest in the forest from twigs that represent the souls of the virtuous. Similarly, in King Alfred’s preface to the Old English Soliloquies, timbers are chosen from the forest to build a homestead in ways that have generally been thought to reflect the gathering of Latin wisdom, yet which may equally be reflective of urban regeneration at the end of the ninth century. In this preface, the reassembly of the forest’s best trees parallels the process through which any landscape can be reclaimed as a good Christian place. Finally, the early twelfth century Durham presents a town whose natural and human-made features work in harmony to ensure its steadfastness and fame throughout Britain. Brought together, these examples indicate that it was rational action within landscapes, rather than the inherent characteristics of these, which was thought to determine whether or not they were places of human and divine order, or of bestial chaos.

Year2015
Book titleRepresenting Beasts in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia
PublisherBoydell Press
Output statusPublished
ISBN9781783270088
Publication dates
Print15 Jul 2015
Publication process dates
Deposited17 Jul 2015
Related URLhttp://www.boydellandbrewer.com/store/viewItem.asp?idProduct=14739
Permalink -

https://repository.canterbury.ac.uk/item/87640/where-the-wild-things-are-in-old-english-poetry

  • 112
    total views
  • 0
    total downloads
  • 1
    views this month
  • 0
    downloads this month

Export as

Related outputs

Landscapes of concealment and revelation in the Brut Narratives: Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, and Laȝamon
Hicks, Leonie V. and Bintley, Michael D.J. 2022. Landscapes of concealment and revelation in the Brut Narratives: Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, and Laȝamon. in: Church, S.D. (ed.) Anglo-Norman Studies 44. Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2021 Woodbridge Boydell Press. pp. 137-52
O what we ben! discovering post-apocalyptic landscapes in Andreas and Riddley Walker
Overall, S. and Bintley, M. 2017. O what we ben! discovering post-apocalyptic landscapes in Andreas and Riddley Walker. Being Human Festival 2017. Nov 2017
'How deserted lies the city, once so full of people': the reclamation of intramural space in Anglo-Saxon lIterature
Bintley, M. 2017. 'How deserted lies the city, once so full of people': the reclamation of intramural space in Anglo-Saxon lIterature. in: Boulton, M., Hawkes, J. and Stoner, H. (ed.) Place and Space in the Medieval World New York Routledge. pp. 63-73
Introduction: Stasis in the Medieval West?: Questioning change and continuity
Symons, V., Wellesley, M. and Bintley, M. 2017. Introduction: Stasis in the Medieval West?: Questioning change and continuity. in: Bintley, M., Locker, M., Symons, V. and Wellesley, M. (ed.) Stasis in the Medieval West?: Questioning Change and Continuity New York Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 1-26
Beacons of belief: seasonal change and sacred trees in Britain from prehistory to the later Middle Ages
Bintley, M. 2017. Beacons of belief: seasonal change and sacred trees in Britain from prehistory to the later Middle Ages. in: Bintley, M., Locker, M., Symons, V. and Wellesley, M. (ed.) Stasis in the Medieval West?: Questioning Change and Continuity New York Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 27-45
Plant life in the poetic edda
Bintley, M. 2016. Plant life in the poetic edda. in: Thomson, S. and Bintley, M. (ed.) Sensory Perception in the Medieval West Turnhout Brepols. pp. 227-244
Trees in the religions of early medieval England
Bintley, M. 2015. Trees in the religions of early medieval England. Martlesham Boydell Press.
Representing beasts in early medieval England and Scandinavia: an introduction
Bintley, M. and Williams, T. 2015. Representing beasts in early medieval England and Scandinavia: an introduction. in: Bintley, M. and Williams, T. (ed.) Representing Beasts in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia Martlesham Boydell Press.
Where are the wīcs in Old English poetry?
Bintley, M. 2015. Where are the wīcs in Old English poetry? in: Boulton, M., Hawkes, J. and Herman, M. (ed.) The Art, Literature and Material Culture of the Medieval World: Transition, Transformation and Taxonomy Dublin Four Courts Press.
The translation of St Oswald’s relics to New Minster, Gloucester: royal and imperial resonances
Bintley, M. 2014. The translation of St Oswald’s relics to New Minster, Gloucester: royal and imperial resonances. Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History. 19, pp. 171-181.
Introduction to Trees and timber in the Anglo-Saxon world
Bintley, M. and Shapland, M. 2013. Introduction to Trees and timber in the Anglo-Saxon world. in: Bintley, M. and Shapland, M. (ed.) Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World Oxford Oxford University Press.
Brungen of Bearwe: ploughing common furrows in Exeter Book Riddle 21, The Dream of the Rood, and the Æcerbot Charm
Bintley, M. 2013. Brungen of Bearwe: ploughing common furrows in Exeter Book Riddle 21, The Dream of the Rood, and the Æcerbot Charm. in: Bintley, M. and Shapland, M. (ed.) Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World Oxford Oxford University Press.
Recasting the role of sacred trees in Anglo-Saxon spiritual history: the South Sandbach Cross "Ancestors of Christ" panel in its cultural contexts
Bintley, M. 2013. Recasting the role of sacred trees in Anglo-Saxon spiritual history: the South Sandbach Cross "Ancestors of Christ" panel in its cultural contexts. in: Bintley, M. and Shapland, M. (ed.) Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World Oxford Oxford University Press.
City of the living dead: The Old English Andreas as urban horror narrative
Bintley, M. 2013. City of the living dead: The Old English Andreas as urban horror narrative. Horror Studies. 4 (1), pp. 3-20. https://doi.org/10.1386/host.4.1.3_1
Revisiting the Semnonenhain: a Norse anthropogonic myth and the Germania
Bintley, M. 2011. Revisiting the Semnonenhain: a Norse anthropogonic myth and the Germania. Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. 13 (2), pp. 146-162.
The Byzantine silver bowls in the Sutton Hoo ship burial and tree-worship in Anglo-Saxon England
Bintley, M. 2011. The Byzantine silver bowls in the Sutton Hoo ship burial and tree-worship in Anglo-Saxon England. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology. 21, pp. 41-52. https://doi.org/10.5334/pia.378
Material culture: archaeology and text
Bintley, M. 2012. Material culture: archaeology and text. in: North, R. and Allard, J. (ed.) Beowulf and Other Stories: A New Introduction to Old English, Old Icelandic and Anglo-Norman Literatures Harlow Pearson Education. pp. 246-273
Landscape gardening: remodelling the Hortus Conclusus in Judgement Day II
Bintley, M. 2011. Landscape gardening: remodelling the Hortus Conclusus in Judgement Day II. The Review of English Studies. 62 (253), pp. 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1093/res/hgq028
Demythologising urban landscapes in Andreas
Bintley, M. 2009. Demythologising urban landscapes in Andreas. Leeds Studies in English. 40, pp. 105-118.