Signs That Sing:
Hybrid Poetics in Old English Verse

Heather Maring

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“A critically sophisticated leap forward in the study of early medieval literature,  Signs That  Sing issues a bold challenge to long-held preconceptions about the relationships underlying Old  English poetry between past and present, pagan and Christian, and oral and literary.”—Joseph Falaky  Nagy, author of Conversing with Angels and Ancients: Literary Myths of Medieval Ireland
 
“Maring sidesteps simplistic oral versus literary schools of thought as she considers Old English  verse as the product of an emergent hybrid form, representing a fusion of native poetics and  Christian beliefs and practices. A welcome contribution to oral poetics and the understanding of  the earliest period of English literature.”—John D. Niles, author of The Idea of Anglo-Saxon  England 1066–1901: Remembering , Forgetting , Deciphering , and Renewing the Past
 
“Elegantly shows how the elements of oral poetry continued to inspire the authors of Old English  verse long after their conversion to Christianity. Far from being antiquarian relics, the themes of  oral verse joined with learned exegesis and ritual performances  to form a rich source of  metaphorical meaning in Old English poetry, which this book brilliantly opens up to modern  readers.”—Emily V. Thornbury, author  of Becoming a Poet in Anglo-Saxon England
 
In Signs That Sing, Heather Maring argues that oral tradition, ritual, and literate Latin- based  practices are dynamically interconnected in Old English poetry. Resisting the tendency to study these different forms of expression separately, Maring contends that poets  combined them in hybrid techniques that were important to the development of early English  literature.
 
Maring examines a variety of texts, including Beowulf, The Battle of Maldon, Deor, The Dream of the Rood, Genesis A/B, The Advent Lyrics, and select riddles. She shows how themes and  typescenes from oral tradition—devouring-the-dead, the lord-retainer, the poet-patron, and the sea  voyage—become metaphors for sacred concepts in the hands of Christian authors. She also cites similarities between oral-traditional and ritual signs to  describe how poets systematically employed ritual signs in written poems to dramatic effect. The result, Maring demonstrates, is richly elaborate verse filled with shared symbols and themes that  would have been highly meaningful and widely understood  by audiences at the time.
 
Heather Maring  is assistant professor of English at Arizona State University.
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