Afterword: Signs That Sing
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Afterword Signs That Sing Poets writing in Old English created hybrid poetic expressions that reflected the range of their verbal resources. They interwove their compositions with written oral idioms, metaphorical versions of oral-connected themes and typescenes, and verbalized ritual signs. Poets employed hybrid poetics in a wide range of genres including heroic narrative, biblical verse translation, lyric, riddle, allegory, gnomic verse, and book inscription . With hybrid expressions, they wove complex layers of signification, no matter the source of their content—whether translating from Latin, relaying poems of traditional genres, creating anew, or a combination of the above. The broad application of hybrid expressions, across genres and in relationship to various sources, reflects an aesthetics that values creative fusions of vernacular and Roman verbal traditions. Such applications also play substantively with the metonymic implications of oral-connected idioms and ritual signs. We have seen that poems using hybrid poetics engage their audiences in a rich interpretive process that rewards reflection and return. The Old English poems that intertwine metonymic referentiality and metaphorical signification probably spoke to audiences, such as monastics and secular clerics, familiar with these types of signification, and for whom hybrid signification brought recognition and enjoyment. For poets, a hybrid poetics of oral, literate, and ritual modes of expression accords with the aesthetic o 156 · Signs that Sing principle ofintricatedesignthatpervadesother Anglo-Saxon cultural productions : from manuscript illuminations to stone engravings, and from jewelry to metalwork. In her exploration of Anglo-Saxon and Germanic aesthetic principles, Emily Thornbury has proposed the “virtue of ornament ,” meaning a preference for work that calls attention to its own ingenuity and labor.1 The expressive strategies I have discussed embody such clever labor in several ways: by weaving oral-traditional idioms into written translations and distinctly Christian narratives; by embedding oraltraditional idioms in unusual contexts that prompt audiences to explore various figurative possibilities; and by bringing liturgical language, imagery , and symbols to life in poetry. Poets often employ hybrid expressions to celebrate the relationship between Christians and Christ. With the devouring-the-dead theme, The Phoenix represents a graphic reversal of death and bodily dismemberment . The sea-voyage typescene in The Dream of the Rood depicts Christ as a hero and gift and the Cross as a ship that can bear the dreamer on his heroic passage from mortal to eternal life. Using the lord-retainer and poet-patron themes as analogies for warranted behavior, Andreas, Genesis A/B, The Advent Lyrics, The Gifts of Men, “Thureth,” and “Alms-Giving” invite audiences to identify themselves with the servants and eulogizers of the Christian God. Finally, with ritual signifiers The Advent Lyrics create what Roger Lass calls a “poetic liturgy” that celebrates Christ’s three advents, not least his advent in the present moment. Taken together, written oral-connected idioms, oral idioms refigured by textual hermeneutical practices, and ritual signifiers constitute valuable expressive strategies that make possible complexly crafted representations of Christian devotion. By viewing hybrid expressions as a creative resource of Anglo-Saxon poets, we are in a better position to appreciate their rhetorical complexity. In Signs That Sing I have described two previously undiscussed forms of hybrid signification: the metaphorization of oral-related idioms and the ritual-related sign. Anglo-Saxon poets turned typical themes and typescenes into metaphors. They incorporated ritual signs—via metonymic referentiality—that evoke their liturgical contexts and help shape the poems’ meanings. Other ritualistic scenarios, such as circulating a mead cup or kissing the cross, bring to bear their metonymic significance and associations . In all of these cases, giving voice to words and interacting with an audience contribute to the meaning of Old English poems. Afterword · 157 The decorated initial on the cover of Signs That Sing suggests that hybridmodesofexpressionwerenotuncommonduringandaftertheAnglo Saxon period. The initial represents the only surviving author portrait of Osbern, an eleventh-century monk and precentor of Christ Church Cathedral Priory at Canterbury (London, British Library, Arundel 16 f.2).2 It celebrates his role as hagiographer of two Anglo-Saxon archbishops of Canterbury. He is seated within a decorated initial “R,” which begins his Vita et miracula Sancti Dunstani. Osbern reports witnessing Dunstan cure a girl ofblindnessonSaintBartholomew’seveand posthumously(atDunstan ’s burial site) cure a disabled girl.3 Another hagiography by Osbern, Vita et translatio Sancti Elphegi, formerly belonged to the same volume.4 In the image, Osbern’s quill hovers over a page of vellum whose size, position, and stiffness resemble a warrior’s shield.5 The green, drawn curtain symbolizes the unveiling...