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Where Now the Harp? Listening for the Sounds of Old English Verse, from Beowulf to the Twentieth Century

 Chris Jones

Oral Tradition Volume 24, Number 2

This essay examines the representation or staging of oral performance and poetic composition within Beowulf, in order to argue that poem thematizes and mythologizes its own origins, and is as much interested in recovering the sounds of oral performances that pre-date its own manuscript inscription as modern Anglo-Saxon scholarship has been. The second half of the essay considers the recovery and reimagining of an Anglo-Saxon “soundscape” in the work of two twentieth-century poets, W. S. Graham and Edwin Morgan. The invocation of this “Saxonesque” patterning of sound invokes or triggers a historically constituted set of associations with the whole body of Old English poetry; that is, an allusion to a corpus, rather than to a specific text, is made through sound patterning.

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