AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Metaphorical Space and Enclosure in Old English Poetry

by Benjamin Waller

Institution: University of Oregon
Year: 2014
Keywords: Anglo-Saxon Mentality; Beowulf; Metaphor; Old English Poetry; Space
Record ID: 2042976
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1794/17893


While the political and social spaces of Old English literature are fairly well understood, this project examines the conceptual spaces in Old English poetry. The Anglo-Saxons possessed a richly metaphorical understanding of the world, not merely in the sense of artistically ornamental metaphor, but in Lakoff and Johnson's sense of conceptual metaphor, which reflects the structures of thought through which a culture understands their world. Three domains exhibit developed systems of conceptual metaphor for the Anglo-Saxons: the self, death, and the world. First, the Anglo-Saxon self is composed of four distinct entities – body, mind, soul, and a life-force – which each behave independently as they compete for control in poems like The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and Soul and Body. Second, death for the Anglo-Saxon is expressed through a number of metaphors involving the status or placement of the body: removal to a distant place; separation of the body and the soul; location down on or within the earth; and the loss of life as a possession. Predominance of a particular metaphor contributes to the effects of individual poems, from The Fates of the Apostles and Beowulf to The Battle of Maldon and The Wife's Lament. Third, the Anglo-Saxon world is a large structure like a building, with its three primary components – heaven, hell, and earth – each themselves presented as building-like structures. Old English poetry, including native versions of Genesis, reveal heaven to be a protective Anglo-Saxon hall, while hell is a cold prison. The earth, in poems like Christ II and Guthlac B, is either a wide plain or a comforting house. Christ I connects these worlds through gates, including Mary, characterized as a wall-door. Finally, the apocalyptic Christ III employs metaphorical spaces for all three conceptual domains treated in this study but dramatizes their breakdown even as it reveals spatial enclosure the overarching structure of metaphorical concepts in Old English poetry.