The end of the journey : the rhetoric of conclusions in Old English poetry.
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For much of the twentieth century critics of Old English poetry dismissed it as aesthetically sub-par, especially complaining about its formulaic and repetitive nature. In the last thirty years or so Old English scholars have recovered its reputation by reading it from within its own oral-derived context; because Old English poetry originates from an oral tradition rather than a written one, we must begin our understanding of it with an understanding of its oral-traditional roots. Formulaic or repeated structures often designate rich and complex meaning for an audience attuned to its traditions. In this spirit, my dissertation looks at an oft-repeated theme—the idea of heaven as a homeland—and examines the ways in which this oral-derived feature works structurally to convey different kinds of meaning. In a surprisingly high number of poems, for example, it appears right at the end. As I argue, its structural placement there signals to an audience that the poem is coming to a close and additionally works as a metaphor for the act of poetic creation itself—the poem is a kind of journey that ends with a sense of stability. The structural and metapoetic functions of the motif are developed extensively in sections one and two of this work. Section one examines the various ways that the motif works as a structural marker at the beginning or end of a speech act or at the beginning or end of a manuscript section division. It also accounts for the motif’s relationship to a newly identified type-scene. Section two explores Anglo-Saxon conceptions of verbal art and particularly the cultural metaphor of verbal art as a kind of journey. By understanding how traditional texts make meaning we come much closer to reading them at the most sophisticated levels possible.