Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An 'Early British' Summer

So, my summer vacation is technically over because for the first time since I’ve been back in school, I’m going to summer school! It shouldn’t be so bad; in addition to working on campus, I’m only taking one class. I’ve taken a lot of American Literature courses, Postcolonial and World Literature, but for the summer I will began my journey into British Literature. I’m looking forward to developing my understanding of early English language poetry and prose, ultimately focusing in on some Shakespeare, Marlow, Milton, and Sirs Philip Sydney and Walter Raleigh.

At the start of this class we’re reading some stuff with no known author, and also an epic poem that I read first in World Literature, Beowulf, which ironically is coming out this year as an animated feature. Beowulf is the oldest of the great long poems written in English, composed over twelve hundred years ago. It is a story about the cruelty of life, death and sorrow, but also of faith, courage and honor. The courtly love poetry of Sir Philip Sydney is still a bit intimidating to me, but the sonnets of Shakespeare are down to earth, and sometimes humorous.

And while I am somewhat suspicious of literature that functions as propaganda for religions, there is a poem which I find devastatingly beautiful. It is called The Dream of the Rood. It is about the dream of a tree’s memory of having Christ nailed to it and dying. Sentimental? Maybe. But, The Dream of the Rood is eloquent in the understanding that a tree is, not inanimate, but a living thing with a soul, a memory, a dream. Observing the crucifixion from the point of view of the cross is that defamiliarization, which Formalist Viktor Shklovsky talks about in his essay, "Art as Technique"; it causes you to see something which is recognizable, but differently. That’s good writing.

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