Welcome back! It’s Wednesday, which means Old English Ecotheology: the Exeter Book is five days away! Don’t forget that my amazing publishers at AUP have offered 20% of the cost off the book through October 16th, 2021: use code Pub_OEE. Later this week, I’ll be sharing information on how to encourage your librarian to order the book for your institution.
As the blog title suggests, today I’m sharing a sneak peak of chapter four: Trauma and Apocalypse in the Eco-elegies. This is a really special chapter, because it is in many ways responsible for the existence of the book as a whole. In 2018, I gave a paper at the Kalamazoo ICMS on “Depression in/and Old English Poetry.” My work in that paper on emotional trauma in the poem “The Wanderer” planted the seed of the idea that became this chapter. After the panel, I was introduced to Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar, the editor who eventually acquired Old English Ecotheology for Amsterdam University Press. (More on Ilse, and the many folks who have helped bring this book to press, on Monday!)
I mentioned yesterday that I was nervous to write about the Exeter riddle collection because so much good work has already been done. As you may imagine, I felt a similar way about the elegies, which are probably the most well-known of the Exeter book poems. My goal in this chapter is not to replace existing readings of the elegies, but to demonstrate the ways in which readings attendant to the role of the other-than-human can expand our understanding of these texts.
The Wanderer and The Ruin are productively read as eco-elegies: explorations of changing relationships within the Earth community. The Wanderer offers its audience an exemplary portrait of natural depression, a human pattern of exile, emotional trauma, and acceptance which relies on identification with the Earth community as a way of healing. The poem affirms the idea that other-than-human elements of Earth community can actively improve the mental state of their human neighbors and reconcile apocalyptic loss. The Ruin contrasts this apocalyptic imagery with an imagined future where the Earth community responds to, but ultimately outlasts, the destruction of human societies. These eco-elegies encourage audiences to consider the long view of Christian history, pacifying anxieties about human relationships with other-than-human.