Monday, May 16, 2005

Notes from Harbus: Wisdom poetry, the development of the self, and memory

From Harbus, Antonina. The Life of the Mind in Old English Poetry. Costerus New Series 143. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002.

"In Old English wisdom poetry, the mind is primarily the faculty whereby experience is ordered, controlled, and recorded. It is not only a storehouse of useful pieces of information, but also the processing unit which interprets that knowledge and applies it to a spiritual programme of self-reform. The constant references to the active mind as the faculty of wisdom communicates the dicta that wisdom is inadequate without thought and that personal responsibility for self-vigilance is grave. In the close association assumed between mental awareness and salvation, these poems articulate their own status as more than lists or passive collections of data: they are rather stimuli to contemplation, not just of precepts and proverbs, but on the need to invigorate the life of the mind. Both knowledge and thought are required in the development of the self, which is variously the explicit or unstated agenda of this kind of literature" (86).

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