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Karl Davis (London)

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Strange Likeness: The Use of Old English in Twentieth-Century Poetry
Strange Likeness: The Use of Old English in Twentieth-Century Poetry
by Chris Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £41.39

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strange Brilliance, 12 July 2007
A brilliant book on a strangely overlooked topic. A big fuss was made in the press a few years ago when Oxford University decided to stop making Anglo-Saxon a compulsory part of its English degree. One of the arguments most often put forward by its detractors was that Anglo-Saxon had nothing to do with 'English' literature. It's a pity this book wasn't around then because 'Strange Likeness' fires a powerful broadside in their general direction. Not only does Chris Jones show how much Pound, Auden, Morgan (who I didn't know much before reading this book, but will definitely chase up now) and Heaney are indebted to Old English, and to their teachers of the subject, he also carefully and sympathetically analyses their poems in ways that really make a difference to your appreciation of them. In particular, I will never read Auden's great poem 'The Wanderer' in the same way again. Jones seems to know his Anglo-Saxon stuff as well as he knows his modern poets, but the real achievement of 'Strange Likeness' is that even though it's on a pretty scholarly subject (and some of the footnotes are scary - but you can just skip those out) it's incredibly easy to read. His style is beautiful - relaxed and elegant. And all the Anglo-Saxon is translated and explained for you as you go. On the negative side, I wish he had written about Geoffrey Hill - who is one of my favourites and not included here - and what he has to say about Heaney's Beowulf translation is quite controversial and won't please everyone (I like it rather more than Jones seems to) - but I suppose you can't have everything. If only more academic literature studies were as exciting and engaging as this one. Now all Oxford University needs to do is to get its students to read this and they'll be clamouring to learn Anglo-Saxon again.


Beowulf (Bilingual Edition)
Beowulf (Bilingual Edition)
by Seamus Heaney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.19

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Double Harp-joy, 20 Jun. 2007
OK, so it's not 'Beowulf', it's 'HEANEY's Beowulf'. But if anything that just makes it even more interesting. Amazing poem from 'The Dark Ages' coupled with amazing poet from our current dark ages. What's not to like? And here you can compare the Heaney-fication on the one side of the page with the original on the other (oh come on, Old English isn't THAT difficult) and see exactly what he's changed and how he's made the poem his own. ('Inhabited the poem' as my lecturer put it.) Fantastic.


The Adventure of English
The Adventure of English
by Melvyn Bragg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

13 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Triumphalism of English, 13 May 2007
As a one-stop history of the English language I didn't think this was all that good. There are, after all, a lot of books like this out there, and to add another you need something really quite original to say. Most of the examples and word lists given seem rather tired and hackneyed now, and many of the anecdotes have been told elsewhere. The new angle, I suppose, is to tell the story of English as if one were telling the life of an individual. But languages are not people and do not have agency, aspirations, desires, or make decisions about their future. Bragg's conceit leads him to say some pretty peculiar things, and frequently to employ militaristic metaphors - as if English were locked in mortal combat with other languages it meets - struggling to 'gain ground' over French, or defeat Latin in some kind of bid for survival. There's a kind of triumphalism about all this that's rather old-fashioned and imperialist (puts you in mind of those self-satsified Victorian language histories about 'The Rise of English' and the cultural superiority of 'our' language over others). This is strange given that elsewhere Bragg (rightly) has little time for cultural and class smugness when it comes to language use. In fact the best thing about this book is how democratic it is. Snobbery over 'correct usage' and 'non-U' expressions is rightly exposed for what it is - ignorance. But there are lots of other descriptive (rather than prescriptive) accounts of English out there. One could do better than this one.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2007 11:04 AM GMT


Strange Likeness: The Use of Old English in Twentieth-Century Poetry
Strange Likeness: The Use of Old English in Twentieth-Century Poetry
by Chris Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £41.39

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strange Brilliance, 13 May 2007
A brilliant book on a strangely overlooked topic. A big fuss was made in the press a few years ago when Oxford University decided to stop making Anglo-Saxon a compulsory part of its English degree. One of the arguments most often put forward by its detractors was that Anglo-Saxon had nothing to do with 'English' literature. It's a pity this book wasn't around then because 'Strange Likeness' fires a powerful broadside in their general direction. Not only does Chris Jones show how much Pound, Auden, Morgan (who I didn't know much before reading this book, but will definitely chase up now) and Heaney are indebted to Old English, and to their teachers of the subject, he also carefully and sympathetically analyses their poems in ways that really make a difference to your appreciation of them. In particular, I will never read Auden's great poem 'The Wanderer' in the same way again. Jones seems to know his Anglo-Saxon stuff as well as he knows his modern poets, but the real achievement of 'Strange Likeness' is that even though it's on a pretty scholarly subject (and some of the footnotes are scary - but you can just skip those out) it's incredibly easy to read. His style is beautiful - relaxed and elegant. And all the Anglo-Saxon is translated and explained for you as you go. On the negative side, I wish he had written about Geoffrey Hill - who is one of my favourites and not included here - and what he has to say about Heaney's Beowulf translation is quite controversial and won't please everyone (I like it rather more than Jones seems to) - but I suppose you can't have everything. If only more academic literature studies were as exciting and engaging as this one. Now all Oxford University needs to do is to get its students to read this and they'll be clamouring to learn Anglo-Saxon again.


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