So, to quote Inigo Montoya, "I 'splain. No, there is too much. I sum up."
You know what? No. Even summing up is taking this places it oughtn't go. To one-under Montoya, I'll just allude. How's that?
These be-phudded people got into a conversation about the state of the field of Old English studies, and the people with Y-chromosomes among that cohort got a batch of language bees in their bonnets. And they said "language language language," and then the people with matching alleles said "There's other stuff too, and here's why." And then the mismatching alleles ones said "language, and here's why." And then the whole conversation, which looked like it might get really interesting and productive, just petered out. I hate that. (They didn't align themselves by gender; I did that. I'm not sure that there's a connection between the sex of the critic and his/her view of what must be studied in this case. Just seemed odd -- and perhaps noteworthy? -- that it fell that way.)
At the same time, but unrelatedly, Anhaga wrote a rather beautiful post about The Wanderer, which is my very favorite go-to poem for almost-ineffable melancholy. I mean that in a good way, of course. I love melancholy, especially when it's of the sort that sits right at the edge of human language's ability to codify it.
Then I was reading a blog entitled "Slouching Towards Extimacy" and I thought, "Geez, extimacy is a great word. Neologisms can be fun. I love great new words. Wait, I love great old words, too."
So, as you can see, I was chased through blog-readings right into the Old English - Planctus -Language - Cool Words nexus, quite without intending to get here. It's not exactly a Lorelei Gilmore "monkey, monkey, underpants" moment, but it'll do.
Now, once in the OE-P-L-CW Nexus, I began listing the really old words I find cool:
Cwaeth was there, but you had to know that
gefrunon is a big one, love that one (meaning asked and/or understood, but also suggesting having learned something through hearing)
beot...vow, very nice
gliwstafum (joyful speech, literally: glee-letters. I ADORE this word.)
larcwide .. teaching words
You do see where this is going?
The words the Anglo-Saxons had for language are as much fun for me as the approximately 473 words they had for sorrow. I'm fairly certain that this is not simply because I'm a language nerd, although that must help. The ways in which the Anglo-Saxons foregrounded language in their writing/composing has always been interesting for me. Well, sure, they were either composing in language or recording spoken words, so language was their medium. However, their rhetorical choices of when and how to reference language, and to what end, are infinitely fascinating to me.
The Wanderer, for one, uses references to language rather ingeniously. He seeks those in whom he can confide, he looks back wistfully at the kind and wise words of his lost lord, he imagines the words he would use if he encountered his lord again. Like anhaga, I have some trouble reconciling the sundor aet rune moment at the end with the remainder of the poem, because it is the first time the Wanderer is alone with language. Every other reference to language has been about the value of language to the community. Who ought to speak, and who ought not to speak, for the best interests of the community. Bjork argues, famously, that the Wanderer's exile is voluntary at that moment. I'm not quite sure I agree with that assessment, because it seems pretty clear to me that the Wanderer is arguing for inclusion, all throughout the poem, based upon his inclusion and favored status in the past, and based upon his special knowledge of the suffering of loss. In fact, he seems to turn the whole system on its ear,
Rhetorically, he's quite good, that Wanderer. I am OK because I used to be valued, and now I've lost all the people who valued me, and therefore I'm OK because I've suffered and know better. You young folk talk too much, and know too little.