Meter and the distant past

My short essay, “The Meter of Widsith and the Distant Past,” appears in Neophilologus. This essay mobilizes metrical and linguistic evidence in order to dispute the possibility that any portion of the Old English poem Widsith was composed before the migration of the Angles and Saxons to Britain (adventus Saxonum). In so doing, this essay seeks to ground the modern editorial definition of ‘text’ in verse history. Here’s the abstract:

In a recent article in this journal, Leonard Neidorf argues for a seventh-century date for the Old English poem Widsith, while countenancing the possibility that one portion of the poem was composed before the migration of the Angles and Saxons to Britain (adventus Saxonum). The present article disputes the possibility of a pre-adventus date for this and other portions of Widsith. Metrical considerations tend to contradict such an exceptionally early dating, with ramifications for the categorization and interpretation of the poem as a whole. After reviewing the pertinent metrical evidence, this article argues that the available metrical form of Widsith is the essential feature by which the poem, whenever and wherever it was composed, can be recognized as ‘the poem’ in the first place. This article concludes that Widsith is not an ancient poem from a pan-Germanic distant past, but an encyclopedic Old English poem that turns inherited vocabulary to its own rhetorical purposes.

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