Fossil poetry: Anglo-Saxon and linguistic nativism in nineteenth-century poetry

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Fossil Poetry provides the first book-length overview of the place of Anglo-Saxon in nineteenth-century poetry in English. It addresses the use of Anglo-Saxon as a resource by Romantic and Victorian poets in their own compositions, as well as the construction and ‘invention’ of Anglo-Saxon in and by nineteenth-century poetry. Fossil Poetry takes its title from a famous passage on ‘early’ language in the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and uses the metaphor of the fossil to contextualize poetic Anglo-Saxonism within the developments that had been taking place in the fields of geology, palaeontology, and the evolutionary life sciences since James Hutton’s apprehension of ‘deep time’ in his 1788 Theory of the Earth. Fossil Poetry argues that two phases of poetic Anglo-Saxonism took place over the course of the nineteenth century: firstly, a phase of ‘constant roots’ whereby Anglo-Saxon is constructed to resemble, and so aetiologically to legitimize, a tradition of English Romanticism conceived as essential and unchanging; secondly, a phase in which the strangeness of many of the ‘extinct’ philological forms of early English is acknowledged, and becomes concurrent with a desire to recover and recuperate the fossils of Anglo-Saxon within contemporary English poetry. A wide range of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century works of antiquarianism, philology, and Anglo-Saxon scholarship forms the evidential base that underpins the advancement of these two models for understanding the place of Anglo-Saxon in nineteenth-century poetry. New archival research and readings of unpublished papers by Tennyson, Whitman, and Morris is also presented here for the first time.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages312
ISBN (Electronic)9780191865886
ISBN (Print)9780198824527
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2018


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