"No word for it": Postcolonial Anglo-Saxon in John Haynes' Letter to Patience

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This article examines a number of allusions to Old English, especially to the poem The Wanderer, in John Haynes’s award winning poem Letter to Patience (2006). A broad historical contextualisation of the use of Anglo-Saxon in modern poetry is offered first, against which Haynes’s specific poetic Anglo-Saxonism is then analysed in detail. Consideration is given to the sources – editions and translations – that Haynes used, and a sustained close reading of sections of his poem is offered in the light of this source study. The representation of English as an instrument of imperialism is discussed and juxtaposed with the use and status of early English to offer a long historical view of the politics of the vernacular. It is argued that Haynes’s poem, set partly in Nigeria, represents a new departure in the use it finds for Old English poetry, in effect constituting a kind of ‘postcolonial Anglo-Saxonism’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-90
JournalThe Southern African Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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