SESSION 2: Storms Within and Without
“Winter Landscape and Season”
Paul Langeslag (U of T)
This fascinating paper was about Anglo-Saxon seasonal imagery and it’s meaning. The focus was on winter imagery. There has been an argument that Anglo-Saxons were more interested in winter imagery than summer imagery because it reflected on the harsh nature of life during this time. Winter was not a temporal category and winter was effective as an image of exile.
Scholar Jennifer Neville came to the opposite conclusion and she demonstrated a connection of the four seasons of the year with the four humours. She proposed that this scheme included the four ages of the world. The last season being winter, connotes the last age of this world and was a literal reference of Judgement Day. Langeslag argued that there is a problem with Neville’s hypothesis: the four eras were more popular in the later Middle Ages, not during the Anglo-Saxon period. It is hard to say if the author was talking about a four season year or two season year. Anglo-Saxon/Germanic culture had two seasons, winter and summer, a.k.a., a “bipartite year”. Neville argues that this bipartite year isn’t important. The problem is that most Anglo-Saxon poetry didn’t specify whether the author was referring to a two or four season year.
Elegies – centre on contrast, as seen in the poem, The Ruin. The image of winter is contrasted with society. A similar image can be found in The Wanderer. The image of winter, storm and haor-frost attacking buildings, contrasting with the glory that was and describing life on earth as wintery.
Both The Wanderer and The Seafarer makes use of sea imagery which was a common theme in Anglo-Saxon poetry since life was viewed as a sea voyage. The coming of winter urges the seafarer to leave the land and return to the sea.
Hostile Habitats in Beowulf – Monster landscapes are also described in winter terms; landscape elements that are very remote from society making them unfamiliar and hostile. Static image of monsters are found in wintery landscapes – a permanent landscape of winter inhabited by Grendal and her mother. Cold imagery – evocative of a season, the author in Beowulf makes water cold, thus making it a hostile place. Cold and water are mentioned rather frequently in the poem. Elegy/monster habitats – static season, the Seafarer (on land), Finnsburgh, melting sword all sygnify progression. Winter was often used to count the years. More than 2/3 of usage are of that sort. Using winter was a convenient way to count things but there is not really much meaning to selecting winter over summer to count years other than winter held a special place in the far north.