In The Etiquette of Early Northern Verse, Roberta Frank peers into the northern poet’s workshop, eavesdropping as Old English and Old Norse verse reveal their craft secrets.
This book places two vernacular poetries of the long Viking Age into conversation, revealing their membership in a single community of taste, a traditional stylistic ecology that did serious political and historical work. Each chapter seeks the codes of a now-extinct verse technique. The first explores the underlying architecture of the two poetries, their irregularities of pace, startling formal conventions, and tight verbal detail work. The passage of time has worn away most of the circumstantial details that literary scholars in later periods take for granted, but the public relations savvy and aural and syntactic signals of early northern verse remain to some extent retrievable and relatable, an etiquette prized and presumably understood by its audiences. The second and longest chapter investigates the techniques used by early northern poets to retrieve and organize the symmetries of language. It illustrates how supererogatory alliteration and rhyme functioned as aural punctuation, marking off structural units and highlighting key moments in the texts. The third and final chapter describes the extent to which both corpora reveled in negations, litotes, indirection, and down-toners, modes that forced audiences to read between half-lines, to hear what was not said. By decluttering and stripping away excess, by drawing words through a tight mesh of meter, alliteration, and rhyme, the early northern poet filtered out dross and stitched together a poetics of stark contrasts and forebodings. Poets and lovers of poetry of all periods and places will find much to enjoy here. So will students in Old English and Old Norse courses.
Making an Entrance
1. Rules of the Game
2. Secrets of the Line
3. Accentuating the Negative
Roberta Frank is the Marie Borroff Professor Emerita of English at Yale University. Over the past half century, she has published many essays on the style, form, and history of Old English and Old Norse poetry. Her first sole-authored book was Old Norse Court Poetry.
“Roberta Frank, one of the most skillful (and certainly the wittiest) of interpreters of early medieval poetry, demonstrates here that early English scops and Viking skalds manipulated their verse forms in remarkably similar ways and to remarkably similar effects.” —Christopher Abram, author of Evergreen Ash
“Roberta Frank’s scholarship is exemplary. She is the leading light in the field, and wherever she goes, others willingly follow, persuaded both by the force of her arguments and the weight of her evidence.” — Antonette diPaolo Healey, former editor of The Dictionary of Old English
"This fabulous book of ‘Northern’ poetics developed out of the Robert Conway Lectures in Medieval Studies . . . condenses the work of a lifetime. . . . Distant though it may be, Northern poetry is never read in isolation. Frank’s exuberance is, as always, catching—this is a book I want all my students to read." —The Review of English Studies
"The Etiquette of Early Northern Verse is a dazzling master class in early medieval alliterative style, identifying and showcasing artistic strategies shared by scop and skald. It collects half a century’s worth of insights into features that, though not formally required, were appreciated in both Old Norse dróttkvætt and Old English verse as expressions of poetic art, notably ornamental alliteration, half-rhyme, and paranomasia; understatement and litotes; and subtle ways of referencing individuals and narratives known to the audience." —Anglia
"Frank . . . explores the minute details of Old Norse 'skaldic' verse or dróttkvætt (court meter) and Old English alliterative poetry from the long Viking Age, a period well known for the dynamic historical and political shifts that shaped the nations of Northern Europe and beyond and was remarkable for its literary treasures. . . . [She] provides a blueprint for understanding and resurrecting two important literary traditions." —The New Criterion
"The Etiquette of Early Northern Verse is a wonderful book: erudite, witty, replete with allusions both learned and (occasionally) lewd. Frank treats, quite simply, style in Old English and Old Norse poetry, and the book is a master class in noticing and judging the sonic effects, understatements, and ironies that were the stock-in-trade of the early northern poets." —Choice
"The Etiquette of Early Northern Verse is the rare academic book whose style perfectly matches the excitement its subject raises for the author.... I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to go beyond a mechanical understanding of these complex and aloof poetries, for I think Frank succeeds in resurrecting these extinct strangers for us, bringing them a measure of the life and liveliness that they must have held for generations of Old English and Old Norse speakers. —The Medieval Review