Thursday, January 23, 2014


I have addressed the use of kennings before, at least as the device exists in the world (and as it occurs to me to look over once again in preparation for discussing with my students works which include them as a matter of course).  They are in many cases metonym or synecdoche, references to things by association or by component part, and I note that I use some variant upon them to describe the places I have been and those in which I live and have lived.  The City of Thunder, Bedfordside Garden, Sherwood Cottage, and their like occur to me as being such references, even if their meanings are perhaps obscured by the specificity of their fields of reference.  (But only perhaps.  I have few secrets.)

They are forms of encryption, such devices, methods of reducing certainty and clarity and therefore methods used to hide--although in such a way as asks to be found, as with the embedding of Cynewulf's name in runes in his verse (you can guess what I have been teaching, yes?).  If I call the place where I grew up Nimitz's schooltown, it will not take much to figure out what and where I mean.  Similarly if I say I studied at Gaines's school, or the Chaucerian Allen's.  And with that ease comes the suggestion that the task is to be done, the puzzle solved; it is not much of a cover that so readily falls to the floor.

And in such a case, why would it be used to hide?  (As might be guessed, this line of thought proceeds from what happened in my classroom.  Say what it is that I have been teaching.)  If the mask accents but does not obfuscate, to what end is it as a device for hiding?  For when I put the question to my students, they suggested almost to the last and least of them that the slanted embedding of identity amid anonymity surrounded by riddles and elegies and the talk of the best of trees was meant to hide the writer in the work.  I know that my place on the ground floor of the ivory tower limits my view sharply; there are walls about the grounds over which I cannot see, and my students still stand at the gates, having not yet fully entered, so that they can yet see the streets surrounding.  There may well be a thing in the text of which I am unaware but that their circumstances make obvious to them; if there is, it is knowledge I wish to possess.

I wish to possess all knowledge, actually.

Perhaps, however, there is a cultural current among my students that suggests to them that the only reason to hide a thing, however badly it may be hidden, is to actually conceal it from the casual viewer.  And if there is such a thing as that, I sorrow, for it is a means by which to isolate people from the wondrous intricacies in the depths of things.  The solid stone beneath us is by no means simple; its structure is complex and glorious if we but look closely enough at it.

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