I’m off to the University of Sussex tomorrow to take part in a workshop on Middle English Literary Theory: Keywords and Methodologies, organised by Katie Walter and James Wade. I’m giving a short talk on two words of Middle English literary theory, poesie and poetrie. This talk builds on an earlier blog post on the same subject.
poesie and poetrie, both nouns
Glending Olson, in his 1979 essay ‘Making and Poetry in the Age of Chaucer’, showed that poetry in the later Middle Ages predominantly meant writing about ‘classical lore’ (p. 278), often writing metaphorically and allegorically, an activity with moral and philosophical purpose. This definition of poetrie is confirmed in Sarah Kay and Adrian Armstrong’s 2011 discussion of verse and poetrie in Knowing Poetry: Verse in Medieval France from the ‘Rose’ to the ‘Rhétoriqueurs’ (pp. 9–13). Kay and Amstrong define poetry as ‘a style of writing that relies on figural complexity, and is potentially expressive of philosophical meaning […] The features that typify poetrie are the use of classical myths, sustained personification, or forms of extended metaphor: devices constitutive of what we might call allegory’ (p. 9). Poetry doesn’t thus refer to verse form (Christine de Pisan can write poetry in prose, for example) but to a particular type of content and mode. Continue reading