05 June 2012

Poetry Praising Objects

The Beowulf poet cannot seem to mention the tools of a warrior's trade without giving them a physical description, sometimes its history, and usually its fine protective or offensive qualities. He sometimes does this for swords and helmets but always, it seems, for shirts of mail. For example, Beowulf tells Hrothgar,
“But if I sink in death, send Hygelac      452
“the wonderful armour worn over my breast,
“the best of hauberks that Hrethel left me,
“Wayland's handwork."
“An aid against foes, my armoured shirt 550
“strong and hand-linked, helped me withstand,
“safeguarding my breast, my braided sark
“adorned with gold."
The modern reader might wonder why so much attention goes to an item of protective clothing, but the listeners apparently never tired of hearing such details. Perhaps we can understand them by describing other items that are of narrow but deep interest to particular groups. For example, passages like this would interest one segment of society:
His vehicle waited,   a V-8 turbo
with twin overhead cams   that came from his father
an avid collector.   The Camaro was painted
in metallic red.   A racing stripe
adorned its length   and leather seats,
factory-fresh,   in front and back.
An over six-thousand   cc engine
carefully tuned   by qualified techs
zoomed in three seconds    from zero to sixty.
If you are aware that Camaros did not have 6000 cc V-8 engines, you are a perfect audience for this type of description. Other people would pay attention to
A chinois Chanel   shaped to perfection...
A Mac computer   from Cupertino...

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