Saturday, April 16, 2011

Scaldic Poetry

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Skaldic poetry, which was born and flourished in the pre-written period, is ideal material for analysing early stages in the development of verbal art. Studies of skaldic poetry do not usually take into account its historical specificity, but assume it to be a type of creative activity which is not in principle different from the art of a modern poet. Following M.I. Steblin-Kamensky, the authors view skaldic poetry as having emerged with the genesis of authored, personal poetry, i.e., as a natural stage in the evolution of literature. The development of authorship occurs as a result of the concentration of poetic effort on the form. The particular kind of formal perfection characteristic of skaldic poetry is thus an integral and crucial part of its meaning.

Personal authorship did not, however, emerge in reaction against traditionalism. Although the skalds effected a revolution in poetry, this happened essentially within a traditional style. Herein lies the deepest paradox of the unique literary phenomenon analysed in the book in skaldic poetry, the observation, characteristic of archaic impersonal art, of an extremely strict canon regulating every minutest detail of composition lies side by side with a consciousness of individual authorship and a consequent striving for innovation. These innovations were not intended to reveal the individuality of the author, as in art of more recent times, but were rather conceived of as new ways of applying the canons while nonetheless minutely following them. So skaldic form is characterised by a continuous process of variation the creativity of a skald lies in achieving variation within the limits of established traditional norms. Such fusion of traditionalism and individual authorship makes skaldic poetry a paradigm of creative activity, transitional in its very nature.

Such were the initial premises underlying this comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon of skaldic poetry. The aim was to unite a synchronic description of skaldic poetry with a diachronic analysis, in other words to write a history of skaldic poetry representing, as far as possible, everything that is known to us about the changes in its contents, stylistics and genres as stages of single evolutionary process.

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