, Volume 94, Issue 3, pp 509-522

First online:

Burh and Beam, Burning Bright: A Study in the Poetic Imagination of the Old English Exodus

  • Denis FerhatovićAffiliated withEnglish Department, Yale University Email author 

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The Old English Exodus, a vigorous poetic retelling of the most exciting parts of the eponymous book, stands out from its immediate context, Junius 11, a manuscript of Biblical verse, and, indeed, from the rest of the Anglo-Saxon literature. One of the distinct features of its poetics is its self-conscious handling of two unexpected evocative objects to explore the larger themes of connection and disruption, tradition and innovation. The first, surprising for a poem taking place in and around the desert and the sea, is the burh, “city, fortification, enclosure,” that emerges, on a horizontal axis, in various permutations throughout the epic voyage of the Israelites, and shows continuity within discontinuity. The second crucial artifact, the shape-shifting pillar separates Moses’ troop from their surroundings while connecting them vertically to the biblical past and the Christian and eschatological future. Through my investigation of these two evocative objects I hope not only to illuminate a new aspect of an Old English poetics, but also to make an early-medievalist contribution to recent discussions of fusions between the human and the artifactual in “thing theory.”


The Old English Exodus Poetics Evocative objects Thing theory