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Arts of DyingLiterature and Finitude in Medieval England$
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D. Vance Smith

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226640853

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226641041.001.0001

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Unearthly Earth: Mortuary Lyric

Unearthly Earth: Mortuary Lyric

Chapter:
(p.65) Chapter Four Unearthly Earth: Mortuary Lyric
Source:
Arts of Dying
Author(s):

D. Vance Smith

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226641041.003.0005

A four-line poem in Harley 2253 pushes the single word "earth" to the limits of sense: it means so much that it also means almost nothing. It plays out the problem of reference in death: there is no term adequate to designate it, and yet a single term is the mimetic action of termination, the discourse of finitude. The poem is the vernacular equivalent of the attempt to designate reference in fourteenth-century supposition theory, and its deceptive simplicity is the outward face of cryptic depth.

Keywords:   Harley 2253 lyrics, supposition theory, earth, finitude

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