Title

Poetic Portals to the Divine: The Role of “Dream of the Rood,” “Caedmon’s Hymn,” and the Songs of al-Shushtari in Medieval Mysticism

Subject Area

Comparative Literature

Abstract

At roughly the same time, albeit in vastly different locales, a tradition of religious mysticism arose in both medieval Christianity and Islam. Because of the emphasis on literacy among Christian and Islamic religious orders, prophetic modes previously oral in nature gave rise to a shared literary impulse that can be traced through poems such as the anonymous Old English "Dream of the Rood" or “Caedmon’s Hymn” and the Arabic poetry of al-Shushtari. This paper will explore the ways in which these two major medieval mystic traditions separately but simultaneously used poetry to unite the world of the divine and the world of the tangible.

Because Christianity and Islam share Abrahamic roots as religions of people of the book, dialoguing the “Dream of the Rood” and al-Shushtari together reveals the importance of poetic rhetoric for both developing theologies in a way that analyzing each text in isolation does not. For these two religions grounded in written scripture, the written word took on a supernatural power, which extended to non-scriptural works such as poetry. As wielders of the power of written language, al-Shushtari and his European counterparts transform the metaphysical into the physical by creating documents to be touched with words to be pronounced and sung. By rendering transcendent experiences into bodily experiences, the medieval mystic poets of Islam and Christianity contributed to the theological development of both of these religions by focusing on the individual’s subjective experience of God in ways that push back against the medieval emphasis on strict orthodoxy.

Brief Bio Note

Audrey Ward is a senior English major from Samford University with a World Languages minor in Spanish and Arabic. She hopes to pursue a PhD in Comparative Literature, examining Medieval poetics in English and Arabic. In the course of her undergraduate studies she has presented a critical analysis of Siegfried Sassoon’s “The Rear-Guard” at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention, and has published several poems in Wide Angle, Samford’s literary journal.

Keywords

Mysticism, Poetics, Medieval literature, Islam, Christianity

Location

Room 210

Presentation Year

2015

Start Date

3-26-2015 10:30 AM

End Date

3-26-2015 11:45 AM

Embargo

5-23-2017

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Mar 26th, 10:30 AM Mar 26th, 11:45 AM

Poetic Portals to the Divine: The Role of “Dream of the Rood,” “Caedmon’s Hymn,” and the Songs of al-Shushtari in Medieval Mysticism

Room 210

At roughly the same time, albeit in vastly different locales, a tradition of religious mysticism arose in both medieval Christianity and Islam. Because of the emphasis on literacy among Christian and Islamic religious orders, prophetic modes previously oral in nature gave rise to a shared literary impulse that can be traced through poems such as the anonymous Old English "Dream of the Rood" or “Caedmon’s Hymn” and the Arabic poetry of al-Shushtari. This paper will explore the ways in which these two major medieval mystic traditions separately but simultaneously used poetry to unite the world of the divine and the world of the tangible.

Because Christianity and Islam share Abrahamic roots as religions of people of the book, dialoguing the “Dream of the Rood” and al-Shushtari together reveals the importance of poetic rhetoric for both developing theologies in a way that analyzing each text in isolation does not. For these two religions grounded in written scripture, the written word took on a supernatural power, which extended to non-scriptural works such as poetry. As wielders of the power of written language, al-Shushtari and his European counterparts transform the metaphysical into the physical by creating documents to be touched with words to be pronounced and sung. By rendering transcendent experiences into bodily experiences, the medieval mystic poets of Islam and Christianity contributed to the theological development of both of these religions by focusing on the individual’s subjective experience of God in ways that push back against the medieval emphasis on strict orthodoxy.