Greenery: Ecocritical Readings of Late Medieval English Literature
An indication of the kind of reading this book offers can be found in the introduction, ‘Green reading’, where the word pounnage is considered. As in Chaucer’s lyric ‘The Former Age’, which is at the centre of this discussion, pounnage (pigfodder) in PPl not only indicates the straits of famine but is ‘additionally interesting from a green point of view as it fleetingly places humans and animals on the same level’ (p. 15). Such movement from tightly focused close reading to wider implication is typical of the approach taken throughout the book, which blends close attention to text with the close attention to the natural world that ecocriticism demands. Following the introduction, which offers an explanation of what Rudd means by ‘green reading’, the book is divided into five thematic chapters: Earth; Trees; Wilds and Wildernesses; Seas and Coast; Gardens and Fields. PPl is treated in the final one, a chapter it shares with Pearl.
This fuller discussion of PPl concentrates on the need for wonder as a way of valuing the natural world, and suggests that such wonder is key to a green reading of the poem as a whole. Much of the analysis focuses on B.11 and the notion of the world as a mirror and a book, intended to reveal truths to humankind. The use of the world as a source for metaphors which act as tools to understand divine matters ‘tussles with’ our actual, literal, experience of the material world, which is also present in the poem. In the discussion of the mirror trope we are reminded that if we look in a mirror we tend to see ourselves, something that is both benefit and problem, as it then becomes very difficult to drop the habit of seeing ourselves, that is humankind in general, as at the centre of the world. Thus initially, both Will and the reader see only human nature as explicated by the natural world. This in turn reveals Middlerthe as a place of human making. There is some consideration of Alain de Lille’s Anticlaudianus and reference to Reason, which is here, as in Rudd’s previous work, Managing Language in’PPl‘, regarded to be limited, but necessary. Kynde gets more sympathetic treatment as the focus moves to the metaphor of the world as a book. Here Hugh of St Victor is referenced and the ‘ensaumples’ found in the world as Kynde displays it ensure that the world is an ‘effective as well as affective tool for thought and religious investigation’ (p. 193).
At this point we are reminded of the precise geography depicted by the poem and some consideration is given to the role of the actual physical landscape. The panorama of B.11.326–72 (ed. Schmidt) is described as ‘a delicate mixture of straightforward observation and informed reflection’ (p. 194). But this is not an easy or comforting reading of the poem. Will’s outburst is prompted by his awareness of humans not acting properly in this world and this strikes a chord with current environmentalist concerns with the human misuse of natural resources. Humans may find it distasteful to be just one component among so many others in the world, but, as PPl shows, we need to recognize that this is the case. Aware of the rather gloomy tone of her reading thus far, Rudd pauses to note happier elements, such as the use of ‘ferly’, the more integrated and optimistic human/nature relations to bee found within single lines, often working at the level of metaphor. The final section deals with farming from the half acre to the Barn of Unity, which is abandoned in what is perhaps an attempt to shed our anthropocentric compulsion as Grace and the Dreamer go seeking ‘wondres’ in this world. This reading of the poem thus ends as it began by emphasizing the need to give a high level of attention to the natural world, that is both inspired by and leads to wonder. (GR)