Title Background

The Poetics of Waste: Medieval English Ecocriticism

The Poetics of Waste: Medieval English Ecocriticism

Waste has been a recognizable socioeconomic problem since at least the late Middle Ages. In England, because of land and labor shortages, wars, famines, and especially changes in legal and penitential discourses, waste became, by the mid-fourteenth century, a critical concept. But a fully fleshed-out vocabulary for thinking through the meaning and consequences of the practice of committing waste does not yet exist. This essay argues that two fourteenth-century poems, Wynnere and Wastoure and PPl, address the lack of such a thinking through, tackling the problem of waste in all its vicissitudes. They deploy the formal resources of poetic language – from personification to episodic structure – to draw together the various ideas of waste from other discourses and to raise medieval readers’ consciousnesses about the seriousness of waste’s consequences. The essay calls their use of formal resources in creating this critical discourse a ‘poetics of waste.’ (EJ; from the journal’s abstract)


PMLA, 127 (2012), 460-76.


Johnson, Eleanor