This dissertation investigates the ways that Anglo-Saxon poets used the poetry of prayer to imagine and fashion a world for their early medieval audiences. Utilizing a phenomenological perspective and insights from the discipline of anthropology, the project is intended to develop and add greater weight to the cultural and historical context of our early literary records. I present the divine economy — the comprehensive Christian view of the world in which God intervenes for humanity’s salvation — as the central mythopoetic story that shaped and ordered the Anglo-Saxons’ world. In this light, the prayer poems I read become sites for the individual’s participation in and appropriation of the imaginal order of the divine economy, thus transforming the “story” into a “drama.” For greater contextual depth, each chapter’s analysis is structured around a broader discussion of a fundamental aspect of the early medieval Christian worldview. By weaving together focused analyses of aspects of the Anglo-Saxon Christian world and detailed readings of how a wide variety of Old English poems imagine this world, I provide a more fully articulated picture of how Anglo-Saxon Christians understood themselves, the world around them, and their role within it.
My introductory chapter establishes the historical background and the conceptual framework for reading the poetry of prayer used throughout the entire dissertation. Chapter two elaborates upon the nature of prayer’s performance in Anglo-Saxon England through analysis of the small group of texts known as the Old English “metrical charms.” My third chapter shifts focus to a primary element in any culture’s worldview, the understanding of time. Chapter four complements chapter three by analyzing the Christian Anglo-Saxon understanding of space. Chapter five focuses on the ecclesial community that lives together in this early medieval Christian world, complementing my attention to the individual subject in chapter two. With this turn toward community within and beyond time, I bring together the various imaginal elements used to fashion the divine economy in Old English prayer poetry and assess how they work together to reveal a coherent vision of the Anglo-Saxon Christian world.