What shall we make of medieval English lyrics? They have no fixed line or meter, no consistent point of view, and their content may seem misaligned with the other texts in manuscripts in which they are found. Yet in Lyric Tactics, Ingrid Nelson argues that the lyric poetry of later medieval England is a distinct genre defined not by its poetic features—rhyme, meter, and stanza forms—but by its modes of writing and performance, which are ad hoc, improvisatory, and situational. Nelson looks at anonymous devotional and love poems that circulated in manuscripts of practical, religious, and literary material or were embedded in popular, courtly, and liturgical works. For her, the poems' abilities to participate in multiple modes of transmission are "lyric tactics," responsive and contingent modes of practice that emerge in opposition to institutional or poetic norms.
Working across the three languages of medieval England (English, French, and Latin), Nelson examines the tactics of poetic voice in the trilingual texts of British Library MS Harley 2253, which contains the well-known English "Harley lyrics." In a study of the English hymns and French lyrics of the commonplace book of William Herebert, she unearths the moral implications of lyric tactics for the friars who produced and disseminated them. And last, she examines the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and shows how his introduction of Continental poetic forms such as the balade and the rondeau suggests continuity with rather than a break from earlier English lyric. Combining literary analysis, manuscript studies, and cultural history with modern social theory, Ingrid Nelson demonstrates that medieval lyric poetry formed a crucial part of the fabric of later medieval English society.
""Lyric Tactics offers a deeply observed, learned, and resonant account of Middle English lyrics that … will no doubt be a touchstone of further research on the subject for years to come.""—Modern Philology
""Ingrid Nelson deftly sketches the place of the medieval English lyric in literary history and theory. … [A] cogent and enlightening book.""—Renaissance Quarterly
""[A] thoughtful treatment . . . [t]he English medieval lyric has received relatively little critical attention in recent decades, and this book is a welcome addition to the existing bibliography, bringing as it does a variety of recent critical perspectives to bear on a particularly elusive body of material.""—Modern Language Review
""Ingrid Nelson's Lyric Tactics is a vital and brilliant contribution to the new lyric studies. While hardly leaving behind formalist concerns, Nelson demonstrates the embeddedness of lyric form within specific cultural and institutional practices in original and eye-opening ways. The book breathes new life into Middle English lyric and sets the standard for future work in this still understudied genre.""—Bruce Holsinger, University of Virginia
""The medieval lyric remains an uncodified form, an open topic demanding fresh perspectives and new tools of analysis. Ingrid Nelson accepts this challenge, shifting consideration from lyric form to lyric practice and, in the process, opening multiple new avenues of consideration. Noting that these poems are variously read and heard and spoken and sung, she offers new ways of thinking about vocality and voice. She shows herself a highly creative scavenger among fragments, partial and accidental survivals, self-thematized and unprofessional performances-crafting exemplary case studies that throw new light on medieval lyrical practice.""—Paul Strohm, Columbia University
""A sophisticated, painstaking, and original book. The thoughtfulness of its readings, and the sheer intellectual zest of Lyric Tactics make a significant impact on what we have come to call 'the new medieval lyric studies.'""—Ardis Butterfield, Yale University