In Signs That Sing, Heather Maring argues that oral tradition, ritual, and literate Latinbased practices are dynamically interconnected in Old English poetry. Resisting the tendency to study these different forms of expression separately, Maring contends that poets combined them in hybrid techniques that were important to the development of early English literature.
Maring examines a variety of texts, including Beowulf, The Battle of Maldon, Deor, The Dream of the Rood, Genesis A/B, The Advent Lyrics, and select riddles. She shows how themes and typescenes from oral tradition―devouring-the-dead, the lord-retainer, the poet-patron, and the sea voyage―become metaphors for sacred concepts in the hands of Christian authors. She also cites similarities between oral-traditional and ritual signs to describe how poets systematically employed ritual signs in written poems to dramatic effect. The result, Maring demonstrates, is richly elaborate verse filled with shared symbols and themes that would have been highly meaningful and widely understood by audiences at the time.