The Old English poem known as The Fortunes of Men offers a catalogue of potential fates, both good and bad, that can befall a person in the early medieval world, from being eaten by a wolf to thriving as a poet. Straining against the limits of human knowledge about the future, the poem contains its existential anxiety within the strict metrical forms of the alliterative long line. Its structure balances assorted visions of death with images of joy, but traditional Old English formulas afford very specific ideas of joy that describe an idealized heroic male world. By reading social context as a variety of form, this article articulates a reciprocal relationship between aesthetics and the social world that reveals the limitations of The Fortunes of Men's attempts at consolation. It attends to the questions of what and who is excluded by the social forms of Old English verse.

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