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Farewell, happy fields,
Paradise Lost, I., 242-253.
Other parallel passages might be cited showing that, over a space of a thousand years, England's two great poets are brought together by similarity of thought, of expression, and of character. But we pass to the other religious poets and poems of the Anglo-Saxon period.
Aldhelm, who was a young man when. Cædmon died, was Abbot of Malmesbury, and not only a religious poet, but a skillful musician as well. It is said, on the authority of King Alfred, that no one could excel or even equal him as a writer of religious hymns and of warlike odes. And a pleasant story is told us, that when the traders came into his town on Sunday, he stood on the bridge, and, by his singing, attracted the passers-by, and thus induced many to leave their trade until the morrow. His songs were very popular even down to the time of King Alfred; but we do not know that any of them have been preserved to us. We have only his Latin verses, De Laude Virginum, and a prose work, De Virginitate.
Written along the margin of an old manuscript of homilies, now in the Bodleian Library, was found the fragment of a funeral-song, belonging possibly to the early pagan days. In it Death speaks to Man. Nothing could well be gloomier in tone and more sternly solemn:
For thee was a house built
How long it shall be,
And hateful to look upon.
bishop of Exeter in the twelfth century and by him presented to the cathedral in that place. The l'ercelli Book, containing metrical legends of the saints and addresses to the soul, was discovered in 1823 in the monastery of Vercelli, in Italy, where it had doubtless lain unknown for a thousand years.
In both these books are poems written by one Cynewulf, supposed to have been a bishop of Lindisfarne, who died in A.D. 780. Throughout these poems there is a kindliness of tone and a buoyancy of spirit not often met with in the poetry of that period. Nature is viewed in her more gentle aspects, and, where man is spoken of, there are touches of tenderness and fellow-feeling which do much to reconcile us with the prevailing rudeness of the time:
Dear is the welcome guest to the Frisian wife when the vessel strands; his ship is come and her husband to his house, her own provider. And she welcomes him in, washes his weedy garment, and clothes him anew. It is pleasant on shore to him whom his love awaits.
In the Exeter Book is also a very old poem, called the Traveler's Song, wherein the author enumerates the countries he has visited and speaks of the people he has seen. There are, too, several allegorical poems in which certain facts and crude notions relating to natural objects are made to do duty in the teaching of religious and moral truths. The allegory of the Phoenix portrays the life of the earnest Christian. The story of the Whale cautions its readers against hypocrisy and the deception of outside appear
He calleth the little fishes around him by the sweet odor of his mouth; then suddenly around the prey the grim gums crash together. So it is to every man who often and negligently in this stormy world lets himself be deceived by sweet odor. Hell's barred doors have not return or escape, or any outlet for those who enter, any more than the fishes sporting in the ocean can turn back from the whale's grip.
Besides the poems already named, the Exeter Book contains the legend of Juliana and a series of short poems on the life of Christ by Cynewulf, an Address of the Soul to the Body, and a poem on The Various Fortunes of Vfen. The Vercelli Book contains the legend of St. Elene, or the finding of the True Cross by the mother of Constantine, the legend of St. Andrew, Addresses of the Soul w the Body, and a poem on The Fates of The Apostles.
Anglo-Saxon verse differs very largely from the verse of English poetry. There is no rhyme, neither are the syllables counted. Its chief characteristic is alliteration. The lines are written in pairs, and the three chief words in a pair usually begin with the same letter; two of these words are placed in the first line and the other in the second. The initial letter of the latter is called the cardinal letter, and the word the cardinal word. When the cardinal word begins with a consonant or with a double consonant, as sp, st, bl, etc., the two chief words in the preceding line must begin in the same way. If, however, the cardinal word begins with a vowel, the rule is reversed; the other words must also begin with vowels; but these vowels must not be the same.
"The alliterative letters, whether vowels or consonants, .must always be found in those words which have the stress or tone on the syllable that begins with them; but a word may commence with a toneless derivative syllable without disturbing the alliteration. It is, moreover, a rule that, in the two connected lines, there must not be more than three words beginning in this manner. The cardinal letter does not necessarily stand first in the second line, but is often preceded by one or more short words, yet not by such as require the tone or emphasis in reading."*
The application of the above rules may be seen in the translation of the first song of Cadmon as rendered on page 19. The following example, taken from Cædmon's Genesis, will also illustrate the same rules:
* Rask's Anglo-Saxon Grammar.
Satan mathelode; sorgiende spraec
The following is a very literal translation:
Satan spoke; sorrowing spoke
Knight's History of England. Vol. I.
For a more complete study of the literature of this period, the student is referred to
Cony beare's Illustrations of Anglo-Saron Poetry.