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Boc seggth thatt nohht ne magg the mann
Bi braed all ane libbenn,
Off Godess muthess lare.
Among the religious poems of this period, we should not forget a volume of the Lives of the Saints, translated from the French about the year 1200. It relates chiefly to those saints who are more directly connected with the religious traditions of England, -as Saint Swithin, Saint Cuthbert, Saint Wolstan, Saint Thomas à Becket, and others. The following description of Saint Christopher is a fair specimen of both the thought and the language employed in this series of poems:
Seynt Cristofer was a Sarazin in the londe
non so strong a man ;
and thikk and brod inouh,
methinketh hit weare wouh:
for him wolde fleo,
ageinst him sculde beo.
but with on that were
non othir were.
Another religious work of this period is the Handlynge of Synne, written by the same Robert Manning of Brunne, whose rhyming chronicle we have already noticed. It is a free translation or, rather, paraphrase of the French Manuel des Péchés of one William of Waddington. Its purpose was to give religious instruction through the medium of attractive stories relating to the seven deadly
sins, the seven sacraments, the ten commandments, and the twelve graces of shrift. We learn from the prologue that it was written about the year 1303, and that it was designed to be sung to the harp at public entertainments. “The whole is a curious admixture of paraphrases of Scripture, stories of dreams, omens, witchcraft, warnings against drunkenness and sabbath-breaking, lying and slandering, and all the other shortcomings to which mankind has been and perhaps ever will be prone.” The following couplets selected from this work will never lose their wisdom or truth:
“ Tavern is the devil's knife,
It slays thee-either soul or life.”
“ Love not thy children out of wit;
Trust to them, and helpless sit!”
“Dances, carols, summer games,
One of the latest works of this period, and one wherein the close of this era of transition is clearly foreshadowed, is the Pricke of Conscience, written by Richard Rolle de Hampole, better known as Hampole, from the priory where he lived, and where he died in 1349. The poem is a long one, and is divided into seven parts: I. Of man's nature; II. Of the world; III. Of death; IV. Of purgatory; V. Of the day of judgment; VI. Of the torments of hell; VII. Of the joys of heaven. Like so many other poems of this time, it is doubtless a translation, not from the French, however, but from the Latin. Its original was a prose dissertation, Stimulus Conscientiæ, supposed to have been written also by Hampole. The author says:
Therefore this boke is in Englis drawe
That con no latyn understande,
The following is a specimen of Hampole's style:
He that knoweth well and con se
Then may he knowe god almighty. Four centuries later we shall find Alexander Pope giving expression in more studied metres to the same thought.*
As belonging also to the Transition Period, we shall here notice a celebrated allegorical poem called the Vision of Piers Plowman, written by Robert or William Langland about the year 1362. It marks the last attempt towards restoring the alliterative versification and the stilted, constrained style of the Anglo-Saxon poets. The poem is divided into twenty parts, and describes a series of nine distinct dreams or visions which the author is supposed to have seen while sleeping after a long ramble on Malvernehills, in Worcestershire:
In a somer seson
When soft was the sonne,
As I a shepe were,
*“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan, The proper study of mankind is Man."
Essay on Man, II., 1, 2.
In habit as an heremite,
Unholy of werkes,
Wonders to here.
On Maluerne hulles
Of fairy methought;
And went me to reste
By a bornes side,
And loked in the wateres
It swey ved so merye.”
In Langland's time, as often before and since, there was much wrong-doing in the world, and his poem was intended as a satire on the vices of every profession, but particularly on the corruption of the clergy. The satire is disguised under the form of an allegory in which are personified the virtues and the prevalent vices of the time. In his first dream, Langland sees a fair field full of folk, and among them is the maid Meed, or worldly reward, who is about to be married to Falsehood. Theology forbids the marriage, and the question is submitted to the king, who proposes an alliance between Meed and Conscience. Con
Crist it me forbede !
Afterwards, however, he agrees to submit the matter to the decision of Reason, and the king finally anounces that he will henceforth govern his kingdom according to Reason's dictates.
At this point the author “waked of his wynking,” and would have continued his rambling; but still feeling fatigued, he
sat softly a-down
This time he dreams that Reason is preaching to the "feld ful of folk," telling them that the pestilence and the southwest wind, on Saturday evening,* were sent to warn them of their vanity and sin. The multitude of sinners, urged on by Repentance and Hope, now set out together on a pilgrimage to find Truth. A pilgrim whom they meet and of whom they inquire the way, is thus described :
Tyrwhitt is of the opinion that the poet here refers to the memorable storm of wind which passed over England on January 15, 1362, which day was Saturday. It is from this passage, and two others referring nearly to the same date, that the time of the writing of the poem has been determined.