ANGLO-SAXON CHRISTION POETRY:
· In England two great schools of Christian influence put an end of the frightful war among the various kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons. In 597 A.D. under the leadership of st. Augustine who came from Rome Christianity was introduced in England especially in the south and center of England. The other, under the leadership of Aidan, came from Ireland, which country had been for centuries a center of religion and education for all Western Europe.
· To J.Long- “The coming of Christianity meant not simply a new life and leader for England; it meant also the wealth of a new language. The scop is now replaced by the literary monk; and that monk; and though he lives among common people and speaks with the English, has behind him all the culture and literary resources of the Latin language. The effect is seen instantly in our early prose and poetry”.
· Anglo-Saxon Christian poetry is mainly the works of two Christian poets who were monks- Caedmon (c.675) and Cynewulf (c.800).
About Caedmon’s life what have come to us is from Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History’.
From Bede we come to know that he was a herd man of Hilda Monastery at Whitby. One day when a feast was going on inside the monastery Caedmon left the place and fell asleep among the cattle. In his sleep he had the vision of a strange figure who asked him to sing. Caedmon asked- “What shall I sing?” and the strange figure said- “Sing the beginning of created things”. As Caedmon was an illiterate man it is said the Bible was read to him.
* Caedmon in remembered for his Paraphrases of the Holy Bible. These were written by Caedmon c.670 A.D.
* We have got four poems namely ‘Genesis’, ‘Exodus’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Judith’ which are thought to be written by him and ‘Christ and Satan’ under this little the three other poems are attributed to him.
* It is a poem of nearly 3000 lines.
* The poem is supposed to have two parts known as ‘Genesis-A’ and ‘Genesis-B’. The poem opens with the praise of God and hence after relating the story of Satan’s revolt and the fall of angels, creation of Adam and Eve, Satan’s vow to take revenge on God by tempting His creation as told in the Bible.
* There is more than 600 lines (lines 235-851) which are different in style and language from ‘Genesis-B’ treats the theme of the temptation of Adam and Eve, fall of Adam and Eve etc. which are already in ‘Genesis-A’.
It is a poem of some 600 lines.
It relates the story as is recorded in the book of Exodus.
It tells the story of escape of the Hebrews under the leadership of Moses from the Pharaoh’s rule in Egypt. Moses by his magic stick made a path through the Red Sea and when the Egyptian army followed them they were destroyed. The poem is remarkable for its rapidity of narrative and vigour of style.
This simple incomplete poem deals with the first five chapters of the book of Daniel. Daniel was a Hebrew prophet of the 6th century B.C. He spent his live as a captive at the court of Babylon. In the Bible it is said that he interpreted the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and for this he was saved by God from the lion’s den. The poem is didactic in tone.
It is a fragmentary poem of some 350 lines. The subject is formed in a saga fashion. Holofernes in represented as a savage and cruel Viking. The heroic Judith cuts off his head by his own sword and throws it before her people and thus the victory comes to the Jews.
Christ and Satan:
Under this title we have three minor poems.
They are- ‘The Fall of Angels’. It deals with the fall of the rebel angels. The next one is ‘The Harrowing of Hell’. It gives the account of Christ’s resurrection and his coming to the judgment. The third one is ‘The Temptation’ which treats Christ’s temptation and his triumph from it.
Nothing definite is known regarding the life of Cynewulf. It is supposed that he was a Northumbrian or a Mercian.
* Three are four poems which bear the runic signature of Cynewulf. They are- The Christ, Juliana, The Fates of the Apostles and Elene.
The poems which, are attributed to Cynewulf are- Andreas, The Phoenix, The Dream of the Rood, Guthlac and the Riddles.
v The Christ:
* It is a poem of 1700 lines.
* This didactic poem is divided into three parts-
A) Nativity (dialogue between Mary and Joseph and glorious address to God)
B) Ascension (before the ascension Christ bids farewell to His followers)
C) The Day of Judgment (Christ appears as the Judge)
Cynewulf takes his subject largely from the homilies of Gregory the great. Though the first eight pages are missing the total poem is well-woven.
* It is perhaps the first signed poem of Cynewulf.
* The poem is based upon a Latin prose work.
* It narrates the life and martyrdom of St.Juliana who was a Christian maiden of Nicomedia and is tempted unsuccessfully by the demon Belial.
· The Fates of the Apostles:
* It is a poem of 122 lines.
* It is on the lives of twelve apostles who after having adventures are dispersed to spread the Gospel.
* It is a poem of 1321 lines.
* It records the story of Helena and her son Constantine.
· Constantine before his victory against the Huns at the Malvian Bridge saw the vision of the Rood. He then sent his mother Helena (Elene) to Jerusalem in search of the original Cross and the nails and finally she discovered the true Cross.
* It records the story of St. Andrews. He crosses the sea to rescue his friend St. Matthew from the Ethiopians. A young ship master who sails the boat eventually turns out as Christ Himself. St.Matthew is set free and the Ethiopians are converted by a miracle.
* It is a spirited poem full of rush and incident.
* To M.B.Smith -“St.Andrews, though professedly a Christian saint, is in reality a Viking.
· The Phoenix:
* The poem is about the mythological bird Phoenix which after each thousand year burns itself to be reborn.
* The poem is allegorical as well as highly symbolic. The bird is the symbol of Christ and Christian faith.
· The Dream of the Rood:
* It is the earliest dream poem in English Literature.
* It is a poem of 156 lines divided into three parts-
A) The opening words of the dreamer (1 to 27 lines)
B) The words spoken by the Rood (28 to 121 lines)
C) The words of the dreamer after the dream is over (122 to 156 lines)
* It describes the poet’s dream of the Cross decked with golden jewels. As the poet watches, the Cross begins to stream with blood. Then the Cross in a divine voice gives the poet its whole history from the time it was hewn down, Christ’s Fructification on it, His descent from the Cross and His Resurrection. Finally the dreamer wakes up and explains how this has changed his life.
* It is also a specimen of earliest symbolic poetry. Here the Rood stands as the symbol of man’s sin and salvation.
* It is a poem of 1370 lines.
* The poem is divided into parts-Guthlac-A and Guthlac-B.
* It is based upon the Latin ‘Vita’ by Felix.
* It describes how Guthlac is tempted and tormented by the foul fiends and the serene death of the saint.
There is a collection of 95 riddles found in the Exeter Book. It is supposed that they were composed having been inspired by Latin riddles of Symphonies.
They deal with a number of subjects as animals, natural phenomena, customs, and weapons and so on.
* These riddles appeal not much to intellect but to imagination.