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Home » » Anglo-Saxon Period: Its Growth and Types Of Poetry , Stages , Prose
As stated already, in the English language (as in all other known languages), poetry made its appearance before prose. English literature had its beginning in the distant past in unwritten poetry. The emergence of poetry, as a literary vehicle, actually took place long before the science of writing was at all known. 

Anglo-Saxon Secular Poetry :

The earliest specimen of Anglo-Saxon poetry known is Widsith or The Far Wanderer or Traveller. There is nothing remarkable in its theme, which describes a minstrel's experience of different places visited by him add of the men as well as the manners of those places. The poem ends with the minstrel's glorification of his own craft that has always brought for him a ready welcome, although there is always a wandering search for a general lord to accord patronage and protection to him 'until light and life fall in ruin together'.

Another early poem of a similar type is The complaint of Deor (although there are controversies about the time of its composition). Deor is also a scop, a minstrel, although he is not a wanderer, like Widsith. Once he was the favorite of a load, but his position has been supplanted by a rival poet, well-skilled in songs, who has ousted him from his lord's favor. Deor complains about his unjust dismissal, but he takes to heart the thought of his father's habitual unkindness and calmly resigns himself to his misfortune by recalling old, unhappy, far-off things and seeks comfort in the refrain-"That passed away, so may this."

The most remarkable work in Anglo -Saxon heroic poetry is Beowulf. This poem, of nearly three thousand lines, is looked upon as the oldest surviving epic of the Teutonic people,  although all the traditional epic elements may not be perceived in it. It is chivalrous in its content and appeal and celebrates the greatness of Beowulf, a king, who devoted himself to the worthy cause of protecting the weak against the wicked. Beowulf's epic poem finally laid down his life at the altar for the welfare of his country and countrymen. The whole poem is animated with a spirited idea of life.  Beowulf is not merely a brave king.  He is a sterling character of high moral. There is much that is Christian in the pagan aspects of this epic. Lastly,  the poem has a social value,  for its account of the primitive society and of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled.  The heroic ideal of the primitive world is sufficiently emphasized and brought out in the poem. moreover,  the poem is to remembered for its graphic pictures - for its pictorial account of storms, seas, and battles, Natural scenes are here all vivid and testify to the characteristic  Anglo-Saxon love for nature.
Nibulengenlied is another piece of heroic poetry.  The poem is poor in conception and structure, it breathes the savage morality of the heroic people of the primitive world. This is probably of purely Germanic origin, and not generally considered as an English poem. The Battle of Finnsburh is also an instance of heroic poetry.  It is a fragmentary work of some 50 lines. This is more or less a continuous story of a bitter feud between the Danes and the Frisians.  Another Fragmentary heroic poem is Waldhere which is originally a German work of the seventh century. There are left only two fragments of 32 and 31 lines of the poem. The authenticity of the text is equally doubtful here as elsewhere.
Besides these heroic poems, there are several elegiac poems in Anglo-Saxon literature. Of these, mention must be made of The Ruined Burg, The Wanderer, The Seafarer,  The Wife's  Complaint, and The Husband's or Lover's Message.  All these elegiac poems are essentially reflective in spirit and pensive in tone.  Moreover, they breathe an intensely personal note, and this differentiates them from heroic poems, like Beowulf. These subjective works may be claimed as the forerunners of the great English lyrics. The Wife's Complaint and The Husband's Message are the specimens of the earliest English love poetry.  In this connection,  another early poem Wulf and Eadwacer, rather obscure in nature and meaning, may well be referred to.

In Anglo -Saxon poetry,  there are some Riffles, Which are mainly concerned with animals,  particularly domestic animals, celestial bodies, natural phenomena, and so on.  They are generally attributed to Cynewulf, although there is every dispute in the matter.  The Riddles are occasionally rough, vulgar, and obscure. But, in some cases, they are found to possess a truly lyrical impulse.  In some of them is found the first breath of nature poetry.

Anglo-Saxon Christian Poetry

The conversion of the Anglo-Saxon people to Christianity by the Celtic Missionaries in 597A.D. and Augustine and his monks in 588 A.D. had a great bearing not only on their lifestyle and religious faith but also on their literary and linguistic growth and expansion. The Non-Christian and Pre-Christian poetry of the time received some Christian touches during their rehandling by the Christian clerks who mostly recorded the same in writing permanently for the first time. Besides those existing non -Christian and Pre-Christian poetical works,  a bulk of new poetry came to be produced under the Christian inspiration.

That was the beginning of Christian poetry in English literature. of the Anglo-Saxon Christian poets two names are, however, found to carry almost the entire weight of glory. They are deemed to be the sole makers and authors of Anglo-Saxon Christian poetry. These two names are Caedmon and Cynewulf. They are considered by critical opinions as both greatly alike and unlike.

Caedmon is taken as the first Christian English poet, the pioneer Christian poet in English. Of course, very is definitely known about his life and activities.  It is supposed that he was a mere worker in a monastery of Whitby.  A simple,  unlettered man, as he was, according to some fine tale, he had a strange revelation on one religious occasion. He had a vision,  in which he was commanded by some angelic figure to sing of God and His great creation.  Even the beginning of that song of creation was supposed to have been dictated to him by that angelic figure.

Caedmon's contribution to English Christian poetry, as generally stated,  is quite substantial. It is believed that he paraphrased in verse the Books of Genesis, Exodus,  Daniel, and Judith of the Holy Bible. Moreover,  three Christian poems, The Fall of Angels,  The Harrowing of Hell, and The Temptation, are also attributed to him. Of course,  as already suggested,  doubts are well entertained as to his authorship of all those works.

All the old religious poems, not assigned to Caedmon,  have invariably been taken as the composition of Cynewulf, Whose life, too, like Caedmon's, is shrouded in mystery. He was possibly a Northumbrian and churchman and has remained noted as the author of several important Christian poems -Christ, The Lives of Saints, The Fates of Apostles, The Dream of the road, and The Phoenix. Some of these works even bear his signature in runic characters.

There would be no Christian poetry without Caedmon and Cynewulf. Yet, these two poets,  as marked in their works, are not all alike. One is a native poet, with natural inspiration. The other (Cynewulf) is a master artist of scholarship and imaginative proficiency. The Old Testament forms the former's materials. The latter's materials are from the New Testament. Caedmon is a simple, Straightforward,  easily convincing poet of the masses.  Cynewulf is a poetic artist whose poetical profundity is meant for intellectuals and scholars.

Anglo-Saxon Prose

As in other languages, prose came much later than poetry in English.  But Anglo-Saxon poetry. It was much simpler and more current. As a result, after the Norman Conquest, Anglo-Saxon poetry had a natural end and no link with new literature. But Anglo-Saxon prose survived as the characteristic pattern of English Literature.

 Of course,  Anglo-Saxon prose had a very humble beginning in the form of some laws, moral codes, announcements and notices, and historical records and documents.  The first remarkable specimen of Anglo-Saxon prose was the Chronicle or Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. That was first maintained by some churchmen. Its contents were simply the dates of the birth and the death of different kings and the records of their warfare. The Chronicle,  in its elementary stages, was no work of literature. It was hardly more than a history,  a mere chronicle.

The development of the Chronicle was made possible by King Alfred's personal initiative and effort. He raised it to the height of a complete national history of England. He was supposed to have written a certain portion of the Chronicle. But he did more. He gave a definite shape to it and brought a distinct style to it. His untiring energy and enthusiasm turned it into the connected history of a Teutonic people in their own language.

Alfred also contributed to the development of English prose by his encouraging enterprise to render into English the famous works of some reputed classical masters. He made it possible to translate Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the  Orosius's The History of The World. Boethius's De Consolatione Philosophiae and Augustine's Soliloquies. He even personally translated certain parts of those works.

Alfred, indeed,  played an important part in the great literary movement to achieve a standard for English prose.  He was truly the father of English prose, as he was the father of English nationalism 

After Alfred two important prose writers were Aelfeic and Wulfstan. Both of them wrote homilies in a vigorous and impulsive style.  The former's Catholic Homilies and the latter's Serno Lupi ad Anglos are important names in Anglo-Saxon prose.  Another name in this respect is Monk Byrhtforth whose Handbook of Euchiridition is a work of miscellaneous treatises.
Anglo-Saxon Period


Unknown said...

T'was really helpful. Thanks.

Green Land said...

Tnx..stay with us...

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