網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

the "rime-giver," gave the keynote, for with whatever letter that began, one of the preceding accented syllables must begin and both might begin. The fourth never alliterated with the other three. In the first line quoted, the accented syllables are com, mor, mist, and hle. Mist is the rime-giver. In the second line, God is the rimegiver, while Gren, gon, and bar are the other accented syllables. The Teutons were very fond of compound words. Some of these words are simple and childlike, such as ban-hus (bone-house), body; ban-loca (bonelocker), flesh. Some, especially those pertaining to the ocean, are poetical, such as mere-stræt (sea-street), way over the sea; yth-lida (wave-sailer) and famig-heals (foamy-necked), vessel.

4. Other Old English poems. A number of shorter poems have come down to us from the Old English. Among them are two that are of special in- Widsith. terest. One of these is Widsith (the far

wanderer), and this is probably our earliest English poem. It pictures the life of the scop, who roams about from one great chief to another, everywhere made welcome, everywhere rewarded for his song by kindness and presents. The poem ends:

Wandering thus, there roam over many a country

The gleemen of heroes, mindful of songs for the chanting,
Telling their needs, their heartfelt thankfulness speaking.
Southward or northward, wherever they go, there is some one
Who values their song and is liberal to them in his presents,
One who before his retainers would gladly exalt

His achievements, would show forth his honors. Till all this is vanished,

Till life and light disappear, who of praise is deserving
Has ever throughout the wide earth a glory unchanging.

The second of these songs is Deor's Lament. Deor is

in sorrow, for another scop has become his lord's favorite. The neglected singer comforts himself by recalling the troubles that others have met.

Deor's
Lament.

Each stanza ends with the refrain,

The Exeter
Book.

[ocr errors]

That he endured; this, too, can I.

Widsith and Deor's Lament were found in a manuscript volume of poems collected and copied more than eight hundred years ago. It is known as the Exeter Book because it belongs to the cathedral at Exeter. Another volume, containing both poetry and prose, was discovered at the Monastery celli Book. of Vercelli in Italy. These two volumes and the manuscript of Beowulf contain almost all that is left to us of Anglo-Saxon poetry.

The Ver

Effect of
Christian-

ity.

5. Cædmon [d. 680]. The happy scop and the unhappy scop are both forgotten. No one knows who wrote either the rejoicing or the lament. The first English poet that we know by name is the monk Cædmon, who died in 680. The introduction of Christianity made great changes in the country, for though the sturdy Englishmen could not lay aside in one century, or two, or three, all their confidence in charms and magic verses, and in runic letters cut into. the posts of their doors and engraved on their swords and their battle-axes, yet they were honest believers in the God of whom they had learned. Churches and convents rose throughout the land, and one of these convents was the home of Cadmon. It was founded by Irish missionaries, and was built at what is now called Whitby, on a lofty cliff overlooking the German Ocean. There men and women prayed and worked and sought to live lives of holiness. At one of their feasts the harp passed from one to another, that each might sing in turn. Cædmon

had not been educated as a monk, and therefore he had never learned to make songs. As the harp came near him, he was glad to slip out of the room with the excuse that he must care for the cattle. In the stable Cadmon's he fell asleep; and as he slept a vision appeared vision. to him and said, "Cædmon, sing some song to me." "I cannot sing," he replied, " and that is why I left the feasting." "But you shall sing," declared the vision.

[graphic][merged small]

"Sing the beginning of created beings." Then Cædmon sang. He sang of the power of the Creator, of his glory, and of how He made the heavens and the earth. In the morning he told the steward of the mysterious gift that had come to him while he slept, and the steward led him joyfully to Hilda, the royal maiden who was their abbess. Many learned men came together, and Cadmon told them his dream and repeated his verses. Another subject was given him, and he made verses on that also. "It is the grace of God," said the council rev

erently. The habit of a monk was put upon him, he was carefully taught the word of God, and as he learned, he composed poem after poem, following the Bible story from the creation to the coming of Christ, his resurrection and his ascension.

The name of one

6. Cynewulf, born about 750. more poet, Cynewulf, is that of the greatest of the authors whose words have come down to us from the early days of England. He, too, was probably of Northumbria, and he must have written about a century after the time of Cadmon. Hardly anything is known of him except his name; but he interwove that in some of his poems in such a way that it could never be forgotten. For this purpose he made use of runes, the earliest of the northern alphabets. Each rune represented not only a letter, but also the word of which it was the initial; for instance:

Runes.

[blocks in formation]

With these runes Cynewulf spelled out his name:

Then the Courage-hearted cowers when the King he hears Speak the words of wrath - Him the wielder of the heavens Speak to those who once on earth but obeyed him weakly, While as yet their Yearning pain, and their Need, most easily Comfort might discover.

Gone is then the Winsomeness

Of the earth's adornments! What to Us as men belonged
Of the joys of life was locked, long ago in Lake-floods,

All the Fee on earth.1

1 Stopford Brooke's translation, in English Literature from the Beginning to the Norman Conquest.

Cynewulf has many beautiful descriptions of nature, sometimes of nature calm and quiet and peaceful; for instance:

When the winds are lulled and the weather is fair, When the sun shines bright, holy jewel of heaven, When the clouds are scattered, the waters subdued, When no stormwind is heard, and the candle of nature Shines warm from the south, giving light to the many. Cynewulf loved tranquil days and peaceful scenes; but if he wrote the riddles which are often thought to be his, he had not lost sympathy with the wild life of his ancestors on the stormy ocean. The English liked riddles, and this one must have been repeated over and over again at convent feasts and in halls at times of rejoicing:

Sometimes I come down from above and stir up the storm-waves;
The surges, gray as the flint-stone, I hurl on the sea-banks,
The foaming waters I dash on the rock-wall. Gloomily
Moves from the deep a mountain billow; darkening,
Onward it sweeps o'er the turbulent wild of the ocean.

Another comes forth and, commingling, they meet at the mainland
In high, towering ridges. Loud is the call from the vessel,

Loud is the sailors' appeal; but the rock-masses lofty
Stand unmoved by the seafarers' cries or the waters.

The answer to this is "The hurricane."

An especially beautiful poem of Cynewulf's is called the Dream of the Rood. The cross appeared to the poet in a dream, "the choicest dream," he calls it.

[ocr errors]

The Dream

It was "circled with light," it was glittering of the Rood. with gems and with gold, and around it stood the angels of God. From it there flowed forth a stream of blood; and while the dreamer gazed in wonder, the cross spoke to him. It told him of the tree being cut from the edge of the forest and made into the cross. Then followed the story of the crucifixion, of the three crosses that

« 上一頁繼續 »