3/25/2019

Anglo-Saxon religious poetry with reference to Caedmon and Cynewulf.


Anglo-Saxon religious poetry is mainly the work of two Christian poets who were monks-Caedom (c.675) and Cynewulf (c.800). With the introduction of Christianity in the island and the conversion of the people, Anglo-Saxon poets turned away from the Pagan themes and applied themselves to religious poetry which consists mainly of the poetical rendering of the Biblical stories and lives of the saints.

Caedmon
Bede's Ecclesiastical History gives an account of the life of Caedmon. According to Bede, Caedmon flourished in Northumbria in the last quarter of the seventh century. He was associated with a certain  monastery. He was the first man to sing about Christian themes systematically and after him many poets came to sing in the same strain.

The manuscript of a folio of two hundred and twenty nine pages in sixty seven sections discovered in 1630 was supposed to be  the work of Caedmon because of the opening lines and because the content tallied partially with the accounts of Bede. The manuscript comprises four different works, "Genesis", "Exodus", "Danies" and “Christ and Satan".

"Genesis" is divided into two parts - Genesis A and Genesis B. Genesis B thrusts itself in the middle and repeats and elaborates a part of Genesis A. It is a poem about God and angels in heaven, of rebellion of the angels and of the fallen angels in hell their council and design on man. Adam and Eve were tempted and
their fall was recorded with vigour. After a vigorous description of the flood the poem ends abruptly with Abraham at the sacrifice of Isaac.

"Exodus" is the story of the book of Exodus. Here we find the Anglo-Saxon poet in his element: here he calls up a warlike and
troublous atmosphere. He gives the description of the marshalling of Pharoah's hosts and the pursuit of Moses and his men. Wild exultation for success was recorded. The poem is characterised by rapidity of narrative and vigour of style

“Daniel" is an incomplete poem dealing with the first five chapters of the book of Daniel. There is less of heathen spirit in the
poem. Didactic note sometimes borders on dullness. It is, however marked by a restrained style.

“Christ and Satan" is actually a group of three different poems Lament of the Fallen Angels", "Harrowing of Heli" and The
Temptation of Christ". There are however Cynewulfian touches in the poems. "Judith" is fine poem attributed to Caedmon. It is only a
fragment of some 350 lines which exists in the same manuscript that contains Beowulf.

"Judith" is a version of the vulgate text of the apocryphal book of Judith, and the existing portion tells of beheading of the drunken Holofernes by Judith. Judith rallies the Hebrews to attack the Assyrians, the fear of the Assyrians on discovering the headless body of Holofernes, the defeat of the Assyrians by the Hebrews and Judith's triumph and praise to God are described in vigorous and rapidly moving verse.

These are the poems attributed to Caedmon on the authority of Bede, but scholars no longer believe the theory. The poems are of
unequal merit. At best they are strong and spirited with some gift for descriptive writing and choice of incident; at worst they are tedious paraphrases of Biblical stories. Genesis B shows poetic vigour and dramatic skill. The poem is a rudimentary Paradise Lost and indeed, its finest passage can bear comparison with parts of Milton's epic
The versification of Genesis B shows a fine technical ease and the adaptation of the conventions of heroic poetry to Biblical narrative is done with great skill. The adaptation to religious verse of the style
and conventions of heroic poetry is even more vividly demonstrated in the Anglo-Saxon "Exodus". The description of the drowning of
the Egyptian host in the Red Sea is done with great vigour.

While the poems of Caedmon are entirely on Biblical subjects, the poems of Cynewulf depict events celebrated in the church
calendar. The Cynewulfian verse is therefore closer to the continental mediaeval church is spirit. Female saints are prominent. Cynewulf delights in natural scenery, specially storm and sea and he is specially remarkable for his concern with ideas and emotions. With Cynewulf Anglo-Saxon religious poetry moves beyond Biblical paraphrase into the devotional and the mystical. His works are marked by a lyric fervour and narrative vigour absent in Caedmon's poetry.



Cynewulf
Unlike Caedom Cynewulf's authorship of certain poems is
beyond doubt. He is the first poet in the English language to sign his
works. After the discovery of the name, numerous work including
the whole of the Exeter book and Beowulf have been attributed to
him by one scholar or another. Four poems, however, besides signed
pieces have been regarded by many as probably Cynewulf's:
"Andereas", "The Dream of the Rood", "Phoenix" and "Guthlac"
The reasons given are affinity with the signed poems in theme and
thought, similarity of language and expression, sameness in
grammar, metre and poetic treatment. Later tendency, however, was
to consider them as independent works.

The signed poems of Cynewulf are "Juliana", "Christ", The
Fates of the Apostles" and "Elene" "Juliana" is based on a Latin
original. In the region of Maximian, Juliana, daughter of Africanus
was wooed by Elensius, a Roman prefect. Refusing to marry him
unless he became a Christian, she was severely persecuted by
successive imprisonment, scourging firing, breaking upon the wheel,
all of which she withstood by her faith. When she was beheaded, her
soul was taken to heaven. The soul of Elensius later killed
shipwreck was dragged down to hell. It is, however, and immature
work, a literal translation of the original. The character of the heroine
is, however, improved. The introduction of Teutonic atmosphere is notable even in this crude work.

“Christ" is divided into three well defined parts; Nativity
Ascension and The Day of Judgement. Part I is composed of the
conception of Mary, dialogue between Mary and Joseph and the
glorious addresses to God. In Part II, Christ before ascension bids
farewell to His followers, here is an allegorical passage describing
the six leaps of Christ. Part III describes the day of judgement. It
calls up vivid terror with the vision of the Holy Rood brilliant and
r. The good are transformed to heaven and the poem end
with the description of a perfect land
The Fates of the Apostles" is a weak poem on the lives of the
twelve apostles. It is short, sketchy and uninteresting. It makes no
addition to his fame.

“Elene" has for its subject the finding of the Cross. The Huns
gathered against Constantine who dreamed his famous dream of the
Road and was bid to conquer by that sign. A battle followed and
victory was won by Constantine. Then there is the description of his
mother's voyage to Jerusalem. His mother Empress Helena conferred
with the Jews not to reveal the sight of the Cross. Constantine was
imprisoned and then released. Constantine prayed to Christ and then he discovered the Cross by a miracle. The rest of the poem is
composed of the message of Helena to Constantine. the baptism of
Judas, etc. Elene" has been called Cynewulfs masterpiece. It is
characterised by perfection of art and poetic technique. There is
reference to old age in many autobiographical passages. The pomp of
war, the gleam of jewels, the joy of ships dancing on the wave give
life and colour to the narrative permeated by the serious purpose of
the poet. "Andreas" tells of the adventures, sufferings and
evangelical successes of St. Andrew. "The Phoenix" describes and
earthly paradise in the East, the beauty of the Phoenix, its flight to
Syria after it has lived for a thousand years to build its nest, die and
be reborn, while the second half takes "The Phoenix" as an allegory
both of the life of the virtuous in this world and the next and a
symbol of Christ.

“The Dream of the Rood" is regarded as the greatest of old
English poems because of its unusual lyric tenderness, imagination
and piety. It is the earliest dream vision in English literature. In a
dream vision the Cross tells the poet the story of its life from the day
when it was struck down on the verge of the forest to that on which
Christ was lifted on to it and it trembled as it received the kiss of
God-in-man. It is now honoured by men, their beacon light and are
for all the ills of life.

"Guthlae" A and B are based upon the Latin vita of St. Guthlac
Guthlac is tempted and tormented by the foul fiends. Guthlac B
details the serene death of the saint. The tender personal feeling and
emotional depth suggest that Cynewulf may have written this poem.


While the poems of Caedmon are entirely on Biblical
subjects, the poems of Cynewulf depict events celebrated in the
church calendar. The Cynewulfian verse is therefore closer to the
continental mediaeval church is spirit. Female saints are prominent.
Cynewulf delights in natural scenery, specially storm and sea and he
is specially remarkable for his concern with ideas and emotions.
With Cynewulf Anglo-Saxon religious poetry moves beyond Biblical
paraphrase into the devotional and the mystical. His works are
marked by a lyric fervour and narrative vigour absent in Caedmon's
poetry.

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