3/27/2019

Anglo-Saxon prose with special reference to Alfred the Great.



Anglo-Saxon prose is of much later origin than poetry and is rather poor in quantity. This is natural, for prose implies a certain measure of civilization. It is the achievement of civilization. But poetry is as old as man. The object of prose is to instruct and inform and not to move. The prose writings of Anglo-Saxons show a tendency towards observance of the rules of ordinary speech. It is business-like, simple and straight. It is quite unlike the style of old English poetry. Hence this prose is much nearer to modern literature than the poetry.

King Alfred is justly claimed to be the father of English prose. When he came to the throne of Wessex in 871, the English learning suffered a great deal due to the repeated raids of the Danes. Monasteries had been destroyed, books had been burnt and clerks had forgotten their Latin. The monks had written in Latin which was unintelligible to the masses. When King Alfred set to writing, there was a lamentable state of learning even among the monks. The knowledge of Latin had steadily declined. Hence after establishing peace and order in the country after the ravages of the Dance, he applied himself to the ask of nurturing the mental life of the people.
He is the pioneer of popular education. For this purpose he set down to increase the volume of English literature and superintended the
translation of many Latin books in English prose. This is his contribution to English literature. He himself had done much of the
work. The five important translation either done by himself or under his guidance are “Pastoral Care” of Pope Gregory, “The History of the World” of Orosius, Bede's “Ecclesiastical History”. Boethius's “Consolation of Philosophy” and “The Soliloquies” of St. Augustine, As himself had said, he translates word by word, sometimes meaning of meaning. Although the literal translation had the most formative influence on prose, it is the free translations which are more interesting. He freely introduces original passages of his own by way of explanation or expansion and in these he attains to a certain ginality. His style for the most part is simple, clean and
straightforward and has a charm of literary skill.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was inspired and sponsored by.Alfred who himself dictated some of the passages that deal particularly with his own campaigns. It is extant in several
manuscripts. The narrative is continued till after the Norman conquest up to the death of King Stephen. This is the most important
landmark of Anglo-Saxon prose. Thus Alfred's services to the native language are precious; he did much to make the native language
known and loved by the people at large.

Another prose writer is Alfric, who became abbot of Eynsham is Catholic Homilies, a series of sermons suitable for delivery by the clergy, Lives of Saints, and translations form the scriptures are his principal works. The abbreviated version in Anglo-Saxon of the first seven books of the “Old Testament” entitle him to the claim of being the first translator of the Bible in English. His style is flowing and vigorous, natural and easy. The Homilies are the excellent examples of ornate and eloquent Old English Alfric, took Alfred as his model, but his prose style is no longer the gossipy,
colloquialism of Alfred. In his hands, English prose acquired a literary dignity. He freed the English prose from Latin syntax which
characterises the prose of Alfred. The prose of Alfric is poetic in its cadence and often alliterative. Alfric is the master of prose in all its form.

Anglo-Saxon prose is much nearer that the poetry to modern English. The poetry was archaic retaining obsolete words and
expressions and the alliterative periphrases of the past. The prose was either the speech in daily use or modelled on the Latin which
was the universal language of educated Europe. and thus put all scholars on an equal plane. With the Danish invasion and then with
the Norman conquest of England, Anglo-Saxon literature suffered an eclipse. Poetry was almost destroyed; prose, on the contrary in spite of changes remained recognisable, and suffered no break with the past.

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