Caedmon & Cynewulf: Anglo-Saxon Christian Poetry

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      In England, two great schools of Christian influence put an end to the frightful war among the various Kingdoms of the anglo-saxon. In 597 A.D under the leadership of Saint Augustine who come from Rome Christianity was introduced in England, especially in the south and center of England. The other the leadership of Aidan, come from Iceland which country had been from centuries a center of religion and education for western Europe.

      To J. Long - "The coming of Christianity meant not simply a new life and leader from England. It meant also the wealth of a new language the scope is now replaced by the literature monk, and that monk and thought lives among common people and speaks with the England that has behind him all the culture and literature recourse of the Latin language. The effects is seen instantly in our early prose and poetry".

      Anglo-Saxon Christian poetry is mainly the work of Christian poets who were monks.

(i) Caedmon (c. 675)

(ii) Cynewulf (c. 800)

Anglo Saxon Christian poetry is mainly the work of Christian poets who were monks. (i) Caedmon (c. 675) (ii) Cynewulf (c. 800)
Caedmon and Cynewulf

      Caedmon:- About Caedmon's life what has come to us in from Bede's "Ecclesiastical History". From Bede's we come to know that he was a herd man of Hilda monastery. One day when a feast voice going on inside the monastery Caedmon left the place and fall asleep among the cattle.

      In his sleep he had the vision of strange figure who asked him to sing. Caedmon asked "what shall I sing"? and the strange figure side "sing the beginning of created things". as Caedmon was an literate man it is said the Bible was read to him.

      Caedmon's voice is remembered for his paraphrase of the Holy Bible. These were written by Caedmon in 670 A.D. we have got five poems namely Genesis, Exodus, Daniel, Judith and Christ and Saint.

      Genesis:- It is poem of nearly 3000 lines. The poem is supposed to have two parts known as a Genesis-A and Genesis there is more than 800 lines. Which are different in style and language from Genesis-A as treats the theme of the Temptation of Adam and Eve. Fall of Adam and Eve etc. Which are already in Genesis-A.

      Exodus:- It is the poem some 600 lines. It relates to the story as is recorded in the book of Exodus. It tells the story of Escape of the Behrens under the leadership of Moses from pharastro rule in Egypt. Moses by his magic stick made a path Through The Red Sea and when the Egyptian Army follow them they were destroyed. The poem is remarkable for its rapidity of narrative and vigorous style.

      Daniel:- the simple in complete poem deals with the first 5 chapters of the book of Daniel. Daniel was a Hebrew prophet of the sixth century BC. He spent his life as a captive at the court of Babylon. In the Bede, it is said that he interpreted the drama of Nabnehaednatter and for this he was saved by God from the lion's den. The poem is didactic in tone.

      Judith:- it is a poem of fragmentary poem some 350 lines the subject is formed in a Saga fashion.

      Cynewulf:- nothing definite is known regarding the life of Cynewulf. It is supposed that he was a Northumbrian or a Mercian. There are four poems which bear the runic signature of Cynewulf. They are Christ, Juliana, The Fates of Apostille and Elene. The poems which are attributed to Cynewulf are - Andreas, The Phoenix, The Drama of the Road, Guthlec and the Riddles etc.

      The Christ II:- It is a poem of 1700 lines. This didactic poem is divided into three parts nativity, ascension, the day of judgment. Cynewulf takes his subject largely from the "Homilies of Gregory the Great". Though the first 8 pages are missing story of the poem is well woven.

      Juliana:- It is perhaps the first signed poem of Cynewulf. The poem is based upon a Latin prose work. It reads the life of martyrdom of saint Suliana who was a crystal maiden of Nicomedia and is attempted unsuccessfully by the demon Belial.

      The Fates of the Apostles:- It is a poem of 122 lines. It records the story of Helena and Harson Constantine. Constantine before his victory against the Hans at the Malvan Bridge saw the vision of the road he then send his mother Helena to Jerusalem in search of the original cross and the nails and finally she discovered the true cross.

      Elene:- It is a poem in old English that is sometimes known as Saint Helena find the true cross it was translated from a Latin text and fifth of six poem appearing in the Vercelli manuscript the poem is the first English account of the Holy Cross by Saint Helena the mother of Emperor consistent it is written in a West Saxon dialect in 1321 lines long.

      Anglo-Saxon religious poetry is mainly the work of two Christian patio who were monks Caedmon (c.675) and Cynewulf (c.800). With the introduction of Christianity in the island and the conversion of the people, Anglo-Saxon poems 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.

      Bede's Ecclesinstical History gives an account of the life of Caædmon. 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 Cædmon because of the opening lines and because the content tallied partially with the accounts of Bede. The manuscript comprises four different works (1) Genesis; (2) Exodus; (3) Daniel; (4) 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 the fallen angels in hell, their council and design on man. Adam and Eve were tempted and their fall was recorded with vigor. 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 marshaling 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 vigor 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 (i) Lament of the Fallen Angels: (i) Harrowing of Hell; (ii) The Temptation of Christ. There are however Cynewulfian touches in the poems. Judith is a fine poem attributed to Caædmon. 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 verses.

      These are the poems attributed to Cædmon 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 vigor and dramatic skill. The poem is a rudimentary Paradise Lost and indeed, its finest passages 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 vigor. Cynewulf: Unlike Cædmon 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: Andreas, 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, meter 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 by shipwreck was dragged down to hell. It is, however, an 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 Judgment. "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 judgment. It calls up the vivid terror with the vision of the. Holy Rood brilliant and red all over. The good are transformed to heaven and the poem ends 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 Rood 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 to Constantine, the baptism of Judas, etc.

      Elene has been called Cynewulf's masterpiece, It is characterized 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 color to the narrative permeated by the serious purpose or the poet. Andreas tells of the adventures, sufferings and evangelical successes of Andrew. The Phoenix describes an 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 as 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 which Christ was lifted onto it and it trembled as it received the kiss of God-in-man. It is now honored by men, their beacon light and is for all the ills of life.

      Guthlac A and B are based upon the Latin vita of St. Guthlac. Guthdac 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 Cædmon 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 medieval church in spirit. Female saints are prominent. Cynewulf delights in natural scenery, especially storms and sea and he is specially remarkable for his concern with ideas and emotions. With Cynewulf Anglo-Saxon, religious poetry moves beyond Biblical paraphrasing into the devotional and the mystical. His works are marked by a lyric fervor and narrative vigor absent in Cædmon's poetry.

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