Write A Note on Anglo-Saxon Heroic or Epic Poetry

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      Of surviving Anglo-Saxon literature, that which brings us most closely into contact with Germanic origins of the invaders in the heroic poetry. It bears traces not only of the pre-Christian heroic society of the continental Saxons and others, but also of the community of subject which linked these early English with the wider civilisation of Germania. This heroic poetry is of Pagan origin and inspiration. The Anglo-Saxon forefathers brought their native poetry to England when they conquered it and settled there.

      They, however, took their present form in the course of the seventh century. Their substance, however, comes from an earlier time, trom the age which had just closed, extending from the fourth to the sixth century and generally known as the Heroic Age. These poems reflect the tradition and spirit of that past time, and we can learn from them something about the conditions of life in the Heroic Age. These poems have the Pagan characteristics but they were written by some Christian monks. So they have the fusion ot Pagan and Christian elements.


      Heroic poetry in Anglo-Saxon period grew out of heroic lays. Epic style is developed from the progress in culture and the national poetic temperament. Epic style indicated by the richness and vividness of details, artistic treatment of characters and events, digressions, dialogues and descriptions and a specialises poetic diction with a highly metaphorical style.

      Beowulf, The Battle of Finnsburh and Waldere are the earliest specimens of Angio-Saxon epic poetry. Beowulf records the adventures of historical mythical hero with monsters and dragons. It is more a nursery tale than an epic proper. There is no perfection of technique as in the Homeric epic. There is want of epic unity-the two parts of the tale are held together loosely. The hero betrays folk-lore characteristics. This strong and heroic fighter is turned at last into a saint with idealistic imagination. This conflicts with the epic idea of objective description. But still Beowulf is a specimen of epic poetry in an evolutionary age. There is sustained epic dignity in its grand manner, the fullness and freedom of treatment, epic breadth of vision, richness and vividness of details, as for example, in the description of wild scenes of gloom or of the court. Simplicity and directness of ideas, diffuseness of construction, digression, permanent epithets, broad sweeping formula-like periods and broad well marked characterisation are some of the important features of epic poetry. It is also represents faithfully the national life and manners.

      The Battle of Finnsburh and Waldere belong to the group of heroic poetry. The themes of both are heroic. The first poem describes a fight between the Danish and the Frisians. In the second poem, Waldere's fight with Guthhere who has unjustly begun hostilities by refusing the offer of a sword and treasure is described. Both are written in the swift vigorous manner of an epic.

      Widsith is the oldest of the Anglo-Saxon poems. There is an epic reminiscence in it. There are rich descriptions of the poet's travels in different countries and of the splendour of courts, of the fighting between the Gothic princes and Atilla. It is written in the high manner of an epic. The travels of Widsith read like the wanderings of an English Ulysses.

      There are epic fragments like The Battle of Brunanburh and The Battle of Maldon. These two poems appeared after the introduction of Christianity. The Battle of Brunanburh has for its theme an actual war fought in 937 A.D. between the Saxons and Scots in which the Saxons were victorious. It is a spirited war poem in which the enthusiasm of the victor breaks out in savage irony in a speech addressed to the defeated warrior. It was included by some monk in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Battle of Maldon has for its theme the battle which took place in 993 in Byrhtwood and in which the old chief of the East Saxons met his death in a bid to drive back a band of Northmen who invaded the country. It is a fragment of 325 lines and an epic narrative having Homeric grandeur and vigour. The way of living pictured in these English poems is not without nobility, and the impression they leave is one of heroic virtue and loyalty. No virtue is more insisted on in the poems than the loyalty that a warrior owes his liege lord. This greed is well expressed in the words of Wislaf when he exhorts his comrades to stand by Beowulf against the five-dragon. The personal loyalty is strengthened by the lord's generosity, and the poems are full of praise for the lord who knows him to give freely. He is caled the giver of rings, the bestower of treasure', the 'gold-friend of men'. Hrothgar is praised for his liberality. The poems also reflect the frequency of feuds. The feud of Hrothgar the Dane and Ingeld the Heathobard is settled by Hrothgar giving his daughter in marriage to Ingeld.

      Some of the pleasant passages in Beowulf are those that describe the daily life of princes and warriors. The range of style is considerable. It can be swift and grim, as in Beowulf's struggle with Grendel or the great fight in the hall of Finn. The voyage of Beowulf and his men to Hrothgar's court is good example of steady dignified narrative.

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