Write a Short Essay on the Medieval Religious Literature

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      English poetry had become silent for a century after the Norman Conquest and at least towards the end of the twelfth century a few writings in the native language reappeared. These were mainly religious works, meant to familiarise the people, who were ignorant of Latin or French, with the stories of the Bible, lives of saints, prayers homilies, sermons, etc, formed the vast mass of this Religion in Middle English literature.

Religion in Middle English literature
Mediaeval Religious Literature

      The earliest in date of these religious writings in the Poem a Morale, which is a kind of exhortation to the Christian to turn aside from the path of the world and to seek the Kingdom of God. There is a sincerity and enthusiasm in the sentiments expressed. The pictures of heaven and hell are vivid. The spirit of asceticism breathes through the poem. Ormulum (c. 1200), so called because it was written by a monk Orm, consists of a large number of religious homilies. It has no originality of matter but the form of the work is new. It clings fast to a rigid syllabic metre without either rhyme or alliteration. It seems to be a first essay in blank verse. The movement of the verse has an unrelieved monotony. The author invents a new spelling, best illustrated in his frequent doubling of the consonants after every short vowel. The Orison of Our Lady, Genesis and Exodus, the Proverbs of Alfred and Moral Ode, have ittle of originality and are important from the metrical point of view. In 1303 Robert Mannying of Brune wrote his Handlying Synne which is a collection of tales anecdotes illustrating the vices and weaknesses of man. Another poem is Sinners, Bezware, a poem of 354 lines. It describes the horrors of Hell and works against the Seven Deadly Sins. It is remarkable in being written in the six line stanza. It shows how far French verse pattern had penetrated into the English verse tradition by the end of the 12th century.

      Cursor Mundi, which dates from about 1320, is a collection of twenty-four thousands of verse, treating almost all the Old and New Testament stories and much later religious history. The copious verses are often picturesque and full of humanity. That the work was immensely popular is proved by the number of manuscript copies in which it has reached the modern readers. The metre is in the main short couplet, with considerable variety. It had a great influence on the miracle plays, supplying materials for them.

      A work of great local significance is that of Richard Rolle of Hampole. He is the only writer of the time whose life is known to us in some detail. He was a hermit who wrote down his meditations even while answering questions of visitors who were attracted by his fame of theological sanctity. He wrote prose pieces too. His important work is Richard Rolle of Hampole, named after him, though serious doubts have been expressed as to whether it is indeed his work. The work "describes the joys and sorrows of a man's life as he is affected in turn by good and evil. The matter is abstract but is handled in a simple way with several striking passages." It was a popular work as is proved by the number of manuscripts in which it is preserved.

      The best of the religious poems of the age, which has come in for a good deal of praise is The Orul and the Nightingale, written about 1250 by Nicholas of Guildford. It is an allegorical debate between the owl and nightingale, the owl Standing for wisdom and sobriety, while the nightingale for the lighter joys of life. It is a poem on Youth and Age. The debate is lively and at times heated. It is the first work written in correct English and "in short rhyming couplets, handled with considerable skill".

      Middle English Religious Literature comprises two prose works -Ancrene Riwle (Rules of the anchoresses) and The Ayenbite of lnwyt (the Remorse of Conscience). The former was written by Bishop Poore for three noble ladies who had become anchoresses and lays down the guidelines for them in the life they had adopted "Moderation in everything is the main burdens of the instructions. The broad humanity of the writer is in evidence at every step. It is a good specimen of Middle English prose. "The Ayenbite of Inwyt is a translation of a French work and a bad one at that. From the literary point of view it is of little importance and is well summed up by the word "dull" (Albert).

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