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song around him. Below stands the glee-man; throwing three balls and three knives alternately into the air, and catching them as they fall, like a modern juggler. * But all the Anglo-Saxon poets were not glee-men. All the harpers were not hoppesteres, or dancers. The sceop, the crea
tor, the poet, rose, at times, to higher things. He sang the deeds of heroes; victorious odes; death-songs; epic poems; or, sitting in cloisters, and afar from these things, put holy writ into Saxon chimes. Of such, our Lusty Juventus would not have said,
"Who knoweth where is e'er a minstrel?
By the masse, I would fayne go daunce a fit."
Let us now leave these out-posts and advances, and proach our theme at once. Indeed, we have delayed thus long only that we might approach it from the right point of view;-having first looked down upon it from the vantage ground, which the history, character, and customs of the nation present. We shall first speak of Anglo-Saxon poetry; afterwards, of Anglo-Saxon prose.
The first thing, which strikes the reader of Anglo-Saxon poetry, is the structure of the verse; the short exclamatory lines, whose rhythm depends on alliteration in the emphatic syllables, and to which the general omission of the particles gives great energy and vivacity. Though alliteration predominates in all Anglo-Saxon poetry, rhyme is not wholly wanting. It had line-rhymes and final rhymes; which being added to the alliteration, and brought so near together in the short, emphatic lines, produce a singular effect upon the ear. They ring like blows of hammers on an anvil. For example;
"Flah mah fliteth, Flan man hwiteth,
The strong dart flitteth,
*"The honest illuminators, having no ideas of foreign or ancient manners, saw not the absurdity of making the Jewish monarch a president over a company of Saxon glee-men. They had heard, no doubt, that those persons, whose names they found recorded in the book of Psalms, were poets and musicians, and, therefore, naturally concluded, that they were gleemen; because they knew no others, who performed in that double capacity but the glee-men. They knew, also, that these facetious artists were greatly venerated by persons of the highest rank, and their company requested by kings and princes, who richly rewarded them for the exercise of their talents, and, for this reason, conceived that they were proper companions for the royal psalmist."- Strutt's Sports and Pastimes, Book iii. ch. 3.
Burg sorg biteth,
Care the city biteth,
Other peculiarities of Anglo-Saxon poetry, which cannot. escape the reader's attention, are its frequent inversions, its bold transitions, and abundant metaphors. These are the things, which render Anglo-Saxon poetry so much more difficult than Anglo-Saxon prose. But upon these points we need not enlarge. It is enough to have thus alluded to them. The references in the note will show where they are fully discussed. We do not wish to go over a ground so often trodden, but come gladly to a consideration of the poetry itself. †
See Conybeare's Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon Poetry. In the Introduction, the subject of Anglo-Saxon metre is fully discussed. The same subject is treated of in the grammars of Bosworth and Rask. To these we refer our readers; and likewise, to Vol. XXXIII. of this Review, p. 338.
Alliteration was used in English poetry as late as the fifteenth century. William Dunbar wrote in 1455. Here is a short passage from his poem of The Two Married Women and the Widow. See Sibbald's Chronicle of Scottish Poetry, Vol. I. p. 210; and Conybeare, Introduction, p. lxxii.
"While that the day did updawn
and dew danked flowris,
The morrow mild was and meek,
And all removed the mist
and the mead smelled;
Silver showris down shook
And birds shouted in the shaw
and sound of the streamis,
The sweet savour of the sward
Might comfort any creature
And kindle again his courage
though it were cold slokned.
+ We add here a short passage in which many of these peculiarities are found. It is from an Ode on the death of King Edgar.
"And tha wearth eac adreafed,
And there was also driven
the beloved hero,
One of the oldest and most important remains of AngloSaxon literature is the epic poem of Beowulf. Its age is unknown; but it comes from a very distant and hoar antiquity; somewhere between the seventh and tenth centuries. It is like a piece of ancient armour; rusty and battered, and yet strong. From within comes a voice sepulchral, as if the ancient armour spoke, telling a simple, straight-forward narrative; with here and there the boastful speech of a rough, old Dane, reminding one of those made by the heroes of Homer. The style, likewise, is simple, - perhaps we should say, austere. The bold metaphors, which characterize nearly all the Anglo-Saxon poems we have read, are for the most part wanting in this. The author seems mainly bent upon telling us, how his Sea-Goth slew the Grendel and the Fire-drake. He is too much in earnest to multiply epithets and gorgeous figures. At times he is tedious; at times obscure; and he, who undertakes to read the original, will find it no child's-play; particularly if he undertakes, at the same time, the Latin version of Grim. Johnson Thorkelin.*
The poem begins with a description of King Hrothgar the Scylding, in his great hall of Heort, which reechoed with the sound of harp and song. But not far off, in the fens and marshes of Jutland, dwelt a grim and monstrous giant, called Grendel, a descendant of Cain. This trouble
Oslac, of earde,
Oslac, from the land,
over the weltering of waves,
* This Danish scholar published an edition of Beowulf in 1815, with the following title; De Danorum Rebus Gestis Secul. III. et IV. Poëma Danicum Dialecto Anglo-Saxonicâ. Ex Bibliothecâ Cottoniana Musai Britannici. Havnia. MDCCCXV. He made an antiquarian tour in England, in 1786, and took a copy of the MS., which, with a translation and commentary, he had ready for publication in 1807; but the whole unfortunately perished in the bombardment of Copenhagen by the English. Nothing daunted, the laborious, worthy Dane began his work anew, and the result is the quarto bearing his name. We regret to say, that the work is very incorrect, both in the original text and in the translation. Mr. Kemble says of it, that not "five lines can be found in succession, in which some gross fault, either in the transcript or the translation, does not betray the editor's utter ignorance of the Anglo-Saxon language." — Beowulf. Preface, p. xxx.
some individual was in the habit of occasionally visiting the Scylding's palace by night, to see, as the author rather quaintly says, "how the doughty Danes found themselves after their beer-carouse." On his first visit he destroyed some thirty inmates, all asleep, with beer in their brains; and ever afterwards kept the whole land in fear of death. At length the fame of these evil deeds reached the ears of Beowulf, the Thane of Higelac, a famous Viking in those days, who had slain sea-monsters, and wore a wild-boar for his crest. Straightway he sailed with fifteen followers for the court of Heort; unarmed, in the great mead-hall, and at midnight, fought the Grendel, tore off one of his arms, and hung it up on the palace wall as a curiosity; the fiend's fingers being armed with long nails, which the author calls the hand-spurs of the heathen hero, (hathenes hond-sporu hilde-rinces.) Retreating to his cave, the grim ghost (grima gast) departed this life; whereat there was great carousing at Heort. But at night came the Grendel's mother, and carried away one of the beer-drunken heroes of the ale-wassail, (beore druncne ofer eol-wage.) Beowulf, with a great escort, pursued her to the fen-lands of the Grendel; plunged, all armed, into a dark-rolling and dreary river, that flowed from the monster's cavern; slew worms and dragons manifold; was dragged to the bottom by the old-wife; and seizing a magic sword, which lay among the treasures of that realm of wonders, with one fell blow, let her heathen soul out of its bone-house, (ban-hus.) Having thus freed the land from the giants, Beowulf, laden with gifts and treasures, departed homeward, as if nothing special had happened; and, after the death of King Higelac, ascended the throne of the Scylfings. Here the poem should end, and, we doubt not, did originally end. But, as it has come down to us, eleven more cantos follow, containing a new series of adventures. Beowulf has grown old. He has reigned fifty years; and now, in his gray old age, is troubled by the devastations of a monstrous Fire-drake, so that his metropolis is beleaguered, and he can no longer fly his hawks and merles in the open country. He resolves, at length, to fight with this Fire-drake; and, with the help
"Hú hit Hring-Dene
Canto ii. v. 232.
of his attendant, Wiglaf, overcomes him. The land is made rich by the treasures found in the dragon's cave: but Beowulf dies of his wounds.
Thus departs Beowulf, the Sea-Goth; of the world-kings the mildest to men, the strongest of hand, the most clement to his people, the most desirous of glory. And thus closes the oldest epic in any modern language; written in fortythree cantos and some six thousand lines. The outline, here given, is filled up with abundant episodes and warlike details. We have ale-revels, and giving of bracelets, and presents of mares, and songs of bards. The battles with the Grendel and the Fire-drake are minutely described; as likewise are the dwellings and rich treasure-houses of these monsters. The fire-stream flows with lurid light; the dragon breathes out flame and pestilential breath; the gigantic sword, forged by the Jutes of old, dissolves and thaws like an icicle in the hero's grasp; and the swart raven tells the eagle how he fared with the fell wolf at the death-feast. Such is, in brief, the machinery of the poem.
We subjoin the third canto entire, as a specimen of the work. The whole passage has a high epic character. Beowulf sets sail for Jutland. We can almost smell the brine, and hear the sea-breeze blow, and see the mainland stretch out its jutting promontories, those sea-noses (sæ-næssas), as the poet calls them, into the blue waters of the solemn main.
Thus then much care-worn the son of Healfden sorrowed evermore, nor might the prudent hero his woes avert. The war was too hard, too loath and longsome, that on the people came, dire wrath and grim, of night-woes the worst. This from home heard Higelac's Thane, good among the Goths, Grendel's deeds. He was of mankind in might the strongest, at that day of this life,
noble and stalwart.
He bade him a sea-ship,