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in turn, he left the table. One night, having done so and gone to the stables, for he had care of the cattle, he fell asleep, and One came to him in vision and said, “ Cædmon, sing me some song.' And he answered, “I cannot sing; for this cause I left the feast and came hither.' Then said the other, ‘However, you shall sing.' 'What shall I sing?' he replied. Sing the beginning of created things,' answered the other. Whereupon he began to sing verses to the praise of God, and, awaking, remembered what he had sung, and added more in verse worthy of God. In the morning he came to the steward, and told him of the gift he had received, and, being brought to Hild, was ordered to tell his dream before learned men that they might give judgment whence his verses came.
And, when they had heard, they all said that heavenly grace had been conferred on him by our Lord.
Cædmon's poem, written about 670, is for us the beginning of English poetry, and the story of its origin ought to be loved by us. Nor should we fail to reverence the place where it began. Above the small and land-locked. harbor of Whitby rises and juts out towards the sea the dark cliff where Hild's monastery stood, looking out over the German Ocean. It is a wild, wind-swept upland, and the sea beats furiously beneath, and standing there one feels that it is a fitting birthplace for the poetry of the sea-ruling nation. Nor is the verse of the first poet without the stormy note of the scenery among which it was written. In it also the old, fierce, war element is felt when Cædmon comes to sing the wrath of the rebel angels with God and the overthrow of Pharaoh's host, and the lines, repeating, as was the old English way, the thought a second time, fall like stroke on stroke in battle.
But the poem is religious throughout-Christianity speaks in it simply, sternly, with fire, and brings with it a new world of spiritual romance and feeling. The subjects of the poem were taken from the Bible, in fact Cædmon paraphrased the history of the Old and The New Testament. He sang the reation of the world, the
history of Israel, the book of Daniel, the whole story of the life of Christ, future judgment, purgatory, hell, and heaven. All who heard it thought it divinely given. Others after
• him,' says Bæda, 'tried to make religious poems, but none could vie with him, for he did not learn the art of poetry from men, nor of men, but from God.' It was thus that English song began in religion. The most famous passage of the poem not only illustrates the dark sadness, the fierce love of freedom, and the power of painting distinct characters which has always marked English poetry, but it is also famous for its likeness to a parallel passage in Milton. It is when Cædmon describes the proud and angry cry of Satan against God from his bed of chains in hell. The two great English poets may be brought together over a space of a thousand years in another way, for both died in such peace that those who watched beside them knew not when they died.
LESSER OLD ENGLISH POEMS.—Of the poetry that came after Cadmon we have few remains. But we have many things said which show us that his poem, like all great works, gave birth to a number of similar ones. The increase of monasteries, where men of letters lived, naturally made the written poetry religious. But an immense quantity of secular poetry was sung about the country. ALDHELM, a young man when Cædmon died, and afterwards Abbot of Malmesbury, united the song-maker to the religious poet. He was a skilled musician,
a and it is said that he had not his equal in the making or singing of English verse. His songs were popular in King Ælfred's time, and a pretty story tells that, when the traders came into the town on the Sunday, he, in the character of a gleeman, stood on the bridge and sang them songs, with which he mixed up Scripture text and teaching. Of all this wide-spread poetry we have now only the few poems brought together in a book preserved at Exeter, in another found at Vercelli, and in a few leaflets of manuscripts. The poems in the Vercelli book are all religious-legends of saints and addresses to the soul;
those in the Exeter book are hymns and sacred poems. The famous Traveller's Song and the Lament of Deor inserted in it are of the older and pagan time. In both there are poems by CYNEWULF, whose work is remarkably fine. They are all Christian in tone. The few touches of love of nature in them dwell on gentle, not on savage, scenery. They are sorrowful when they speak of the life of men, tender when they touch on the love of home, as tender as this little bit which still lives for us out of that old world: “Dear is the welcome guest to the Frisian wife when the vessel strands; his ship is come, and her husband to his house, her own provider. And she welcomes him in, washes his weedy garment, and clothes him anew.
It is pleasant on shore to him whom his love awaits.' Of the scattered pieces the finest are two fragments, one long, on the story of Judith, and another short, in which Death speaks to Man, and describes the low and hateful and doorless house, of which he keeps the key. But stern as the fragment is, with its English manner of looking dreadful things in the face, and with its English pathos, the religious poetry of this time always went with faith beyond the grave. Thus we are told that King Eadgar, in the ode on his death in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, chose for himself another light, beautiful and pleasant, and left this feeble life.
The war poetry of England at this time was probably as plentiful as the religious. But it was not likely to be written down by the writers who lived in religious houses. It was sung from feast to feast and in the halls of kings, and it naturally decayed when the English were trodden down by the Normans. But we have two examples of what kind it was, and how fine it was, in the Battle Song of Brunanburh, 937, and in the Song of the Fight at Maldon, 991. A still earlier fragment exists in a short account of the Battle of Finnesburg, probably of the same time and belonging to as long a story as the story of Beowulf. Two short odes on the victories of King Eadmund
and on the coronation of King Eadgar, inserted in the AngloSaxon Chronicle, complete the list of war poems.
The Songs of Brunanburh and Maldon are fine war odes, the fitting sources, both in their short and rapid lines and in their almost Homeric simplicity and force, of such war-songs as the · Battle of the Baltic' and the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade.' The first describes the fight of King Æthelstan with Anlaf the Dane. From morn till night they fought till they were 'weary of red battle' in the hard hand play,' till five young kings and seven éarls of Anlaf's host lay in that fighting place équieted by swords,' and the Northmen fled, and only the screamers of war were left behind, the black raven and the eagle to feast on the white flesh, and the greedy battle-hawk, and the grey beast the wolf in the wood.' The second is the story of the death of Brihtnoth, an ealdorman of Northumbria, in battle against the Danes. It contains 690 lines. In the speeches of heralds and warriors before the fight, in the speeches and single combats of the chiefs, in the loud laugh and mock which follow a good death-stroke, in the rapid rush of the verse when the battle is joined, the poem, though broken, as Homer's verse is not, is Homeric. In the rude chivalry which disdains to take vantage ground of the Danes, in the way in which the friends and churls of Brihtnoth die, one by one, avenging their lord, keeping faithful the tie of kinship and clanship, in the cry not to yield a foot's breadth of earth, in the loving sadness with which home is spoken of, the poem is English to the core. And in the midst of it all, like a song from another land, but a song heard often in English fights from then till now, is the last prayer of the great earl, when, dying, he commends his soul with thankfulness to God."
LESSON 5. OLD ENGLISH PROSE.—“It is pleasant to think that I may not unfairly make English prose begin with BÆDA. He was born about A.D. 673, and was, like Cædmon, a Northumbrian. From 683 he spent his life at Jarrow, in the same monastery, he says, “and while attentive to the rule of mine order, and the service of the Church, my constant pleasure lay in learning or teaching or writing.' He long enjoyed that pleasure, for his quiet life was long, and from boyhood till his very last hour his toil was unceasing. Forty-five works prove his industry, and their fame over the whole of learned Europe during his time proves their value. His learning was as various as it was great. All that the world then knew of science, music, rhetoric, medicine, arithmetic, astronomy, and physics was brought together by him ; and his life was as gentle and himself as loved as his work was great. His books were written in Latin, and with these we have nothing to do, but his was the first effort to make English prose a literary language, for his last work was a Translation of the Gospel of St. John, as almost his last words were in English verse. In the story of his death, told by his disciple, CUTHBERT is the first record of English prose writing. When the last day came, the dying man called his scholars to him that he might dictate more of his translation. • There is still a chapter wanting,' said the scribe, and it is hard for thee to question thyself longer.' “It is easily done,' said Bæda, 'take thy pen and write quickly.' Through the day they wrote, and when evening fell, “There is yet one sentence unwritten, dear master,' said the youth. Write it quickly,' said the master. • It is finished now.' "Thou sayest truth,' was the reply, 'all is finished now.' He sang the Glory to God,' and died. It is to that scene that English prose looks back as its sacred source, as it is in the greatness and variety of