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and Saxons; he has sung at many a court in Italy and Germany, high-born heroes have been his patrons and friends, Guthere of the Burgundians gave to him a ring, Eormanric, King of the Goths too, and Ealdhild the queen, daughter of Eadwine. Of these and many names historical the poem is a catalogue, and behind these far back in the misty irrecoverable past we discern the endless confused feuds and wars among forgotten tribes and once famous leaders, to us no more than names.
“ Fierce was the fray then,
Attila's warriors.” Priceless as an antiquarian document the poem is, though shadowy as a primæval forest and as trackless. For we meet the Hrothgar of Beowulf and mention is made of Heorot; we hear of Offa and the King of the Franks, and many another hero of our own folk ere their descendants made England, but with these are mingled references to Greeks and Finns, Israelites and Assyrians, Hebrews and Indians, Medes and Persians, where the poet is content to repeat simply a traditional catalogue. As literature Widsith is valuable chiefly for its strange suggestiveness, and as a picture in little of the life of a travelling minstrel in the heroic age of the Teutonic peoples. For the rest it is a glorification of the great art of song. The wanderer claims, after the ancient fashion of poets, the power to confer honour even upon monarchs, to write their names and deeds in his immortal story. It is clear that the minstrel is in possession of a great store of heroic legend, that, like the bards before Homer, he was the sole repository of history and tradition, welcomed on his roving commission not only for his knowledge of old family histories, of battles and heroic enterprises far back in the past among the Germanic folk, but for his skill to render into verse, and so perpetuate, the glories of kings and leaders among the living of his own day. He is the typical minstrel of his age.1
1 For a detailed study see Widsith, A Study in Old English Heroic Legend, by R. W. Chambers.
The other minstrel's lay, preserved in the Exeter Book, strikes a different note. It is the song of a court poet, a song of encouragement and consolation to himself. The poet is no longer young, he has been superseded by another in the favour of his lord, but with fine cheerfulness recalls others, Wayland, the famous smith, the maker of Beowulf's breastplate, the maker too of Mimming, the great sword mentioned in Waldhere, Wayland, who for all his marvellous skill had for comrades care and weary longing; Beadohild, in sore plight, mourning her brother's death; he recalls too Hild and Theodric, and many a sorrowful subject of Eormanric, a wolvish king. If these bore up under their burdens of grief, his own spirit must not fail. And to each stanza of his poem he adds the refrain
“ That was endured, so this may be." The Lament of Deor is a lyric, important not merely as a document, but as a poem excellent in itself and of singular interest as strophic in form, or at least thrown into the semblance of stanzaic structure by the recurring line just quoted. It is possible that Deor is a translation of which the original is Norse, or it may be an English poem imitated from some Gothic lay. Behind Widsith and this lyric of regret by a court poet, who has been supplanted in his patron's favour by another bard, there is the same immense background stretching to the horizon of time that meets us in Beowulf, the background of history and legend, of tossing spears and shields, of battles and the confused movements of marching tribes, out of which welter spring the names of great leaders, of kings, and queens, and warriors remembered for their valour. Here is a version of Deor.
“ Wayland knew the sorrows of exile,
Masterful earl, he knew its smart,
Beadohild too, for her brother's death
For thirty winters Theodric wasted
Now of myself the tale I tell you
That was endured, so this may be." Of true epic quality are the two fragments, about sixty lines, preserved in a manuscript in the National Library at Copenhagen, entitled Waldhere (or Walter), which appear to have formed part of an heroic narrative, perhaps the equal of Beowulf, in its original and complete form. The story, of which a part is here told, exists in a mediæval Latin version, Waltharius, and it was probably one of the most popular tales of the early Germanic cycle. Unhappily the portions extant in Old English give only two incidents, the first in which the hero, Walter, pursued by • A probable interpolation of seven lines is here omitted,
Guthere and Hagen and their comitatus, as he flies from the court of Attila with his betrothed bride, Hildegyth, and a great treasure, during a pause in the fight is, for a moment, weary and disheartened, and is urged to fresh activity by Hildegyth, who reminds him of his former valour; the second that in which Guthere advances, boasting his mighty sword and its history, and is met by the defiance of Walter, and a haughty summons to advance and take possession, if he can, of his armour. These challenges and counter-challenges of chiefs belong to epic poetry from Homer to Milton.
The story as we know it from the Latin version tells how Walter, set upon by Guthere's companions, slays one after another, till Guthere and Hagen only are left. A terrific combat ensues in which all three receive dreadful wounds, and weary of an indecisive fight agree to peace. Their wounds are dressed by Hildegyth, and in high good humour after the winecup has gone round Guthere and Hagen return, leaving Walter to pursue his journey to his own country where, on his father's death, he succeeds to the throne and lives and reigns for thirty years. I give a version of the most striking passage.
Then did Hildegyth
Nor yet at the wall sought
With fortune thy friend." Of a portion of the second fragment the following is a free rendering:
Then thus spake Walter,
Of battle pieces there is none finer or more worthy, like Waldhere, of a “son of Homer," than The Fight at Finnsburh, a poem which carries us straight to the mead hall and the feast of heroes, to the songs and stories recited by the bard at tribal gatherings, to the chants that pleased our warlike forefathers. It is, like Waldhere, a fragment, and was discovered in the library of Lambeth Palace. Almost certainly it belongs to the