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and account of the fall of man. A worthy precursor, we might call the author, of the poet of Paradise Lost. Nor is it impossible that his work was known to Milton in the first printed edition of 1655 made in Amsterdam, and that he had it in mind during the composition of his epic. The passages descriptive of the Deluge; of the expulsion of the rebellious angels; of the Hell, "flaming, yet without light," "terrible with fire"; of Satan imprisoned behind "the great bars of rugged iron hammered hot"; or such a battle piece as that between Abraham and the Elamites, prove its author beyond doubt a poet.

"So they rushed together-Loud were then the lances,
Savage then the slaughter-hosts. Sadly sang the war fowl,
With her feathers dank with dew, midst the darting of the shafts,
Hoping for the corpses. Hastened then the heroes

In their mighty masses, and their mood was full of thought.
Then was hard play there,
Interchanging of death-darts, mickle cry of war!

Loud the crash of battle! With their hands the heroes
Drew from sheaths their swords ring-hilted,
Doughty of the edges!" 1

The Genesis is throughout distinguished by a rare activity of imagination; the descriptions of Satan particularly attain a surprising reflective depth and solemn splendour.

The Exodus is chiefly remarkable for the epic nobility of the description of the Israelites in their flight from Egypt, the pursuit by Pharaoh, and the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. Here all the martial ardour of the Teutonic race flames out.

"Then they saw

Forth and forward faring, Pharaoh's war-array,
Gliding on a grove of spears; glittering the hosts!
Fluttered then the banners, there the folk the march trod.
Onwards surged the war, strode the spears along,
Blickered the broad shields; blew aloud the trumpets.

"Wheeling round in gyres, yelled the fowls of war,

Of the battle greedy; hoarsely barked the raven,
Dew upon his feathers, o'er the fallen corpses;
Swart that chooser of the slain! Sang aloud the wolves
At the eve their horrid song, hoping for the carrion,
Kindless were the beasts, cruelly they threaten;

Death did these march-warders, all the midnight through,
Howl along the hostile trail-hideous slaughter of the host."

1 For this and the following translations in this chapter I am indebted to Mr. Stopford Brooke's History of Early English Literature. For alternative versions see the Appendix.

Daniel contains no such striking passages as meet us in Genesis and Exodus; it is more prosaic, more didactic, a poem in which the epic objectivity suffers from the presence of the poet and his personal emotions.

Judith, a fragment which relates the story of Judith and Holofernes, was also formerly attributed to Caedmon. The problem of its authorship remains unsolved, but it is certainly later by centuries than the Caedmonian poems, and though some critics claim for it the highest poetical merit, in the judgment of most readers Judith will be found tamer in spirit and more artificial in tone than Genesis or Exodus. It sprang, however, from the same epic impulse, and endeavours like the rest of this early Christian poetry to substitute, for a purpose, Biblical history for national while it preserved the heroic manner. It was thus possible to attract to the new themes men who still were drawn by racial instinct to the older interests of war and warriors.

Of Cynewulf, who flourished about a hundred years later, we know hardly more than of Caedmon. He appears to have been something of a scholar, to have passed much of his life as a minstrel, to have lived to a great age, and to have been the author of many poems preserved for us in the Exeter and Vercelli books. How many is doubtful, but it is certain that he wrote Elene and Juliana, since he has himself recorded it by the insertion of runes which spell the name Cynewulf. The influence of Latin Christianity is a marked feature in this poet's work, not merely in the choice and treatment of his subjects, but in the language and construction. The epic impulse, it is apparent, has already suffered from antagonistic influences and the symptoms of a rapid decay are prominent. Lyrical and subjective elements successfully assert themselves, religious zeal overpowers distinctively pagan sentiment. Still, as in the Caedmonian poems, the smouldering fires burst forth even in the work of this scholar and fervid apostle of the Christian creed. Juliana, the story of a Christian maid who refuses to wed a pagan, opens like Beowulf with the customary Hwaet ! Hark! by which the Anglo-Saxon scôp called the attention of

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his audience to the tale he was about to chant; Elene, a story of the search for the true cross, a poem of Cynewulf's old age and his masterpiece, strikes the familiar chords; the clash of sword and shield, the flight of the battle-serpents, the ashen arrows, the resounding sea, the swan-road over which swing the galleys, foaming wave-floaters, the treasure gifts in the mead-hall are not yet forgotten. For in Cynewulf, even in his old age, and for all his learning and his saintly tales, there survives the Viking still. The Andreas, also in the Vercelli book, and by some scholars attributed to Cynewulf, is filled with the many voices of the sea and wind.

“ The sword-fish played,
Through ocean gliding, and the grey gull wheeled
Greedy of prey; dark grew the Weather-torch;
The winds waxed great, together crushed the waves,
The stream of ocean stirred, and drenched with spray
The cordage groaned; then Water-Terror rose
With all the might of armies from the deep."

At the period of their conquest of Britain our ancestors were in the epic stage, and to that stage their extant literature corresponds. Their failure to produce a completer or more perfect form of epic poetry was due in part to their failure to achieve a higher political unity, which, had they achieved it, might well have manifested itself in epic of high dignity. But political constitution apart, the influence of the new religion upon the heroic temper and heroic life was in itself paralysing. Ideas foreign to the experience of these peoples entered and interrupted the evolution of their poetic genius, the current of their lives was altered and directed into other channels than those in which it had been accustomed to flow, heroes unknown to their national history were presented to them as exemplars, they were introduced to the art of writing, they came under the influence of learning and a culture derived from books, their language itself underwent changes in the loss of inflexion and gender and its prosody was gradually modified, the importance of the scôp both as singer and historian was diminished. To these changes the decline of epic poetry can be directly traced. Yet the strength of the impulse towards it appears in the character of the early Christian literature just spoken of. The epic process is interrupted, it has received fatal injuries, a lyrical and reflective note and a devotional mood foreign to its nature soon appear in it, yet it retains sufficient vitality to impose its form and method upon Christian poetry for several centuries. The first stage in the decline is seen in the subjects of the Caedmonian poems, which are selected in the interests of the new religion. The second appears in the poetry of Cynewulf, who, if not ecclesiastic, was at least educated under ecclesiastical conditions, and draws his material exclusively from Latin sources. To poetry in the age of Alfred succeeded prose,

and the epic stream, “ forgetting the bright speed it had,is lost in the low and level tracts of Church annals and theological homilies.

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ROMANCE entered as an element into the epic poetry of Homer, it entered into Beowulf ; we may regard it as one of the ultimate inexpugnable constituents of the narrative art. No one indeed, as I have said, can indicate the moment at which poetry ceases to be heroic because it is too romantic. A generous contributor to epic splendour, there comes, nevertheless, a moment at which we must brace ourselves against the acceptance of romance as sufficient in itself. Who will wish to enter on the epic register the whole stupendous mass of romantic poesy? These millions of acres would, if added to our ground of respectable epic dimensions

“ Singeing his pate against the burning zone
Make Ossa like a wart."


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Romance is not epic, nor is it necessarily heroic poetry. Epic, as in the Odyssey, can take up and convert to its own high uses of episode and amplification an indeterminable amount of foreign and marvellous matter, but—and here the first distinction emerges—true epic or heroic poetry has its roots in native soil; it is not an exotic, it is a home growth. Whatever meanings, and they are many, that have been attached to romance, there is involved in it, and invariably, a foreign element, something brought from a distance, a strange country, or strange ways of thought. The wonder and mystery of it, the secret of the charm hides in its remoteness from the world we know. The ideas of epic poetry, the society it pictures, the hero it praises, the deeds it recalls, to whatever race or country they are assigned, have in them the genius of that race or country, as in a mirror is reflected there, if not always historical fact, at least the shadow of history and national achievements.


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