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Anglo Saxon Christian Poetry or Religious Poetry

 Anglo Saxon Christian Poetry


 Anglo Saxon Religious Poetry

Anglo Saxon Christian Poetry or Religious Poetry

Anglo Saxon Christian Poetry or Religious Poetry

Answer: With the advent of Christianity in the 7th century A.D. and its gradual acclimatization, the Anglo Saxons freed themselves from their Pagan ancestry and turned to the new world of Latin Christianity for subjects of their poetry.

Consequently the stock heroic themes were held at Bay in favour of Biblical themes. This enabled the Anglo-Saxons to be familiar with Hebrew imagination which was so different from their own, obsessed with valour and physical prowess. The new religious poetry begotten by this cultural metamorphosis is remarkably distinct from their poetic achievements before the conversion.

The emergence of old English Christian poetry first started in Northumbria in the 8th century. Caedmon, a priest in the monastery of the Abbey Hilda at Withby, is the first poet of eminence. Having been divinely inspired in a vision, this unlearned herdsman began to compose hymns in praise of God.

The ‘Junius Manuscript’ attributes five poems to him- ‘Genesis A’ and ‘B’, ‘Exodus’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Christ and Satan’. Modern critics however, think that Caedmon actually fathered only a nine line poem, Hymn of Creation. It is a sort panegyric in which the poet thanks God, ‘the guardian of heavens Kingdom’.

Excepting Hymn of Creation, Caedmon’s poetical paraphrase of Genesis is of high merit. The first ‘Genesis A’ extends over to 2396 lines and precisely deals with Satan’s rebellion against God, his expulsion and God’s decision to restore the glories of heaven. The poem is a laborious translation of the fast 22 chapters of the Bible.

Genesis B’, a poem of about 620 odd lines, dealing with the fall of angels is a vivid translation of a continental- Saxon original. Generally treated as an interpolation, in poetic grandeur and stylistic variety the work is more polished than its counterpart.

‘Exodus’ vigorously recounts the destruction of the Egyptian in the Red Sea. It is a 590 lines long poem which dates back to the early 8th century.

‘Daniel’ which sticks to the latest of the Bible is a 764 lines poem of meager beauty. ‘Christ and Satan’ was probably written in the period 790-830 A.D. Thus, 733 lines poem shows Satan despairing of his fall and faintly anticipates the Harrowing of Hell. A queer mixture of Caedmon and Cynewulf schools, along with the Genesis poems, considerably influenced Milton’s magnum opus, ‘Paradise Lost’.

The Mercian poet, Cynewulf flourished in late 8th or 9th century. Modern scholarship attributes only four poems- ‘Juliana’ ‘Elene’, ‘The Fates of the Apostles’ and ‘Christ II to Cynewulf. All of these belong to either Exeter Book or Vercelli Book.

However, meditative in tone, these poems are the product of that mind which can elevate mystical contemplation to the level of religious passion. The themes are mostly Biblical, but Cynewulf occasionally enjoys the freedom of an original creative artist.

‘Christ II’ is a sombre account of the Ascension and the Last Judgement. ‘Juliana’ is a stereotype portrayal of a Saint’s life. ‘Elene’ again describes the discovery of the true Cross by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. ‘The Fates of the Apostle’ in its small volume of 1220 lines presents the adventures of the Apostles who go on errand of spreading the Gospel.

The post Cynewulfian Anglo Saxon Christian poetry frees itself from the narrow cocoon of Biblical themes and comes to comprehend the divisional and mystical of which ‘The Dream of the Rood’, is the most outstanding example. Found in Vercelli Book, the poem of about 160 lines was probably retained in the 10th century. The motive here is to justify the ways of God. The poem is cast in a 3 tier visionary mould.

The former depicts the poet’s vision of the bejewelled Cross and remaining two presents respectively the homiletic address of the Cross and the poet’s confidence in Heaven. It is noted for its devotional simplicity and ingenious imagery. However, the cohesion of the parts remains suspect and the poet seems to be more concerned with the subject than with the form. The other minor Christian poems like Phoenix and Andreas show that by the end of the 10th century, the Christian poets were banking more on their imagination than on Jerome’s ‘Vulgate’ for subjects of their poetry.


Read also:

👉 Anglo-Saxon Christian Poetry | or Religious Poetry  

👉 Anglo-Saxon Elegy |or Old English Lyric Poetry 

👉 Middle English Allegorical Poetry | 

👉 Beowulf | as a heroic epic poem  

👉 Raja Ram Mohan Roy | Contribution to Indian Literature  

👉 English Literature and American Literature | Differences between them 

👉 Received Pronunciation (RP) | Distinctive features, criteria and major problems  

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