INTRODUCTION

THIS book contains translations of English poetry which was composed, roughly speaking, between A.D. 650 and 1000, or, in other words, from Widsith, which is perhaps the oldest English poem, to Maldon, which is the last great poem before the Norman Conquest. The coming of the French brought such great changes in language and in literary fashions that the older poetry seems somewhat remote from us.

English poetry before the Conquest may be roughly divided into two classes, heroic and Christian. The heroic poems deal for the most part with Germanic legend and history. About these poems there is nothing distinctively English except the language. The stories they tell or mention, the kings and warriors they refer to, were known to all the Germanic peoples, not merely to the tribes which came over to Britain. The Christian poetry adapts and paraphrases the biblical narrative, records the lives of saints, or uses verse for general moralizing. These religious themes were as much the subject of poetry after the Norman Conquest as before. Chaucer tells us the life of St Cecilia as Cynewulf tells us the life of St Juliana. The Conquest changed the language and metre of the religious poetry, but the substance remained the same.

Of the heroic poetry we can form no final estimate, because we do not know the extent or worth of what has been lost. The ravages of the Danes from the end of the eighth century onward blotted out a flourishing literature in the north of England. Monastic libraries were destroyed. Practically the only Northumbrian poetry preserved has survived in a West Saxon translation and not in its native dress. There are indications that Beowulf was originally a Northumbrian poem. Beowulf has survived complete, not because it was necessarily the best of the old poems, but merely because it was luckier than its fellows. Waldhere, and Finnesburh, of which we have only fragments, were probably in some ways better poems.

The heroic poems, Beowulf, Finnesburh, Waldhere, Deor, and Widsith, probably took their present form in the course of the seventh century. Their substance, however, comes from an earlier time, from the age which had just closed, extending from

-v-

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Anglo-Saxon Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Introduction v
  • Contents xiii
  • Beowulf 1
  • Finnesburh 63
  • Waldhere 65
  • Widsith 67
  • Deor 71
  • The Wanderer 73
  • The Seafarer 76
  • The Wife's Lament 79
  • The Husband's Message 81
  • Wulf and Eadwacer 83
  • The Ruin 84
  • Charms 85
  • Genesis 95
  • Exodus 112
  • Daniel 121
  • Christ and Satan 127
  • Juliana 165
  • The Fates of the Apostles 178
  • Andreas 181
  • Elene 211
  • The Dream of the Rood 235
  • The Phoenix 239
  • Physiologus 252
  • Guthlac 256
  • The Soul's Address to the Body 280
  • Doomsday 284
  • Riddles 289
  • Gnomic Poetry 309
  • The Arts of Men 316
  • The Fates of Men 318
  • Judith 320
  • The Battle of Brunanburh 327
  • The Battle of Maldon 329
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