GNOMIC POETRY

[Gnomic poetry consists of sententious sayings of different kinds. Sometimes a general truth is stated, a simple observation based on human experience; sometimes a moral maxim is laid down. Such poetry is found in the early stages of many literatures. Between two and three hundred lines of Old English gnomic poetry have come down to us. They show no great beauty, except in the famous passage about the Frisian wife welcoming her sailor husband, but they are interesting as illustrating an early stage in poetic development. This kind of sententious writing is frequently found elsewhere in Old English verse. In Beowulf, in the lyric poems such as The Wanderer, and elsewhere, we can see the tendency to generalizations of the kind found in the purely gnomic poetry.]


I

QUESTION me with wise words; let not thy thought be hidden, the mystery that thou mayest know most thoroughly. I will not tell thee my secret if thou concealest thy wisdom and the thoughts of thy heart. Wise men must needs exchange proverbs. Man shall first fittingly praise God, our Father, because in the beginning He bestowed on us life and transitory will; He will remind us of those gifts. Man shall dwell on earth; the young shall grow old. God is everlasting for us; fates change Him not, nor does disease or age vex Him, the Almighty, at all; nor does He grow old in spirit, but He is still as He was, a Prince long suffering. He gives us thoughts, differing minds, many languages. Many an island far and wide encloses many living races. The Lord, Almighty God, has raised up for mankind spacious domains, as many peoples as customs. Sage shall hold meeting with sage; their minds are alike; they ever settle strife; they teach peace, which miserable men took away before. Counsel shall be with wisdom, justice with wise men, a good man with good men. Two are consorts. A woman and a man shall bring a child into the world by birth. A tree on earth shall suffer in its leaves, lament its branches. The ready man shall depart, the doomed man shall die and every day fight at parting from the world. The Lord alone knows whence the death comes which departs hence from the land. He increases

-309-

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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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