“In mortal court his deeds
are not unsung,
Such as a noble man mill show to men,
Till all doth flit away, both life and light.”
A greater scop, looking at life through Saxon eyes, sings:—
are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."
The scop in the song called The Wanderer (Exeter Book) tells how fleeting are riches, friend, kinsman, maiden,—all the “earth-stead,” and he also makes us think of Shakespeare’s “insubstantial pageant faded” which leaves “not a rack behind.”
Another old song, also found in the Exeter Book, is the Seafarer. We must imagine the scop recalling vivid experiences to our early ancestors with this song of the sea:—
“Hail flew in hard showers.
And nothing I heard
But the wrath of the waters,
The icy-cold way
At times the swan’s song;
In the scream of the gannet
I sought for my joy,
In the moan of the sea whelp
For laughter of men,
In the song of the sea-mew
For drinking of mead."
To show that love of the sea yet remains one of the characteristics of English poetry, we may quote by way of comparison a song sung more than a thousand years later, in Victoria’s reign:—
“The wind is as iron that rings,
The foam heads loosen and flee;
It swells and welters and swings,
The pulse of the tide of the sea.
Let the wind shake our flag like a feather,
Like the plumes of the foam of the sea!
* * * * *
In the teeth of the hard glad a weather,
In the blown wet face of the sea."
Kipling in A Song of the English says of the sea:—
“...there’s never a wave of
all her waves
But marks our English dead.”
Another song from the Exeter Book is called The Fortunes of Men. It gives vivid pictures of certain phases of life among the Anglo-Saxons:—
“One shall sharp hunger slay;
One shall the storms beat down;
One be destroyed by darts,
One die in war.
Orre shall live losing
The light of his eyes,
Feel blindly with his fingers;
And one lame of foot.
With sinew-wound wearily
Musing and mourning;
With death in his mind.
* * * * *
One shall die by the dagger,
In wrath, drenched with ale,
Wild through the wine, on the mead bench
Too swift with his words
Too swift with his words;
Shall the wretched one lose."
The songs that we have noted, together with Beowulf, the greatest of them all, will give a fair idea of scopic poetry.
The Oldest Epic of the Teutonic Race.—The greatest monument of Anglo-Saxon poetry is called Beowulf, from the name of its hero. His character and exploits give unity and dignity to the poem and raise it to the rank of an epic.