Halleck's New English Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 629 pages of information about Halleck's New English Literature.

Elene and the Dream of the Road, also probably written by Cynewulf, are an Anglo-Saxon apotheosis of the cross.  Some of this Cynewulfian poetry is inscribed on the famous Ruthwell cross in Dumfriesshire.

Andreas and Phoenix.—­Cynewulf is probably the author of Andreas, an unsigned poem of special excellence and dramatic power.  The poem, “a romance of the sea,” describes St. Andrew’s voyage to Mermedonia to deliver St. Matthew from the savages.  The Savior in disguise is the Pilot.  The dialogue between him and St. Andrew is specially fine.  The saint has all the admiration of a Viking for his unknown Pilot, who stands at the helm in a gale and manages the vessel as he would a thought.

Although the poet tells of a voyage in eastern seas, he is describing the German ocean:—­

                    “Then was sorely troubled,
  Sorely wrought the whale-mere.  Wallowed there the Horn-fish,
  Glode the great deep through; and the gray-backed gull
  Slaughter-greedy wheeled.  Dark the storm-sun grew,
  Waxed the winds up, grinded waves;
  Stirred the surges, groaned the cordage,
  Wet with breaking sea."[21]

Cynewulf is also the probable author of the Phoenix, which is in part an adaptation of an old Latin poem.  The Phoenix is the only Saxon poem that gives us the rich scenery of the South, in place of the stern northern landscape.  He thus describes the land where this fabulous bird dwells:—­

  “Calm and fair this glorious field, flashes there the sunny grove;
  Happy is the holt of trees, never withers fruitage there. 
  Bright are there the blossoms... 
  In that home the hating foe houses not at all,
       * * * * *
  Neither sleep nor sadness, nor the sick man’s weary bed,
  Nor the winter-whirling snow...
  ...but the liquid streamlets,
  Wonderfully beautiful, from their wells upspringing,
  Softly lap the land with their lovely floods."[22]


Martial Spirit.—­The love of war is very marked in Anglo-Saxon poetry.  This characteristic might have been expected in the songs of a race that had withstood the well-nigh all-conquering arm of the vast Roman Empire.

Our study of Beowulf has already shown the intensity of the martial spirit in heathen times.  These lines from the Fight at Finnsburg, dating from about the same time as Beowulf, have only the flash of the sword to lighten their gloom.  They introduce the raven, for whom the Saxon felt it his duty to provide food on the battlefield:—­

  “...hraefen wandrode
  sweart and sealo-br=un; swurd-l=eoma st=od
  swylce eal Finns-buruh f=yrenu w=aere.”

  ...the raven wandered
  Swart and sallow-brown; the sword-flash stood
  As if all Finnsburg were afire.

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Halleck's New English Literature from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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