Among the poems of this age, we may emphasize: (1) the shorter scopic pieces, of which the Far Traveler, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, The Fortunes of Men, and The Battle of Brunanburh are important examples; (2) Beowulf, the greatest Anglo-Saxon epic poem, which describes the deeds of an unselfish hero, shows how the ancestors of the English lived and died, and reveals the elemental ideals of the race; (3) the Caedmonian Cycle of scriptural paraphrases, some of which have Miltonic qualities; and (4) the Cynewulf Cycle, which has the most variety and lyrical excellence. Both of these Cycles show how the introduction of Christianity affected poetry.
The subject matter of the poetry is principally war, the sea, and religion. The martial spirit and love of the sea are typical of the nation that has raised her flag in every clime. The chief qualities of the poetry are earnestness, somberness, and strength, rather than delicacy of touch, exuberance of imagination, or artistic adornment.
The golden period of prose coincides in large measure with Alfred’s reign, 871-901, and he is the greatest prose writer. His translations of Latin works to serve as textbooks for his people contain excellent additions by him. AElfric, a tenth century prose writer, has left a collection of sermons, called Homilies, and an interesting Colloquium, which throws strong lights on the social life of the time. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is an important record of contemporaneous events for the historian.
In connection with the progress of literature, students should obtain for themselves a general idea of contemporary historical events from any of the following named works:—
Gardiner’s_ Students’ History of England_.
Green’s Short History of the English People.
Walker’s Essentials in English History.
Cheney’s A Short History of England.
Lingard’s History of England.
Traill’s Social England, Vol. I.
Ramsay’s The Foundations of England.
Cambridge History of English Literature, Vol. I.
Brooke’s History of Early English Literature
to the Accession of King
Morley’s English Writers, Vols. I. and II.
Earle’s Anglo-Saxon Literature.
Ten Brink’s Early English Literature, Vol. I.
The Exeter Book, edited and translated, by Gollancz (Early English Text Society).
Gurteen’s The Epic of the Fall of Man:
A Comparative Study of
Caedmon, Dante, and Milton.
Cook’s The Christ of Cynewulf. (The Introduction of 97 pages gives a valuable account of the life and writings of Cynewulf.)