Stiahnuť prednášku -

The Old English period extends from about 450 to 1066, the year of the NormanFrench conquest of England. The Germanic tribes from Europe who overran England in
the 5th century, after the Roman withdrawal, brought with them the Old English
language, which is the basis of Modern English. They brought also a specific poetic
tradition, the formal character of which remained surprisingly constant until the
termination of their rule by the Norman-French invaders six centuries later.
The Old English language, also called Anglo-Saxon, was the earliest form of
English. It does not change suddenly so it’s difficult to give exact dates for the rise and
development of a language, but perhaps we can say that Old English was spoken from
about A.D. 600 to about 1100. The old language cannot be read now except by those
who have made a special study of it.
Much of Old English poetry was probably intended to be chanted, with harp
accompaniment, by the Anglo-Saxon scope, or bard. Often bold and strong, but also
mournful and elegiac in spirit, this poetry emphasises the sorrow and ultimate futility of
life and the helplessness of humans before the power of fate. Almost all this poetry is
composed without rhyme, in a characteristic line, or verse, of four stressed syllables
alternating with an indeterminate number of unstressed ones. This line strikes strangely
on ears habituated to the usual modern pattern, in which the rhythmical unit, or foot,
theoretically consists of a constant number (either one or two) of unaccented syllables
that always precede or follow any stressed syllable.
The oldest and greatest monument of the Old English period is the poem
Beowulf, an old Germanic legend, which belongs to the seventh century. It is a story of
about 3000 lines and it is the first English epic. It’s preserved in the well-known Cotton
Manuscript. The name of its author is unknown.
Beowulf is about a brave young man, Beowulf, from southern Sweden, who goes
to help Hrothgar, King of the Danes, because he’s in trouble. His great hall Heorot is
visited at night by a terrible creature, Grendel, which lives in a lake and comes to kill
and eat Hrothgar´s men. One night Beowulf waits secretly for it, attacks it and in a fierce
fight pulls its arm off. It manages to reach the lake again, but dies there. Then its mother
comes to the hall in search of revenge and attacks begin again. Beowulf follows her to
the bottom of the lake and kills her there.
In later days, Beowulf, now king of his people, has to defend his country against
a fire-breathing creature. He kills the animal but is badly wounded in the fight and dies.
The poem ends with a sorrowful description of Beowulf’s funeral fire.
Beowulf has its own value and its own special place in the Old English literature.
It gives us and interesting picture of life in those old days. It tells of fierce fights and
brave deeds, of the speeches of the leader and the sufferings of his men. It describes
their life in the hall, the fights that they had to fight, their ships and travels. They had a
hard life on land and sea, they did not enjoy it much, but they managed it well.
The kind of verse in Beowulf is kind of interesting. Each half line has two main
beats. There is no rhyme. Each half-line is joined to the other by structural alliteration –
the use of syllables beginning with similar sounds in two or three of the stresses in each
line. (haeleth/hiofende/hlaford). Structural alliteration is another unfamiliar but equally
striking feature in the formal character of Old English poetry.
Things are described indirectly and in combinations of words. For example a ship
is not only a ship – it is a sea-boat, a sea-wood. Even the sea itself may be called the
waves, the sea-streams, or the ocean-way. Often several of these words are used at
the same time. This changes a plain statement into something more colourful, but such
descriptions take a lot of time and the action moves slowly. In Old English poetry
descriptions of sad events or cruel situations are commoner and in better writing than
those of happiness.
The Old Germanic virtue of mutual loyalty between leader and followers is
evoked effectively and touchingly in the aged Beowulf's sacrifice of his life and in the
reproaches heaped on the retainers who desert him in this climactic battle. The
extraordinary artistry with which fragments of other heroic tales are incorporated to
illumine the main action, and with which the whole plot is reduced to symmetry, has only
recently been fully recognised.
Another feature of Beowulf is the weakening of the sense of the ultimate power of
arbitrary fate. The injection of the Christian idea of dependence on a just God is evident.
That feature is typical of other Old English literature, for monastic copyists preserved
almost all of what survives. Most of it was actually composed by religious writers after
the early conversion of the people from their faith in the older Germanic divinities.
But besides Beowulf there are many other Old English poems, too. Among them
are Genesis A and Genesis B written by an unknown author. The second of these,
which is short, is concerned with the beginnings of the world and the fall of the angels.
The poet has here thoroughly enjoyed describing God’s punishment of Satan and the
place of punishment for evil in Hell. On the contrary, most of the long Genesis A is a
little bit dull, it’s in fact the old history taken from the Bible and put into Old English
Other poems taken straight form the Bible are The Exodus, which describes how
the Israelites left Egypt and Daniel. Another poem, Christ and Satan, deals with events
in Christ’s life.
We know the names of two Old English poets – CAEDMON and CYNEWULF.
Almost nothing now remains which are certainly Caedmon´s works. He was a poor
countryman who used to stay apart when his fellows sang songs to God, for Caedmon
was uneducated and could not sing. One night an angle appeared to him in a dream
and told him to sing God’s praise. When he woke, he was able to sing and part of one of
his songs remains.
Cynewulf almost certainly wrote four poems – Juliana, The Fates of the Apostles,
Christ and Elene. The last of these seems to have been written just before Cynewulf´s
death. Cynewulf´s poems are religious and were probably written in the second half of
the eight century.
Other Old English poems are Andreas and Guthlac. The second of these is in
two parts and may have been written by two men. It’s about a holy man who was
tempted in the desert. One of the better ones is a late poem called The Battle of
Maldon. This battle was fought against the Danes in 991 and probably the poem was
written soon after that.
Another poem is The Dream of the Rood – this is among the best of all Old English
Old English lyrics include Deor’s Complaint, The Husband’s Message, The
Wanderer and The Wife’s Complaint.
In general it is fairly safe to say that Old English prose came later than Old
English verse, but there was some early prose. The oldest Laws were written at the
beginning of the seventh century. These Laws were not literature and better sentences
were written towards the end of the seventh century.
The most interesting piece of prose is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, an early
history of the country. There are several chronicles belonging to different cities. A great
influence of this work had KING ALFRED THE GREAT (849-901). He probably brought
the different writings into some kind of order. He also translated a number of Latin
books into Old English, so that his people could read them. He translated the
Ecclesiastical History of England written in Latin by Venerable Bede. He brought back
learning to England and improved the education of his people.
Another important writer of prose was AELFRIC. His works, such as the Homilies
(990-994) and Lives of Saints (993-996), were mostly religious. He wrote out in Old
English the meaning of the first seven books of the Bible. He also uses alliteration to
join his sentences together. His prose style is the best in Old English.
Brendlová, Světla; Novy, Jan Lindsey: A Survey of Literature in English-Speaking
Countries. Bratislava: Nakladateľstvo Fraus, 1999. ISBN 80-88844-47-9
Silvánová, Barbara: Angličtina. Bratislava: Enigma jr., 1994. ISBN 80-9671907-0-9
Thornley, G.C.; Roberts, Gwyneth: An Outline of English Literature. Essex: Longman
Group, 2001. ISBN 0-582-74917-4
Vaughan-Reese, Michael; Sweeney, Geraldine; Cassidy, Picot: In Britain. 21 th Century
Edition. London: Chancerel Internationl Publisher,2000. ISBN 1-899888-64-0
Related flashcards
Indian poets

28 Cards

Epic poems

25 Cards

Hungarian poets

63 Cards

Create flashcards