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"distant shores of his beloved Erin." 1 ful, says Columba, to be

It would be delight

On the pinnacle of a rock,
That I might often see
The face of ocean;

That I might see its heaving waves
Over the wide ocean,

When they chant music to their Father

Upon the world's course; . . .

That I might hear the song of the wonderful birds,
Source of happiness;

That I might hear the thunder of the crowding waves
Upon the rocks;

That I might hear the roar by the side of the church
Of the surrounding sea : . . .

That I might see the sea-monsters,

The greatest of all wonders;

That I might see its ebb and flood

In their career.

That I might bless the Lord

Who preserves all,

Heaven with its countless bright orders,
Land, strand, and flood.

1 W. F. Skene, Celtic Scotland, vol. ii (1877).



BUT I must now resolutely turn my face to our own language in our own land. Yet the Saxon literature (as for convenience I shall name it) is but the prelude and ante-chamber to the English. And the English, indeed (if we do not concern ourselves with philology), regarded simply as literature, must in reason date from language intelligible to us all, without more at most than a glossary and a few notes. In a word, it must, mainly and practically, date from Henry VIII rather than from Edward III. But this by the way.

We may claim, it is stated,1 that the German tribes whose conquests created England were before the other Teutons in poetical work. The Hero-epic was developed by our people in the sixth century. Yet the Saxon poetry does not go far ; to the contemporary Cymric or Gaelic at least, in point of style and art, it seems to me decidedly inferior. As Mr. Earle has noted, it is strongly rhetorical. The distinctly imaginative element is mainly to be found in the frequent and varied metaphors; sometimes in the passion pervading the whole scheme of the song. In style, in metre, so far as I can judge, it must be confessed rarely or barely to rise above prose diction. Looking to our own province, seldom do we find complete similes; the landscape is scarcely described; the scene is indicated, rather than painted, by isolated touches. In this it may resemble the Greek poetry of Nature, but with a deeper and a sadder tone, a more personal quality. The Hellenic

1 B. Ten Brink, Early English Literature, 1883.

sense of order, self-restraint, and beauty is, however, largely wanting.

The grim, the gloomy side of earth predominates in the scanty relics of original Saxon poetry which survive the gaunt, gray wolf, the carrion-seeking raven; the forest with its wild inhabitants which then covered England so widely. And so the sea, as Mr. S. A. Brooke notes in his interesting Early English Literature (1892), appears always under the true Northern aspect: never warm, often ice-cold; never blue or green, always black, wan or murky. Thus in the mystical epic Beowulf of uncertain date, but early, where the hero is swimming for five days with a rival

Flood drove us apart . .

Wallowing waters, coldest of weathers,

Night waning wan; while wind from the North,
Battling-grim, blew on us; rough were the billows.1

But Beowulf supplies a more characteristic and an unusually minute landscape in the picture of a desolate boundary land which was haunted by evil spirits, especially by the old sea-wolf, mother to the fiend Grendel—

They inhabit the dark land, wolf-haunted slopes, windy headlands, the rough fen-way where the mountain stream, under the dark shade of the headlands, runs down, water under land. It is not far from hence, a mile by measure, that the mere lies; over it hang groves of dead trees, a wood fast-rooted, and bend shelteringly over the water; there every night may one see a dire portent, fire on the flood. No one of the sons of men is so experienced as to know these lake depths; though the heathranging hart, with strong horns, pressed hard by the hounds, seeks that wooded holt, hunted from far; he will sooner give up his life, his last breath, on the bank, before he will hide his head therein. It is not a holy place. Thence the turbid wave rises up dark-hued to the clouds, when the wind stirreth up foul weather, until the air grows gloomy, the heavens weep.

What a powerfully lurid picture is this! Think for a

1 In my metrical quotations I shall mainly follow the metrical renderings from the Saxon supplied by Mr. Brooke.

moment of the brilliant landscapes left us by Theocritus and the Anthology, so laughing, so brightly coloured; haunted by Nymphs and Oreades in their beauty-landscapes in which the heart of man sang for joy. Or think of the landscapes of the great Psalmist, where indeed the terrible side of Nature is fully acknowledged, while yet all is imaged as God's immediate work, as lying in His hand, ready to protect man in the dangers of the sea. No more vivid contrast can be imagined : none which speaks more powerfully of the vast difference in race, in temperament, in bias of thought, between North and South.

The great Northumbrian Caedmon, the cow-herd, whose romantic story is recorded by Bede, is the first Saxon poet whose individuality is clear to us. He died in 680 A.D., and left a number of hymns mingled with legendary matter, paraphrasing parts of the Old and New Testament; but, according to the best authorities, largely interpolated in later Saxon days. From this collection I will quote a beautiful description of the "gray-blue" dove sent forth from the Ark—

Far and wide she went, her own will she sought,
All around she flew, nowhere rest she found,
For the flood she might not with her flying feet
Perch upon the land. .

Then the wild bird went

For the ark a-seeking, in the even-tide,

Over the wan wave wearily to sink,

Hungry, to the hands of the holy man [Noah].

From the same poem I quote a striking bit of wider celestial landscape

On the Heaven gaze, count its glorious gems,
Count the stars of Aether that in space so pure
Ever-glorious fairness, now so far are dealing :
O'er the billows broad see them brightly glimmer.

The second great name in Saxon poetry is that of Cynewulf, also a Northumbrian of uncertain date, between the eighth and the eleventh centuries. His verse is partly secular, partly religious. He thus describes the fen land in which the Reed

Flute, as he calls it, grows. The Reed is personified, and


On the sand I stay'd, by the Sea-wall near,

All beside the surge inflowing, firm I sojourn'd there
Where I first was fashion'd.

The brown-back'd billow at each break of day
With its watery arms enwrapt me-

and how

little dreaming then, as the poem goes on, that in time some lover would take the Reed and pipe music on it to his maiden. This pretty, natural thought may remind us of Epigrams in the Greek Anthology.

We have also a vivid description of the Badger—

White of throat I am, fallow gray my head;

Through the mountain steep I make myself a street;
By a hidden way, through the hole of the hillside
Lead my precious ones, my children.

It is a true, a modern feeling for the wild creature that we surely have here.

The Andreas, a religious poem, based on a Latin original, and belonging apparently either to Cynewulf or his school, has a very finely felt picture of our Lord on Gennesaret as told by S. Andrew on his mission to Mermedonia

So of yore it befell that on sea-boat we

O'er the war of waves ventured (ocean's) fords,
Riding on the flood . . .

Billow answer'd billow,
Wave replied to wave; and at times uprose
From the bosom of the foam to the bosom of the boat
Terror o'er the Wave-ship.

Then the Lord arises from His sleep

He rebuked the winds;
Sank the sea to rest: Strength of ocean-streams
Soon did smooth become! Then our spirit laugh'd,

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