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And the water-fear
Full of fear became, for the fear of God the Lord.1
Lastly, a winter scene from the same—
Snow did bind the earth
Frozen hard were lands
With the chilly icicles: Shrunk the courage of the water : 2
The metre of these poems is similar; they have short, unrhymed lines, the number of syllables apparently governed by accent, alliteration used for emphasis, and as a kind of link to the structure of the poem: and Mr. Brooke in his versions has attempted in some degree to preserve these peculiarities. certain directness of style, a deep earnestness pervades them. The tendency to moralise, always characteristic of the English Muses, is very conspicuous; and, its natural consequence, then and now, it easily led the poets into what always lies so near to the didactic, the prosaic style. Prose writing, we must remember, as in early Greece, was hardly formed as yet. Destined as we were to be nearest the Greeks in poetical literature, we, like them, sang before we spoke. Poetry, in fact, to Saxon England-gradually yet rapidly learning to take her place in the civilised European Church and Commonwealth, and to assimilate Latin culture-poetry for her main function had to teach religion, in the widest sense, first; next, to celebrate heroes of old or great actions of the day; in a word, to keep alive the past and to prepare men for the future. Doubtless many rude songs of common life and pleasure existed; but these were either never written down or have perished.
1 The sense of this passage seems to be that the natural terror felt by man for the sea is itself terrified by the fear of God. The Saxon poetry not unfrequently falls into conceits and contortions of this character; it is a phase of mind which appears congenial alike to art in its youth, and art in its decad
2 i.e. frost stopped it from running.
Saxon literature, it should always be remembered, is but a fragment, only what survived the Danish scourge, the Norman conquest, and (perhaps most lamentable of all) the wholesale barbarous destruction of libraries by the robber reformers of the sixteenth century. Yet these fragments are, we may suppose, enough to mark the style, the aims, and the bounds of the Saxon poetry. The value of it lies mostly in its historical interest; in the glimpses it gives of sacred and secular thought before the Conquest. It has, in a high sense, the magic of antiquity. As art, the merit of these metrical attempts cannot be rated high; Mr. Brooke seems to me not a little to overrate their importance, whether as poetry in itself, or as genealogically connected with our mediaeval writers. Had these ancient songs never existed, Chaucer, we may boldly say, must have been. Yet, though in a distinctly limited sense, the Saxon Makers may be called the forefathers of that vast army which we know the long succession "from Alfred to Alfred." Our landscape poetry, to return to my subject, is partially prefigured in the examples given. And it is needless to point out how widely their style asserts its individuality alike against Classical and Celtic song.
LANDSCAPE IN ENGLISH MEDIAEVAL POETRY-CHAUCER AND HIS SUCCESSORS
THE period of conquest, of disintegration, of transition, of renewed national unity which follows, supplies little to the Landscape of Poetry. The work then done, whilst the "Middle English" was slowly forming itself, enormous as it is, may be hence passed over. Layamon and Ormin; the Alexander, the Tristram, the Havelok; Mannyng, Rolle, Minot go by like great shadows. Nor shall I here attempt to sketch the part played by our national history in developing our poetry—a subject which, however interesting, lies outside our present attempt.
It is wellnigh another English, another literature, that the thirteenth century begins to present. Songs of that date, devoted mainly to love or to religion, frequently open with a lyrical reference to the seasons and their characteristic birds or flowers, but hardly offer the landscape as such. Here, however, we have that early and well-known carol
Summer is y-comen in,
Loud sing cuckoo !
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
And springeth the wood now :
Ewe bleateth after lamb,
Bullock starteth, buck verteth :1
1 Goes to harbour among the greenery, the fern. This is the current explanation. I would humbly suggest that verteth may be the verb verde, as
Merry sing cuckoo !
Sing cuckoo now,
Another lyric sets forth the good effects of the Spring. I quote
Lent is come with Love to town,
With blossoms and with birdës roune,1
Our next example, which carries us to about 1360, differs greatly from the landscape specimens just quoted, both in its length and its highly developed style-points wherein the poem named simply Pearl, testifies gloriously to the great advance of our literature in the later Middle Ages. It is written in West Midland dialect, and endeavours to unite the old alliterative measure with complex romance metres.
Pearl is the visionary lament of a father over his lost daughter Margaret, dead in early childhood, and found by him in glory within a Paradise described in the opening stanzas. Mr. I. Gollancz, of Christ's College, Cambridge, to whom we owe an admirable edition of the poem (printed from the unique MS. in the British Museum),2 justly compares it to Tennyson's In Memoriam an In Memoriam of the fourteenth century, and for its singular feeling and beauty, well deserving the prelusive quatrain written for this edition by Tennyson himself. The nameless author who was apparently born cir. 1330 in North-West England, may, it has been suggested, have been Ralph Strode, the "Philosophical," to whom and to Gower, Chaucer dedicated his Troilus.
used by Layamon in his version of Wace's History, written before 1200, and meaning simply fared, went (Ellis, Specimens), and the sense will simply be, "The bull starts, the buck runs.'
1 Round, catch.
2 Published by D. Nutt (1891).
The supernatural landscape is that mainly painted in Pearl; which thus forms a kind of parallel to the Gardens of Love, which we noticed under Italian poetry; it is not simple Nature on which the writer's eye was fixed. Yet the poem has such freshness and charm-it so truly lifts the landscape of earth to the scenery of heaven-as to claim a place in this essay. The Vision begins thus, apparently over the child's little grave
To that spot which I in words set forth
But though so seemly was the scene,
In this case I have roughly tried to give some notion of the poet's singular and graceful metre, with justice compared by Mr. Gollancz to the sonnet form in its effect. But my four rhymeless lines rhyme together in the original. We will now follow the editor's own skilful modern version
My spirit thence sped forth into space,
In quest of adventure, where marvels be.
I knew not where that region was ;
I was borne, iwis, where the cliffs rose sheer ;
Where rocks so radiant were to see,
That none can trow how rich was the light
1 Chosen because its hard, round seed might be compared to a pearl.