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Saint Augustine came to The British Islands towards the end of the sixth century but it took four centuries to Christianise the whole of the islands.The new religion spread slowly and peacefully absorbing the old faith and moulding it anew.

The arrival of the new religion not only brought along with it a new leader for England but also the treasure of a new language. The literary monk now took the place of the minstrel; and he though lives with the common and speaks with the English tongue, has behind him all the culture and literary resources of the Latin language. This effect was seen instantly in our early prose and poetry.

Indeed, the conversion of the Anglo–Saxon people to Christianity had a significant impact on Old English poetry. It created a new tradition in English poetry. The non – Christian and pre – Christian poetry of the Anglo – Saxon period received some Christian touches during their rehandling by the Christian clerks who mostly wrote them down. Besides the non – Christian and pre – Christian poetry, there remained the bulk of Anglo – Saxon poetry, which was entirely Christian in tone and religious in theme.  In fact, Anglo – Saxon poetry received a deep touch from the conversion of English people.

However almost the entire glory of the Anglo – Saxon literature lies on the shoulders of three great names– Bede,Caedmon and Cynewulf. They only are considered the soul makers and authors of Anglo – Saxon Christian poetry and the significance of this poetry is found to repose entirely on their literary  achievements.

BEDE (672/3–26 MAY 735) : Saint Bede, Venerable Bede or Bede the Venerable as he was generally called, was our first great scholar and “the fatherof English learning”, wrote exclusively in Latin, and his last work was the translation of the Gospel of John into Anglo – Saxon,having been unfortunately lost. Hence, it is much regretful to us that the story of his gentle, heroic life must be excluded from the history of English literature.His works were forty in number coveringall the field of human knowledge in his day. His works were so admirarable that they were widely copied as text – books, or rather manuscripts, in nearly all the monastery schools of Europe. The most important work of Bede is Ecclesiastical History of the English people.It is a curious combination of accurate scholarship and immense credulity. Even now it fascinates its reader.

CAEDMON (657 –684) : Caedmon is considered the first Christian English ( Northumbrian) poet – the pioneer of Christian in English.It is supposed that he was a worker in a monastery of Whitby. He was a simple, Anglo–Saxon unlettered man whose main work was to look after the property of a monastery. There is a legend about Caedmon’s revelation. Once, on a particular occasion, when some religious festival was going on  inside the monastery, Caedmon left the feast and fell asleep among the cattle. In his sleep, he had the vision of a strange figure who commanded him to sing of God. The song of creation was even dictated by that strange figure, and as he awoke from his slumber in a great sensation, he could remember the song and made many more like it. Being an unlettered man the Bible was read to him. Although there are controversies regarding the legend of Caedmon’s poetic inspiration, the works written by him are no myth. The reason Caedmon’s name as the first English Christian poet is still remembered today is for his poetical paraphrases of the Holy Bible.It is believed that he paraphrased in verse the four  Books of Genesis, Exodus, Daniel and Judith. Apart from these three Christian poems – The Falls of Angels, The Harrowing of Hell and The Temptation – are also attributed to him.

Genesis is a long narrative of nearly three thousand lines. It sings in praise of the of the Creator and His creation. The poem opens with the praise of God, the Creator of all. Caedmon’s Genesis has almost an epic pattern with its theme of a grand magnitude, regarding the origin of the human race.However there are doubts regarding the authorship of Genesis A and Genesis B. In fact it is believed that probably neither of the two were written by him. There is a strong suggestion relating to the latterGenesis that the passage was actually a translation of a lost Germanic poem.

Exodus relates in some six hundred lines, the escape of the Hebrews from the Pharaoh’s rule in Egypt and the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red – Sea. The poem is written boldly and vigorously and carries the grandeur of heroic poetry in the depiction of martial scenes, though it remains essentially andspiritually inspired.

Daniel is a simple and sentimental poem on Daniel. Although the poetic note is much more sincere, it is seldom considered a great piece of work. Some selected portion of the book is only versified.

Judith contains some three hundred and fifty lines and describes the slaughter of Holofernace, and the victory of the Jews though there is a great dispute regarding the authorship of this work.

Three minor poems which were originally supposed to be one and was entitled as Christ and Satan, are all attributed to Caedmon. The first of these poems, The Fall of Angels,has as it’s theme the fall of rebel angels. The second work, The Harrowing of Hell, contains Christ’s harrowing of Hell and his resurrection as the subject matter, with a brief account of His ascension and coming to judgement. The third or the last of these poems, The Temptation, is about Christ’s temptation and triumph. All these three poems are homiletic in trend and fas religion as the theme, which is characteristic of Caedmon.

CYNEWULF :He is the first  poet in English language to sign his work. Hence unlike Caedmon authorship of certain poems of Cynewulf is beyond doubt. After the discovery of his name, numerous works including the whole of the Exeter book and Beowulfhave been attributed to him. The signed poems of Cynewulf are Juliana, Christ, The Fates of the Apostles and Elene.

Julianais based on a Latin original. In the region of Maximian, Juliana, daughter of Africanus was wooed by Elensius, a Roman prefect.Juliana, however, refused to marry him unless he embraces Christianity. In turn she was severely persecuted by successive imprisonment, scourging, firing, breaking upon the wheel, all of which she withstood by her faith. When she was beheaded, her soul was taken to heaven. The soul of Elensiuslater killed by shipwreck was dragged down to hell.

Christ is supposed to be the first poem in the Cynewulfian school of poetry, as known from the Exeter Book, a manuscript preserved in the cathedral library at Exeter. The first eight pages of the poem are missing. The poemChrist compiles of three parts. The first part speaks of the advent of Christ on earth, the second part is about his ascension and the concluding part tells about the day of judgement. It calls up vivid terror with the vision of the Holy Rood brilliant and red all over.The good are transformed to heaven and the poem ends with the description of a perfect land.

The Fates of the Apostlesis not a significant literary work, but bears much importance as the evidence of Cynewulfian poetry, since it contains the poet’s own signature. The work is on the lives of twelve different apostles, unevenly organized, short, sketchyand uninteresting. It does not add to Cynewulf’s poetic reputation.

Eleneis based on the finding of the cross. The  Huns gathered against Constantine who dreamed his famous dream of the Rood and was bid to conquer by that sign. A battle followed and a victory was won by Constantine. Then follows the description of his mother’s voyage to Jerusalem. Empress Helena, mother of Constantine conferred with the Jews not to reveal the sight of the cross. Constantine was imprisoned and then released. Constantine prayed to Christ and then he discovered the cross by a miracle. The rest of the poem consists of the message of Helena to Constantine, the baptism of Judas and so on.Eleneis considered as Cynewulf’s masterpiece. It is characterized by perfection of art and poetic technique.

Apart from the signed pieces there are four more poems which have been regarded by many as probably the work of Cynewulf – Andreas, The Dream of the Rood, Phoenix, and Guthlac.The affinity of these poems in theme and thought, similarity of language and expression, sameness in grammar, meter and poetic treatment with the signed poems is the reason for their being attributed to the poet.

The Dream of The Rood is regarded as not only the greatest work of Cynewulf but also as the greatest of Old English poem because of its unusual lyric tenderness, imagination and piety. A short poem of some one hundred and fifty lines, well marks the greatness of Cynewulf both as a poet as well as a churchman. It describes the poet’s dream of the Cross, on which Jesus was crucified. He finds in his dream theCross, decked with golden jewels. As he continues to look, blood starts to stream out of it. The Cross then begins to give out, in a divine voice, its whole history from the time it was hewn down to the dreadful day of Jesus’s crucification. The Dream of the Rood is the earliest dream vision in English literature, enriched with a devotional Christian spirit and a rich artistry. It is marked with dedication, impulse, vividness and melody. In the ecstasy of Christian devotion and the beauty of poetic expression, the poem stands out as an unequalled work in Anglo – Saxon Christian poetry.

Andreas tells the adventures, sufferings and evangelic success of St. Andrew. The Phoenix describes an earthly Paradise in the East, the beauty of the Phoenix, its flight to Syria after its flight to Syria after it has lived for a thousand years to build its nest, die and be reborn, while the second half takes the Phoenix as an allegory both of the life of the virtues in this world and the next and as a symbol of Christ and the Christian soul.Guthlac A and Guthlac B are based upon the account of St. Guthlac. Guthlac is tempted and tormented by the foul fiend. Guthlac B details the serene death of the saint. The tender personal feeling and emotional depth suggest that Cynewulf may have written this.

In Cynewulf we find a real artist, with much greater power of expression, surer technique and deeper imagination than his predecessor Caedmon. The poems of Caedmon are entirely on biblical subjects, whereas Cynewulf depicts events from the church calendar. With Cynewulf Anglo – Saxon poetry moves beyond biblical paraphrase into the devotional and the mystical. Spiritual innovations, psychological introspections and lyrical expressions animate the poetries ofCynewulfand raise it much above the works of Caedmon.

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