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269

THE

"POET-FATHERS OF ENGLAND."

CHAPTER X.

"Le Voyage de St. Brandan "—Gaimar—Wace—" Le Brut d'Angleterre"—" Le Roman du Rou "—Benoit St. More—" Le Sermun du Guichart de Beaulieu "—Simon le Fresne—" Le dictie du Clerc e de la Philosophic"—Influence of the Anglo-Norman Trouveres— Influence of the Romances of King Arthur.

WHEN we contemplate the " good queen Maude" in her splendid palace of Westminster, listening with untired delight to the songs of her minstrels; or her fairer successor Adelais, repaying with the richest gifts, and the brightest smiles, those learned trouveres who laid their more finished works at her feet; or Elinor, welcoming with equal honour the poets of the langue d'oc and of the langue d'oil, and receiving, as the first and most valued gift on her accession, that popular version of the "History of the British Kings,"—that poem, which unsealed the fountain of romantic fiction to an imaginative people, the "Brut d'Angleterre ;" we naturally inquire, what were these works, which received such eager and enthusiastic patronage, not merely from the royal and high-born, but from the whole community? Happily for our curiosity, modern research has discovered many of them, and the present chapter will be devoted to specimens of the Anglo-Norman trouv&res of the twelfth century—a class which, both in respect to the place of their birth, and their intrinsic merit, well deserve the name which forms the title of this chapter, "the Poet-fathers of England."

Turning from the wearisome prosings of Philip du Than and Sampson de Nanteuil, the amusing and graceful " Voyage de St. Brandan "* stands at the head of our list > a work which, were it not for the internal evidence both of the manuscript itself and of the opening verses, we might be inclined to assign to a later date than that of the reign of Beauclerc. This poem, of which it is believed only one copy (that in the Cotton Library) exists, seems to have been the production of an ecclesiastic of English parentage, but whose name is altogether unknown. The subject, the Voyage of St. Brandan to the Terrestrial Paradise, was one of the most popular of the mediaeval legends ; and many a monkish legendwriter beguiled the solitude and dulness of his narrow cell, by describing those scenes of surpassing beauty, and unearthly horror, through which St. Brandan and his holy company passed. The opening of the poem is naive and flowing.

* The writer may as well here state, that in these translations she has been far more anxious to preserve the genuine style of each trouvere, than to supply any fancied deficiency, or to soften down any supposed rudeness, by the laboured phraseology of mere common-place poetic diction; and that in each specimen the original metre has been preserved.

"Lady AdelaLs, who queen
By the grace of Heaven hath been
Ycrown^d, who this land hath blest
With wholesome laws, and peaceful rest;
Both by king Henry's stalwart might,
And by thy counsels mild and right;—
For these, their holy benison
May the apostles shed—each one—
A thousand, thousand times upon thee;
And since thy mild command hath won me,
To turn this goodly historie
Into romanz, and carefully
To write it out, and soothly tell
What to St. Brandan erst befel,—
At thy command, I undertake
The task right gladly, but will make
No light and silly pleasantrie,
Unfit in such grave work to be."

The narrator now proceeds to state, that St. Brandan had long made it his prayer that he might behold with his bodily eyes that Paradise from whence Adam was expelled. His prayer is granted; and with a number of the monks of his abbey, he sets sail. Their first adventure is on an uninhabited island, where they find a "noble castle, large and fair," abounding with stores of provisions, from which they supply themselves for their voyage. They next touch at another island, where they find sheep as large as stags; they carry off one for their Paschal feast, and anchor on what seems to be an island. Ere their meal is finished, the island appears in motion, and they discover that they have anchored on the back of a whale. Saved from this danger, they next steer toward an island upon which is a wide-spreading tree, with leaves speckled green and red, and covered with birds of white and dazzling beauty.

"At this the abbot stood amazed;

And, wondering, on their beauty, gazed;
And prayed to Heaven that he might know,
Both whence they came, and where they go,
And who they were :—when instantly
One of those birds, from off the tree,
Flew toward him, gently hovering;
While at each stroke of that bright wing,
Burst forth such harp-like melody,
That tranced in joy and bliss was he.
Then mildly to the bird he said,
'If thou by hand of God wast made
To serve Him, swiftly to me tell
What isle is this? and what befel
Thee, and thy feathered company,
That far from all society
Of men ye won,—for ye are fair
As disembodied spirits are !—
"Then sang the bird—' Erst we were high,
In power and glory in the sky,
For angels were we, but we fell
When pride cast Sathanas to hell:
For we his vassals were, but driven
Thus for his haughty pride from heaven,
Now exiled for a space we stay
Upon this island, till the day
That shall restore us to the skies,
For we are birds of Paradise.*
'But ye have much,' said he, * to do
And bear ere Paradise ye view,
And six years' toil must suffer still,
Rocked by the winds and waves at will,
And aye, each year your Pasch must keep
Upon some monster of the deep!'
"When thus he said, away he flew
Back to his tree, and when the dew
And slanting shade, and sun's soft shining,
Shewed that the day was fast declining,
Those snowy birds, with dulcet throats,
Poured in sweet unison their notes;
And sang so softly, clearly, sweetly,
With voice and heart, aye, so completely

* Vide the original of this passage, Note 9, Appendix.

Joined in God's praise, that ye might ne'er
The solace of that song compare
With aught that human song could do,
Tho' man might learn a lesson too."

After this graceful episode, the poet proceeds to narrate the various perils which St. Brandan and his company meet in their subsequent wanderings. After six months' tossing, they arrive at a splendid abbey, where they meet a friendly welcome ; and the description of the convent treasures, which are brought on their arrival, affords a curious picture of the plate and church vestments of the twelfth century; while the remark, that the bread placed before them was both "white and sweet,'' proves how early in England a distaste for brown bread prevailed. Soon after they enter a " dormante mer and here a sea-serpent approaches them—a huge creature, breathing flames, and "full fifteen feet broad/' While the pilgrims fear for the safety of their little barque, another appears; and

"Now they close in deadly fight
With huge heads reared, a fearful sight!
While from their nostrils flames spout high,
As are the clouds in the upper sky;
Blows with their fins each gives the other,
Like clashing shields on one another.
With murderous teeth each other biting,
Like trenchant swords each other smiting;—
Spouted the blood, and gaping wide
Were teeth prints in each monster's side,
And huge and deadly deep each wound."—

At length the strongest tears the other " into three huge pieces," and sinks peaceably into the sea. Next is a fight between a " flaming griffin" and a dragon, which is told with much spirit -y and, rescued from

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