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While he so swept them as when in his course
A vehement phrase, without connectives, without order, with no ornament but three words beginning alike, an exclamation, a cry, a glowing image, - such is the style of the Saxon poets. Joy and fury neglect art. When passion bellows, ideas are crowded and clashed. See it all in the battle-song of The Fight at Försburg:
"The army goes forth: the birds sing, the cricket chirps, the war-weapons sound, the lance clangs against the shield. Now shincth the moon, wandering under the sky. Now arisc deeds of woe, which the enmity of this people prepares to do, . . . Then in the court came the tumult of war-carnage. ... The raven whirled about, dark and sombre, like a willow leaf. There was a sparkling of blades, as if all Finsburg were on fire. Never have I heard of a more worthy battle in war.'
From the introduction of Christianity, the predominant tone of Saxon poetry is religious. But its voice, if less savage, is otherwise unchanged. Still its soul is tragic; its tones passionate and lightning-like. It is the old heart in transition,- yet a strong barbarous heart. If it essays a Bible narrative, as in the tragedy of Julith, we may see the pagan flesh and blood in the tumult, murder, vengeance, and combat of the verses. Holofernes gives a feast:
"All his fierce chiefs, hold mail-clad warriors, went at the feast to sit, eager to drink wine. There were often carried the deep bowls behind the benches; so likewisc ves. sels and orcas full to those sitting at slipper....
Then was Holofernes rejoiced with wine; in the halls of his guests he laughed and shouted, he roared and dinned. Afar off might the stern one he heard to storm and clamor. . . . So was the wicked onethe lord and his men-drunk with wine, ... till that they swimming lay ... as they were death-slun. The night having arrived he falls drunk on his bed. The moment is come for Judith, 'the maid of the Creator, the holy woman,' to deliver Israel:
She took the heathen man fast hy his hair; she drew him by his limbs toward her disgracefully; and the mischief-full, odious man, at her pleasure laid, so as the wretch she might the easiest well command. She with the twisted locks struck the hateful enemy, meditating hate, with the red sword, till she had half cut off his neck; so that he lay in a swoon, drunk and mortally wounded. He was not then dead, - not entirely lifeless; carnest then she struck another time the heathen hound — she the woman
illustrious in strength - till that his head rolled forth upon the floor. Cofferless lay the foul one; downward turned his spirit under the abyss, and there was plunged below with sulphur fastened; forever afterward wounded by worms. In torments bound – hard imprisoned - he burns in hell. After his course he need not hope that he may escape from that mansion of worms, with darkness overwhelmed; but there he shall remain ever and ever – without end – henceforth void of the joys of hope, in that cavern home.'
Judith, returning to the city with the head of this wicked one, is met by the people, and the warrior instinct swells into flame, as she exhorts them to battle:
Men under helms (went out) from the holy city at the dawn itself. They dinned shields; men roared loudly. At this rejoiced the lank wolf in the wood, and the wan raven, the fowl greedy of slaughter, both from the west, that the sons of men for them should have thought to prepare their till on corpses. And to them flew in their paths the active devourer, the eagle, hoary in his feathers. The willowed kite, with his horned beak, sang the song of Hilda. The noble warriors proceeded, they in mail, to the battle, furnished with shields, with swelling banners.'
Men of any high mental power must be serious, whether in ancient or modern days. Only consider the reflective mood, the intense seriousness of this Saxon poetry. The Hydriotaphia of Browne and the Thanatopsis of Bryant are here in the bud. There is no passing by on the other side; but down to its uttermost depth, to its most appalling detail, it strives, like the Greek, to sound the secrets of sorrow. If any hope, relief, or triumph may hereafter seem possible,- well; but if not, still hopeless, reliefless, eternal, the sorrow shall be met face to face. This Northern imagination, which compared life to the flight of a bird, -in at one door and out at another, whence it came and whither it went being equally unknown to the lookers-on, now contemplates the stern agony of the “breathless darkness' in a poem called The Grave, sad and grand like the life of man.
*For thee was a house built ere thou wert born; for thee a monld shapen ere thou of thy mother camest. Its height is not determined, nor is its depth measured; nor is it closed up (however long it may be), until I thee bring where thou shalt remain; until I shall measure thee and the sod of the earth. Thy house is not highly built; it is unhigh and low. When thon art in it, the heel-ways are low, the side-ways anhigh. The roof is built thy breast full nigh; so thou shalt in earth dwell full cold, dim, and dark. Doorless is that house, and dark is it within. There thou art fast detained, and Death holds the key. Loathly is that earth-house, and grim to dwell in. There thou shalt dwell, and worms shall share thee. Thus thou art laid, and leavest thy friends. Thon hast no friend that will come to thee, who will ever inquire how that house liketh thee, who shall ever open for thee the door, and seek thee, for soon thou becomest loathly and hateful to look upon.'
To this people, which has forgotten the halls of Valhalla, to which danger is a delight, which loves gloomy pictures, the
shadowy is a fascination, as to the Hindoo, the Egyptian and the Greek. The Soul's Complaint of the Body suggests the underworld rivers and the wandering hapless ghosts of Greek and Roman mythology:
Befits it well that man should deeply weigh
A hundred years thrice told the shade shall roam.' So Virgil represents the souls of the unburied haunting the banks of the Styx, sad and tombless, vainly entreating in pathetic suppliance the dread Charon to ferry them over:
There stood the first and prayed him hard to waft their bodies o'er,
While all the others far away he thrusteth from the sand.' . ..
Those borne across the wave
Then they at last have grace to gain the pools desired so sore.' All who know what pathos there is in the memory of faces that have vanished, of joys that have faded, of days gone by,— holy as spots of earth where angel-feet have stepped, will appreciate the rare poetical power of the mutilated poeni of The Ruin:
Wondrous is this wall-stone, the fates have broken it - have burst the burghplace. Perishes the work of giants; fallen are the roofs, the towers tottering - the hoar gate-towers despoiled -- rime on the lime - hrim on lime; shattered are the battlements, riven, fallen under the Eotnish race; the earth-grave has its powerful workmen: decayed, departed, the hard of gripe are fallen and passed away to a hundred generations of people. . . . Bright were the burgh-dwellings, many its princely halls, high its steepled splendor; there was martial sound great, many a mead-hall full of buman joys, until obdurate fate changed it all: they perished in wide slaughter. . . There many a chief of old, joyous and gold-bright, splendidly decorated, prond, and with wine elate, in warlike decorations shone; looked on treasures, on silver, on curious gems, on luxury, on wealth, on precious stone, on this bright burgh of a broad realm.'
Among the unknown poets, there is one, Cædmon, whose vigor and grandeur will presently be the subject of special consideration. Meanwhile, that which is sown is not quickened
except it die. The decay of an old literature is the antecedent condition for a new mode of intellectual life. This old poetic genius of sublimity and fury, waning before the Conquest, disappears after it, to emerge once more when the wounds have closed and the saps have mingled. Till then, the current that flows shallow and fantastic above ground is of French origin.
What was this new literature, by which a broader spreading and a more generous vine should spring from the regenerated root of the old stock? Romantic fiction,
Its origin.- The child personifies the stone that hurts him, and his first impulse is to resent the injury as if he imagined it to be endowed with consciousness and to be acting with design. The childhood of superstition personifies each individual exist ence,- the plant and the rock. The childhood of philosophy personifies the universe. The barbarian is fascinated by the incomprehensible. Unable to assign, for a natural phenomenon, a cause within nature, he has recourse to a living personality enshrined in it. To every grotto he gives a genius; to every tree, river, spring, a divinity. Out of the darkness he cannot tell what alarming spectre may emerge. Everywhere he is a believer in sorcery, witchcraft, enchantments. In an advanced stage of development, he conceives a number of personal beings distinct from the material creation, which preside over the different provinces of nature, the
sea, the air, the winds, the streams, the heavens, and assume the guardianship of individuals, tribes, and nations. Remembering this tendency for personification which marks the early life of man, his necessity of referring effects to their causes, and his interpretation of things according to outward appearances, we shall better understand how the Hours, the Dawn, and the Night, with her black mantle bespangled with stars, came to receive their forms; how the clouds were sacred cattle driven to their milking, or sheep of the golden fleece; how the fall of the dew was the shedding of divine tears, and the fatal sun-shafts the arrows of Apollo shot from his golden bow; how the west, where the sun and stars go down, was the portal of descent to hell, and the morning twilight a reflection from the Elysian Fields; how the eruptions of the volcano were due to the throes of the agonized giant, vainly struggling to rise; how earthquakes, famine, hail, snow, and tempests were the work of supernatural
fiends; how the traditions of every land are replete with the ex-
The national hero,