Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

ing, sometimes shortening the sense. The expansions are chiefly when he is describing natural scenery, and when he is breaking into praise. In the second part the outbursts of laud and honour to God are entirely in Cynewulf's exulting manner, and the description of the Last Judgment closely resembles the descriptions of the same event in the Christ and the Elene. There are but few of the critics who do not believe in Cynewulf's authorship of this poem. If it be so, all the probabilities go to prove that the poem was written by him after the Christ and before the Elene.

I have said that the introduction of a strong personal element is the special mark of all the signed poems of Cynewulf, and that the signature is fancifully added to the personal statement. There is no distinct personal element in the Phoenix, unless we say that he adopts as his own the quotation he makes from Job "concerning the Resurrection to eternal life," and which he introduces with the words, “Let no man think that I sing this song with lying words; hear now what the wisdom of Job sang." Nor is there any signature, but there is an ending of another kind which Cynewulf, in his fantastic way, may have inserted in place of his runes. The last eleven lines are a mixture of Anglo-Saxon and Latin. The first half of each line is Anglo-Saxon, the last half Latin, and the Latin is alliterated with the Anglo-Saxon.

The poem begins with that description of the paradisaical
land where the Phænix dwells which I have translated (vol.
i. p. 296). The second canto describes the Phenix and its
life. The bird lives alone a delightful life in his happy isle.
Death never harms him in that land of joy.
90. He shall of the Sun see and watch the voyaging,

And shall come right on 'gainst the candle of the Lord,
'Gainst the gladdening gem ! He shall gaze with eagerness
When upriseth clear that most Ætheling of stars,
('er the Ocean wave, from the East a-glitter,
Gleaming with his glories, God the Father's work of old,
Beacon bright of God ! - Blind the stars shall be,
Wandered under waters to the western realms,
All bedimmed at dawn, when the dark of night,
Wan, away has gone. Then, o'er waves, the Bird,
Firm and feather-proud, o'er the flowing ocean stream,
Under lift and over Lake, looketh eager-hearted
When upcometh fair, from the East a-gliding

O'er the spacious sea, the upshining of the Sun.
1 These lines are, with changes, repeated below. These descriptive passages
have, owing to their frequent refrains either of motive or description, some-
thing of a lyric strain.

The next lines repeat the same motive over again in other words; and as this is one of the characteristics of Anglo-Saxon poetry, and a special characteristic of Cynewulf who manages it with skill, I insert them here. Repetitions of this kind were not wearying when they were sung, and I belie that when they were deliberately made, as here, for the heightening of the impression, they were perhaps set to different music or to the same music in a different key.

104. So the fair-born fowl at the fountain-head,

At the well-streams, wonneth in a winsomeness unfailing !
There a twelve of times, he, the joy-triumphant one,
In the burn doth bathe him, ere the beacon cometh,
Candle of the Æther; and, as often, he
Of those softly-joyous springings of the Wells
Tastes at every bath - billow-cold they are ! -
Then he soars on high, when his swimming-play is done,
With uplifted heart on a lofty tree -
Whence across the Eastern paths, with an ease the greatest,
He may watch the Sun's outwending, when that Welkin-taper
O’er the battle of the billows brilliantly is blickering,
Flaming light of light ! All the land is fair-adorned ;
Lovely grows the world when the gem of glory,
O'er the going of great Ocean, glitters on the ground,
Over all the middle-earth mightiest this of stars !

This is the repetition, and very well done it is. Then Cynewulf describes the life of the Bird till evening falls, and I wonder that there are still folk who think that there is no poetry in early England. I translate, as before, literally –

120. Soon as ere the Sun, o'er the salt sea-streamings,

Towers up on high, then the gray and golden fowl
Flieth forth, fair-shining, from the forest tree;
Fareth, snell of feathers, in its flight along the lift;
Sounds, and sings his way (ever) sunwards on.

Then as beautiful becomes all the bearing of the bird ;
Borne his breast is upwards in a blissfulness of joy !
In his song-craft he makes changes, in his lucid voicing,
Far more wonderfully now than did ever bairn of man
Hear, the Heavens below; since the High-exalted King,
He the Worker of all glory, did the world establish,
Earth, and eke the Heaven.

The up-ringing of his voice
Than all other song-crafts sweeter is and lovelier ;
Far away more winsome than whatever winding lay.
Not alike to that clear sound may the clarion be,
Nor the horn nor harp-clang, nor the heroes' singing -

Not of one of them on earth nor the organ tone,
Nor the singing of the sackbut, nor sweet feathers of the swan,
None of all the other joys that the Eternal shaped
For the mirthfulness of men in this mournful world.
So he sings and softly sounds, sweetly blessed in joy,
Till within the southern sky doth the Sun become
Sunken to its setting - silent then is he.
Listening now he lends his ear, then uplifts his head,
Courage-thrilled and wise in thought ! Thrice he shaketh then
Feathers whet for flight — so the fowl is still.

Thus lives the Phenix for a thousand years; then, attended by troops of birds, flies far to the Syrian land, where in a desert place, on a high tree, he makes his nest for death.

182. Then the wind is still and the weather fair ;

Pure and holy there shines the Heaven's gem;
Clouds are cleared away, and the glorious crowds of waters
Still are standing there; every storm therein
Under Heaven is hushed.

In this sweet weather the Phønix builds his nest of noble plants and odorous leaves; and when at summer-time the sun is brightest, the home of the bird is heated and the fang of fire devours bird and nest; but the ashes, balled together, grow into an apple, and in the apple a wondrous worm waxes till it becomes an eagle, and then a Phenix as before. Only honey-dew he eats that falls at midnight, and when he has gathered all the relics of his old body and covered them with sweet herbs, he takes them in his claws and, flying back to his native land, buries them deep in its earth. All men, all the birds, flock to see his flight, but he outstrips their sight, and comes alone to his happy isle, where once more he “dwells in the grove, delighting in the welling streams."

When Cynewulf has thus brought his bird back, he makes out of its story two allegories, one of the life of the Saints, and another of Christ who, after the Judgment, flies through the air attended by all the worshipping souls like birds; and each soul becomes a Phønix, and dwells for ever young where joy never changes, praising God in the burg of life. Then again he makes Christ the Phenix who passed through the fire of death to glorious life, “ Therefore to him be praise for ever and ever. Hallelujah.”

This allegorical treatment of the life of beasts and birds, and also of the great tales of the world; the taking up of the whole of natural history into the realm of the spiritual

human thoughts and emotions being imputed to the animals;

- is of great antiquity, and especially among Semitic peoples. Through the Old Testament, through the Talmud, through the parables of Christ, it descended to the early Christian writers and was increased among them by their contact with Syria, Arabia, and India ; but the taste for it may be said to have been established by the Fathers of the Church. Ambrose, for example, uses the Phoenix as the symbol of the Resurrection. It was common in the eighth century, the time of which we are writing, and it steadily grew during the Middle Ages among poets and preachers till it was carried to an extreme height. In the catalogue, for example, of Duke Humphrey's library we find the whole of Ovid's Metamorphoses moralised in this allegorical fashion. This is not the place to discuss so large and fruitful a subject, but the allegorical treatment of the Phenix by Cynewulf leads me to place here three other English poems — the Whale, the Panther, and the Partridge, which are either intended to be a complete Physiologus by their writer, or may be parts of a much more extended collection.

A Physiologus was a collection of descriptions of certain Beasts, Birds, and Fishes, and of the legends connected with them, with a religious allegory tacked on to them. The earliest Physiologus was in Greek, and from it the Æthiopian as well as the Latin Physiologus were translated. This Latin one, it is conjectured, was the source of the three Anglo-Saxon poems we possess, and also of two manuscripts of the ninth century, discovered by Cahier (B and C), which agree for the most part with one another. In B, after twenty-two other animals, the Panther, the Whale, and the Partridge follow one another. In C the Panther precedes the Whale, and the Partridge is left out. In the ancient Greek Physiologus also the Panther comes first of the three, and the Whale and the Partridge follow. It is suggested by critics that the Anglo-Saxon writer chose these three concluding animals, not at random, but with the intention of making out of them — since each of them represents one of the three kingdoms — a short but complete Physiologus. At the close of the poem of the Partridge, Finit stands in the manuscript. The Partridge is a mere fragment, but the Panther and the Whale are complete, and have some literary interest.

In far lands, in deep hollows lives the Panther, glittering in a coat as vari-coloured as Joseph's, lonely, gentle, harmless to all, save to the dragon, that envenomed scather. When he has

fed, he seeks a hidden place among the mountain dells and slumbers for three nights. On the third day, when he wakes, a lofty, sweet, ringing sound comes from his mouth, and with the song a most delightful steam of sweet-smelling breath, more grateful than all the blooms of herbs and blossoms of the trees. Then from the burgs, and from the seats of kings, and from castle halls, pour forth the troops of war-men and the swift lance-brandishers, and all the animals, to hear the song and meet the perfume. So is the Lord God, the Prince of Joys, and so the hope of salvation which he gives. That is a noble fragrance.

The Whale, since it has to do with the sea, is more wrought out by the poet, and more interesting than the Panther. The first part of the legend of the sailors landing on the monster's back as on an island - comes perhaps originally from the East. It is in the story of Sinbad the Sailor, but it continued for a long time in English literature, through Middle English to Chaucer, and so on to Milton's simile. Our description here is the first English use of the tale. It is fairly done, and filled in with special sea-phrases. I will tell, he says, of the mickle whale whose name is 7. Floater of the Flood-streams old, Fastitocalon. Like it is in aspect

to the unhewn stone,
Such as moved is at the margent of the sea,
By sand-hills surrounded, thickly set with sea-weeds;
So that the surge-sailors ween (their souls within),
That upon some island with their eyes they look.
Then they hawser fast their high-stemmèd ships
With the anchored cables on the No-land there;
Moor their mares of ocean at this margin of the main !

Thus the keels are standing
Close beside that stead,

surged around by ocean's-stream.1 1 Compare Milton –

Or that sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim the ocean-stream.
Him, haply slumbering on the Norway foam,
The pilot of some small night-foundered skiff,
Deeming some island, oft, as seamen tell,
With fixed anchor in his scaly rind,
Moors by his side under the lee, while night
Invests the sea, and wished morn delays.
So stretched out huge in length the Arch-Fiend lay,

Chained on the burning lake. It is a whole lesson in art to contrast this with its predecessor of the eighth century “Ocean-stream” is pure Anglo-Saxon for sea. Thickly set with sea-weeds" is literally "greatest of sea-weeds or sea reeds.” I take it to mean that the stone looks as if it were itself the very greatest of sea-weeds, so thickly is it covered with them.

« AnteriorContinuar »