AD's English Literature : What Makes Anglo Saxon Lyrical And Elegiac Poem So Addictive That You Never Want To Miss One?

Friday, December 7, 2012

What Makes Anglo Saxon Lyrical And Elegiac Poem So Addictive That You Never Want To Miss One?

 An elegy means a poem of mourning or song of lamentation. We find them in origin both in Greek literature and in Latin. However, term 'elegy' was at first appeared to all kinds of poetry written in a particular metre, called  elegiac metre. The subject of an elegy as such could then be anything tragic, comic, serious, sad or sentimental. But subsequently the scope of elegy become confined and the name was applied to the specific kind of poem of moaning or the song of lamentation. An elegy is now supposed to have these features: - Reflective, pensiveness and subjectivity.
Anglo Saxon has either a heroic theme or of lyrical learning. But among these lyrical poems the exception is Widsith.
 Widsith: It is preserved in The Exeter Book. 'Widsith’ means ‘The far-goer’. It is a poem of 143 lines divided into three Parts –                
(A) A prologue – first few lines.
(B) A speech by Widsith – next 125 lines. 
 (C)En Epilogue – last few lines.
It is the autobiography of an interment minstrel who recounts the story of his long travels through the old Germanic world. During his tour he visited different tribal chiefs, lords, kings and princes and received rich presents, some of them are well known to History as Ecermanie, kings of Goths, Attila king of Hauns, Albion king of the Lombard, Theodoric, king of Franks and even the reference of Hrothgovr and Hrothwulf.

It is a valuable source of social and historical documents of primitive life. “What strikes us most forcibly is its catholicity, praise, is meted out imperative to Huns, Goths, Burgandiano, Franks, Danes, Swedes, and Angles, Wends, Saxon and Many others.”(Albert)



In the concept of the elegiac Note – The Ruin or the Ruin Burg appears most outstanding. The unknown poet of The Ruin laments impulsiveness over the sad decay of the cities of Bath, for the loss of its pomp and splender, crowd and noise, attraction and business. The elegy ends with a plaintive note of reflection on the unkindness of fate to that which once was so grand and prosperous. It mourns not misfortune of a person, but of a place, not for the death of a person loved, but for the ruin of a place that has nostalgic vain.

Its significance is noted in several ways, it is a impressive elegy, and echoes the modern elegiac note that muses on the way of the world its tragedy .In this respect, it may rightly be taken as the most primitive predecessor of Grey's elegy


The Wife’s Complaint: - It is a kind of monologue. It is an elegy in which the young wife mourns for her unjust separation from her beloved husband. The poem is impulsive and pensive. A personal note rings throughout the poem, and the warmth of passion is warbling in the poet’s feelings and expression.

The Husband's Message: - In The Husband's Message, the poet describes the message of the husband engraved on wooden tablets, which is forwarded to the beloved women like – The wife’s Complaints. This poem too bears an unpretentious and sincere feeling and a warm passion. These two poems are regarded as the earliest instances of the English love poetry.

Deor’s Lament :- In Doer’s Lament we have another picture of the Saxon minstrel, but not in glad wandering but  mainly in sorrow. It is an elegy of 42 lines. Once Deor was the favour of a lord. But his position has been supplanted by a dismissal. It is lyrical in form and may be called the first English lyric. It is much poetry than Widsith and in a perfect lyric of the Anglo – Saxon period.

The Wandered: - It is an elegy of 115 Lines by an unknown Anglo Saxon poet. It is the Lamentation of a young man for his dead master. The wanderer travels in a ship alone and friendless, seeking a home for peace and protection under a new lord. In the sleep he dreams the happiness of his former days but after awaking he finds nothing. But waves and tides now add to his distress. Finally, he draws the conclusion that miseries are the common lot of man. The poem ends with a conventional Christian sentimental that good is the man who never loses his faith to God.

Wulf and Eadwacer:- Wulf and Eadwacer is one of the most enigmatic and truly great poems in the Old English poems, since the story it alludes to is not known to us. The poem appeared in the Exeter Book, written no later than around 990 AD. It has given rise to many theories, of which perhaps the most widely credited is that the speaker is being held prisoner on an island by Eadwacer, while Wulf (narrator's lover or husband) is in exile, perhaps being hunted by the speaker's people. It is a bittersweet saga of love and perhaps rape and betrayal. This ancient poem has been characterized as a woman's complain song. It may be the first extant poem authored by a woman in the fledgling English language, voicing feminism.  

The Seafarer: - It is a poem of some hundred lines. It is different to surmise whether the poem is a monologue of a seaman or a dialogue between two Sailors – one old and another young. It seems to be in two distinct parts – the first part – the hardship of ocean life but the subtle call of the sea is more alluring. The second part allegorically represents that the troubles of the sea are the troubles of earthly life and the call of the ocean is the call in the soul to go to its true some with God. The somber and violent pictures it gives of northern seas in which sufferings from cold mingle with the pains of water and wind is most artistic. 


Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert     
     2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta

16 comments:

  1. Good but you've not mentioned Wulf and Eadwacer.

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  2. Dear subhankar,
    I have just overlooked them. You can add a brief notes on Wulf and Eadwacer here in comment section. thanks.

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  3. thank you sir ...i read in 1st year so it help me very much

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  4. Hello Sir,please help me understand about the elegaic lyric poem "The Ruined City.what does it tells us? Please.....

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  5. Dear Dey you are good but some notes regarding literature is mine.Pl.go through my book on literature and mention it.Goodnight.

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  6. Hi Dr. Jana, if you kindly mention the name and details of these books, I can note them in reference. Mail me regarding this. If I unknowingly hurt you, I feel sorry for that.

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  7. Sir there are numerous spelling mistakes please check those.

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  8. Sir there are numerous spelling mistakes please check those.

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  9. Thanks Joyendra for your scrutiny... I've corrected some of them. Thanks once again.

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  10. thanks ....this was awesome article. i'll post a note that i made with ur help and wikipedia, britainica encylopedia help here right in the next comment.

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. can you make the intro part more informative???

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  13. Elegiac poetry: Elegy is a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead. The extant Exeter manuscript brings to us some preserved elegies of the Anglo-Saxon Age which are neither pagan nor Christian; instead they are a direct recording of the personal feelings of the speaker of these poems. These elegies stand out among the rest of the poems belonging to this period in English Literature owing to its strong current of melancholia and lyrical grace. These elegies appeal humanly across centuries as they are built on the grounds of emotions and passions which every hearer or reader from all ages can relate to. Gloomy in mood is The Ruin, which tells of the decay of a once glorious city of Roman Britain. Another such poem is The Wanderer. The Wanderer conveys the meditations of a solitary exile on his past happiness as a member of his lord's band of retainers, his present hardships and the values of faith in the heavenly Lord. He remembers the days when, as a young man, he served his lord, feasted together with comrades, and received precious gifts from the lord. Yet fate (wyrd) turned against him when he lost his lord, kinsmen and comrades in battle—they were defending their homeland against an attack—and he was driven into exile. Finally, he draws the conclusion that miseries are the common lot of man. The poem ends with a conventional Christian sentimental that good is the man who never loses faith to God. The Seafarer is an Old English poem giving a first-person account of a man alone on the sea. The poem consists of 124 lines, and is recorded only in the Exeter Book. The poem is told from the point of view of an old seafarer, who is reminiscing and evaluating his life as he has lived it. The seafarer describes the desolate hardships of life on the wintry sea. He describes the anxious feelings, cold-wetness, and solitude of the sea voyage in contrast to life on land where men are surrounded by kinsmen, free from dangers, and full on food and wine. But at the last part he asserts that “earthly happiness will not endure", that men must oppose “the devil with brave deeds”. The poem ends with a series of gnomic statements about God, eternity, and self-control and the single word "Amen".

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  14. Wulf & Eadwacer is one of the most enigmatic and truly great poems in the Old English poems, since the story it alludes to is not known to us. The poem appeared in the Exeter Book, written no later than around 990 AD. The most conventional interpretation of the poem is as a lament spoken in the first person by an unnamed woman who is or has in the past been involved with two men whose names are Wulf, and Eadwacer respectively. The speaker of the poem is evidently separated from her lover, Wulf, and this separation is seemingly maintained by threat of violence, possibly by her own people. Crying out in her sorrow for her lover, she longs for him to take her in his arms. It may be the first extant poem authored by a woman in the fledgling English language, voicing feminism. Another poem of this period, Widsith, a 143 lines' travell narrative, preserved in The Exeter Book, tells the story of Poet's journey through the old Germanic world. 'Widsith' means ‘The far-goer’. It is a valuable source of social and historical documents of primitive life. The Wife's Lament or The Wife's Complaint is an Old English poem of 53 lines found in the Exeter Book and generally treated as an elegy. In this poem the young wife mourns for her unjust separation from her beloved husband. A personal note rings throughout the poem, and the warmth of passion is warbling in the poet’s feelings and expression. The Husband’s Message, Old English lyric preserved in the Exeter Book, is another surviving love lyrics from the Anglo-Saxon period. The husband’s message tells of how he was forced to flee because of a feud but now has wealth and power in a new land and now longs for his wife. The poet describes the message of the husband engraved on wooden tablets, which is forwarded to the beloved women. It implores her to set sail and join him. Along with The wife’s Complaints this poem too bears an unpretentious and sincere feeling and a warm passion. These two poems are regarded as the earliest instances of the English love poetry. Deor, also called Deor’s Lament , Old English heroic poem of 42 lines, one of the two surviving Old English poems to have a refrain. (The other is the fragmentary “Wulf & Eadwacer.”) It is the complaint of a scop (minstrel), Deor, who was replaced at his court by another minstrel and deprived of his lands and his lord’s favour. In the poem Deor recalls, in irregular stanzas, five examples of the sufferings of various figures from Germanic legend. Each stanza ends with the refrain “That trouble passed; so can this.” The poem is found in Exeter Book. Heorrenda is Deor's rival in Deor's lament. This poem is a perfect lyric of the Anglo–Saxon period.

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  15. This is very helpful.. can you write a conclusion on this note..

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