AD's English Literature : The Anglo – Saxon Christian Poetry from Caedmon to Cynewulf

The Anglo – Saxon Christian Poetry from Caedmon to Cynewulf

In England two great school of Christian Influence put an end of the frightful war among the various Kingdom of the Anglo – Saxon. In 597 A. D under the leadership of St. Augustine who came from Rome Christianity was introduced in England especially in the South and center of England. The other the leadership of Aidan, came from Ireland which country had been for centuries a center of religion and education for Western Europe.

To J. Long – “The coming of Christianity meant not simply a new life and leader from England. It meant also the wealth of a new language. The seop is now replaced by the literature monk, and that monk and thought lives among common people and speaks with the England that has behind him all the culture and literature recourse of the Latin language. The effect is seen instantly in our early prose and poetry.”

Anglo – Saxon Christian poetry is mainly the works of the Christian poetry who were monks –
 (A) Caedmon (c.675)                                                                                                               
(B) Cynewulf (c.800)


About Caedmon’s life what have come to us in from Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History”. From Bede’s we come to know that he was a herd man of Hilda monastery at whit by. One day when a first was going on inside the monastery Caedmon left the place and fell asleep among the cattle.

In his Sleep he had the vision of a strange figure who asked him to sing. Caedmon asked – “What shall I sing”? And the strange figure said “Sing the beginning of created things”. As Caedmon was an illiterate man it is said the Bible was read to him.

Caedmon was remembered for his paraphrase of the holy Bible. These were written by Caedmon 670 A. D.


It is poem of nearly 3000 lines. The poem is suppose to have two parts known a Genesis – A and Genesis – there is more than 800 lines. Which are different in style and language from ‘Genesis – A Treats theme of the Temptation of Adam and Eve. Fall of Adam and Eva etc. which are already in Genesis – A.


It is a poem of some 600 lines. It relates the story as is recorded in the book of Exodus. It tells the story of escape of the Behrens, under the leadership of Moses from pharastro rule in Egypt. Moses by his magic Stick made a path through the Red sea and when the Egyptian army followed them they were destroyed. The poem is remarkable for its rapidity of Narrative and vigour of style.


Caedmon (c.675)
This Simple in complete poem deals with the first five chapters of the book of Daniel. Daniel was a Hebrew prophet of the 6th century B. C. He Spent his live as a captive at the court of Babylon. In the Bede it is said that he interpreted the dream of Nebnehaednatter and for this he was saved by god from the Lion’s den. The poem is didactic in tone.


It is a poem of fragmentary poem of some 350 lines the subject is form in a saga fashion.

-:Christ and Satan:-

Under this title we have three minor poems.

They are – “The fall of Angles”
“The Harrowing of Hall” 
“The Temptations”.

Nothing definite is Know regarding the life of Cynewulf. It is supposed that he was a Northumbrian or a Mercian. There are four poems which bear the Runic Signature of Cynewulf. They are – the Christ, Juliana, the false of Apostles and Elene. The poems which are attributed to Cynewulf are – Andreas, The phoenix, The Dream of the Rood, Guthlac , and the Riddles.

-:The Christ:-

It is a poem of 1700 lines. This didactic poem is divided in to three parts –
A. Nativity. 
 B. Ascension. 
 C. The day of Judgment.

Cynewulf takes his Subject largely from the “homilies of Gregory the great”. Though the first eight pages are missing, story of the poem is well woven.


It is perhaps the first signed poem of Cynewulf. The poem is based upon a Latin prose work. It narrates the life and martyrdom of St. Suliana who was a Christian maiden of Nicomedia and is tempted unsuccessfully by the demon Belial. 

-:The fates of the Apostles:-

It is a poem of 122 lines. It record the story of Helena and Herson Constantine. Constantine before his victory against the Huns at the Malvian Bridge saw the vision of the Rood. He then sent his mother Helena to Jerusalem in search of the original cross and the nails and finally she discover the tune cross. 


It records the story of St Andress. He gross the sea rescue his friend St. Mathew from the Ethiopians. A young ship master was sails the boat eventually turns out as Christ Himself. St. Mathew is set free the Ethiopian are converted by a Miracle. It is Spirited poem full of rush and incident.

-:The Phoenix:-

The poem is about the Mythological bird phoenix which after each thousand years burns itself to be reborn. The poem is allegorical as well as highly symbolic of Christ and Christian faith.

-:The Dream of the Rood:-

It is the earliest dream poem in English Literature. It is a poem of 156 lines divided into three past.

 (A)The opening words of the Dreamer (1 to 27 lines) 
 (B) the words Spoken by the Rood (28 to 127 lines) 
 (C) The words of the dreamer after the dreamer is over (122 to 156 lines)

It describes the poets Dreams of the cross decked with golden jewels as the poet watches the cross begins to stream with blood. Then the cross in a divine voice gives the poet its whole history from the lines it was her down, Christ’s crucifixion on it, His descent from the cross and his resurrection. Finally the dreamer wakes up and explains how this changed his life.

It is also a specimen of curliest symbolic poetry. Here, the Rood stands as the symbol of mans sin an salvation.


It is a poem of 1370 lines. The poem is divided into Guthlac A and Guthlac – It is based upon the Latin ‘vita’ by Felix. It describes how Guthlac is tempted and tormented by the foul friends and the serene death of the saint.

-: Riddles:-

There is collection of 95 riddles found in the Exeter book. It is supposed that they were composed having been inspired by Latin riddles of symphonies. These riddles appeal not much too intellectual but to imagination.

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


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