Chapter I: literature of the middle ages
A. ANGLO- Saxon period (5th - 10th centuries)
During the first five centuries of our era and long before that, Britain was inhabited by a people called Kelts, who lived in tribes. Britain’s history is considered to begin in the 5th century, when it was invaded from the Continent by the fighting tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes. At the very end of the 5th century they settled in Britain and began to call themselves English (after the principal tribe of settlers, called English). Although we know very little of this period from literature some poems have nevertheless reached us. In those early days songs called epics were created in many countries. The epics tell about the most remarkable events of a people’s history and the deeds of one or more heroic personages. The Song of Beowulf
The first masterpiece of English literature, the epic poem The Song of Beowulf, describes the historical past of the land from which the Angles, Saxons and Jutes came. They brought the subject over from the Continent when they invaded Britain, and it was made into a poem somewhere about the 7th century. The story of Beowulf tells of the time when kings Hrothgar ruled the Danes. Hrothgar built a great house for himself and his man. It has a large hall with flat stones in the centre. All the men slept in this hall. There was a great feast when the hall was built. During the feast the songs from the hall were heard by a monster that lived at the bottom of a lonely lake. The gay songs irritated him. When all Hrothgar’s men were asleep, Grendel, the monster, appeared. He seized thirty of the sleeping men, carried them away and ate them. Night after night the man disappeared one after another, until Hrothgar had lost nearly all of them. One day the men that guarded the coast saw a ship approaching the shores of Denmark from Norway. A young Viking was on board, tall and strong as a young oak-tree. It was Beowulf, who had heard of Grendel and his doings, He had come to help Hrothgar to kill the monster. He was received with great joy by Hrothgar, who gave a feast in his honour. When the men lay down to sleep after the feast, Grendel appeared in the dark hall. He seized Beowulf ad a great struggle began. In this struggle the monster lost his arm, but ran away. Again there was singing and joy in the hall the next night. But late a night a still more terrible monster, a Water Witch, appeared. She was Grendel’s mother who had come to kill Beowulf, but she did not find him and disappeared, carrying away one of the best of Hrothgar’s men. The next day Beowulf went after her and found her a the dead body of Grendel. With an old sword of the giants that he found there Beowulf killed the Water Witch and cut off Grendel’s head. Carrying the head he came back to the men who were waiting for him. Later, he returned to his own people with rich presents from Hrothgar. The second part of the poems tells us of Beowulf’s deeds when he was king of Norway. A fiery dragon was destroying his country. Beowulf found the dragon’s cave and a lot of treasure in it. Beowulf saved his country- he killed the dragon, but the monster wounded him with his fiery breath. Beowulf died and his people buried him on a high cliff by the seashore. Over his grave raised a mound and rode around it, singing a song of mourning. Thus, the epic The song of Beowulf, tells of some events from a people’s history, sings the heroic deeds of a man, his courage and his desire of justice, his love for his people and self- sacrifice for the sake of his country. The poem is a classical example of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It has no rhyme, but each line has alliteration, which is a repetition, at close interval, of the same consonant in words or syllables. For example, the repetition of the sounds b and f in the following lines makes them musical and gives them rhyme: Then the baleful fiend its fire belched out,
And bring home burned. The blaze stood high
And land folk...
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