Anglo-Saxon Literature English began with the Anglo-Saxons who settled Britain in the fifth century A.D. The land was already inhabited by Celts [kelts), descendants of people from the European mainland. When the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (called collectively Anglo-Saxons) conquered the Celts, some of the Celts were killed or enslaved; but many were pushed out of England to join others in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. The Anglo-Saxon people were adventurous, brave, and self- reliant, but also fierce, bloody, and cruel.
These hardy, big-boned, fair-headed, and blue- or gray-eyed people were known for their great capacity for food and drink, their genius for practical affairs, their solidity, their physical endurance, their sense of loyalty, and their devotion to duty. They were pagan seamen, warriors, hunters, and farmers who had a love for law and freedom. Their false worship is reflected in our names for the days of the week.
They worshiped the sun and the moon (Sunday, Mon- day); the dark god, Tiw (Tuesday); the god of war, Woden (Wednesday); the god of thunder, Thor (Thursday); the goddess of peace, joy, and fruitfulness, Frea (Friday); and the god of the water, Saetre (Saturday). The most vital element in their reli- gion, however, was their belief in a mysterious power that ruled the universe and had a will stronger than man’s will. This power or will was typified in the goddess Wyrd, or Fate.
From the continent the Anglo-Saxons had brought with them their terrible Teutonic deities: Tiu. the God of War (Tuesday); WOden. Father of the Gods (Wednesday); Thor. God of Thunder (Thursday): and the all-controlling IUvrd, Goddess of Fate. The Anglo-Saxons were a stalwart. fierce. and gloomy people. Their profession having been for so long piracy on the sea. it is no wonder that their literature abounds in enthusiastic reference to the sea and to battle. Nothing stirred their poets’ imaginations more than a ship or a sword. More than anything else this race worshiped glory and tame in battle. They had. moreover, a well-developed sense of community justice, and their laws show them already making punishment and the meting out of justice a public. not a private matter.
What Is Anglo-Saxon Literature And Anglo-Saxon Poetry.
The first literature of the Anglo-Saxons was poetry rather than prose. Because of its rhythm, poetry was easier to remember than prose. II was not written. but rather recited or sung and passed down by word of mouth. Although the Anglo-Saxons were hardy warriors and sea rovers, they were capable of profound and noble emotions. Their poetry reflects this double nature. Its subjects were chiefly the sea, battles, adventure, brave deeds, the glory of warriors, and the love of home. One fragment of early poetry shows us the domestic side of life among these early English people: Dear to the Frisian (Jute) Wife is the one whom she welcomes, When the vessel reaches the haven—his ship is at hand, Her lord is come to his home, he who provide for her, And she summons him in; she washes his sea- stained garments And giveth him raiment new. Full pleasant is it for him Whose beloved wife waiteth for him ashore.
Anglo-Saxon literature had five striking characteristics:
1. the love of freedom;
2. responsiveness to nature, especially in her sterner moods;
3. strong religious convictions and a belief in Wyrd, or Fate;
4. reverence for womanhood; and
5. a devotion to glory as the ruling motive in every warriors life.
The Anglo-Saxon poet was called a scop Ishäpl. Many scops wandered from place to place composing their poems and reciting them for great feasts in the banquet halls, but some Scops were attached to one household to provide local entertainment. The gleeman also recited poems; he was not an original poet but a performer, a chanter, a hnrper, and sometimes a jester and juggler. Poetry was a major entertainment at the great banquet halls, and a part of the daily life of the people,—the warriors, the sailors, the farmers— who chanted crude verses.
Anglo-Saxon poetry was composed of two half lines separated by a pause or caesura. The abrupt break in the middle of each line gave the poetry a kind of martial rhythm. There was no rhyme, but the number of syllables in each line was always the same, and accent (stressing certain syllables or words) and alliteration (beginning words with the same consonant sound) were used. One or two accented words or syllables were used in the first half line and one in the second. The poetry abounds with parallelisms (repetition of ideas in slightly differing form), compounds, synonyms, and strong metaphorical expressions called kennings.