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The Old English literature is considered to be a literature of the period of the Old English language, also referred to as Anglo-Saxon. It includes the period from the middle of the 5th century to the year of 1066 (the Norman Conquest). This period of English literature can be vividly described by such genres as chronicles, sermons, riddles, elegies, epic poetry, and translations of Bible.
The main theme that appealed to the Old English poetry was the Christ’s human will. The will was a very important condition of being human, so one should possess such qualities as courage and a strong will in order to be human. As the courageous actions were the central idea of the heroic poetry, this human quality was glorified in the poems of the Old English period. “The Dream of the Rood” describes Christ’s own will and courage when he was accepting his death and was walking to the Cross (North, 2007).
Of course the parallels creating the whole poem are on diverse topics, and can also be observed within different methods of conversation. The long conversation on the issue of the poem’s unanimity is a vivid example of such contrasts. The topic of the poem is preserved from the very beginning till the end of the poem, from the image and observation of the cross to the story by the same cross.
The poem “The Dream of the Rood” presents the idea of the cross, revealed from several different points of view. “The stylistic and topical circumscription of each perspective conveys its limitations: none of these perspectives is self-sufficient to depict the cross’ absolute reality; each needs its companions to imply together something of this abstract idea” (Clemoes, 2008). The theme of love to Christ and sacrifice are vividly depicted in the poem.
John C. Pope declared that the plots of the poems “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer” are narrated by ‘dramatic voices’, as they contain not one narrator. “The Seafarer” seems to reveal such ideas as the moral goodness, the appropriateness of the comparison of the bird-soul and the narrator observing what is good from the spiritual point of view “precisely the overwhelming desire, comparable to the fierce greediness of a bird of prey but purified by its object, that the seafarer feels for what he is about to name as ‘Dryhtnes dreamas’, ‘the joy of the Lord’” (Clemoes, 2008).
“The Wanderer” is the elegy that is forced to experience banishment, while the body of the main hero is not secured; though banished, he is not confined. Thereby the Wanderer’s tolerates some kind of metaphysical or spiritual confinement by way of being banished; he is not imprisoned within physical body (Horner, 2001).
Thus there exists a bright contrast, as female narrators whose imagination or spiritual essence meanders, while the body is imprisoned; therefore the narrator in the poem “The Wanderer” has an insuperable desire to confine his treacherous thoughts, to enclose his mind, which lives in his sufferings. In the poem “the Seafarer” the narrator seeks to acquire control over his treacherous thoughts, “but not before they have roamed widely over the seas, not unlike the speaker himself. What begins as a literal voyage for the Seafarer leads him to contemplate a spiritual or allegorical voyage, as his soul ‘leaves’ his body and ‘roams widely’, returning to urge the body onwards” (Horner, 2001).
The poem “The Wanderer” reveals the thoughts of a sole banishment on the brilliance of the past years as a soldier in his master’s group of servants, his present difficulties and merits of abstinence and faith in God. The warrior (wanderer) was banished and now he recollects his life being in banishment. One of the main themes of the poem is the salvation by means of faith. The main character describes his being lonely and longing for the brilliant days of glory and happiness. The poem “The Wanderer” is very thought-provoking, as it caused a great number of debates on the issues of its theme, proper understanding and interpretation according to different perspectives. In this poem the reader can see not only the description of voyages of the physical body, but a bright feeling of cognition in which the voyage leads to the obvious visible changes in the temper, mind and way of perception of the main character.
The poem “The Seafarer” is the one representing the poetry of the Old English period, from the 5th century till the Norman Conquest. It is considered to be an elegy as it contains a description of sad unhappy feelings. The poem “The Seafarer represents essential wise studies about the notion of a sage, the time of the world, and the importance to be persistent in adversity. The speaker is an old sailor, who recollects his life. In first lines the sailor tells about the lonely obstacles of life being in the winter sea. The sailor depicts different negative feelings suchlike anxiety. Then he describes his urge to go to the sea; the narrator’s soul experiences a kind of trip over the sea, it is looking for heaven, but comes to the body being ready to leave it. And in successful lines the speaker emphasizes his desire of his soul to depart to heaven; he tells about impossibility to leave the body, the wealth on the earth would not lead to the wealth on heaven. The seafarer believes in God, in life after death; and hopes to depart to heaven. The poem “The Seafarer” shows the belief of the Anglo-Saxons in that the lives on earth and after death are conditioned by the fate. Thus, the only affection of the main character of the poem was the sea and the greatest desire was to depart to heaven.
In a poem of “Deor” the man is restrained, and the author makes the readers believe in the hero’s remission, maybe not actual but metaphysical; this idea is proved by the burden. The idea of confinement in the male elegies is consequently opposed to the confinement in the female elegies (Horner, 2001).
The poem “Deor” reveals the complaints about the banishment from the bright luxurious life full of popularity and respect. The main character contrasts his impediment of the present moment with the impediments of the main characters of literature of the Anglo-Saxons. He depicts his sufferings, emphasizing that every hero underwent an undeserved fate. The theme of love in this poem is depicted with the help of love of power, luxury, popularity, respect. The hero can not accept the position of the banished; he is not willing to live this way.
Thus all these poems represent the period of Old English literature. The themes are rather disputable and complicated to be singled out. Thereby the poems reveal the theme of love, it can be affection or passion for money and power; the love of God and readiness for sacrifice, the will to depart to heaven. As the time when these poems were created presupposed faith in God, noble actions and self-sacrifice, these pieces of literature describe all the distinctive features of people of that era.
North, Richard, and Joe Allard. (2007). Beowulf & Other Stories: an Introduction to Old English, Old Icelandic, and Anglo-Norman Literature. Great Britain: Pearson Education.
Clemoes, Peter. (2008). Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Horner, Shari. (2001). The discourse of enclosure: representing women in Old English literature. Albany: SUNY Press.
Pope, C.John. (2000). Eight Old English Poems. New York, London: W. W.Norton.