| English Literature for Boys and Girls|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Delightful introduction to the writers of English literature whose works hold the greatest appeal for the youthful reader. The life and personality of each author is given in outline, with enough material quoted from his works to give an idea of what he wrote. For most authors suggestions for further reading are included. The outline of historical background enables the young reader to grasp the connection between the literature and the life of the time. Excellent as a companion to a chronological study of English literature. Ages 12-15 |
HOW CAEDMON SANG, AND HOW HE FELL ONCE MORE ON SILENCE
 ONE of Caedmon's poems is called The Genesis. In this the poet
begins by telling of how Satan, in his pride, rebelled against
God, and of how he was cast forth from heaven with all those who
had joined with him in rebelling.
This story of the war in heaven and of the angels' fall is not in
the Bible. It is not to be found either in any of the Latin
books which the monks of Whitby may have had. The story did not
come from Rome, but from the East. How, then, did Caedmon hear
Whitby, we must remember, was founded by Celtic, and not by Roman
monks. It was founded by monks who came from Ireland to Iona,
and from thence to Northumbria. To them the teaching of Christ
had come from Jerusalem and the East rather than from Rome. So
here again, perhaps, we can see the effect of the Celts on our
literature. It was from Celtic monks that Caedmon heard the
story of the war in heaven.
After telling of this war, Caedmon goes on to relate how the
wicked angels "into darkness urged them their darksome way."
"They might not loudly laugh,
But they in hell-torments,
And woe they knew
Pain and sorrow,
With darkness decked,
For that they had devised
Against God to war."
Then after all the fierce clash of battle come a few lines which
seem like peace after war, quiet after storm.
"Then was after as before
Peace in heaven,
The Lord dear to all."
Then God grieved at the empty spaces in heaven from whence the
wicked angels had been driven forth. And that they might at last
be filled again, he made the world and placed a man and woman
there. This to the chief of the fallen angels was grief and
pain, and his heart boiled within him in anger.
"Heaven is lost to us," he cried; "but now that we may not have
it, let us so act that it shall be lost to them also. Let us
make them disobey God,
"Then with them will he be wroth of mind,
Will cast them from his favor,
Then shall they seek this hell
And these grim depths,
Then may we have them to ourselves as vassals,
The children of men in this fast durance."
Then Satan asks who will help him to tempt mankind to do wrong.
"If to any followers I princely treasure gave of old while we in
that good realm happy sate," let him my gift repay, let him now
So one of Satan's followers made himself ready. "On his head the
chief his helmet set," and he, "wheeled up from thence, departed
through the doors of hell lionlike in air, in hostile mood,
dashed the fire aside, with a fiend's power."
 Caedmon next tells how the fiend tempted first the man and then
the woman with guileful lies to eat of the fruit which had been
forbidden to them, and how Eve yielded to him. And having eaten
of the forbidden fruit, Eve urged Adam too to eat, for it seemed
to her that a fair new life was open to her. "I see God's
angels," she said,
With feathery wings
Of all folk greatest,
Of bands most joyous.
I can hear from far
And so widely see,
Through the whole world,
Over the broad creation.
I can the joy of the firmament
Hear in heaven.
It became light to me in mind
From without and within
After the fruit I tasted."
And thus, urged by Eve, Adam too ate of the forbidden fruit, and
the man and woman were driven out of the Happy Garden, and the
curse fell upon them because of their disobedience.
So they went forth "into a narrower life." Yet there was left to
them "the roof adorned with holy stars, and earth to them her
ample riches gave."
In many places this poem is only a paraphrase of the Bible. A
paraphrase means the same thing said in other words. But in
other places the poet seems to forget his model and sings out of
his own heart. Then his song is best. Perhaps some of the most
beautiful lines are those which tell of the dove that Noah sent
forth from the ark.
"Then after seven nights
He from the ark let forth
A palid dove
To fly after the swart raven,
Over the deep water,
To quest whether the foaming sea
Had of the green earth
Yet any part laid bare.
Wide she flew seeking her own will,
Far she flew yet found no rest.
Because of the flood
With her feet she might not perch on land,
Nor on the tree leaves light.
For the steep mountain tops
Were whelmed in waters.
Then the wild bird went
At eventide the ark to seek.
Over the darling wave she flew
Weary, to sink hungry
To the hands of the holy man."
A second time the dove is sent forth, and this is how the poet
tells of it:—
"Far and wide she flew
Glad in flying free, till she found a place
On a gentle tree. Gay of mood she was and glad
Since she sorely tired, now could settle down,
On the branches of the tree, on its beamy mast.
Then she fluttered feathers, went a flying off again,
With her booty flew, brought it to the sailor,
From an olive tree a twig, right into his hands
Brought the blade of green."
"Then the chief of seamen knew that gladness was at hand, and he
sent forth after three weeks the wild dove who came not back
again; for she saw the land of the greening trees. The happy
creature, all rejoicing, would no longer of the ark, for she
needed it no more."
Besides Genesis many other poems were thought at one time to have
been made by Caedmon. The chief of these are Exodus and Daniel.
They are all in an old book, called the Junian MS., from the name
of the man,
 Francis Dujon, who first published them. The MS. was
found among some other old books in Trinity College, Dublin, and
given to Francis Dujon. He published the poems in 1655, and it
is from that time that we date our knowledge of Caedmon.
Wise men tell us that Caedmon could not have made any of these
poems, not even the Genesis of which you have been reading. But
if Caedmon did not make these very poems, he made others like
them which have been lost. It was he who first showed the way,
and other poets followed.
We need not wonder, perhaps, that our poetry is a splendor of the
world when we remember that it is rooted in these grand old
tales, and that it awoke to life through the singing of a strong
son of the soil, a herdsman and a poet. We know very little of
this first of English poets, but what we do know makes us love
him. He must have been a gentle, humble, kindly man, tender of
heart and pure of mind. Of his birth we know nothing; of his
life little except the story which has been told. And when death
came to him, he met it cheerfully as he had lived.
For some days he had been ill, but able still to walk and talk.
But one night, feeling that the end of life for him was near, he
asked the brothers to give to him for the last time the
Eucharist, or sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
"They answered, 'What need of the Eucharist? for you are not
likely to die, since you talk so merrily with us, as if you were
in perfect health.'
" 'However,' said he, 'bring me the Eucharist.'
"Having received the same into his hand, he asked whether they
were all in charity with him, and without any enmity or rancour.
"They answered that they were all in perfect charity
 and free
from anger; and in their turn asked him whether he was in the
same mind towards them.
"He answered, 'I am in charity, my children, with all the
servants of God.'
"Then, strengthening himself with the heavenly viaticum,
prepared for the entrance into another life, and asked how near
the time was when the brothers were to be awakened to sing the
nocturnal praises of our Lord.
"They answered, 'It is not far off.'
"Then he said, 'Well, let us wait that hour.' And signing
himself with the sign of the cross, he laid his head on the
pillow, and falling into a slumber ended his life so in silence."
Thus his life, which had been begun in silence, ended also in
silence, with just a few singing years between.
"Thus it came to pass, that as he had served God with a simple
and pure mind, and undisturbed devotion, so he now departed to
His presence, leaving the world by a quiet death. And that
tongue which had composed so many holy words in praise of the
Creator, uttered its last words while he was in the act of
signing himself with a cross, and recommending himself into His
At Whitby still the ruins of a monastery stand. It is not the
monastery over which the Abbess Hilda ruled or in which Caedmon
sang, for in the ninth century that was plundered and destroyed
by the fierce hordes of Danes who swept our shores. But in the
twelfth century the house was rebuilt, and parts of that building
are still to be seen.
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