Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

name of King Euotlieb, has been found again in the Eckenlied of the German Helderibuch. More remarkable are the anticipations of the French romantic school—e.g., the elaborate descriptions of works of art are such as were fashionable with French poets in the next century.

The Comic literature of Germany has never had much credit from other nations, though they have been Modus Liewnc: ready to live on it without acknowledging FionTM. ment; borrowing Till Owlglas and other jesters. In the Middle Ages, Germany is ahead of France in a kind which is reckoned peculiarly French; the earliest fabliaux are in German Latin, with Swabians for comic heroes,—the story of the SnowChild, and the other, How the Swabian made the King say 'That's a story,' These are written to well-known tunes, which give them their titles, Modus Liebinc and Modus Florum. They are good enough: the former one, with considerable elegance in phrasing, tells a story fit for the Decameron; the other, with less ambition, gives one of the well-known popular tales — a monstrous lie rewarded with the hand of the king's daughter. The malice of the Snow-Child is something different from anything in vernacular literature till the time of Boccaccio and Chaucer; the learned language and the rather difficult verse perhaps helping to refine the mischief of the story. It is self-conscious, amused at its own craft: a different thing from the ingenuous simplicity of the French "merry tales," not to speak of the churlish heaviness of the worst among them.

228

CHAPTER IV.

THE TEUTONIC LANGUAGES.

RULES OF VERSE—OLD HIGH GERMAN POETRY—' HILBEBRAND '—'MUSPILLl'—OTFRID—SAXON AND ANGLO-SAXON POETRY—' BEOWULF' AND 'BYRHTNOTH'—CffiDMON—THE SAXON GENESIS—CYNEWULF— THE ELEGIES—NORSE AND ICELANDIC POETRY—THE 'ELDER EDDA,' AND OTHER NORTHERN POEMS—COURT-POETRY IN THE NORTH.

GERMAN PROSE—GOTHIC, HIGH GERMAN, ANGLO-SAXON, ICELANDIC —ULFILAS—NOTKER THE GERMAN—'THE ENGLISH CHRONICLE'— ALFRED—.BLFRIC—ARI THE WISE.

There is extant a considerable body of poetry in the old Germanic tongues, especially in Icelandic and AngloSaxon. In addition, there are many historical facts on which to base conjectures about what has been lost,— and that much has been lost is certain. The measures taken by Charlemagne and Alfred to preserve the Frankish and the English poetry were frustrated by the prejudices and the negligence of their successors. It is by chance only that anything has been preserved. The Anglo-Saxon poems and the "Elder Edda" have come through fire. We know the hair-breadth escapes of the text of Beowulf, of Finnesburh, and of the Lay of Maldon; and there is nothing fanciful in believing that fires, rats, librarians, or Protestant enthusiasm may have dismissed from the world an Old English heroic poem on the Nibelung history, with even less mark of its having once existed than there is for the lost story of Wade, or for the English version of Hildebrand.1

It is proved, and it scarcely needed proof, that the old Germans had the popular kinds of poetry which were not wanting even to the founders of Eonie. They had spell-songs, they had gibing verses, they had riddles,—kinds that belong to the whole world, and of which there are remnants and reminiscences current still.

They had a common form of verse which was used for any purpose, and which early in historical times was already developed as the proper form of expression for a noble kind of heroic poetry.2

1 See the Academy, February 15, 1896. A fragment of verse was found by Dr James, and interpreted by Mr Gollancz, in a thirteenth century Latin homily: Jta quod dicere possunt cum Wade;

Summe sende ylues

and summe sende nadderes:

summe sende nikeres

the bi den watere wunien

Nister man nenne

bute ildebrand onne.

2 The Teutonic alliterative verse has in recent years been pretty fully explained, mainly through the learning and skill of Dr Edward Sievers of Leipzig, whose Altgermanische Mctrik gives his results in a summary but not too contracted form. These have been in some points exposed to criticism and in some points supplemented; see especially for exceptional rules in the Old Northern Scaldic verse MrW. A. Craigie's ingenious demonstration in the Arkiv for Nordisk Filologi, vol. xvi. (of the new series, xii.), p. 341 sq. (Lund, 1900). But Dr Sievers's theory has not yet been damaged in its central positions—being indeed not hypothesis, but mainly statistics.

Some of the principal rules of the old verse are retained in England in the alliterative

Teutonic Verse. °

poems of the fourteenth century, among which Piers Plowman is the chief:—

"Ac in a May m6rning | on Malvern Miles."

The line is divided into two sections, with two strong syllables in each, and with alliteration in three out of the four. The varieties of rhythm have been reduced to five chief types for the half line, taken separately, which in their simplest form are as follows. The examples are from Anglo-Saxon, Old Saxon, and Icelandic:—

A. —\j\ yj\ bine biddan, skarpun sktirun, bauga

dregna.

B. w-'|«-': in helle grund, an morgantid, af sarum

hug. 0. «-' | *'«: on hranrdde, an Sr dagun, of grdsilfri.

D. -' | -' * ^ (a secondary stress after the second chief

stress): beorht blcedgifa, hard harmskara, folks oddviti.

E. -' \-\j -' (a secondary stress between the two chief

stresses ): fyrngidda frdd, gramhudig man, endlangan sal.

Eules of quantity can be clearly made out from the common usage of all the languages. The chief stress is always on a long syllable, or on a resolution of a long syllable (sigora dryhten), with one exception: a short syllable may have the chief stress when it comes immediately after a long syllable which has either a major or a minor stress. This exception is especially common in the C type, e.g., of UodhSte. Icelandic differs from the other languages in admitting short syllables at the end of B and E. The Icelandic verse was more exclusively dactylic or trochaic than the Anglo-Saxon.

In some parts of the line the number of unaccented syllables may be increased without spoiling the measure; the greatest licence in this respect is at the beginning of half lines of the B type. The languages came to vary considerably in their tastes with regard to number of syllables. Icelandic poets became more and more correct; the alliterative verse tended more and more to strict observation of syllables, four in each short line. The Old-Saxon poet of the Heliand shows the opposite tendency —towards an increase in the number of unstressed syllables and a diffuse and irregular habit of verse. The later English alliterative line of the great fourteenth century school is licentious as compared with Cynewulf, unrestricted in the number of syllables. But the old rhythm is not lost. The verse of Piers Plowman, quoted already—"Ac in a May morning" — preserves the old measures well enough; and much later, the poem of Scotish Field, on the battle of Flodden, follows the same rule, in most essential points, as the poem of Maldon:

"Which foughten full freshly while the feild lasted."

Scotish Field refuses the common anapaestic canter of the "tumbling verse"—

"A notable story I'll tell you anon"—

« AnteriorContinuar »