Imagens das páginas

self to be no mere paraphrast, but a man endowed with the soul and fire of the born poet.

But while this is true, not only of that part of the poem which treats of the “Fall of Man," but also of other portions where the expression, the versification and the rhythm evince careful elaboration, and the imagery is at its highest point of perfection, still, other portions of the work are comparatively so inferior to the major part of the poem, as to lend countenance to the commonly accepted title of Paraphrase.” Indeed, from a mere casual reading of the original, one is apt to form the opinion that the poem is the work of more than one writer ; and this, from the very unevenness of the style ; but a closer study shows conclusively that it is the work of a single mind, though written under differing conditions, some parts having been more fully elaborated and more highly finished than others. Whether that part of Cædmon's poem

which relates to the “Fall of Man,” can justly be entitled an epic, may be open to question. If an epic is a metrical romance," no matter whether it be founded on history, on mythology, on theomachy, or on the purely imaginative creations of the poet, then it would be difficult to deny, to this part of Cædmon's poem, the lofty title of epic. (It is a


romance or narrative based on Hebrew mythology, interspersed with folk-lore on matters supermundane, mundane, and inframundane; on Bible hints and ecclesiastical imaginings; but still, a connected story, of the traditionally received version of the Fall. It differs from the Iliad, the Æneid, and the Arthurian story, inasmuch as it is not a mere national epic, or an epic of purely national events. It is not a story of one planet alone, or even of the whole Starry Universe. In this, it differs from other prominent types of the Epic. Its field of action is infinite space, and its heroes are not human warriors, or even conventional demi-gods, but supernatural beings who can defy all the known laws of gravity, and can assume at will any form whatsoever, be it “toad” or “ stripling cherub."

The central figure of the romance is an almighty Being, supposed to represent the Deity, who, in a burst of terrestrial anger, hurls from the Empyrean the angels who attempt to oppose His will, and subsequently suffers His newly created Man, who knows nothing of Sin, and less of Satan, to be ex. posed to the machinations of a criminal Archangel, whose colossal intelligence had made him the most conspicuous figure in the Empyrean, next to the epic Deity himself. This being is the true hero of the plot,-a Fiend who is bent on the most demon

like scheme of revenge that archangelic ingenuity could conceive.

Now, what does all this mean? It cannot be denied that, at the present day, Milton's poetic narrative of the Creation and Fall, are in possession of the imagination of the average amateur theologian ; and of the intellectually immature masses of England, of America, and of the Englishspeaking races generally. It is not taken as a Talmud or commentary, or even as a supplementary Bible. It is the only narrative generally known; and if the tiny, authentic Scripture "original," which, in the course of centuries has grown into the modern fully developed Epic of the Fall of Man, were to be excerpted from the canonical Scriptures, as all that the Bible had to say on the subject, and this were to be presented, in its unconnected entirety, the result would not only cause a vacant stare of astonishment on the face of the average Protestant, but would be likely to arouse a suspicion that someone had tampered with the Bible, and had suppressed the larger part of a fine, oldfashioned Bible story.

What a distinguished writer has said of Milton's epic, we can apply with equal truth to Cædmon's poem: “In so far as Paradise Lost is an expression of Milton's habitual mode of thought, respecting Man and History, in relation to an eternal and un

known Infinity, it is so by way of what the Germans call Verstellung, viz., popular image or representation; and not by way of Begriff, viz., pure or philosophic notion."

Cadmon deals with his subject as a Verstellung. He represents, by popular image or representation, the traditional ideas of his day on this subject, and does not attempt to philosophise, or explain in the abstract his notion of the origin of Evil or of Death.

And it is so in Milton. Both, give in the popular imagery of their time, and in poetic form, the current theological traditions of the age. Cædmon reproduces sixth century, Catholic tradition in popular dressing. Milton, with all the theological developments and popular conceits of the Middle Ages behind him, with regard to Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell, presents, in more modern garb, the Protestant tradition of a thousand years later ;-a tradition which had been evolved, since the socalled Reformation, by the occult principle of Protestant selection.

Cædmon's poem is then an epic, a Verstellung, if we accord these titles to Milton's more ambitious work. It is an epic of the whole of creation; of infinitude in space and in time; and, in common with Paradise Lost, is charming, illogical, and at times incomprehensible.

Although Cædmon's work is not a mere para

phrase, but a grand sacred poem, yet it is to be borne in mind that the intention of the author was not, like Milton, to immortalise himself, but to instruct the people, by giving the clergy and gleemen, and through them the people at large, a poetic version of the traditionally received account of the “Fall of Man," and other sacred narratives.

Whence Cadmon obtained the information which he evidently possessed of Rabbinical learning, it is impossible to say; yet it is beyond doubt that he is indebted to some of the Oriental or Rabbinical commentators, for many an idea which he has made tributary. It is well known, that the Anglo-Saxon Church was in direct touch, ecclesiastically, with the East, and hence, it is perfectly supposable, that Cædmon obtained his rabbinical interpretations directly through Oriental sources. It is more probable, however, to suppose that the apostles of Roman Christianity in England, had carried with them the traditional Eastern exposition of the book of Genesis, and so had established a traditional consensus which formed the basis of the teaching on this subject in every monastery in the land.

In order to understand fully this poem of the monk of Whitby, it is absolutely necessary to picture to the mind the whole scene of the Creation and the

« AnteriorContinuar »