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The Departing Soul's Address to the Body A Fragment of a Semi-Saxon Poem, Discovered Among the Archives of Worcester Cathedral   By: (1792-1872)

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First Page:

THE

DEPARTING SOUL'S

ADDRESS TO THE BODY

A FRAGMENT OF

A SEMI SAXON POEM,

DISCOVERED AMONG THE ARCHIVES OF WORCESTER CATHEDRAL,

BY SIR THOMAS PHILLIPPS, BART.

WITH AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION,

BY

S. W. SINGER.

LONDON: PRINTED BY LUKE JAMES HANSARD & CO.

M.DCCC.XLV.

[Transcriber's note: The Middle English character yogh is transcribed as [gh]. Other letters or words in brackets are as in original.]

The student of our early literature and language is indebted to the zeal of Sir Thomas Phillipps, for the discovery of the following interesting Fragment, which appears to have formed part of a volume that contained Ælfric's Grammar and Glossary, probably of the Twelfth Century. The fragments were discovered among the archives of Worcester Cathedral; and in 1836 Sir Thomas Phillipps printed the whole of them in folio. I know not whether the form or the typographical arrangement has been the cause of the neglect of this publication; but it has escaped both Mr. Wright and Mr. Thorpe. The former, in his interesting edition of "The Latin Poems of Walter de Mapes," where he has given the literary history of this legend with extracts, has not even referred to our fragment; nor has Mr. Thorpe adverted to it in his publication of the "Codex Exoniensis," which contains an Anglo Saxon poem of the same kind, with which it is interesting to compare this later version of the legend. There is a portion of another semi Saxon poem, entitled "The Grave," printed in Mr. Conybeare's "Illustrations," and by Mr. Thorpe in his "Analecta Anglo Saxonica," which appears to be by the same hand, or at any rate of the same school and age. Indeed some of the lines and thoughts are identical with passages of the following poem. Mr. Thorpe has justly called "The Grave" a singularly impressive and almost appalling fragment; expressions equally characteristic of that with which the reader is here presented.

This impressive character, coupled with the interest which the fragment possesses, as a specimen of the moral poetry of our ancestors, and as throwing light upon the transition of our language from Saxon to English, has been the motive for producing it in a more legible form than that in which it first appeared.

In one of the smaller poems (No. V.), printed by Mr. Wright with the Owl and the Nightingale, from the Cottonian MS. Calig. A. ix. "The sorie sowle maketh hire mone," in language not dissimilar to that used in the following fragment; and the dreary imagery of the house appointed for all living, and the punishment which awaits a wicked life at its close, are painted in an equally fearful manner.

Mr. Thorpe points to an Anglo Saxon prose Homily as the original of the poem on the same theme in the Exeter MS., which is repeated, with some variation, in the Vercelli Codex. In a rude and simple age this dramatic way of awakening the sinner to a sense of his perilous state, was perhaps the most effective that could have been chosen, and it was naturally a favorite with the moral and religious teachers for some centuries. M. Karajan, in a very pleasing little publication (Frülingsgabe für freunde Alterer Literatur, Wien 1839) has printed the "Visio Philiberti," a Latin poem in dialogue on this subject, with two old German versions; and the notes contain some interesting information relating to similar compositions; but Mr. Wright's volume, before referred to, contains ample illustrations of the legend in all languages.

The fragment here given, it will be seen, is very defective. An attempt has been made to supply words which were wanting, from the mutilation of the MS. leaves; but what is engrafted on the original is scrupulously distinguished by the Italic character. A version has also been added, the imperfections of which those who are acquainted with the difficulties of such renderings will best know how to excuse.

The language of this poem seems to have a striking resemblance to that of one of the MSS... Continue reading book >>




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