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It is impossible to read the Anglo-Saxon of such a passage as this, even at this far off day, without feeling how perfectly the soft music and plaintive rhythm of the verse harmonise with the sentiment expressed. Even in a modern English rendering, these lines lose but little of their beauty, and may be taken as a good illustration of our meaning :
“Well mayest thou upbraid me as thou dost,
But to return. At length, in shame and sorrow, the Man and the Woman seek the shelter of a neighbouring grove, and there, seated apart, await in silent dread, the coming of their King, and His sure sentence of full-merited doom.
After many days, the holy God descends to Earth, and walks at evening-time amid the glories of the Garden. No sooner do the Man and his sorrowstricken spouse hear the voice of their Heavenly Chief, than they seek in conscious guilt the recesses of a deep-hidden cavern. Summoned by the Deity, Adam approaches his Maker, acknowledging his sense of woe and shame, and in answer to the questioning of his Sovereign Lord, acknowledges that, forgetful of divine Love, he had taken the deadly
fruit from the hand of his virgin Wife, and had eaten in violation of his Lord's command. Eve, to the close questioning of her God, replies in deepest shame, that she was beguiled by
artful words of fairest import
and ate the fruit.
And so the fifth section ends.
The doom of the Fiend, in the similitude of the Worm, is then pronounced ; the Man and the Woman hear the sentence of their exile, and bending their steps from Paradise seek
Another home, a realm more joyless far
than their native Paradise.
In the seventh and last section, the gates of Eden are closed behind the guilty pair. An Archangel, with flaming sword, guards the sacred enclosure to bar their return, and although Almighty God leaves them the radiant stars and the treasures of the Earth and Sea for their comfort and sustenance, they are sent forth to toil, to suffer, and to die.
If we consider this poem simply as the first strain of sacred song in Christianised England of which we have any record, written in an age of general illiteracy, and when few even of the clergy could be styled scholars in any real sense of the word, its
high literary merit is remarkable. But we can go farther than this. Cædmon's work is not only meritorious by comparison with the rudeness of the age in which it was produced, but, intrinsically, it takes high rank in our literature. It is true that the poem contains but few similes; still the same may be said of the Beowulf, and of Anglo-Saxon poetry in general. In chasteness of diction, however, in smoothness of versification, in purity of thought, in the human sympathy which breathes forth in every line, no less than in the invention of incident, the arrangement of episodes, and the dignified tone of the ending, it is worthy of the high place which, in days gone by, it held in the estimation of the Venerable Beda, of King Alfred, and of the learned Dujon ; and which it still holds in the heart of every lover of AngloSaxon poetry of the present day. Indeed, as we shall subsequently see, the poem, as a whole, will bear favourable comparison, in many respects, with the more elaborate epic of the erudite Secretary of the Commonwealth, and in more than one passage, evinces a chaste and delicate line of thought, while the corresponding passages in Milton, cannot fail to displease by their coarseness and repulsiveness.
Cædmon's Poem and Milton's Epic, a Com
parative Study—Prologue and Creation.
N the opening lines of Paradise Lost, when invoking
the aid of the Heavenly Muse, Milton expresses the opinion that his "adventrous song is a unique production in literature, involving,
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme,
and it is beyond doubt that he fully believed in his own estimate of the sacred epic.
Nor do we propose to call this statement in question, as it must be acknowledged that, in a certain sense and under certain limitations, Milton's description of his own work is a true one.
That there existed a number of dramas and poems on the same subject as Paradise Lost, even at the time when the poet made the first rough outline of his future work [1639-42], and still more so when he began the actual writing of his epic (1658), has been conclusively proved by quite a number of distinguished editors and critics of Milton's works; especially, by the Rev. Henry John Todd * in the Introduction to his variorum Edition, where he enumerates the claims of some thirty authors, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch, to the credit of having, probably or possibly, contributed something to the conception, the plan, or the execution of Milton's great poem. Voltaire, in his Essay on Epic Poetry, originally written in English , during his stay in England, was the first to suggest that Milton had borrowed his “ original " from a Scriptural drama that he had witnessed while in Italy (1638–9], entitled Adamo, written by a certain Giovanni Battista Andreini, the son of an Italian actress, and known, in both Italy and France, as a writer of comedies and religious poems. This hint of Voltaire's, led to the opening up of one of those, so-called, literary questions that, now and again, have diverted the attention of the scholar from the study of true literature into channels of worthless speculation and useless criticism. Indeed, for many a long year, the question of the particular author to whom Milton may have been indebted for hints and fancies in his Paradise Lost, continued to be a favourite topic of research; and unfortunately, even