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New Readings in the Vercelli Book (Toronto Anglo-Saxon Series) by

Language: eng

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Publisher: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division

Published: 2009-12-18T16:00:00+00:00

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New Readings in the Vercelli Book (Toronto Anglo-Saxon Series) by

The Journey Motif in the Poems of the Vercelli Book

PATRICK McBRINE

Crist sylf foresæde: ‘On þyssum middangearde ge habbað geswinc,’ ond eft he cwæð: ‘Ge wepað ond hiofað ond þes middangearde gefyhð.’ Neara ond wiðerdene is se halega weg, swa swa dryhten sylf cwæð.

 

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New Readings in the Vercelli Book (Toronto Anglo-Saxon Series) by

Author: , Date: June 6, 2019

,Views: 12

Language: eng

Format: azw3

Publisher: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division

Published: 2009-12-18T16:00:00+00:00
The Journey Motif in the Poems of the Vercelli Book

PATRICK McBRINE

Crist sylf foresæde: ‘On þyssum middangearde ge habbað geswinc,’ ond eft he cwæð: ‘Ge wepað ond hiofað ond þes middangearde gefyhð.’ Neara ond wiðerdene is se halega weg, swa swa dryhten sylf cwæð.

[Christ himself proclaimed: ‘You will have toil in this world,’ and then he said: ‘You will weep and lament, and this world will rejoice.’ Narrow and steep is the holy way, just as the Lord himself said.] VH VII.29–32

All of the poetry in the Vercelli Book is concerned with the quest for Heaven, as Christ’s disciples make literal and figurative journeys (the terms used include sið [‘journey’] and lifes weg [‘the path of life’]) that test the limits of their faith. The language associated with journeying in the manuscript is a recurring series of words that highlights progressive stages of the road to salvation. In particular, terms such as sið (‘journey’), geomor (‘sad’ or ‘troubled’), frofor (‘solace’), hyht (‘hope’), and dream (‘joy’) define moments of joyful expectation or miserable uncertainty as individuals struggle to find their way. Each of the six Vercelli poems, namely, Andreas, The Fates of the Apostles, Soul and Body I, Homiletic Fragment I, The Dream of the Rood, and Elene, uses several or all of these words as part of a larger thematic message: the course of this life is harsh and sorrowful, yet faith and hope will lead to eternal bliss. This message appears throughout the poetry of the manuscript and, characterized by a particular language, allows us to view the poems as a collection with a number of shared interests.

The Fates of the Apostles, Cynewulf’s shortest signed poem, is certainly the most succinct treatment of the journey motif in the Vercelli Book. Here Cynewulf recounts all twelve ‘fates’ (i.e., deaths) of the apostles in just 122 lines. Despite its title, however, the poem also concerns the narrator, whose own sadness figures prominently in both the opening and closing lines of the poem. Each of the lives of the apostles is a triumphant victory over the afflictions of mortal existence, yet the narrator himself finds no consolation for his own heartache in the process of recounting the fates of the apostles. Constance B. Hieatt first noted the importance of the term sið (‘journey’) as a unifying element in the poem, and D.G. Calder has recognized the journey as a dominant image in Fates, yet more remains to be said about the narrator’s description of himself as ‘sad’ (geomor) in relation to this motif.1

In the opening lines of the poem the narrator says (1–2): ‘Ic þysne sang siðgeomor fand / on seocum sefan’ (‘Travel-weary, I have composed [literally ‘found’] this poem with a sick heart’).2 This is the only occurrence of the word siðgeomor in the surviving corpus of Old English, and though ‘travel-weary’ may be too colloquial a translation, it does suit the emphasis Cynewulf places on journeying in the poem.3 The sið element is undoubtedly a metaphor for the narrator’s journey through life, while the word geomor binds this particular moment of it to sadness.

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