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IV. Old English Christian Poetry

§ 11. Minor Christian Poems

We may note, in conclusion, a group of minor poems which have one characteristic feature in common, namely, the note of personal religion; they are, for the most part, lyric or didactic in character, dealing with the soul’s need of redemption. Of these, the Death Song attributed to Bede by his pupil Cuthbert, who gives an approximate Latin rendering of it, is preserved in a Northumbrian version in a MS. at St. Gall and belongs to the same period as Caedmon’s Hymn.

One of the most interesting of the group is the Address of the Lost Soul to the Body, a frequent theme in later literature. It is one of the very few Old English poems preserved in two versions, one in the Exeter, the other in the Vercelli Book. In the latter codex is contained a fragment of a very rare theme, the Address of the Saved Soul to the Body. A poem on the day of doom is transmitted in the Exeter Book. It is a general admonition to lead a godly, righteous and sober life, after the fashion of many similar warnings in later literature.

A group of four short poems, of which three are preserved in the Exeter Book, deal with attributed common to mankind: The Gifts of Men (Bi monna craeftum)—based, largely, upon the 29th homily of Pope Gregory, and, hence, sometimes attributed to Cynewulf; the Fates of Men (Bi manna wyrdum), which, though allied in theme to the previous poem, differs very considerably from it in treatment; the Mind of Man (Bi manna mode) and the Falsehood of Man (Bi manna lease), which may be described as poetical homilies.