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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

XI. Early Transition English

§ 5. Genesis and Exodus

Other attempts at teaching Biblical history are to be found in the Genesis and Exodus poems and in the shorter poems called The Passion of Our Lord and The Woman of Samaria. In the Genesis and Exodus poems may be seen a renewal of the earlier method of telling Bible stories in “londes speche and wordes smale.” They are probably by one and the same author, who wrote about 1250 in the south-eastern Midlands. Their theme comprises Israelitish history down to the death of Moses. But the poet did not write from the Biblical text; his work is founded almost wholly on the Historia Scholastica of Petrus Comestor; although the first 600 lines appear to be drawn from some other source, while in 11. 78 ff. a reminiscence of PHilipe de Thaun’s Comput is found. The poet’s aim is to tell a plain story, and it is the simple human items upon which he concencentrates. He avoids all show of moralising, and consistently passes by the quotations with which his original was abundantly fortified. In each, the earlier epic style has given way to the more businesslike methods of the riming chronicle, and both works are written in a short riming couplet of excellent workmanship. They are of considerable importance in the history of English prosody, since in them the principles upon which that prosody is based clearly emerge. The line is based upon feet rather than accents, and studied variations in the arrangement of the feet produce melody of inconceivable variety in the accentual system with its unlicensed particles. The other two poems deal with New Testament history. The Passion is a sketch of the life of Christ with details added concerning the later persecutions under Nero and Domitian. It is, confessedly, a set-off to current narratives of Karlemeyne and the Duzeper. The Woman of Samaria deals with the episode of Christ’s meeting with the woman at the well, and, as in the previous poem, the suitable septenarius is employed.