Doctrine and Poetry
Augustine's Influence on Old English Poetry
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To our modern sensibilities, "doctrine" and "poetry" may seem antithetical, but the medieval Christian found nothing conflicting in them. In this provocative book, Bernard F. Huppe outlines the influence of Augustinian doctrine upon old English poetry and shows that their association was so close as to be indissoluble.
Augustinian literary doctrine, religious in its orientation, held that the purpose of literature is the promotion of charity to the end that God may be enjoyed; that the true basis for eloquence is the truth in the meaning of words, not in the words themselves. This tightly defined frame allowed none of the individualistic fancies we now associate with poetry. Dr. Huppe has illustrated the continuing influence of this theory by references to Isidore of Seville; the obscure rhetorician, Vergil of Toulouse; Bede and his continental successors, Alcuin and Rabanus; and to John Scotus Erigena.
The conscious and unconscious influence of this doctrine--and of Christian thought in general--was felt not only in the interpretation of poetry but in its creation as well. Dr. Huppe's most dramatic example is the work of Caedmon, an unschooled but devout layman. Caedmon's famous Hymn, the first Christian poem in English, and its reception by learned ecclesiastics vividly demonstrate the convergence of doctrine and poetry: Old English as well as Latin. Along with Caedmon's Hymn and the Caedmonian Genesis, Dr. Huppe analyzes other Old English classics. In relating them to Latin poetic theory, he indicates a whole new direction for their study. His basic hypothesis may well be extended to relate Old English to Late Medieval verse--thus establishing the latter's rightful place in the mainstream of Christian poetry.
The author has added his own translations of the Latin and Old English poetry treated in the text, which facilitates the reading of this most rewarding book.
Bernard F. Huppe is Professor of English at Harpur College of the State University of New York. Author of many articles on medieval subjects, Dr. Huppe is co-author of Piers Plowman and the Scriptural Tradition and Logic and Language.