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The seasons of the year in Old English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 September 2008

Earl R. Anderson
Affiliation:
Cleveland State University

Extract

‘Feower tida synd getealde on anum geare’, Ælfric writes in De temporibus anni, translating a portion of Bede's De temporum ratione, and he enumerates the seasons together with their Latin counterparts: ‘Ver is lenctentid … Aestas is sumer … Autumnus is hærfest … Hiems is winter.’ Byrhtferth of Ramsey enumerates ‘Þa feower timan … lengten, sumor, hærfest and winter’, allegorizing them as symbols of childhood, adolescence, manhood and old age, of blood, choler, black bile and phlegm, and of air, fire, earth and water, and elsewhere he refers to ‘gewrixlunge Þæsra feower timan, Þæt ys lenctenis and sumoris and hærfestis and wintres’. From these passages, and others like them, it would appear that the Anglo-Saxons observed four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. This conclusion seems obvious enough and represents the conceptual baseline for the Bosworth–Toller dictionary entries for lencten, and lenctentid, sumer, hærfest and winter, even though it is clear from their own citations that lencten and lenctentid often mean ‘Lent’ and hærfest often means ‘harvest’.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1997

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References

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40 Walafrid, Strabo, De cultura hortorum II. 25Google Scholar, in MGH, PLAC II, 336Google Scholar, and Carmina Salisburgensia (ibid. p. 644); Poeta, Saxo, in MGH, PLAC IV, 44.Google ScholarTuve, R., Seasons and Months: Studies in a Tradition of Middle English Poetry (Paris, 1933), p. 33Google Scholar, writes about Carolingian and Middle English examples of this theme but is unaware of its significance in Old English literature.

41 Ælfric, Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church, ed Thorpe, B., 2 vols. (London, 18441846) I, 100, lines 2–3Google Scholar; Exameron Anglice, or The Old English Hexameron, ed. Crawford, S. J. (Hamburg, 1921, repr. Darmstadt, 1968), p. 42 (lines 114–15).Google Scholar

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43 Leechdoms, ed. Cockayne, , p. 152Google Scholar: ‘the beginning of all the year, by right reckoning, [because] the Almighty God in this month created all creation’.

44 Menologium, in ASPR VI, 4955Google Scholar; in modern English translation: Malone, K., ‘The Old English Calendar Poem’, in Studies in Language, Literature, and Culture of the Middle Ages and Later, ed. Atwood, E. B. and Hill, A. A. (Austin, TX, 1969), pp. 193–9.Google ScholarLencten as a religious period is discussed by Tupper, F. J., ‘Anglo-Saxon Dæg-Mæl’, PMLA 10 (1895), 111241, at 218–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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54 Boece I, metrum 5, in The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. Robinson, F. N., 2nd ed. (Boston, 1957), p. 326Google Scholar; see also I, m. 6 (p. 328). Chaucer uses the word four times without glossing it.

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69 Dal, I., ‘Gmc. brûn als Epitheton von Waffen’, Norsk Tidskrift for Sprogvidenskap 9 (1938), 219–30Google Scholar, argues that two separate words, one for hue and one for brightness, coalesce in brun, and Tremarne, H. P., ‘Beowulf's “Ecg Brun” and other Rusty Relics’, PQ 68 (1969), 145–50Google Scholar, argues that Anglo-Saxon weapons were treated chemically to give them a ‘brown’ appearance.

70 Secreta semtorum: Nine English Versions 1, ed. Manzalaoui, M. A. (Oxford, 1977), 152–5 (IV, xi–xv)Google Scholar; for discussion, see Tuve, , Seasons and Months, pp. 4670Google Scholar, and Enkvist, , Seasons of the Year, pp. 41–5.Google Scholar

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74 De consolatione Philosaphiae, ed. Fox, , p. 74 (ch. xxi)Google Scholar: ‘So has not Almighty God very wisely and very fitly appointed change to all his creatures. Thus spring and harvest. In spring it groweth, and in harvest it ripens. And again summer and winter. In summer it is warm, and in winter cold.’

75 Maxims II, 5b–9 (cited from ASPR VI, 55–7)Google Scholar: ‘Winter is coldest, spring frostiest (it is cold for the longest time), summer brightest with the sun (sun is hottest), autumn most glorious, brings to men the year's fruits, which God sends to them.’ For discussion, see Greenfield, S. B. and Evert, R., ‘Maxims II: Gnome and Poem’, in Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Essays in Appreciation, ed. Nicholson, L. E. and Frese, D. W. (Notre Dame, IN, 1975), pp. 337–54, at 341–2.Google Scholar

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77 Cynewulf's Elene, cited from ASPR II; a version of the Latin Vita Quiriaci appears in Elene, an Old English Poem, ed. Kent, C. W. (Boston, 1891)Google Scholar: ‘the fifth day before the nones of May [May 3]’. For the convergence of seasons, months and feast days, see Howe, N., The Old English Catalogue Poems (Copenhagen, 1985), pp. 76 and 81–2.Google Scholar

78 Æljric's Homilies, ed. Thorpe, I, 100Google Scholar: ‘March, which you call Hlyda.’

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80 Martyrology, ed. Herzfeld, , pp. 216, 12, 88 and 110, respectively.Google Scholar

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85 ‘As ancient men reckoned it of old, ripe in wisdom.’

86 ‘A man old in winters must determine the holy days [Easter and Ascension] through knowledge of the cycle [or the zodiac].’

87 Ælfric's Homilies, ed. Thorpe, I, 99Google Scholar; for discussion, see Harrison, K., ‘The Beginning of the Year in England, c. 500–900’, ASE 2 (1973), 5170.Google Scholar

88 ‘As was heard throughout the middle earth; that glorious event was made known to the folk.’

89 The Phoenix, ed. Blake, N. E. (Manchester, 1964)Google Scholar includes an edition of the Carmen de avephoenice as Appendix I (pp. 8892)Google Scholar; ‘Moreover, neither summer nor winter approaches this source, / rather the sun pours the day from a spring sky.’

90 ‘The woods are equally hung with fruits [during] winter and summer.’

91 ‘Similarly, one brings home earth's fruits for sustenance, delightful food in the harvest, before the coming of winter, lest the rain shower destroy them under the clouds. There they [mankind] find support, sustenance and happiness when frost and snow with great force cover the earth with winter garments. From those fruits must once again be brought forth the prosperity of men through the natural properties of the corn; as soon as the pure seed is sown the sun's beam, life's token, awakens the world-treasures in the spring, so that the crops are afterwards brought forth, the fruit on earth. Just so the bird comes old after years, then young again, clothed with flesh.’

92 Seasons of the Year, p. 11.Google Scholar

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95 ‘Until another summer came in the yards, as it still does, as the season continually turns, gloriously bright weather. The winter was banished, the bosom of earth [became] fair.’

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99 Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg, ed. Klaeber, , p. 175, note to lines 1134–1136a.Google Scholar

100 ‘Inner Weather and Interlace’, p. 83.Google Scholar

101 Puhvel, M., ‘The Melting of the Giant-Wrought Sword in Beowulf’, ELN 7 (1969), 81–4, notes Celtic parallels.Google Scholar

102 The Blickling Homilies, ed. Morris, R., EETS os 58,63 and 73 (London, 18741880), pp. 208–11.Google ScholarMalone, K., in ‘Grendel's Abode’, Studia Philologies et letteraria in honorem L. Spitzer (Bern, 1958), pp. 297308Google Scholar, proposes a literal identity of Grendel's mere with hell; Goldsmith, M. E., The Mode and Meaning of Beowulf (London, 1970), pp. 115–17Google Scholar, proposes instead a symbolic association.

103 Sedgefield, W. J., ‘The Scenery in BeowulfJEGP 35 (1936), 161–9, at 162Google Scholar; this solution is not a possibility, since bearwas means ‘woods’, not ‘trees’.

104 Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburh, ed. Klaeber, , p. 183, note to line 1363.Google Scholar

105 Robertson, D. W. Jr, ‘The Doctrine of Charity in Mediaeval Literary Gardens: A Topical Approach through Symbolism and Allegory’, Speculum 26 (1951), 2449CrossRefGoogle Scholar, repr. in An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism, ed. Nicholson, L. E. (Notte Dame, IN, 1963).Google Scholar

106 Butts, R., ‘The Analogical Mere: Landscape and Terror in Beowulf’, ES 68 (1987), 115–21, at 115Google Scholar; contrast Sedgefield, ‘The Scenery’, and Lawrence, W. W., ‘The Haunted Mere in Beowulf’, PMLA 27 (1912), 208–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

107 The Seafarer, ed. Gordon, I. L. (London, 1960)Google Scholar: ‘spent the winter in the paths of exile’.

108 ‘Icelandic Runic Poem’, stanza 7, in Runic and Heroic Poems, ed. Dickins, , p. 30.Google Scholar

109 Lines 48–55a: ‘Woods take to blossoms, villages grow fair, fields beautify, the world hastens on; all these admonish the mind eager to go, the heart eager for the journey, for him who intends thus on the flood-paths to depart. So also the cuckoo admonishes with sad voice, the guardian of sumer sings, announces sorrow bitter in the breast.’

110 Early English Lyrics, ed. Chambers, E. K. and Sidgwick, F. (London, 1907), p. 8Google Scholar; for the variant, p. 329, and Varnhagen, H., ‘Zu mittelenglischen Gedichten’, Anglia 4 (1871), 207.Google ScholarAgain, The Harley Lyrics, ed. Brook, G. L. (Manchester, 1956)Google Scholar, no. 11, ‘Spring’, pp. 43–4.Google Scholar

111 These are the translations respectively of The Exeter Book II, ed. Mackie, W. K. (London, 1934), p. 5Google Scholar; Gordon, , Anglo-Saxon Poetry, p. 77Google Scholar; Kennedy, C. W., The Earliest English Poetry (New York, 1943), p. 106Google Scholar; Whitelock, D., ‘The Interpretation of The Seafarer’, The Early Cultures of North-WestEurope (H. M. Chadwick Memorial Studies), ed. Sir Fox, C. and Dickins, B. (Cambridge, 1950), pp. 259–72, at 263–4, repr.Google Scholar in Old English Literature: Twenty-Two Analytical Essays, ed. Stevens, M. and Mandel, J. (Lincoln, NE, 1968), pp. 198211, at 203Google Scholar; and Campbell, A. P., ‘The Seafarer: Wanderlust and our Heavenly Home’, Revue de l'Université d'Ottawa 43 (1973), 235–47, at 243.Google Scholar

112 Smithers, G. V., ‘The Meaning of The Seafarer and The Wanderer’, 28 (1959), 122 and 99104, at 7Google Scholar, and Cross, J., ‘On the Allegory of The Seafarer-Illustrative Notes’, 28 (1959), 104–6, at 104–5Google Scholar, citing Gregory's homily as published in PL 76, cols. 1077–81; Leslie, R. F., ‘The Meaning and Structure of The Seafarer’, The Old English Elegies: New Essays in Criticism and Research, ed. Green, M. (Madison, NJ, 1983), pp. 96122, at 106Google Scholar; Blake, N. F., ‘The Seafarer, Lines 48–9’, N & Q 207 (1962), 163–6.Google Scholar

113 Greenfield, S. B., ‘Sylf, Seasons, Structure and Genre in The Seafarer’, ASE 9 (1981), 199211, at 208, n. 38.Google Scholar This essay is repr. in his Hero and Exile: The Art of Old English Poetry, ed. Brown, G. H. (London, 1989), pp. 171–83.Google Scholar

114 ‘The shadow-walker came hastening in the dark night.’

115 Cited from Sir Gavain and the Green Knight, ed. SirGollancz, I., EETS os 210 (Oxford, 1940)Google Scholar: ‘a year passes very quickly’; ‘then autumn hastens, and quickly becomes severe’ [or, alternatively, ‘urges him (summer) on’].

116 ‘ages and withers’.

117 ‘Sylf, Seasons, Structure and Genre in The Seafarer’, p. 208.Google Scholar

118 Bately, J., ‘Time and the Passing of Time in “The Wanderer” and Related OE Texts’, Essays and Studies n.s. 37 (1984), 115, at 56.Google Scholar

119 The Husband's Message, lines 22–3, in Three Old English Elegies, ed. Leslie, R. F. (Manchester, 1961), p. 49Google Scholar; Alcuin's Conflictos veris et hiemis, in MGH, PLAC I, 270–1Google Scholar, trans. Alfred, W., ‘Dedicatory Poem: A Translation of Alcuin's “Debate of Spring with Winter”’, Franciplegius: Medieval and Linguistic Studies in Honor of Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr, ed. Bessinger, J. B. Jr, and Creed, R. (New York, 1965), pp. 1718Google Scholar; for the cuckoo as harbinger of spring, see Jackson, K., Early Celtic Nature Poetry (Cambridge, 1935), p. 23Google Scholar; for its role as symbolic of sorrow, sickness or death, see Sieper, E., Die altenglische Elegie (Strassburg, 1915), pp. 70–7Google Scholar; Wardale, E. E., Chapters on Old English Literature (London, 1935), p. 101Google Scholar; Anderson, O. S., ‘The Seafarer’, an InterpretationGoogle Scholar, Humanistika, K. Vetenskapssamfundets i Lund 1 (Lund, 19371938), 22–6Google Scholar; Henry, P. L., The Early English and Celtic Lyric (London, 1966), pp. 67 and 74Google Scholar; Pheifer, J. D., ‘The Seafarer, Lines 53–55’, RES n.s. 16 (1965), 282–4.Google Scholar In medieval Welsh poetry, the cuckoo is symbolic of hiraeth ‘longing’ and especially separation from loved ones: see Williams, I., Lectures in Early Welsh Poetry (Dublin, 1944), pp. 1213.Google Scholar

120 Early English Lyrics, ed. Chambers, and Sidgwick, , p. 4.Google Scholar

121 Wülker, R. P., Altenglisches Lesebuch, 2 vols. (Halle, 18741880) I, 44.Google Scholar

122 Early English Lyrics, ed. Chambers, and Sidgwick, , p. 3.Google Scholar

123 Harley Lyrics, ed. Brook, , no. 17 (p. 53).Google Scholar

124 Parliament of Fouls, lines 680–2, repeated as lines 685–6 and 690–2. Boece I, metrum 5, in The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. Robinson, .Google Scholar

125 Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology, ed. Davies, R. T. (Chicago, 1964), p. 132n.Google Scholar; for the earlier lyrics, see pp. 50–1.

126 Chaucer, , Boece I, metrum 5, 23–6.Google Scholar

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