The other night I sat down for a moment and picked up my old copy of Volume Six of the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records — The Anglo-Saxon Minor Poems — letting it fall open where I had stuck a slip of paper years ago and my eyes fell on the little poem from Cotton Claudius A.iii. known modernly as “Thureth”.
What a charming little gem it is!
Ic eom halgungboc; healde hine dryhten
þe me fægere þus frætewum belegde.
þureð to þance þus het me wyrcean,
to loue and to wurðe, þam þe leoht gesceop.
Gemyndi is he mihta gehwylcre
þæs þe he on foldan gefremian mæg,
and him geþancie þeoda waldend
þæs þe he on gemynde madma manega
wyle gemearcian metode to lace;
and he sceal æce lean ealle findan
þæs þe he on foldan fremaþ to ryhte.
Eleven lines in the voice of a book. The book begins with the simple statement that it is a Benedictional, a book of blessings — a “hallowing book” in Old English. Then the book tells of his Lord,Thureth (healde hine dryhten) (or does the book say “the Lord held Thureth”? Or is there a touch of both meanings?), the man who ordered the decorations adorning the book. One has a sense of the book primping just a little, but not more than modesty allows — “look at these decorations Thureth put on me! May the Lord keep him who dressed me up like this — to the greater glory of God, of course!” Then the book goes on to mention that Thureth has also set aside many other worldly treasures as an offering to God and that all may know of his righteous life.
There is a tension, so common in Old English poetry, between humble devotion to God and the eternity to come on the one hand, and the irresistible enjoyment of earthly pleasures of treasure and ornament. The book alternates from line to line between what may be partaken of on earth (on foldan gefremian mæg) and thoughts of the Lord, between having many treasures in mind (on gemynde madma manega) and offerings to the lord. And the working of the book’s adornments are placed parallel to the Lord’s creation of light, just as the God’s miracle-working power parallels Thureth’s good works. There is an embracing of the material, an elevation of the use of wealth for good works and of art itself to something just a little lower than the work that God himself does.
The poem ends with what is a standard statement the all shall have an eternal reward who live righteously on earth but one can’t help but think that the book is itself thinking of it’s own eternal reward, the adornments Thureth ordered for it and which it so proudly mentions in line 2.
Far from being the rejection of the worldly that has sometimes been fashionable for critics to find in Medieval literature, “Thureth” is a celebration of the worldly as a pathway to the Eternal.
And “Thureth” is also a tasty little bonbon of poetic personification.