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Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Binghamton University




Guðlac B is a poem about death and attitudes toward death, in which the anonymous poet draws on Felix of Croyland's Latin Life of the saint but narrows and focuses the attention to the death scene, drawing on only a few characters from the Latin poem and naming only Guðlac, Adam, and Eve. Details contributing to theme and character in the Anglo-Saxon poem, especially the relationship between Guðlac and his servant, contribute powerfully to the poem's Christian didactic message about acceptance of death. The servant, Beccel, embodies perception and understanding of the worldly side of death-personal grief, details relating to illness and burial, and the loss and sense of exile experienced by those left behind-while Guðlac embodies a more explicitly Christian understanding of death as reunion with God. The poet attenuates the distance between the reader and saintly behavior by showing the two aspects of death not to be mutually exclusive but rather coexistent, just as Guðlac and the servant live together in the fens of Mercia. The poem suggests that the contrastive nature of their relationships (that is, the two views of death and the saint and his servant) is not static but rather in dynamic tension, indicating the perpetual possibility of movement in Christian life between worldly and transcendent perception.


Reprinted by permission of the author and publisher, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Binghamton University.

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