Phoenix (Old English poem)

Phoenix (Old English poem)

"The Phoenix" is an Old English poem, if which the author is unknown. It is composed of 677 lines and is a translation of the Latin poem "De Ave Phoenice", attributed to Lactantius.


The composition of "The Phoenix" dates from the ninth century; although the text is complete, it has been edited and translated many times. It is a part of the Exeter Book and is a story related to the Old English Christianity, Ambrose Hexaemeron 5.79-83, and Job 29:18. The story of the Phoenix resembles the resurrection of Christ. The first 380 lines paraphrase the Latin version "De Ave Phoenice" with many of the pagan rituals removed from the original Phoenix story. The poem concludes with eleven lines that combine Old English and Latin.

Basic Plot

The Phoenix is an eternal sunbird that rises from its own ashes, the bird grows old and burns itself to death. The phoenix has a desire to be born again.

"Now Just so after death, through the lord’s might, souls together with body will journey- handsomely adorner, just like the bird, with noble perfumes-into abundant joys where the sun, steadfastly true, glistens radiant above the multitudes in heavenly city."

"Then the redeeming Christ, high above its roofs, will shine upon souls steadfast in truth. Him they will follow, these beautiful birds, radiantly regenerate, blissfully jubilant, spirits elect, into that happy home everlasting to eternity. There the fiend, outcast, importunate, cannot treacherously harm them by his evil, but there they shall live for ever clothed in light, gist as the phoenix bird, in the safe-keeping of the Lord, radiant in glory. Each one's achievement will brightly sparkle in that joyous home before the face of the everlasting Lord, perpetually at peace, like the sun. There a bright halo, marvelously braided with precious stones, will rise above the head of each of the blessed. Their heads will glisten, crowned with majesty. The rare and regal diadem of a prince will adorn with light each of the righteous in that existence where enduring joy, everlasting and fresh anew, never wanes; but rather they will dwell in beauty, surrounded with glory, with lovely adornments, together with the Father of the angels." (lines 583-604)

Relationship to Old English Christianity

After the death of the Phoenix, it returns to life, which represents Christian doctrine of the resurrection. This is the central theme of the poem. Through examples taken from the natural world the author of the Phoenix is able to relate Christianity to the text. The phoenix desires to be born again.


*Medieval England: An Encyclopedia/ editors: Paul E. Szarmach, M.
*Teresa Tavormina, Joel T. Rosenthal New York: Garland Pub., 1998.
*Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages/ edited by Andre Vauchez;
*Translated by Adrian Walford, Oxford : Oxford University Press, c 2001
* [ The Catholic Encyclopedia] . Retrieved on 2007-10-26.
* [ The phoenix picture by Linda Bergkvist] . Retrieved on 2007-10-26.
* [ Phoenix Tsunami Memorial Web Page] . Retrieved on 2007-10-26.
* [ E mule Web. Ed Final Phoenix Picture]

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