Ormulum (The Work of the Monk Orm) summary and analysis

Ormulum or, the Work of the monk Orm is a notable piece of English religious poetry of the late 12th century. Extant in a single manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Junius 1), it was written in the south Lincolnshire dialect by Orm, an Augustinian canon. Of the approximately 80,000 verses, which should contain it, only about 10,000 are obtained, and 32 of 242 sermons in the TOC.

There is, however, no originality in the subject matter of Ormulum. The poem is a mere translation and paraphrases in verse of some forty gospels which are generally read at the Mass. As a matter of fact, the work is simply a book of homilies, similar in nature to the Moral Ode or Poema Morale. It is also inspired by the same sort of religious zeal and devotion. The ‘supposed’ author, Orm, was himself a monk, and the work bears out his Christian, devotional character.

Though the theme of the poem has nothing striking, the whole work is elevated with a noble Christian sentiment. Orm’s erudition and Christian devotion are evident all through. The poet, inspirited with a holy mission, offers scriptural instructions that are versified and presented in a popular form to have an easy appeal to common people. Orm, of course, is not always faithful to his original materials, and he introduces much that is not in the original. The total work is supposed to be a voluminous one, of nearly ten thousand lines, although not more than one-eighth of the original work is now available.

This poem occupies a distinct position in the development of English metre. The pattern of versification here is the line of seven accents. The metrical accuracy is strictly maintained throughout, and the quality of correct versification is certainly an exceptional virtue of the work. It is unrhymed, although regular in the arrangements for accents and syllables. It is rather a first attempt at blank verse.

Ormulum is a truly national work in early Middle English literature. It is found rather free from foreign words and intricate expressions and Orm’s solemn instructions are couched in simple words. Noted for its precision and purity, clearness and completeness, simplicity, and sublimity, Ormulum stands out, in the English literary history, between the Conquest and Chaucer, as a fine specimen of literary art that has a deep moral to communicate to its readers. It illustrates the distinctive character of Middle English religious poetry to remain free from the obscurity or complexity of Old English Christian poetry. It was edited by R. M. White and R. Holt(1878).

Also read; The Anglo Saxon Chronicle or Old English Annals

Also read; A short note on Hagiography: Definition and Examples