One of the significant religious works, in the Middle-English period, under the French influence, is Cursor Mundi (The cursur o the world). This work translated as Runner of the World which dates about 1320, stands out prominently in the literary history of England in the Middle-English period, both for its religious ideal and for its popular method of giving religious instructions. It is particularly considered a valuable and remarkable literary work, indicating the development of religious literature in the Middle-English period.
The subject matter of the poem, however, is nothing original or startling. It is an amplified versification of the New Testament in the Northumbrian dialect. The poet’s objective here is quite ambitious. This is to draw the interest of the common people to different Biblical stories and thereby to provide a counter- attraction to the romances, so much popular at that time.
Cursor Mundi is no conventional, orthodox religious work, with scriptural episodes and pious homilies. The whole work is conceived and worked out with sufficient artistic dexterity. There is a clear structural plan to make the stories in the work both attractive and coherent. There are seven main divisions in the work and the poet treats in them the entire story of the Bible. These divisions include-(i) the fall of the angels, (ii) the creation of man, (iii) the loss of Paradise, (iv) the death of Adam, (v) the story of Virgin Mary and the achievement of Jesus Christ, (vi) the mystery of the Apostles and (vii) the coming of Anti-Christ and the Dooms Day.
The entire conception of Cursor Mundi is quite elaborate. A fine attempt is made in the poem to blend the whole Biblical stories and the popular medieval legends together. Though it is religious in theme yet romantic in spirit. What is more noteworthy in the poem is that the scriptural account is nowhere found to degenerate into dull ecclesiastical teachings. The popular character of the works is retained capably all through the effective incorporation of the incidents, which are commonly found in romances.
Cursor Mundi is a voluminous work and contains some twenty-four thousand (24,000) lines. It is written in rhyming octosyllabic (of eight syllables) couplets, and this very rhyme scheme has much enhanced its popular appeal.
Although the work is mainly based on the Bible, its source of inspiration is not only Biblical but varied. Cursor Mundi contains, as implied, accounts from legends and tales, native as well as foreign, and these are all assimilated with rare success.
The verses of the poem are picturesque as well as sonorous and have an easy human appeal. In its effort to propagate and popularise religious instructions to the people of a dark age, the poem stands out as one of the most outstanding specimens of religious literature in the Middle-English period. It bears, thus, in particular, positive influence, on subsequent English religious literature by its open and clear demonstration as to how dull and dry religious sermons or instructions can be given in a simple and entertaining manner to have a lasting impression on the average readers of all times.
Also read: Impact of Norman Conquest on Middle English literature