English poetry

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At the end of this unit, you should be able to explain the factors that led to the emergence of England account for the earliest English period discuss the earliest English poetry and its style explain the significance of wars in the earliest English period.


The Earliest English Period
Both the Vikings and the Norsemen inhabited England and changed its history and language consequently. By 1066, the Normans invaded and conquered England. The Norman Dynasty established by William the Conqueror ruled England for over half a century before the period of succession crisis known as the Anarchy. Following the Anarchy, England came to be ruled by the House of Plantagenet, a dynasty which also had claims to the kingdom of France. Many wars were fought before there could be a stable kingdom in England.
The Earliest English Poetry
The history of English poetry begins from the middle of the 7
th century. The earliest surviving manuscripts are dated from the 10
th century. Much of the poetry was written in Latin, Brythonic and Anglo-Saxon languages. Probably, much of this old English poetry was intended to be chanted, with harp accompaniment, by the Anglo-Saxon bard. Old English poetry was bold and strong, but also mournful and elegiac inspirit. This poetry emphasizes the sorrow and ultimate futility of life and the helplessness of humans before the power of fate. Almost all this poetry is composed without rhyme, in which a line or verse of four stressed syllables alternate with an indeterminate number of unstressed syllables. Another unfamiliar feature in the formal character of Old English poetry is structural alliteration or the use of syllables beginning with similar sounds in two or three of the stresses in each line. All these features of form and spirit are exemplified in the epic poem

18 Nevertheless, the earliest known English poem is a hymn on creation. A humble man of the late 7
th century who was described by the historian and theologian Saint Bede the Venerable may have written the Hymn on Creation. His name was Caedmon. Part of the challenges of the earliest English poetry was dating. For instance, Beowulf‟s dating ranges from AD to 1000 AD. There has been no consensus ever since (Wikipedia. Many other poems such as The Battle of
Brunanburh” (957) and the Battle of Maldon” (991) may have been composed to document various was that took place in English history.
Anglo-Saxon poetry is categorized by the manuscripts in which it survives, rather than its date of composition. The most important manuscripts are the four great poetical codices or bound ancient manuscripts of the late 10
th and early 11
th centuries known as the Caedmon manuscript, the Vercelli Book, the Exeter Book, and the Beowulf manuscripts.

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