Old English Poetry
Beowulf Is often referred to as the first important work of literature in English, even though it was written in Old English, an ancient form of the language that slowly evolved into the English now spoken. Compared to modern English, Old English is heavily Germanic, with little influence from Latin or French. As English history developed, after the French Normans conquered the Anglo Saxons in 1066, Old English was gradually broadened by offerings from those languages. Thus modern English is derived from a number of sources. As a result, its vocabulary is rich with synonyms. The word “kingly,” for instance, descends from the Anglo Saxon word Cyning, meaning “king,” while the synonym “royal” comes from a French word and the synonym “regal” from a Latin word.
Fortunately, most students encountering
Beowulf Read it in a form translated into modern English. Still, a familiarity with the rudiments of Anglo Saxon poetry enables a deeper understanding of the Beowulf Text. Old English poetry is highly formal, but its form is quite unlike anything in modern English. Each line of Old English poetry is divided into two halves, separated by a caesura, or pause, and is often represented by a gap on the page, as the following example demonstrates: Setton him to heafdon hilde randas. . . .
Because Anglo Saxon poetry existed in oral tradition long before it was written down, the verse form contains complicated rules for alliteration designed to help scops, or poets, remember the many thousands of lines they were required to know by heart. Each of the two halves of an Anglo Saxon line contains two stressed syllables, and an alliterative pattern
Must Be carried over across the caesura. Any of the stressed syllables may alliterate Except The last syllable; so the first and second syllables may alliterate with the third together, or the first and third may alliterate alone, or the second and third may alliterate alone. For instance:
Lade ne letton. Leoht eastan com.
Lade, letton, leoht, and Eastan Are the four stressed words.
In addition to these rules, Old English poetry often features a distinctive set of rhetorical devices. The most common of these is the
Kenning, used throughout Beowulf. A kenning is a short metaphorical description of a thing used in place of the thing’s name; thus a ship might be called a “sea rider,” or a king a “ring giver.” Some translations employ kennings almost as frequently as they appear in the original. Others moderate the use of kennings in deference to a modern sensibility. But the Old English version of the epic is full of them, and they are perhaps the most important rhetorical device present in Old English poetry.
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How is Beowulf important to British Literature The epic poem Beowulf, whose author is unknown, not only captures a readerЎ¦s attention and opens up new doors to his imagination, it gives an extensive background to a significant period in history. Being one of the first major works of England, Beowul introduced British Literature. The epic tells the adventures of a courageous hero Anglo-Saxons The Anglo-Saxon period began in 449 A. D. This period began the invasion and migration of the island of Britain by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. These groups that invaded the Roman Empire, now Great Britain, brought their own traditions, language, and religion. Many historical events during this period greatly influenced literary events. Battles and Sir Gawain and The Green Knight We can make special mention of only one other romance, which all students should read in modern translation, namely, 'Sir Gawain (pronounced Gaw' wain) and the Green Knight.' This is the brief and carefully constructed work of an unknown but very real poetic artist, who lived a century and more later than Laghamon and probably Middle English
One result of the Norman Conquest of 1066 was to place all four Old English dialects more or less on a level. West Saxon lost its supremacy and the centre of culture and learning gradually shifted from Winchester to London. The old Northumbrian dialect became divided into Scottish and Northern, although little is known of An Account of English History The history of the English language begins with the Celts, the first populace of England. The Celts were people who originated in central Europe from Indo-European stock and became a distinct people in the Iron Age. They are distinct from their predecessor peoples, archaeologically named the Urnfield cultures, principally in their use of iron, their
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