This is a poem about the roots of English poetry in the Middle Ages (400-1485). A while back, I had planned to write a history of English Poetry in verse, but this is all I’ve written so far. The image below depicts the pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Germanic tribes, in A.D. cent’ry five,
Across the sea1 to Britain did arrive.
The Anglo-Saxons2 came and they did stay,
And brought the language spoken still today.
But English changed and grew, and now we use
A Modern English3, which itself renews:
The meanings change, new words are freshly coined,
And Old English4 experts have translators joined.
The Anglo-Saxons, almost all unread,
From mouth to ear, their poems were all spread.
Thus, epic tales were told to entertain,
And other songs addressed the church domain.
So Beowulf5 exemplifies the tale
Of heroes on a larger stage and scale,
And other poems from that age and time
Included Bible tales and hymns sublime.
But common feelings also were expressed,
From mournful songs, to words of fun and jest.
When writing, poets did alliterate6:
In lines, the consonants did iterate.
This habit only slowly fell away,
And it’s not often used in verse today.
The minstrel poets had a worldly bent.
To king and castle they were always sent.
Reciting poems, singing news, and such:
The king to educate, the heart to touch.
The monks in monasteries did aspire
To scribe the age’s books by light of fire.
And monks began to use their writing art
To write the words from their own inner heart.
And poems written for the pious ends
Contrasted with the worldly human trends.
Some worshiped heaven, Savior, God, and grace,
While others worshiped just the female race.
Some poets spoke of worldly pleasure, bliss,
While others did say, “Heaven, treasure this.”
1. (Back) The English Channel was once referred to as a “sea.” For example, in the language of Cornish, it was called “Mor Bretannek,” which can be translated as “British Sea.”
2. (Back) The Anglo-Saxons, as they were later called, were a group of people made up of Germanic tribes who migrated to Great Britain during and after the 5th century.
3. (Back) Modern English dates from about the middle of the 15th century.
4. (Back) Old English, also called Anglo-Saxon, was brought to Great Britain by the Anglo-Saxon settlers in the middle of the 5th century. Old English was replaced by Middle English around 1100.
5. (Back) Beowulf is a long epic poem by an unknown author. The poem was written in Old English, at some time between the 8th and 11th centuries.
6. (Back) Alliteration is the repeated use of the same sound at the beginning of different words in a line of verse.
7. (Back) Some poets became courtiers, or attendants at court. They were expected to entertain the monarchs and their associates.
8. (Back) Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?-1400).
9. (Back) The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories by Geoffrey Chaucer, written in Middle English, and mostly in verse.