Anglo-Saxon Poetry and Prose
English literature begins with the arrival of the English (Angles) and
Saxons and Jutes from Germany and Denmark (The Germanic
invaders set up many small kingdoms and fought among themselves
for 250 years (600-850 A.D.)
Danes attacked in the late 9th century and took over all north and
central England. (An area called the Danelaw). Alfred the Great
(871-899) of the Kingdom of Wessex (="West Saxons") stopped
them from taking all of it.
In the middle of the 11th Century, the country was united under an
Just after that happened, in 1066, Normans (French-speakers from
Normandy) conquered England at the Battle of Hastings, ending the
Anglo-Saxon period. King Harold was killed, and William, Duke of
Normandy became William I, "the Conqueror," King of England.
Types of Anglo-Saxon literature
Oral poetry largely lost to us, except where it
has been preserved in later manuscripts.
It comprised heroic poems (Beowulf), war
epics, celebrating the battles of the Anglo-
Saxons (The Battle of Brunanburgh, The Battle
of Maldon), secular elegiac and lyrical poems
(Widsith, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, Deor’s
Lament, The Ruin – characterized by a mood of
heroic melancholy and fatalism, and imbued
(naplněný) with wild, somber imagination), and
―folk literature‖ (charms-zaříkadla, riddles-
hádanky, proverbs, runic poems – connected with daily life, belief in supernatural creatures –
ghosts, evil powers, demons…)
After Christianity had taken roots in England, monasteries became centres of culture. Two
names of Christian poets are known: Cædmon—whose story is told by the Venerable Bede,
who also records a few lines of his poetry—is the earliest known English poet. Although the body
of his work has been lost, the school of Cædmon is responsible for poetic narrative versions of
biblical stories, the most dramatic of which is probably Genesis B. Cynewulf, a later poet, signed
the poems Elene, Juliana, and The Fates of the Apostles; no more is known of him. The finest
poem of the school of Cynewulf is The Dream of the Rood, the first known example of the dream
vision, a genre later popular in Middle English literature. First legends – Judith, Andreas
No rhyme, and no strict metre.
Each line is divided into two half-lines by a break or CAESURA
Each half-line contains two stressed words or syllables and a variable number of unstressed
ALLITERATION is used to bind the half-lines together. Alliterating words either begin with the
same consonant OR begin with any vowel.
special poetic vocabulary
KENNINGS are compound words that are like riddles, such as "bone-chamber" (body) or
"heaven’s candle" (sun).
similar topics – deal with war, nature the man has to fight with (storm, sea)
exclamations, repetitions, sense of melancholy
Prose is straightforward and influenced by Church Latin models.
The first prose writer was the Venerable Bede, a 7th century
scholar who wrote the Ecclesiastical History in Latin.
The most influential prose writer was Alfred the Great who
translated Bede into Anglo-Saxon, because hardly anyone could
read Latin, encouraged the keeping of records of events, had the
Bible translated into Anglo-Saxon.
Didactic, devotional, and informative prose was written (The
Wonders of the East, Lettre from Alexander to Aristotle), and the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, probably begun in Alfred’s time as an
historical record, continued for over three centuries. Two
preeminent Old English prose writers were Ælfric, (abbot) and his
contemporary Wulfstan, Archbishop of York. Their sermons (written in the late 10th or early 11th
cent.) set a standard for homiletics.