candidates for the earliest attested example of Old English poetry. It is also one of the earliest recorded examples of sustained poetry in a Germanic language. The poem, The Dream of the Rood, was inscribed upon the Ruthwell Cross.
Chronicles contained a range of historical and literary accounts, and a notable example is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This is a collection of annals in Old English chronicling the history of the Anglo-Saxons. Nine manuscripts survive in whole or in part, though not all are of equal historical value and none of them is the original version. The oldest seems to have been started towards the end of King Alfred's reign in the 9th century, and the most recent was written at Peterborough Abbey in 1116. Almost all of the material in the Chronicle is in the form of annals by year, the earliest being dated at 60 BC (the annals' date for Caesar's invasions of Britain), and historical material follows up to the year in which the chronicle was written, at which point contemporary records begin.
The poem Battle of Maldon also deals with history. This is the name given to a work, of uncertain date, celebrating the real Battle of Maldon of 991, at which the Anglo-Saxons failed to prevent a Viking invasion. Only 325 lines of the poem are extant; both the beginning and the ending are lost.
The Wanderer is an Old English poem preserved only in an anthology known as the Exeter Book, a manuscript dating from the late 10th century. It counts 115 lines of alliterative verse. As often the case in Anglo-Saxon verse, the composer and compiler are anonymous, and within the manuscript the poem is untitled. The Wanderer conveys the meditations of a solitary exile on his past glories as a warrior in his lord's band of retainers, his present hardships and the values of forbearance and faith in the heavenly Lord. Another poem with a religious theme, The Seafarer is also recorded in the Exeter Book, one of the four surviving manuscripts, and consists of 124 lines, followed by the single word "Amen". In the past it has been frequently referred to as an elegy, a poem that mourns a loss, or has the more general meaning of a simply sorrowful piece of writing. Some scholars, however, have argued that the content of the poem also links it with Sapiential Books, or Wisdom Literature. In his account of the poem in the Cambridge Old English Reader, published in 2004, Richard Marsden writes, “It is an exhortatory and didactic poem, in which the miseries of winter seafaring are used as a metaphor for the challenge faced by the committed Christian […]” (p. 221).
Classical antiquity was not forgotten in Anglo-Saxon England and several Old English poems are adaptations of late classical philosophical texts. The longest is King Alfred's (849–899) 9th-century translation of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy. The Metres of Boethius are a series of Old English alliterative poems adapted from the Latin metra of the Consolation of Philosophy soon after Alfred's prose translation.
Middle English literature: 1100–1500
Main article: Middle English literature
After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the written form of the Anglo-Saxon language became less common, and under the influence of the new aristocracy, Law French became the standard language of courts, parliament, and polite society. As the invaders integrated, their language and literature mingled with that of the natives and the Norman dialects of the ruling classes became Anglo-Norman. At the same time Anglo-Saxon underwent a gradual transition into Middle English. Political power was no longer in English hands, so that the West Saxon literary language had no more influence than any other dialect and Middle English literature was written in the many dialects that correspond to the region, history, culture, and background of individual writers.
In this period religious literature continued to enjoy popularity and Hagiographies were...
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