Old English Literature
English Literature and
600 AD-1100 Ad
1100 AD-1500 AD
600 -1100 A.D.
Old English language is also known as
Anglo Saxons were Teutonic tribes that came to the
Roman Province of Britannia from Germany and France
which was later called England. With them came
several closely related Germanic languages that would
evolve into Old English. They loved war and fought
fierce battles but enjoyed singing and merry-making.
The Anglo-Saxons worshipped
pagan/heathen Gods like earth, heaven
and powers of nature. The doings of these
powers were made into mythical stories
and when a great hero arose, his history
also grew into a saga. This was the origin of
the old stories.
Anglo Saxons were adventurous people
and hence their war songs are about
heathen gods and wars and nothing about
Christianity e.g. : The Battle of Maldon,
which tells us about the battle between the
Danish Pirates and Earl of Maldon.
Anglo Saxon Poetry
Characteristics and types:
Types: Anglo Saxon poetry consisted of personal
and Elegiac poems (sad poems written about
death), war songs, riddles, and epic poems.
Characteristics: These poems reflect their belief
in the importance of war, bravery, courage,
heroism, immortality, revenge and glorious
death. The description of sad events or cruel
situations are more common than happiness.
They strongly believed that fate determines all.
The following lines from The battle of Maldon
tells us about Anglo Saxon beliefs:
“The mind must be firmer, the heart must be
braver, the courage must be greater, as
our strength grows less. Here lies our lord, all
cut to pieces, the good man on the
ground. If anyone thinks now to turn away
from this war-play, may he be unhappy
What is an Elegy:
Elegy is a poem written in response to the
death of a person. The speaker expresses
grief and sorrow, then praise and
admiration of the dead, and finally
consolation and solace.
Example: W. H. Auden’s classic “In Memory
of W. B. Yeats"
What is an Epic?
An epic poem is very famous in old English
literature. It is a long, serious, poem that tells
a story about an important event like war,
often about adventures of a brave man
fighting an enemy in the battle field.
Some of the most famous examples of epic
poetry are the Ancient Greek Iliad and
the Odyssey, Dante's Divine Comedy, John
Milton's Paradise Lost.
What is a lyric?
A lyric is a poem originally meant to be
sung. It expresses a poet’s thoughts and
feelings. Old English lyrics examples are
Deor’s Complaint, The Wanderer and The
A very elevated linguistic style.
They used alliteration. An alliteration is two or
more words beginning with the same sound.
Example: "Peter Piper Picked a Peck of
They used rhyme. A rhyme is when two or
more lines end with same sound. Example:
My cat likes to chase a mouse,
Especially one that’s in the house
They used metaphors to describe things.
The story of Beowulf: Why Beowulf is regarded as
Anglo Saxons loved war and bravery. In the
poem, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats in
Scandinavia, comes to the aid of King Hroðgar,
the king of the Danes, whose mead hall (in
Heorot) has been under attack by a monster
known as Grendel. After Beowulf kills him,
Grendel's mother attacks the hall and is then
also defeated. Victorious, Beowulf goes home
to Geatland in Sweden and later becomes king
of the Geats. After a period of fifty years,
Beowulf defeats a dragon, but is fatally
wounded in the battle. After his death, his
attendants bury him in a tumulus, a burial
mound, in Geatland. Therfore, he is regarded as
2. Genesis A and Genesis B
Genesis B is concerned with the beginning
of the world and the fall of the angels. It is a
good piece of writing. The poet has
enjoyed describing hell.
Genesis A is dull and little more than old
history taken from bible and put into poor
old English verse.
3. Cynewulf’s poems
Cynewulf wrote four poems: Juliana, The
fates of the Apostles, Christ and Elene. His
poems are religious and probably written in
the later eight century. A few lines from his
poems predicted his death:
“Now are my days in their appointed time gone
away. My life-joys have disappeared, as water runs
Who was Caedmon?
Caedmon was a poor man who looked after
animals at Whitby, a monastery founded in 657
by St. Hilda and was illiterate. One night an
angel came in his dream and told him to sing
praises of God. Caedmon refused, claiming
that he could not sing. But the visitor would not
go. He requested that Caedmon sing of the
God’s creation. To Caedmon's surprise, he sang
beautifully in praise of God. It was from this
divine inspiration that Caedmon began to write
Who was King Alfred-the
King Alfred was the king was King of Wessex
from 871 to 899.
Alfred was the first King of the West Saxons to
style himself "King of the Anglo-Saxons". Alfred
studied, and even translated from Latin into Old
English, certain works that were regarded at the
time as models of ideal Christian kingship and
‘most necessary for all men to know’. He
improved education of his people and
established first English public schools.
Old English Prose:
Aelfric was a prose writer of Old English era.
His works such as Homilies and Lives of Saints
were religious. He translated Bible into old
English. He uses alliteration to join
sentences and his prose is he best n Old
1. Two notable characteristics of Anglo-
Saxon poetry are?
A) Use of rhyme only
B) Use of alliteration and rhymes
C) Use of metaphor only
D) Use of rhyme and music
2. The Anglo Saxons believed in:
A) A hero's death
B) The fate that determines all
C) Loyalty to one's lord
D) the supreme god
3. The first English "public schools" were
C) Alfred the Great
4. The Anglo-Saxon period is generally
considered to date from?
A) 55 B.C. to 43 A.D.
B) 1 A.D. to 449 A.D.
C) 600 to 1100
D) 1066 to 178
5. Who saw an angel in his dream?
A) King Alfred
D) Anglo Saxons
6. Cynewulf did not write:
7.Which of the following is a lyric?
1. Lives of Saints
2. The Battle of Maldon
3. The Wife’s Complaint
4. The Apostles
8. "Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled
Peppers“ is an example of:
Short Answer Questions:
1. What is an elegy? Give examples.
2. Define a lyric? Give examples.
3. Explain what is an epic. Give examples.
4. What are the characteristics and types
of Anglo Saxon poetry?
5. What were the beliefs of Anglo Saxons?
6. What are the linguistic characteristics of
Old English poetry?
7. Who was King Alfred the great?
8. Why is Beowulf regarded as hero?