English literature -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia.pdf -...

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8/28/2019English literature -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia1/101English literatureThe early Middle English periodPoetryThe Norman Conquest worked no immediate transformation on either the language or the literature ofthe English. Older poetry continued to be copied during the last half of the 11th century; two poems ofthe early 12th century—“Durham,” which praises that city’s cathedral and its relics, and “Instructions forChristians,” a didactic piece—show that correct alliterative verse could be composed well after 1066. Buteven before the conquest, rhyme had begun to supplant rather than supplement alliteration in somepoems, which continued to use the older four-stress line, although their rhythms varied from the settypes used in classical Old English verse. A postconquest example is “The Grave,” which contains severalrhyming lines; a poem from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle on the death of William the Conqueror,lamenting his cruelty and greed, has more rhyme than alliteration.In±uence of French poetryBy the end of the 12th century, English poetry had been so heavily in±uenced by French models thatsuch a work as the long epicBrut(c.1200) by Lawamon, a Worcestershire priest, seems archaic formixing alliterative lines with rhyming couplets while generally eschewing French vocabulary. TheBrutdraws mainly upon Wace’s Anglo-NormanRoman de Brut(1155; based in turn upon Geoffrey ofMonmouth’sHistoria regum Britanniae[History of the Kings of Britain]), but in Lawamon’s hands theArthurian story takes on a Germanic and heroic ±avour largely missing in Wace. TheBrutexists in twomanuscripts, one written shortly after 1200 and the other some 50 years later. That the later version hasbeen extensively modernized and somewhat abridged suggests the speed with which Englishlanguage and literary tastes were changing in this period.The Proverbs of Alfredwas writtensomewhat earlier, in the late 12th century; these proverbs deliver conventional wisdom in a mixture ofrhymed couplets and alliterative lines, and it is hardly likely that any of the material they containactually originated with the king whose wisdom they celebrate. The early 13th-centuryBestiarymixesalliterative lines, three- and four-stress couplets, and septenary (heptameter) lines, but the logic behindthis mix is more obvious than in theBrutand theProverbs, for the poet was imitating the varied metresof his Latin source. More regular in form than these poems is the anonymousPoema moraleinseptenary couplets, in which an old man delivers a dose of moral advice to his presumably youngeraudience.By far the most brilliant poem of this period isThe Owl and the Nightingale(written after 1189), anexample of the popular debate genre. The two birds argue topics ranging from their hygienic habits,looks, and songs to marriage, prognostication, and the proper modes of worship. The nightingale

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