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01147-- What are the characteristics of Anglo-Saxon Poetry?




Anglo-Saxon Poetry

Anglo-Saxon poetry, which was written between the 7th and 12th centuries, is characterized by a strong rhythm, or cadence, that makes it easily chanted or sung.  It was originally recited by scops, poet-singers who traveled from place to place.

Lines of Anglo-Saxon poetry are unified through alliteration and through use of the same number of accented syllables in each line.  Typically, a line is divided by a caesura, or pause, into two parts, with each part having two accented syllables.  Usually, one or both of the accented syllables in the first part alliterate with an accented syllable in the second part.  This passage illustrates some of these characteristics:


Another characteristic of Anglo-Saxon poetry is the use of kennings, metaphorical compound words or phrases substituted for simple nouns. Examples: Kennings from “The Seafarer” include “whales’ home” for the sea and “givers of gold” for rulers or emperors. Examples from Beowulf include “shepherd of evil” for Grendel, and “folk-king” for Beowulf.

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