"Historia" by Nikolaos GyzisA Timeline of English Poetry Part I: The Song of Amergin, Caedmon’s Hymn, Bede’s Death Song, Deor’s Lament The Society April 21, 2017 Classical Literature, Culture, Essays, For Educators, Poetry 10 Comments By Sandeep Kumar Mishra and Evan Mantyk English poetry has a rich history dating back at least 1,400 years. Looking at poetry today, it is easy to get trapped into thinking that the flurry of poetic movements of the last one hundred years or so are incredibly important and represent the majority of poetry. In fact, as we can see from this timeline, there is much more to poetry than the modern era. This timeline seeks to put English poetry today into a proper perspective with respect to its own history. 1 – 449 AD: Romano-British Poetry 449 – 1066: Anglo-Saxon or Old English Period 1066 – 1332: Anglo-Norman or Middle English Period 1332 – 1486: Late Medieval or Chaucerian Poetry 1486 – 1603: Early Renaissance Poetry or Elizabethan Poetry 1603 – 1690: Jacobean/Caroline/Restoration Poetry 1690 – 1756: Augustan or Neoclassical Poetry 1756 – 1837: Romantic Poetry 1837 – 1901: Victorian and Pre-Modernism Poetry 1901 – 1910: Early Modernism and the Edwardian Poetry 1910 – 1936: Georgian and the Modern Poetry 1937 – Present: Postmodern Poetry Romano-British Poetry (1 – 449 AD) Celtic druid After the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, the Romano-British culture emerged. Britannia, as it was called at the time, was divided into two provinces: Britannia Superior and Britannia Inferior with the foundation of Londinium (London). The Roman influence was such that many of the natives lost their Celtic language and spoke only Latin. Later it developed into the Provencal languages. The southeast and the highlands of Britain were the most influenced by Latin. But, in the midlands, the Britannic languages, like Welsh and Cornish, still had their sway. The Song of Amergin or Amairgin is an orally transmitted poem thought to hail from some distant time before the Roman invasion. According to legend, it is the first poem of the British Isles and was created when Amergin first set foot on what is today Ireland. However, some sources put the poem long after the invasion. At any rate, it provides a look at English poetry and culture relatively uninfluenced by Rome or Latin. The Song of Amergin makes ample use of poetic repetition and metaphor. As one might expect from such a relatively primitive age, the use of nature imagery is extensive. Amergin is a god-like bard in Irish mythology and the poem reflects his supernatural persona: Song of Amergin (Translation) I am a wind across the sea I am a flood across the plain I am the roar of the tides I am a stag of seven fights I am a dewdrop let fall by the sun I am the fierceness of boars I am a hawk, my nest on a cliff I am a height of poetry (magical skill) I am the most beautiful among flowers I am the salmon of wisdom Who (but I) is both the tree and the lightning strikes it Who is the dark secret of the dolmen not yet hewn I am the queen of every hive I am the fire on every hill I am the shield over every head I am the spear of battle I am the ninth wave of eternal return I am the grave of every vain hope Who knows the path of the sun, the periods of the moon Who gathers the divisions, enthralls the sea, sets in order the mountains. the rivers, the peoples (Original) Am gáeth tar na bhfarraige Am tuile os chinn maighe Am dord na daíthbhe Am damh seacht mbeann Am drúchtín rotuí ó ngréin Am an fráich torc Am seabhac a néad i n-aill Am ard filidheachta Am álaine bhláithibh Am an t-eo fis Cía an crann agus an theine ag tuitim faire Cía an dhíamhairina cloch neamh shnaidhite Am an ríáin gach uile choirceoige Am an theine far gach uile chnoic Am an scíath far gach uile chinn Am an sleagh catha Am nómá tonnag sírthintaghaív Am úagh gach uile dhóich dhíamaíní Cía fios aige conara na gréine agus linn na éisce Cía tionól na rinn aige, ceangladh na farraige, cor i n-eagar na harda, na haibhne, na túatha. During the Anglo-Roman Period (55 BC – 410 AD), Latin became the primary language of scholars with native poetry being only verbal. Anglo-Saxon or Old English Period (449-1066) Caedmon After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the invading Germanic tribes, such as the Saxons and Angles, reshaped the cultural makeup of the British Isles. Caedmon, Bede, Cynewulf, and King Alfred the Great are the most well known of the Anglo-Saxon poets. Their poetry, now known as Old English poetry, is actually Germanic in nature. Poems like “Wulf and Eadwacer,” “Caedmon’s Hymn,” “Bede’s Death Song” and “Beowulf” are fragments of such Old English poetry. These poems have alliterative qualities and usually have four strong stresses per line and some weaker stresses. But, they are lacking in meter and rhyme. These poets were great sources of inspirations for the common folk. (In fact, Celtic kings were fearful of the derision of the Anglo-Saxon poets. At that time, these poets were also known as “scophs,” a German word for jest.) The shape of the English language we know today began in the fifth century as Germanic-Scandinavian and Greco-Roman words and grammar begin to integrate together. In 657, the first English monastery, Whitby Abbey was founded by Saint Hilda. Hilda encouraged her pupils to pursue the poetic line of literature. As the story goes Caedmon was an illiterate herdsman who was given the gift of poetic creation by an angel and later became a monk. In 664, the Council of Whitby shook hands with the Roman Catholic Church and Whitby Abbey church became the center of education in England and had a major influence on the evolution of English literature and poetry: Caedmon’s Hymn, written in 658, is the first authoritative English poem. It is the real beginning of English poetry. You can see in the Old English, even without understanding it, the repetition of initial sounds, or alliteration, in the original, which is also captured in the translation: “praise the Prince,” “might of the Maker,” and so forth. The poem is again spiritual, this time Christian, but interestingly there is not much in the way of religious jargon or even a proper name such as Jesus or Mary, but rather metaphors of the family (“Father” “roof” “family”) and even more of the nation (“Prince” “Lord” “Ruler” “Ward”): Caedmon’s Hymn (translation) Now shall we praise the Prince of heaven, The might of the Maker and his manifold thought, The work of the Father: of what wonders he wrought The Lord everlasting, when he laid out the worlds. He first raised up for the race of men The heaven as a roof, the holy Ruler. Then the world below, the Ward of mankind, The Lord everlasting, at last established As a home for man, the Almighty Lord. Primo cantavit Cædmon istud carmen. (original) Nu scylun hergan ___hefaenricaes uard metudæs maecti ___end his modgidanc uerc uuldurfadur ___sue he uundra gihuaes eci dryctin ___or astelidæ he aerist scop ___aelda barnum heben til hrofe ___haleg scepen. tha middungeard ___moncynnæs uard eci dryctin ___æfter tiadæ firum foldu ___frea allmectig primo cantauit ___Cædmon istud carmen. Bede (c.672-735) was the great English poet who was later known as the Venerable Bede and the “Father of English History.” Bede’s famous “Death Song” was perhaps written on his deathbed. Again we have alliteration and here a spiritual topic of universal applicability. Bede’s Death Song (translation) Before leaving this life there lives no one Of men of wisdom who will not need To consider and judge, before he sets on his journey, What his soul shall be granted of good or evil— After his day of death what doom he shall meet. (original) Fore there neidfaerae ___naenig uuiurthit thoncsnotturra than ___him tharf sie to ymbhycggannae ___aer his hiniongae huaet his gastae ___godaes aeththa yflaes aefter deothdaege ___doemid uueorthae. Around 700, a long poem “Beowulf” and a small poem “Widsith” (“the Far Traveler”) by an anonymous minstrel were composed. The “Beowulf” poet is also credited with popularizing “hall-entertainment” poetry accompanied by the music of a harp. Cynewulf, who lived around 800, wrote four poems: “Juliana,” “Christ II,” “Fates of the Apostles,” and “Elene.” The first dream poem “The Dream of the Rood” in the English language was carved on the 8th century Ruthwell Cross. King Alfred the Great (c. 849-899), was one of the first known writers of English prose. He was the first notable poet who wrote and translated poetry of the past era. The poem “Deor’s Lament” (900) penned down by Deor, the poet, during the reign of King Alfred, appeared in the Exeter Book (990), which is the largest known collection of Old English literature still in existence. “Deor’s Lament” is again alliterative but unlike the other poems we’ve looked at is filled with specific allusions, some of which we can only today guess at. The palpable sense of bitterness and suffering is felt in the repeated line: “That has passed over: so this may depart!” Deor’s Lament (translation, *see footnotes) To Weland* came woes and wearisome trial, And cares oppressed the constant earl; His lifelong companions were pain and sorrow, And winter-cold weeping: his ways were oft hard, After Nithhad* had struck the strong man low, Cut the supple sinew-bands of the sorrowful earl. That has passed over: so this may depart! Beadohild* bore her brothers’ death Less sorely in soul than herself and her plight When she clearly discovered her cursed condition, That unwed she should bear a babe to the world. She never could think of the thing that must happen. That has passed over: so this may depart! Much have we learned of Mæthhild’s life*: How the courtship of Geat was crowned with grief, How love and its sorrows allowed him no sleep. That has passed over: so this may depart! Theodoric* held for thirty winters The town of the Mærings*: that was told unto many. That has passed over: so this may depart! We all have heard of Eormanric* Of the wolfish heart: a wide realm he had Of the Gothic kingdom. Grim was the king. Many men sat and bemoaned their sorrows, Woefully watching and wishing always That the cruel king might be conquered at last. That has passed over: so this may depart! Sad in his soul he sitteth joyless, Mournful in mood. He many times thinks That no end will e’er come to the cares he endures. Then must he think how throughout the world The gracious God often gives his help And manifold honors to many an earl And sends wide his fame; but to some he gives woes. Of myself and my sorrows I may say in truth That I was happy once as the Heodenings’ scop*, Dear to my lord. Deor was my name. Many winters I found a worthy following, Held my lord’s heart, till Heorrenda came, The skillful singer, and received the land-right That the proud helm of earls had once promised to me! That has passed over: so this may depart! (original) Welund him be wurman wræces cunnade, anhydig eorl earfoþa dreag, hæfde him to gesiþþe sorge ond longaþ, wintercealde wræce; wean oft onfond, siþþan hine Niðhad on nede legde, swoncre seonobende on syllan monn. þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg! Beadohilde ne wæs hyre broþra deaþ on sefan swa sar swa hyre sylfre þing, þæt heo gearolice ongieten hæfde þæt heo eacen wæs; æfre ne meahte þriste geþencan, hu ymb þæt sceolde. þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg! We þæt Mæðhilde monge gefrugnon wurdon grundlease Geates frige, þæt hi seo sorglufu slæp ealle binom. þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg! ðeodric ahte þritig wintra Mæringa burg; þæt wæs monegum cuþ. þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg! We geascodan Eormanrices wylfenne geþoht; ahte wide folc Gotena rices. þæt wæs grim cyning. Sæt secg monig sorgum gebunden, wean on wenan, wyscte geneahhe þæt þæs cynerices ofercumen wære. þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg! Siteð sorgcearig, sælum bidæled, on sefan sweorceð, sylfum þinceð þæt sy endeleas earfoða dæl. Mæg þonne geþencan, þæt geond þas woruld witig dryhten wendeþ geneahhe, eorle monegum are gesceawað, wislicne blæd, sumum weana dæl. þæt ic bi me sylfum secgan wille, þæt ic hwile wæs Heodeninga scop, dryhtne dyre. Me wæs Deor noma. Ahte ic fela wintra folgað tilne, holdne hlaford, oþþæt Heorrenda nu, leoðcræftig monn londryht geþah, þæt me eorla hleo ær gesealde. þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg! Alfricus of Eynsham (c. 955 – c. 1010) was a prolific writer of biographies, homilies, biblical commentaries, and other genres. He is also known as Alfric, the Grammarian (Alfricus Grammaticus). He was a great writer in the class of Bede. Truly he represents the Anglo-Saxon non-poetry literature as his writing has been described as “rhythmical prose,” which in form is the same as the alliterative poetry we’ve seen here. Statue of Alfred the Great The Arundel Psalter (1060) was an Anglo-Saxon prayer book. In it, Saint Godric (1065) wrote many poems and prayers. Reginald of Durham (1190) recorded four songs of St. Godric’s: they are the oldest English songs to retain their original music. In general, the various forms of poetry all became visible such as proverbs, charms, religious verse, devotional or biblical, elegies like “The Seafarer,” “The Wanderer,” and “The Ruin,” and some daily life riddles. In 1066, the French Duke of Normandy William (1066), defeated Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings and became King William I of England, better known today as William the Conqueror. Thus, the Norman Conquest of England ended the Anglo-Saxon era. The three major invasions of England—the Romans, the Angles and Saxons, and the French—ultimately provided around 87% of the words of the English language. The language before the 11th century is too difficult for non-scholars to understand. Poetry of this time is classified according to the books in which they are found. The important manuscripts are the Beowulf manuscript, the Cædmon manuscript, the Vercelli Book, and the Exeter Book. Only the long poem “Beowulf” survived as a whole. Email corrections to email@example.com or post them in the comment section below. Footnotes for “Deor’s Lament” -Weland, or Wayland; the blacksmith of the Norse gods. He is represented as being the son of Wada. -Beadohild was violated by Weland, and this stanza refers to the approaching birth of her son Widia (or Wudga). -The exact meaning of the third strophe as here translated is not clear. To make it refer to the story of Nithhad and Weland, it is necessary to make certain changes suggested by Professor Tupper (Modern Philology, October, 1911; Anglia, xxxvii, 118). Thus amended, this stanza would read: “Of the violation of (Beadu)hild many of us have heard. The affections of the Geat (i.e., Nithhad) were boundless, so that sorrowing love deprived him of all sleep.” This grief of Nithhad would be that caused by the killing of his sons and the shame brought on his daughter. Thus the first three stanzas of the poem would refer to (1) Weland’s torture, (2) Beadohild’s shame, and (3) Nithhad’s grief. -Strophe four refers to Theodoric the Goth. He was banished to Attila’s court for thirty years. –Mærings: a name applied to the Ostrogoths. –Eormanric was king of the Goths and uncle to Theodoric. He died about 375 A.D. He put his only son to death, had his wife torn to pieces, and ruined the happiness of many people. For an account of his crimes see the notes to Widsith, v. 8. -See, for the connection of the Heodenings and the sweet-singing Heorrenda, the note to Widsith, v. 21. X Reference: X Song of Amergin: https://www.angelfire.com/de2/newconcepts/wicca/amergin.html https://songofamergin.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/an-introduction-to-the-song-of-amergin/ X Old English Poems. Faust, Cosette. Thompson, Stith. Scott Foresman and Company. Chicago: 1918 English Literature. Its History and Its Significance for the Life of the English Speaking World. Long, William Joseph. Ginn and Company. Boston: 1909. Sandeep Kumar Mishra is an International freelance writer, and a lecturer in English with a Master’s in English Literature and Political Science. He has edited a collection of poems by various poets, Pearls (2002), written a professional guidebook How To Be (2016), and a collection of poems and art Feel My Heart (2016).His blog: https://sandeepkumarmishra5574.blogspot.in/ Evan Mantyk teaches history and literature in the Hudson Valley region of New York. NOTE: The Society considers this page, where your poetry resides, to be your residence as well, where you may invite family, friends, and others to visit. Feel free to treat this page as your home and remove anyone here who disrespects you. Simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Remove Comment” in the subject line and list which comments you would like removed. The Society does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments and reserves the right to remove any comments to maintain the decorum of this website and the integrity of the Society. Please see our Comments Policy here. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window) 10 Responses Brian April 21, 2017 Great article. Could you provide a footnote for this translation if the Sing of Amergin? It doesn’t look like the sources I’m familiar with, and some lines look like Graves version translated from English to Irish to fill out the ‘original ‘ Reply James Sale April 21, 2017 Thanks – a very useful study. Reply Rukesh April 21, 2017 Very impressive and helpful article.Looking forward for the next part. Reply N.K.Wagner April 21, 2017 Great article. Reply RK TAILOR April 23, 2017 Gorgeous effort. Thank you Reply joseph April 25, 2017 Informative and unique article. Thank you. Reply John April 28, 2017 Nice and unique article. Reply Hershey April 29, 2017 Informative,Historical and classical study.Lot of effort has been put up to reveal the detail.Congratulations. Reply Sobha March 5, 2019 Very nice Reply Dermot Druhan April 5, 2021 I’ll thank you to know and state that Amergin’s poem or invocation is NOT “Romano-British”. It is GAELIC, difficult as it may be for those of an Anglocentric cast of mind to accept such an idea. Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.