Describe the features of Anglo-Saxon Poetry in detail.

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poetry of the Anglo-Saxons is defined by the following characteristics:

1. Anglo-Saxon poetry is written in blank verse. The term blank verse means that there is no end rhyme occurring from line to line.

2. Anglo-Saxon poetry typically depicts the problems which arise as the theology of the Church (Christianity) and the theology of the Pagan world are played off of, and against, each other.

3. The use of caesura (a pause in the middle of a line of poetry- like taking a breath) is very common. Given that during this period there was no written common written language, the poetry of the Anglo's was sung by scops. The caesura allowed for the scop to breathe while reciting long and detailed poems and epics. The caesura was typically placed after the second foot in the line of poetry. There were four feet in each line and the breath allowed for a pause to happen in the middle of each line.

4. A commonly used poetic device was alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound within a line of poetry. This added to the sing-song effect of the time.

5. Kennings were another poetic device commonly used in Anglo poety. The Kenning is a metaphorical phrase used to compare a figurative description to something less elegant in regards to verbiage. An example of this would be "battle sweat". Battle sweat is a kenning for blood.

6. Like many of the epics during this time, the poetry of the Anglos was meant to be a moral lesson to those listening. A sort of fable, the poems taught lessons on life and righteousness.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Anglo-Saxon poetry, covering the period from the mid fifth century until the Norman Conquest of 1066, was based on oral tradition. Poems were meant to be recited aloud, and they emphasized devices that would aid listeners' memories, including the repetition of names and the use of an appositive style. The subject matter covered in the poems included songs and myths, and the poems combined both pagan and early Christian ideas. An example is the epic Beowulf. Beowulf is given a Christian burial, but the Danes make offerings at pagan shrines to entreat their gods to get rid of Grendel. These idiosyncrasies are thought to have been introduced by the Christian monks who transcribed the oral tale.

The rhythm in the poems is provided not through the use of rhyme or meter but through the use of frequent alliteration, or words starting with similar sounds. Alliteration provides a kind of musical quality to the poems. The poems feature many metaphors, including kennings, which are compound words that have a metaphorical meaning. Examples of kennings include "battle-sweat" for blood and "whale-road" for the ocean. 

droxonian | Student

Anglo-Saxon poetry is among the most instantly recognisable forms in English. It generally possesses a number of features: 

1. Typically, poetry of this era is alliterative, meaning that the poem gets its cohesion from the use of multiple words beginning with the same letter, rather than from the use of rhyme. Rhyme is not found in English verse until the Middle English period. 

2. A heavy dependence on rhythm. This type of poetry was designed to be read aloud and memorised, as it was a means of sharing stories between communities. The rhythm is enforced by the alliteration and by the layout of the lines: each has four feet, with a break or caesura in the middle. 

3. Like Old Norse poetry, Anglo-Saxon verse makes great use of "kennings." This is a device which conveys meaning through the use of established metaphor—for example, "whale road" is understood to mean the ocean. 

4. Anglo-Saxon poetry has two basic types: the heroic epic (The Battle of Maldon, Beowulf) and the elegy (The Wanderer). Elegies tend to focus upon the plight of solitary wanderers or lost soldiers. Heroic epics often attempt to marry older pagan stories to the Anglo-Saxon Christian context. An excellent example of this conflict at work in poetry is The Dream of the Rood, a religious poem in which Christ is portrayed according to pagan heroic conventions.