I’ve been commissioned to write the entry on “Alliterative Verse” in the digital Oxford Bibliographies in British and Irish Literature, edited by Andrew Hadfield. These bibliographies consist of citations of key scholarly works, accompanied by annotations and related to one another by commentary paragraphs. Here’s the introductory paragraph of my bibliography:
Alliterative verse refers to a corpus of approximately 300 unrhymed English poems, spanning the period c. 650-1550 CE. Before the 12th century, there was only one way to write poetry in English. This verse form, known to modern scholars as alliterative meter, stood in contrast to English prose on the one hand and syllabic Latin meters on the other. From the late 12th century, French- and Latin-inspired syllabic English meters were introduced, throwing alliterative meter into relief in a new way. From the 14th century, poets also wrote poems combining alliterative metrical structures with stanzaic rhyme patterning, and these poems are traditionally grouped together with the unrhymed corpus. Sometime in the middle of the 16th century, alliterative verse ceased to exist as a metrical option in English literary culture. Whether found in large poetic anthologies or scattered among other kinds of writing, most alliterative poems exist in only one or two manuscripts. The alliterative corpus comprehends an array of genres, from brief monologues and riddles to lengthy narratives. Four long poems—Beowulf, Lawman’s Brut, Piers Plowman, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight—have attracted the most critical attention since the rediscovery of alliterative verse in the 17th century and the 18th century. Since the 19th century, study of this poetic tradition has been subdivided along political-historical lines, with the surviving corpus segmented into Old English poetry and Middle English alliterative poetry to reflect the importance of the Norman Conquest of England (1066). Yet scholars on both sides of the Old/Middle divide have pursued similar research questions in areas such as metrics and poetics, manuscript studies, and genre studies. Modern poets, especially in the 20th century, have turned to alliterative verse for formal and thematic inspiration.