English Alliterative Verse

Eric Weiskott, English Alliterative Verse: Poetic Tradition and Literary History

My first book, English Alliterative Verse: Poetic Tradition and Literary History, is published by Cambridge University Press (2016; paperback 2019). The book is based on my 2014 Yale University dissertation, “The Durable Alliterative Tradition.”

English Alliterative Verse won the 2018 English Association Beatrice White Prize for outstanding scholarly work in the field of English literature before 1590.

In 2017, I gave a video interview to Boston College Libraries about the book.

from the inside flap:

English Alliterative Verse tells the story of the medieval poetic tradition that includes BeowulfPiers Plowman, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, stretching from the eighth century, when English poetry first appeared in manuscripts, to the sixteenth century, when alliterative poetry ceased to be composed. Eric Weiskott draws on the study of meter to challenge the traditional division of medieval English literary history into ‘Old English’ and ‘Middle English’ periods. The two halves of the alliterative tradition, divided by the Norman Conquest of 1066, have been studied separately since the nineteenth century; this book uses the history of metrical form and its cultural meanings to bring the two halves back together. In combining literary history and metrical description into a new kind of history he calls ‘verse history,’ Weiskott reimagines the historical study of poetics.


Evolution of the Alliterative B-Verse, 650-1550

Introduction: The Durable Alliterative Tradition

Beowulf and Verse History
The Evolution of Alliterative Meter, 950-1100
Verse History and Language History
Beowulf and the Unknown Shape of Old English Literary History

2 Prologues to Old English Poetry
Old English Prologues and Old English Poetic Styles
The Beowulf Prologue and the History of Style

3 Lawman, the Last Old English Poet and the First Middle English Poet
Lawman and the Evolution of Alliterative Meter
Lawman at a Crossroads in Literary History

4 Prologues to Middle English Alliterative Poetry
The Continuity of the Alliterative Tradition, 1250-1340
Excursus: Middle English Alliterating Stanzaic Poetry
Middle English Prologues, romaunce, and Middle English Poetic Styles

5 The Erkenwald Poet’s Sense of History
A Meditation on Histories
St. Erkenwald and the Idea of Alliterative Verse in Late Medieval England
Authors, Styles, and the Search for a Middle English Canon

6 The Alliterative Tradition in the Sixteenth Century
The Alliterative Tradition in its Tenth Century
Unmodernity: The Idea of Alliterative Verse in the Sixteenth Century

Conclusion: Whose Tradition?

Appendix A. Fifteen Late Old English Poems Omitted from ASPR
Appendix B. Six Early Middle English Alliterative Poems
Appendix C. An Early Middle English Alliterative Poem in Latin


  1. Sarah Wood, Review of English Studies 68 (2017): 988-90
  2. Rachel Kapelle, Arthuriana 28.4 (2018): 100-
  3. Rafael J. Pascual, Atlantis 40 (2018): 221-30
  4. Ad Putter, English Studies 99 (2018): 344-46
  5. Jonathan Roper, Folklore 73 (2018): 196-99
  6. Nicholas Myklebust, Modern Philology 116 (2018): E27-9
  7. Mark Griffith, Notes & Queries 65 (2018): 572-73
  8. Stephen Yeager, Yearbook of Langland Studies 32 (2018): 462-65