In the fourteenth century, there were two ways of writing poetry in English. Chaucer’s rhyming, syllable-counting iambic pentameter exemplifies one tradition. This course makes a survey of the other tradition, known today as alliterative poetry. Among the poems we will read are tales of King Arthur’s court, the story of a resurrected corpse discovered in London, and a wild allegorical dream vision starring such characters as Bribery and Truth. We ask how this poetry is formally organized and why medieval English writers chose to use it in a variety of literary genres. No prior knowledge of Middle English required.


What is Middle English alliterative poetry?
Strange countries (romance)
Patience is a virtue (exemplum)
A season of summer (dream vision)
Blood shall run (political prophecy)
Seek St. Truth (William Langland’s Piers Plowman)

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