The Columbia History of British Poetry

By Carl Woodring; James Shapiro | Go to book overview

Middle English Poetry

MIDDLE ENGLISH is a relatively precise term to us. Hindsight and the usually artificial divisions of history enable us to fix on the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066 as a starting point: English disappears almost at a stroke in the written records, and when it reappears it has been transformed from Old English to Middle English. The end of Middle English is less easy to determine. We can look back to the great divide of the vowel shift that makes Chaucer's pronunciation so different from Shakespeare's or ours, or point to the introduction of the revolutionary new technology of printing to England in 1476. In literary terms the importing of the sonnet form marks a distinctive change in style and fashion; in religious terms Henry VIII's break with the medieval Church is crucial. All these events leave their marks in language and literature, but focusing on them blurs the essential continuities: spoken English evolved gradually; written English, simply by virtue of being written, provides us with fixed though fragmentary landmarks. Literacy itself would have given medieval writers a particular place within a social and linguistic structure. English, either spoken or written, was only one of the languages current in the British Isles, and English itself came in many varied forms.

There had been no one form of English even in the days of the first Anglo-Saxon settlers in the British Isles. The groups who came to England in the fifth and sixth centuries spoke a variety of related dialects: these took centuries to coalesce into today's standard written English. There is still an enormous variety of spoken dialects and non

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The Columbia History of British Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Old English Poetry 1
  • Middle English Poetry 23
  • Chaucer 55
  • Poetry in Scots: Barbour to Burns 81
  • From Ballads to Betjeman 110
  • Printing and Distribution of Poetry 132
  • Varieties of Sixteenth-Century Narrative Poetry 156
  • Sixteenth-Century Lyric Poetry 179
  • Spenser, Sidney, Jonson 203
  • Lyric Poetry from Donne to Philips 229
  • Milton 254
  • Dryden and Pope 274
  • Poetry in the Eighteenth Century 301
  • Blake 327
  • Coleridge 341
  • Poetry, 1785-1832 353
  • Byron, Shelley, and Keats 381
  • Wordsworth and Tennyson 405
  • The Victorian Era 425
  • Victorian Religious Poetry 452
  • Pre-Raphaelite Poetry 478
  • The 1890s 505
  • 1898-1945: Hardy to Auden 532
  • Yeats, Lawrence, Eliot 554
  • Poetry in England, 1945-1990 577
  • Problems and Cleavages 605
  • Brief Biographies of the Poets 643
  • Editions 671
  • Notes on Contributors 678
  • Index 683
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