skip to main | skip to sidebar
Home » » The Brief History of English Poetry
Like all other literature of the world, English literature began with poetry. It started back in the fifth century. It is believed that the earliest poems in English were written between 450 A. D. and 1066 A. D., the time known as the Anglo-Saxon period. and discuss on the brief history of english poetry . In those days there was no printing press and no system of keeping records. As a result, it is impossible now to trace out who the first poet was. The earliest English poems so far found are anonymous. Among those poems the best known is "Beowulf", which is considered as the first epic in English. Some of the other anonymous poems of the period are " Widsith", "Deor's Lament", " The Seafarer", "The Husband's Message", and " The Wanderer". The common subjects of these poems are either religious faith or heroic deeds. Some of the poems are written on pagan myths and the rest are on the subjects taken from the Bible. The heroic stories are mostly based on the Germanic folklore. These poems are written in alliterative old English which is not used in our time. The lines of these poems are generally long and unrhymed.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, English poetry took a significant turn. Between 1066 and 1500, the period which is known as the Middle Ages, English language developed to a certain standard. How-ever, the language used in this period was still not the English of our time. The poets of this period still used alliterative language. They introduced metres and rhyme in the verse lines. The subjects chosen for poetry were liberal religious faith, morality, chivalry and love. In this period Renaissance took place and broadened the general outlook. It was the result of various series of events that followed and accompanied one another from the fourteenth to the beginning of the sixteenth century. With the fall of the then Constantinople in 1453, the scholars living there fled to different parts of Europe. They took with them the ancient Greek and Roman literature. Those scholars had profound influence on the poets of this period. They came out of the religious bias and emphasized  idealism from a more secular point of view. Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400), known as the father of English poetry, was the famous poet of this age. He looked for idealism in religious faith, love and society. He envisioned a perfect human existence, free from all types of corruption, falsehood and hypocrisy. His Canterbury Tales presents a severe criticism of the late medieval England, keeping in vision an ideal society. His Troilus and Criseyde deals with faithlessness in love, suggesting idealism in man-woman relationship. His language is lucid and rhythmic. He excels in the use of metres and rhyme. The other important poets of the age are William Langland and John Gower. Their po-ems also broadly follow the tradition of the age.

The Renaissance kindled a kind of wild fire of knowledge that kept on burning for several centuries. It had its fullest flowering in the sixteenth century. From 1558 to 1603 England was ruled by Queen Eliza-beth I. This period is named as Elizabethan period after her name. This is known as the golden age of prosperity in commerce, art and national-ism of the English. It is the greatest age of English drama. Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson are the great dramatists of this period. Plays were written in verse from. The age is also famous for its poetry. Edmund Spenser, the poet of the poets, wrote in this period. This age was deeply influenced by the Renaissance that liberalised under-standing, created interest in enlightenment, made people humanistic and liberal. Consequently, the literature of this period is characterized by a  tendency of breaking away from the Greek and Roman literary tradition. For this reason, this period is also considered as the birth time of English romanticism. Elizabethan period is marked by the profundity of thought, idealism in philosophical choice, lucidity in language and excellence in poetry.

 In the beginning of the seventeenth century, a new school of poetry started surfacing in reaction to the Elizabethan poetic convention. This kind of poetry is known as the Metaphysical School of Poetry. It emerged in the periods known as Jacobean Age (1603-1625) and Caro-line Age (1625-1649). The metaphysical poetry deals with philosophical ideas. In dealing with abstract ideas or concepts, metaphysical poetry uses logic as it is done in philosophy. It mainly deals with the concept of love, faith, soul, death and God, which do not have concrete existence. It profusely uses logical arguments instead of only emotion or passion. Even in using passion, metaphysical poets used arguments. In addition, these poets used wit and conceits very frequently in their poems, with the effect of surprise and stun. They preferred conversational tone to the formal one, and they often ignored the formal use of metres and rhymes. The major poets of this school of poetry were Donne, Andrew Marvel, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, and Richard Crashaw.

 A marked reaction against the peculiar poetry of the Metaphysical School began in the age that followed it. This age was dominated by John Milton. For this reason, it is called the Age of Milton. It is also called the Puritan Age. In this period efforts were made to regain the grandeur of English verse. A small group of poets called Cavalier Poets wrote in this period. However, this age is famous for the epics written by Milton who wrote Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. He dealt with grand subjects in grand language using heroic verse form, maintaining classical restraint.
Milton's age was followed by the Neoclassical Age that began to-wards the end of the seventeenth century and ended in the mid-eighties of the eighteenth century. The poets of this age made all out efforts to imitate the Roman classical poets but they did not have the originality of Virgil and Dante. Consequently, their writings became mechanical. For this reason, they are called the neoclassical or pseudo classical poets. Alexander Pope and John Dryden were the major poets of this age. They wrote in grand language using heroic verse form. Their subjects were urban sophisticated people and satire was their main mode of writing.

 Towards the end of the eighteenth century the neoclassical mode of writing was worn out and a new trend in literature became imminent. When the French Revolution took place in 1789, the ground of the new kind of creative writing had already been prepared in the United King-dom. William Blake published two volumes of this new kind of poetry.In 1798, William Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge published a collection of poems entitled as Lyrical Ballads and with it began the new age known as the Romantic Age. The other famous poets of this age were P.B. Shelley, John Keats and Lord Byron. Writers of this period preferred common people and common language to sophisticated urban people and their grand language. A strong desire for improving the conditions of man was a driving force of the literature of this age. High imagination, subjectivism, liberalism, love of nature, Hellenism, and the use of supernatural powers characterized the literature of this period.

In English literature, the period from 1832 to 1901 is known as the Victorian period. It is named after Queen Victoria who reigned the United Kingdom from 1837 to 1901. The age was marked by the Reformation Bill, Charles Darwin's evolution theory, Karl Marx's concept of socialism, the Industrial Revolution, philosophical positivism, the inception of feminism and the middle class respectability. Disbelief, hypocrisy, affluence, prudery and complacency were the main features of this age. However, it was a period of prolific literary production. Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, E. B. Browning, Matthew Arnold and Thomas Herdy were the famous poets of this age. Attitudes of compromise, moral earnestness, purity both religious and secular, didacticism, and social equity determined the mode of the Victorian poetry.

With the beginning of the First World War in 1914, another trend became obvious. It continued till 1939 when the Second World War be-gan. The First World War caused massive destruction to the European belief, tradition and values. After the War, the capacity of Christianity and traditional values was questioned as they utterly failed to uphold peace. People broke away from the traditional modes of life. In literature new tendencies replaced the old, established rules. A visible change in the selection of subject, form and style became evident. Literary ex-periments and movements marked the age. Symbolism, imagism, exis-tentialism, expressionism, surrealism, stream of consciousness theory and psycho-analysis, were some of the new trends that gave shape to the literature of this period. Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, Dylan Thomas and W. H. Auden were the leading poets of this age. The poets of modern period ignored everything that was mechanical and conven-tional. As much as possible, they tried to go near to real life. They ne-glected all set rules of metres, stanza forms or genres. As a result mod-ern poetry is almost formless just like modern paintings.
History of English Poetry


Anonymous said...


Precious chekwube said...

Nice one

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Really Chronological

Anonymous said...

Sexy information thanks

Post a Comment

Back To Top