Anglo-Saxon Poetry

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The entire body of Anglo-Saxon poetry consists of little more than 30 000 lines. It is by nature alliterative rather than rhyming. It catches the Anglo-Saxon people either side of their conversion to Christianity, and so includes both devout Christian works and a darker Pagan worldview.


Every line of Anglo-Saxon poetry was split into two half-lines. Most of these contained at least four syllables, two of which were stressed. There was always alliteration between the one of the stressed syllables of the first half-line and the first stressed syllable of the second half line. The second stressed syllable of the second half line sometimes alliterated with the other stressed syllable of the first half-line.

Some lines contained four stressed syllables per half line. These are called hypermetric lines, and were used either for dramatic effect, or simply to add variety.

Other Poetic Elements

As with other Germanic poetry, Anglo-Saxon poetry makes use of kennings, although they are quite often of a formulaic nature.

Later Anglo-Saxon poems occasionally used rhyme.


Anglo-Saxon poetry appears to have been performed accompanied by a harp. A passage from Beowulf seems to indicate that it was perfectly valid to make up sections of an established poem on the spot.

Manuscript Sources

Most Anglo-Saxon poetry appears in one of four manuscripts:

  1. Beowulf manuscript
  2. MS Junius XI
  3. The Exeter Book
  4. The Vercelli Book

Specific examples

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