Anglo-Saxon poetry is an interesting affair. Since it existed before the time of many different articulations of poetic scheme, Anglo-Saxon rhyming was bare bones compared to today.
Poetry written by the Anglo-Saxons utilized alliterative schema; this means that each line of a poem had four stressed syllables with a “wild” sound inserted somewhere in-between those which were stressed. In contemporary renditions of Anglo-Saxon poetry, though the four stressed syllables in each line were separated by a caesura– a space– in the middle, thus placing the first two stressed syllables in the first half-line and the other two in the second half line, during the time of the Anglo-Saxons themselves, the void between the two lines did not exist; as Elaine Treharne explains “instead, all early English poetry is laid out in the manuscript as if it were prose” (22) while explaining that the caesura was used since it was ideal for oral performance, as a sign marking certain cues to the reciter.
An additional feature of Anglo-Saxon poetry was something we do not have today. It was called the ‘riddle poem.’ The feature of this riddle poem is fairly self-explanatory– it was a riddle but also a poem, where the reader, using clues from the text, would attempt to uncover the speaker’s identity.
All though much of the time these riddles focused on moral and religious parables or lessons, we also see riddle poems display a high-level of rhetorical and metaphorical sophistication. Sexual innuendo, for instance, would sometimes be collapsed into issues of materialism and spiritual faith. Slaves, and their relation to the economy and freedom, often popped up as disguised objects meant to test the reader and stress the importance of sociality.
All though after the Norman conquest, Anglo-Saxon poetry would fade, it would see a revival in subsequent centuries. Called the ‘Alliterative Revival,’ poets resurrected the rhyming schematic of their Anglo-Saxon ancestors. Though never constituting a formal school, the revival period lasted from the mid-fourteenth century to the late sixteenth century and helped revitalize interest in Anglo-Saxon writings.
Though we no longer think of alliterative writing today, it was once the standard for poets and was used in epics from Beowulf to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and beyond.Simple and easy to pick up, I would say that it is the ideal place to begin for amateurs and those unaccustomed to poetic form.
Treharne, Elaine. Medieval Literature: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: U.P., 2015. Print.