Monthly Archives: January 2013

What to Look (and Listen) for in Poems

I. The road not taken: we could go through English poetry as a history from its earliest beginnings (roughly the eighth century AD), although this would prove difficult and time-consuming for many reasons.
A. For one, Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) is essentially a foreign language, a branch of German, that requires separate study (for example, Caedmon’s Hymn, c. 675 AD).
B. After 1066, William the Conqueror made French the language of the English court, and it gradually permeated all of the spoken and written language. Middle English (e.g., Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, c. 1390–1400) is more understandable to us, but still not what linguists would call “modern English.”
C. After the “great vowel shift” of the fifteenth century, the patterns of modern English were established.
1. Although pronunciation has changed over the past five and one-half centuries, we can hear and understand Shakespeare and his contemporaries with less difficulty than we can writers from before the sixteenth century.
2. In the Renaissance, the first major book of lyric poetry is Tottel’s Miscellany (1557), which contains sonnets and other poems by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503–1542) and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (c. 1517–1547), who translated the sonnets of Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374).

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Posted by on January 16, 2013 in Uncategorized