The Old English Period ( – 1066) Epic poem: Beowulf (Anonymous)

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The Old English Period ( – 1066)
Epic poem: Beowulf (Anonymous)

From : Beowulf, Prologue (1-16a) (video) (pronunciation)

Our story speaks
of the Spear-Danes
their greatest kings'
how in former times
lived fearless men.

Shield Sheafing

shook the clans
cleared mead-seats
of many a pillager
made warriors stammer
—he who started out
worthless, a foundling.

That wasn't for long!

He waxed under clouds
climbed in men's eyes
till all neighbouring tribes
sent tribute to him
upon the whale's way
and his word was law
to all who heard.
He was a good king!

Then to the king

a child was born
a precocious lad
the Lord had sent
to save the people.
He saw how desperate
their lives had been
when leaderless
a long time.





Beowulf is an Old English heroic epic poem of unknown authorship, dating from between the 8th to the early 11th century. It’s a remarkably long poem: 3182 lines.

In the poem, Beowulf, a Swedish hero, battles three enemies: a dreadful monster Grendel, who has been attacking the mead hall (a place of festivities) in Denmark and its inhabitants; he also kills Grendel’s mother (also a monster) and later in life after returning to Geatland (modern southern Sweden) and becoming a king, he fights an unnamed dragon. Beowulf is fatally wounded in the final battle, and dies as a hero.

mead hall

First page of the Beowulf manuscript


1 Old English verse-form



2 Christian elements in pagan story:

3 Scandinavian main persons:

The Middle English Period (1066 - 1400)
Titles: The Canterbury Tales by Geoffry Chaucer, Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Anonymous).

From: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Anonymous)

While Arthur and his knights are having a feast, the Green Knight enters and asks if it is true that the bravest knights of the country are gathered there.
... And Arthur answered, “Sir Knight, if thou cravest battle here thou shalt not fail for lack of a foe.”
   And the knight answered, “Nay, I ask no fight, in faith here on the benches are but beardless children, were I clad in armour on my steed there is no man here might match me. Therefore I ask in this court but a Christmas jest, for that it is Yule-tide, and New Year, and there are here many fain for sport. If any one in this hall holds himself so hardy, so bold both of blood and brain, as to dare strike me one stroke for another, I will give him as a gift this axe, which is heavy enough, in sooth, to handle as he may list, and I will abide the first blow, unarmed as I sit. If any knight be so bold as to prove my words let him come swiftly to me here, and take this weapon, I quit claim to it, he may keep it as his own, and I will abide his stroke, firm on the floor. Then shalt thou give me the right to deal him another, the respite of a year and a day shall he have. Now haste, and let see whether any here dare say aught.”

The knights are dumbfounded and scared - they don’t know how to react.
...and when none answered he cried aloud in mockery, “What, is this Arthur’s hall, and these the knights whose renown hath run through many realms? Where are now your pride and your conquests, your wrath, and anger, and mighty words? Now are the praise and the renown of the Round Table overthrown by one man’s speech, since all keep silence for dread ere ever they have seen a blow!”
Of course as a knight you can’t let yourself be called a coward.

 ...Then Arthur took the axe and gripped the haft, and swung it round, ready to strike. And the knight stood before him, taller by the head than any in the hall; he stood, and stroked his beard, and drew down his coat, no more dismayed for the king’s threats than if one had brought him a drink of wine.

   Then Gawain, who sat by the queen, leaned forward to the king and spake, “I beseech ye, my lord, let this venture be mine. Would ye but bid me rise from this seat, and stand by your side, so that my liege lady thought it not ill, then would I come to your counsel before this goodly court. For I think it not seemly when such challenges be made in your hall that ye yourself should undertake it, while there are many bold knights who sit beside ye, none are there, methinks, of readier will under heaven, or more valiant in open field. I am the weakest, I wot, and the feeblest of wit, and it will be the less loss of my life if ye seek sooth. For save that ye are mine uncle naught is there in me to praise, no virtue is there in my body save your blood, and since this challenge is such folly that it beseems ye not to take it, and I have asked it from ye first, let it fall to me, and if I bear myself ungallantly then let all this court blame me.”
   Then they all spake with one voice that the king should leave this venture and grant it to Gawain.
Almost a year later Sir Gawain has to fulfill his promise
...When the Michaelmas moon was come in with warnings of winter, Sir Gawain bethought him full oft of his perilous journey. Yet till All Hallows Day he lingered with Arthur, and on that day they made a great feast for the hero’s sake, with much revel and richness of the Round Table. Courteous knights and comely ladies, all were in sorrow for the love of that knight, and though they spake no word of it, many were joyless for his sake.
   And after meat, sadly Sir Gawain turned to his uncle, and spake of his journey, and said, “Liege lord of my life, leave from you I crave. Ye know well how the matter stands without more words, to-morrow am I bound to set forth in search of the Green Knight.”
   Then came together all the noblest knights, Ywain and Erec, and many another. Sir Dodinel le Sauvage, the Duke of Clarence, Launcelot and Lionel, and Lucan the Good, Sir Bors and Sir Bedivere, valiant knights both, and many another hero, with Sir Mador de la Porte, and they all drew near, heavy at heart, to take counsel with Sir Gawain. Much sorrow and weeping was there in the hall to think that so worthy a knight as Gawain should wend his way to seek a deadly blow, and should no more wield his sword in fight. But the knight made ever good cheer, and said, “Nay, wherefore should I shrink? What may a man do but prove his fate?”

It was difficult to find the Green Chapel
...At length he drew nigh to North Wales, and left the isles of Anglesey on his left hand, crossing over the fords by the foreland over at Holyhead, till he came into the wilderness of Wirral, where but few dwell who love God and man of true heart. And ever he asked, as he fared, of all whom he met, if they had heard any tidings of a Green Knight in the country thereabout, or of a Green Chapel? And all answered him, Nay, never in their lives had they seen any man of such a hue.
On Christmas Eve, Sir Gawain is still searching. He is looking for a place to celebrate Christmas.
The knight upon Gringalet rode lonely beneath the bare twigs, through marsh and mire, much troubled at heart lest he should fail to see the service of the Lord, who on that self-same night was born of a maiden for the cure of our grief; and therefore he said, sighing, “I beseech Thee, Lord, and Mary Thy gentle Mother, for some shelter where I may hear Mass, and Thy mattins at morn. This I ask meekly, and thereto I pray my Paternoster, Ave, and Credo.” Thus he rode praying, and lamenting his misdeeds, and he crossed himself, and said, “May the Cross of Christ speed me.”
   Now that knight had crossed himself but thrice ere he was aware in the wood of a dwelling within a moat, above a lawn, on a mound surrounded by many mighty trees that stood round the moat. ‘Twas the fairest castle that ever a knight owned; built in a meadow with a park all about it, and a spiked palisade, closely driven, that enclosed the trees for more than two miles.
The castle appeared to be within 2 miles of the Green Chapel. Gawain was tempted three times by a lady who tried to seduce him, but he resisted the temptation. When he finally had to receive the blow from the Green Knight he flinched at first and evaded the blow. When the Green Knight called him a coward, Gawain replied he would not flinch with the second blow. The blow hardly wounded him and Gawain appeared to have been tested for his chivalry. He had proved he was a true knight.

Questions Sir Gawain d the Green Knight:

1. Why is it that Sir Gawain takes the challenge of the Green Knight instead of King Arthur or one of the other famous knights?

2. What are the two parts of the “game” the Green Knight proposes?

3. Why does Gawain endure such a difficult journey to try to find the Green Chapel?

4. How did Gawain prove he was chivalrous? (Mention three different characteristics)

Watch the video of Sir Gawain or think of what we read last year and answer the following questions as well: (part 1) (part 2) (part 3)

5. What does the sign of the pentangle symbolize? (see video part one)

6. What do Sir Gawain and the Lord of the Castle agree to exchange? Does Sir Gawain keep his promise?

5. How is the lady tempting Sir Gawain? Does he resist the temptation?

6. What does Sir Gawain do that causes the Green Knight to question his bravery?

7. Why does the Green Knight only scratch Sir Gawain with his axe? What do the three swings of the axe symbolize?

8. Why is Sir Gawain upset with himself at the end of the story?

The Barren Age (1400 – 1500)

Sir Patrick Spens (Anonymous)

The King sits in Dumferline town,
Drinking the blood-red wine;
”O where shall I get a good sailor
To sail this ship or mine?”

Up and spoke an eldern knight,
Sat at the King’s right knee:
”Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
That sails upon the sea.”

The King has written a broad letter,
And signed it with his hand,
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens,
Was walking on the sand.

The first line that Sir Patrick read,
A loud laugh laughed he;
The next line that Sir Patrick read,
The tear blinded his ee.

O who is this has done this deed,

This ill deed done to me,
To send me out this time of the year,
To sail upon the sea?”

Make haste, make haste, my merry men all,

Our good ship sails the morn;”
“Oh, say not so, my master dear
For I fear a deadly storm.

Late, late yestreen I saw the new moon

With the old moon in her arm;
And I fear, I fear my dear Master,
that we will come to harm.”

O our good Scots nobles were right loath
To wet their cork-heel’d schoone,
But long ere all the play were play’d
Their hats they swam aboon.

O long, long may the ladies sit
With their fans into their hands

Or ere they see Sir Patrick Spens
Come sailing to the land.

O long, long may the ladies stand
With their gold combs in their hair,
Waiting for their own dear lords,
For they’ll see them no more.

Half o’er, half o’er to Aberdoor
It’s fifty fathom deep;
And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens,
With the Scots lords at his feet.


The Ballad



Story – telling:



The Renaissance (1500 – 1700)

Poets: Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare (sonnets), John Donne, George Herbert (metaphysical poetry), John Milton.

Mark Anthony’s speech

From: Julius Ceasar by William Shakespeare

Act 3, scene 2
Julius Ceasar has been murdered by Brutus and other aristocrats, because they accused he was too ambitious (that he wanted to be emperor of Rome actually). Brutus explained this to the crowd, who then totally agreed with his reason for killing Ceasar. This is Mark Anthony’s funeral speech.

First Citizen Stay, ho! and let us hear Mark Antony.

Third Citizen Let him go up into the public chair; We'll hear him. Noble Antony, go up.

ANTONY For Brutus' sake, I am beholding to you. (Goes into the pulpit)

Fourth Citizen What does he say of Brutus?

Third Citizen He says, for Brutus' sake, He finds himself beholding to us all.

Fourth Citizen 'Twere best he speak no harm of Brutus here.

First Citizen This Caesar was a tyrant.

Third Citizen Nay, that's certain: We are blest that Rome is rid of him.

Second Citizen Peace! let us hear what Antony can say.

ANTONY You gentle Romans,--

Citizens Peace, ho! let us hear him.


Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears:

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones;

So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus

Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath Caesar answered it.

Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest –

For Brutus is an honourable man;

So are they all, all honourable men –

Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.

He was my friend, faithful and just to me:

But Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man.

He hath brought many captives home to Rome,

Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:

Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept.

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man.

You all did see that on the Lupercal

I thrice presented him a kingly crown,

Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love him once, not without cause:

What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?

O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason! Bear with me;

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,

And I must pause till it come back to me. (video)

Even though in his speech Antony never directly calls the conspirators traitors, he is able to call them “honourable” in a sarcastic manner that the crowd is able to understand. He starts out by citing that Caesar had thrice refused the crown, which refutes the conspirators main cause for killing Caesar. He reminds them of Caesar’s kindness and love for all, humanizing Caesar as innocent.

Next he teases them with the will until they demand he read it, and he reveals Caesar’s ‘gift’ to the citizens. Finally, Marc Antony leaves them with the question, was there ever a greater one than Caesar?, which infuriates the crowd. They agree with Mark Anthony and start a mutiny.



Born in:


Early marriage to:




John Donne. 1573–1631


A Hymn to God the Father


WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,


  Which was my sin, though it were done before?


Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I ran,


  And do run still, though still I do deplore?


When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;


        For I have more.



Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won


  Others to sin, and made my sins their door?


Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun


  A year or two, but wallow’d in a score?


When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;


        For I have more.



I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun


  My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;


But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son


  Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:


And having done that, Thou hast done;


        I fear no more.

Metaphysical poetry:

    • Use of ordinary speech mixed with puns and paradoxes

    • The exaltation of wit and originality in figures of speech

    • Often poems are presented in the form of an argument

1 What sin does John Donne mention in the first stanza?

2 What kind of sin must be meant in the 2nd stanza?

3 How does Donne reverse the argument, solve his problem before he gets an


4 Find two puns and explain them.

George Herbert. 1593–1632




LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,


      Guilty of dust and sin.


But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack


      From my first entrance in,


Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning


      If I lack’d anything.



‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’


     Love said, ‘You shall be he.’


‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,


      I cannot look on Thee.’


Love took my hand and smiling did reply,


      ‘Who made the eyes but I?’



‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame


      Go where it doth deserve.’


‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’


      ‘My dear, then I will serve.’


‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’


      So I did sit and eat.

1 This poem is about a dialogue: who are speaking?

2 Why is the I-person hesitating to go in?

3 Love asks the I-person if he is missing anything. Why does the I-person reply with: “A guest, worthy to be here?”

4 What are Love and the I-person actually arguing about?

5 Who is Love? Prove your answer.

6 Where does the conversation take place?

7 In what way can this poem be used as a preparation for Holy Communion?

The Neo-Classical Period (1700 – 1798)
Poets: Alexander Pope, John Dryden, Thomas Gray


By Thomas Gray (1716-1771).

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,

And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels its droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower

The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,

Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,

The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,

Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share,

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,

Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,

Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,

And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault

If Memory o’er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust

Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid

Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,

Rich with the spoils of time, did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene

The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,

Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

Neo-Classical gardens:

Symmetrical, garden paths straight, trees and bushes cur into shape.

Romantic gardens: Natural, winding lanes, no visible fences.

Neo-Classical poetry

Romantic poetry (1798 – 1840)

clarity, order
reason, general truths
poetic language, classical forms

heroic couplet:

2 rhyming lines, iambic pentameter
moralistic: literature must please and teach
the poet as a mirror of Society: he formulates what everybody already thinks

emotion, personal feelings
natural language, old verse-forms

ballad, alliteration (Old English)

literature gives spiritual insight

the poet as a lamp: a philosopher who teaches new truths about life

emotion and personal feelings become visible in:

-interest in nature as a theme, love,

common man, children, death

-interest in the past (also past verse-


-strive after freedom, equality,


reason and general truths become

visible in:

-proverbial sentences


Questions Elegy written in a Country Churchyard:

  1. Indicate Neo-Classical aspects in Elegy written in a country churchyard. Quote from the text.

  1. Indicate Romantic aspects in Elegy written in a country churchyard. Quote from the text.

The Romantic Period (1798 - 1840)

Poets: William Worsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Novelist: Jane Austen.

From: William Blake (1757 – 1827)

The Lamb
from Songs of Innocence


The Tyger
from Songs of Experience


  Little Lamb who made thee

  Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice:
  Little Lamb who made thee
  Dost thou know who made thee

  Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,

  Little Lamb I’ll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
  Little Lamb God bless thee.
  Little Lamb God bless thee.


Tyger Tyger. burning bright,

In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.

Burnt the fire of thine eyes!
On what wings dare he aspire!
What the hand, dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,

In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears

And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Questions The Lamb and The Tyger

  1. Similarities and differences in the two poems

  1. The poems as thesis and antithesis – who is theLamb for and who is the Tyger?

  1. The complete human being as synthesis: in what way is he a Lamb and a Tyger?

  1. Stanza 5 of the Tyger: what event does it refer to?

  1. What is suggested about God and his creation?

To Autumn

By John Keats


SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

rijpe vruchtbaarheid



wijnranken / rieten daken
tot de kern


zoete kern / uitbotten

overstroomd / kleverige

  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,


  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

  And still more, later flowers for the bees,

  Until they think warm days will never cease,


    For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.


Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

tussen je voorraad

kaf van het koren scheidend

half geoogste geul

verdoofd / zeis

bundel / omstrengelde


volgeladen / beekje

  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

  Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;


Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

  Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

  Steady thy laden head across a brook;


  Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

    Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.


Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?


gemaaide vlakke velden

klaaglijk / muggetjes

wilgen / omhoog getild

krekels / zachte sopraan


zich verzamelende

  Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,


  And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;

Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

  Among the river sallows, borne aloft

    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;


  Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

  The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Questions “To Autumn”:

The Victorian Period (1840 - 1900)
Poet: Alfred Lord Tennyson, Author: Charles Darwin, Novelist: Charles Dickens

Dover Beach
by Matthew Arnold (1822 – 1888)

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago

Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Questions “Dover Beach”:

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